Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
Huge, enormous apologies for the ridiculously long wait, but I do thank you for your patience.
You can read minds again?"
I stare, numbed by shock, as Edward shuts his eyes and swallows. He frowns and raises one hand to his temple – his fingers rub in hard, slow circles.
"Yes." His voice is hoarse and rough. "But you're still silent." His skin is silver in the moonlight and I can see how the fingers at his temple tremble now. He curls them into a tight, granite fist.
I reach up and gently touch his hand, feel it tremor beneath mine. His fingers open and he claws them through his hair.
He opens his eyes.
"Charlie's trying not to panic," he mutters and then looks back toward the road. "I can hear the cruiser now. He'll see your truck any minute."
Charlie isn't the only one trying not to panic - there's too much to take in right now and not enough time to do it.
"What are we going to do?"
Though my heart races, every beat feels heavy and hard – it almost hurts as I watch Edward slowly bow his head.
"You need to go to your father."
"Not without you."
"Bella, he's frantic."
"Edward, no..." He raises his eyes and there is such shame there. Such pain. "Not without you," I whisper.
He shakes his head and chuckles quietly. It's a grim sound, dark and hollow. "This is not a good time, Bella."
"Edward, I'm not leaving you here in the woods alone."
I hold his face between my hands. He turns his head away from me so I can't read his eyes clearly. Beneath my fingers his face is smooth, no smile, no frown. But his body shudders and I realise what I've just said to him and I'm sure he's remembering when he left me. I press my forehead to his. His breathing is sharp again and I stroke my thumbs over his cheekbones. I'm about to tell him that we face Charlie together or not at all, and then realise how selfish I'm being. This is not the moment to confront my father with our relationship.
"You're right, it's not a good time."
"I won't run," he whispers. "I promise you, I won't."
I hear the cruiser now and Edward reaches up to my hand that sits softly on his cheek. He tries to smile but it falls short.
"You'll go to your old house?" The thought of separating from him, especially now, hurts. Edward begins to nod but suddenly his whole body tenses and he screws up his face.
"My car," he mutters. "He'll run the licence plates through the computer – he'll know it's me."
"The car's registered in your name?"
I don't know why this surprises me, but it does. And it means there's no escaping my father right now. Suddenly I feel seventeen again and like I'm about to be caught with Edward in my room.
"Together, then?" I take Edward's hands and grip them hard. "We walk out of here together?"
Edward doesn't answer straight away. We hold each other's hands and he watches my thumbs stroke over his. His middle finger touches the diamonds in my ring. Then he nods and we stand slowly and begin our trek towards the road.
I'd obviously wandered further away in the woods than I'd thought, because the truck is a good hundred yards up the road. Charlie's cruiser is parked a short distance behind it and my father is clambering out of his seat, running towards it and calling my name, as Edward and I emerge from the trees.
Edward's car is just in front of us, sitting sideways in the dirt, with mud sprayed along the side and the driver's door hanging open. It had obviously come to a very sudden stop.
"Go to him." Edward nods towards Charlie and drops my hand. I grab hold again but he shakes his head. "I won't leave, but I need a moment." And he squeezes my fingers lightly before letting go again. He goes to quietly close the door of his car. Then he leans against the hood and folds his arms across his chest, head bowed. I'm torn between my father and Edward, but as Charlie wrenches open the door of my truck I shout out.
"Bella!" Charlie stops and turns as I hurry forwards, stumbling a little in the mud. He runs and meets me half-way, pulling me into a rough hug and I wind my arms around him.
"I'm okay, Dad. I'm fine."
"Geez, Bella, I've been out of my mind…" He steps back and looks me up and down and I remember now that I'm covered in mud. "What happened here?"
He looks past me, further down the road to where Edward's car sits, with Edward still leaning against the hood, watching us.
"Geezus, fuck, what are you doing here?"
I've never heard my dad swear. Never. But even through my shock my first thought is of Edward and what he's seeing in Charlie's mind. Edward's mouth falls open as horror washes over his face. For a fleeting second I think his knees buckle.
Charlie looks back at me. "Why is he here? What has he done to you?"
"Nothing. Calm down. Everything really is alright."
"Calm down?" Charlie lets go of me and steps back as he rubs his hands over his face. "Calm down? Bella, you've been missing for hours. No phone contact. I've been driving in circles, calling your old friends in town, calling your mom, and I find you here, like this, with him!" He throws an arm in Edward's direction. "So don't you tell me to calm down!"
"Dad, I'm sorry!" I step closer, shifting my position so I can keep an eye on Edward while I talk to Charlie. "Look, it's a long story but the short of it is…Edward and I have met up again, we've sorted things out and we're together."
"Together?" Charlie's voice, his face, drown in disbelief. And shock. "You want to go back to the coward who abandoned you in the woods?"
"Dad, stop it! I was the one who ran off that night. I got myself lost. It wasn't Edward."
Charlie's face registers new shock and I swallow hard as I relive the memory. "It was daylight and we were in sight of the house when he said goodbye. He never abandoned me in the woods!"
Edward's eyes screw shut. He grimaces as he turns his face away and I know, I just know, that Charlie is remembering how Sam Uley had carried me home, broken and empty, in his arms.
"I'm so sorry." Edward's voice breaks.
"You should be more than sorry," Charlie spits. "You drained the life out of her when you left."
"Dad! That's enough."
Charlie drags both his hands over his head as he turns away from me. He begins to pace back and forth now.
"Chief Swan…" Edward's voice comes softly, but it's firm as he walks towards us. His steps are straight and steady, his shoulders are squared but his eyes blaze with pain as he stops in front of my father. He breathes deeply before he speaks.
"Chief Swan, there is nothing that you can think about me that I haven't already thought myself. The worst thing I ever did in my life was hurt your daughter and even though she has had the good grace to forgive me, I will never forgive myself, even if I live a thousand years. But I can promise you this...I will spend every day of those thousand years making it up to her. If she'll let me."
The tone and timbre of Edward's voice, the raw emotion in his words, sends shivers down my spine. Tears build in my eyes. Charlie is not unaffected, either. He frowns, his throat moves as he gives a single, curt nod of his head. But Edward hasn't finished. "I love Bella," he says. "More than my own life, and the only way I would leave her would be if she sends me away." He looks from Charlie to me.
Charlie makes a few gruff sounds. "Well, you've said your piece," he mumbles. "Come on, Bella."
But of course I don't move. Instead I take my fiance's hand, I feel the trembling that is too slight to see. Somehow he feels colder than usual and I hold on hard, leaning in to him, letting him feel the warmth of me. Charlie's eyes zero in on us – on our hands. On the ring on my finger.
"Aw, geez, no," he says and his own shoulders slump in defeat. "No, Bella you can't…"
"We weren't going to keep it a secret, Dad. I was going to tell you this weekend."
Charlie closes his eyes and rubs his hands over his face. I watch his struggle with this new piece of information and my heart breaks for him, as well as Edward. It breaks for me, too.
"I think I wish you had kept it a secret." Charlie drops his hands and shakes his head. He lets out a long, bone-weary sigh. "And you still haven't told me why you're here like this."
I decide to go for the abridged version. "I pulled over earlier to wait for the rain to ease but I got bogged and then my phone broke and I had to pee. Edward was worried too when I didn't call to say I'd arrived so he came looking and he found me in the woods." Charlie looks down at my muddied clothes. "I fell down," I mutter and brush at my jacket and jeans. "A lot."
"He found you, huh?"
Edward's eyes close and even in the dark I can see his pale face become ashen. The wind whips up and I shiver.
"You should go with your father now," Edward murmurs. "You'll get cold."
"You don't tell her what to do!" Charlie yells suddenly, stabbing a finger hard in Edward's direction. "I don't care if she's got a ring on her finger."
I can feel Edward weakening. His hand goes limp in mine. I can only imagine what he sees in Charlie's mind and after going from two years of silence to this, I wonder how much mind reading he can take right now.
I squeeze Edward's hand, then let go. "Be right back," I mutter under my breath.
I grab Charlie's arm and pull him over towards the cruiser.
"I love you, Dad. I love you very much and I know this here, now, is a shock. A huge shock. I also know what you went through with me when Edward left. I know you walked the floor worrying. I know you came into my room every night to wake me out of the nightmares."
In my father's face I see my words hit their mark and I soften my tone.
"Dad, back in Forks, Edward and I both made mistakes, but we're different now and when we met up again a couple of months ago, we knew we still wanted to be together. I know that makes it sound too simple, but…it kind of is that simple. We want to be together."
"And you can forget what he did, just like that?"
"I can understand why we broke up. I can learn from it, put it behind me and move on."
Charlie shakes his head and I toss a look over my shoulder at Edward. His arms are folded tightly across his chest again, like he's holding himself together. I turn back to Charlie.
"Dad, it hurt Edward too. Far more than you will ever know."
I can see the derision clear in my father's eyes, but then he takes a glance at Edward and his expression changes. It seems he's taking his first proper look at him now – and he shifts uncomfortably where he stands.
"Yeah, well, he doesn't look too happy."
"Right now, he's not." And right now I just want to get him away, somewhere quiet.
Charlie blows out a breath and shakes his head again. "Come on, lets go home and we can talk about this later."
He reaches for my arm but I pull back.
"I'm not coming without Edward."
"Bella…" Edward's voice comes softly but Charlie and I both jump as he appears suddenly at my side.
"It's cold. Go with your father."
"Not without you."
Charlie glares at Edward before he stalks back to my truck. "You comin', Bells?" he calls. He doesn't look at me as he takes my overnight bag from the passenger seat, the keys from the ignition, locks the door, then goes to stand by the cruiser. "We'll get your truck tomorrow."
I open my mouth to say again that I'm not coming, but Edward stops me with an icy finger to my lips.
"Go with him," he says quietly. "There's no furniture at my house. Or food. The heating isn't turned on...I can't keep you warm."
He shakes his head, stopping my words and his eyes are so sad and pained. This is almost killing me, I can't imagine what it's doing to him. Charlie starts the engine. Edward threads his fingers with mine.
"I love you," he says. "And you spent the last hour sitting in those freezing woods, holding me like you'd never let go, and I can't tell you what that meant to me, or how it made me feel." He smiles softly, sadly. He lifts my hands and his eyes close as he kisses each one of my knuckles before he pulls me close against his chest. "But right now, I think I need to be alone for a while."
I feel his lips press against my forehead as I cling to him.
"No..." I shake my head and clutch him harder.
"Just let me come with you, I won't..."
My words echo with memory and pain. I sound like I did that afternoon he said goodbye. The realisation hits me harder than the cold night air. It brings another realisation with it – that this isn't about me. This is about Edward. And right now he needs to be alone and I have to be grown up enough to let him.
"Alright," I whisper, squaring my shoulders. I can do this, I can give him the space he needs. I look him straight in the eye. "Just don't do the wallowing thing, okay? Or the self-loathing crap."
There's the flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth when I look up. "I can't promise that," he says and my heart twists and burns in my chest. Edward's almost-smile fades. "You've told me that you trust me. Is that still the case?"
"You know it is."
"Then you'll let me go and I'll see you in the morning. I'll come and talk to your father when he's calmed down and I'm..." He hesitates, frowns and finally shrugs his shoulders. "When I'm more myself. Whoever that is."
It takes all my strength to step back from him.
"In the morning," I echo and try to smile but I feel dead inside. Leaving him right now physically hurts, but I know he needs this. Still, my heart feels like it's been bruised and I rub at my chest.
"I'll walk you to the car," Edward says.
He grips my hand tightly as we walk. He holds the car door open for me, kisses me quickly, then helps me into my seat.
"Tomorrow," he mouths as he closes my door. He lifts his hand in farewell as Charlie hits the accelerator. The cruiser lurches forward, tearing off down the road, leaving Edward standing in the dirt. When I look behind me, out the rear window, he's already gone.
Charlie says he wants to understand.
After he's called Renee and Billy and called off the search party without mentioning Edward, he sits, stony faced at the kitchen table while I try to explain. I talk about forgiveness and second chances and how we were two seventeen year old kids struggling with first love. I tell him how different Edward and I are now, how we've learned from the past, but it's hard to know what my dad is thinking. When my words run dry and my throat is parched I slump in my chair and shrug. I think it's the longest I've ever spoken to him.
"That's all I've got, Dad. I love him, he loves me, we're moving forward together. And if after everything that's happen I can forgive him, then..." I shrug and leave the rest of that thought hanging.
Charlie is silent. The kitchen is silent. My leg jiggles up and down beneath the table. Finally, my father pushes back his chair and stands.
"I want you to be happy, Bella."
"I am happy, Dad. I want you to be happy too."
Charlie rubs his hand over his face. "You can't expect me to like him," he sighs. "Not right away, anyway."
I stand too, on shaky legs, and I hold on to the table.
"You're...you're saying you're okay with this, then?"
"It doesn't matter if I'm okay with it or not, does it?"
I shake my head slowly. "Not really, no."
"You and Edward, you're a package deal."
"You could put it like that, yeah."
He nods. "And you're an adult. I can't send you to your room or ground you, as much as I'd like to."
My lips twitch with a smile. "No, you can't."
"And you might be an adult, Bella, but I'm still your father and if he puts a toe out of line..."
But Charlie doesn't get any further because I swamp him in a hug.
"I love you, Dad."
He hugs me too, making awkward pats on my back. "Yeah, well, I love you too," he says gruffly.
I know it will take time for Charlie to accept Edward, but this is a start. He's trying, for me. And I love him for it.
"So, when's the wedding?" Charlie scowls at my ring.
"We haven't set a date yet."
He gives another nod, goes to the fridge and pulls out a casserole dish. It looks like dinner has been prepared ahead of time.
"Sue thought it'd probably be best if I didn't subject you to my cooking," Charlie explains when he sees me looking. "And I don't expect you to cook while you're here."
"That was very thoughtful of her. I like Sue." I smile. "I'm glad you have someone."
Charlie stills for a moment, then he nods and spoons what looks like a beef stew into two bowls. He microwaves them each in turn and we sit down to eat. The food is delicious.
"Does Sue cook for you a lot?"
"Sometimes," Charlie shrugs.
The conversation turns to La Push and Billy and Jake. Charlie agrees with me that Jake and Beth will announce their engagement at Thanksgiving dinner.
"So are you going to want Edward to come eat with us at La Push tomorrow?" Charlie asks.
"No. And I don't think he expects that."
Charlie nods. "I could talk to Sue, see if they could fit one more in. If he's come this far to make sure you're alright, and he's away from family…" He stops and shrugs. "I'll leave it up to you to decide."
My eyes fill. "Thanks, Dad," I whisper and rub my sleeve over my face. I know it would be impossible – the Quileutes wouldn't let Edward set foot over the treaty line and Edward wouldn't want to, but Charlie knows nothing of this, and his offer means everything to me.
He asks me about my classes and tells me about his latest fishing trip. I keep focused on the conversation but my mind keeps wandering to Edward, wondering how he is. When Charlie says goodnight and heads upstairs for bed I curse my broken phone and dial Edward's number from the landline in the kitchen.
He doesn't answer.
Over the next two hours I try four times, but my calls always go to voicemail. My heart burns every time I hear the automated voice… Please leave a message after the tone…
"Edward, it's me. I just wanted to see how you are. I love you."
"Me again. Are you okay? You can call me here at Charlie's, he won't mind. He's actually starting to come round."
"Edward, um, call me?"
"I know you need space. I just…I'm starting to worry."
I hang up for the final time and decide that's enough. He knows where I am, he knows how to reach me. He'll come back when he's ready, I believe that. I guess I've been spoiled by having him so much at my beck and call these last months – always answering his phone on the first ring, always wanting us to be together. I know the best thing I can do for him now is leave him alone. He said he'd see me in the morning, but this new silence and space is unsettling.
Sleep eludes me. I lie in my bed in my room where Charlie has cleared space among his fishing gear, and stare out the open window. He's out there, somewhere, struggling with who he is, and his memories. I remember the first time he came to my room. And the last time, the night of my birthday party when he was quiet and distant. Now I realise with a shudder that he'd already decided then that he was going to leave. But he's not the same man he was back then. He's different. Or at least, he was. Will he revert back to the old Edward, now?
I creep downstairs at two o'clock and make one more call.
Please leave a message after the tone…
"I love you," I whisper.
I hang up and rest my head against the wall phone. Has he contacted his family? Do they know? Should I call Alice? I lift the phone to dial but stop. I don't think Edward would want that.
I decide to wait and see what tomorrow brings. I trust him. I trudge back upstairs and when I fall back into bed Charlie's snores finally lull me to an exhausted sleep.
It's still dark when I open my eyes. The curtain is blowing at the window but my quilt is tucked tight around me. I know, even before I look, that Edward is in the room. I sit up and he's sitting cross-legged on my old desk, surrounded by fishing reels and tackle boxes.
"I got your messages," he whispers. "I'm sorry if I worried you."
"Are you alright?"
"I will be."
I want to go to him, curl up in his lap and hold him and never let go, but something tells me to stay where I am, let him come to me, when he's ready.
"I didn't expect to see you until morning," I say.
"I couldn't stay away. I hope you don't mind."
"I don't mind."
He's formal, like he used to be, way back in the early days, and though my heart doesn't quite sink, it's having trouble coming up for air.
He climbs off the desk and steps very deliberately on a floorboard between my bed and the window. He wriggles his foot and the timber lifts up a little. Edward bends down and pulls it free, reaching into the cavity beneath. I gasp when he lays my missing birthday gifts on the bed.
The CD, the plane tickets, the photographs…
He goes back to the desk and sits like he was before while I look over my lost gifts.
"You hid them."
"That last afternoon, before you came home." I look up and he takes my bookmark from his pocket, rubbing its leather between his fingers. "This was on your night stand. I took it as a keepsake. I think, on some unconscious level, I wanted to have a part of you with me, and leave a part of me with you. Even though you would most likely never know. And then I went and forgot about it anyway. May I still keep this?" He holds up the book mark and I nod, dumbly. His voice is flat, expressionless.
"Of course. Yes. I've already given it to you."
"I know. I just want to be sure." He tucks it away again.
I touch the CD, it's so long since I've heard my lullaby. I look at the photos. The moon is shining through the window and I can make out his empty expression and haunted eyes in the picture.
"You knew then that you were leaving me, didn't you?"
I wonder if I knew too. In the picture I'm clinging to him, there's almost desperation on my face as I look up at him. I know what I felt for him then was love, but in this photo I look like an obsessed teenager. Looking at these photos, the gifts, it feels so long ago. I almost feel like it wasn't me. I blink back tears and stack everything carefully on my nightstand. I can feel Edward's eyes watching me carefully, his legs folded beneath him again.
"Do you want to talk?" I ask.
He nods slowly. "Yes," he says. "There are things I need to tell you, things you don't know that you should."
I mimic his pose, folding my legs beneath me and I get comfortable with the quilt rumpled over my lap.
Edward leans his head back against the wall and stares at my ceiling.
"They might not be things you want to hear."
My fingers curl around the quilt, bunching it up in my fists.
"I'm still listening."
Edward sighs and brings his head forward. In the dark his amber eyes glow and the words out of his mouth are the last ones that I expect.
"I was so angry with you."
My fists loosen, my mouth drops open. He was angry with me? When? Why?
"I don't understand..."
"When you went to that ballet studio in Phoenix. I never told you this because it didn't seem right to be angry with you…but I was."
Shit…where the fuck is this coming from? I have no idea how to respond to this but slowly things start to fall into place.
"You've been holding this in for nearly four years, haven't you?"
He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, like he's trying to stop himself crying. I scramble out of the covers, crawl over the bed on my hands and knees.
I stop when he starts speaking again, and sit back on my heels as his words come so fast I can barely keep up.
"You were lying on that floor, broken and bloodied, his venom in your veins, and I have never been more...dear God, terrified doesn't even come close. My heart, my world, everything…" He closes his eyes and shakes his head. "Having to suck the poison from you, the taste of your blood, not knowing if I could stop, would he kill you or would I…and then those days afterwards in the hospital when you were unconscious and Carlisle told me you'd be alright but I was still so scared, so fucking scared."
This hurts to see. Edward's face is screwed up as though in pain, his hands are balled into fists on his thighs, the bones straining against the skin. "And then I was angry, so angry, with myself, with everyone, but also with you. Because you'd almost taken yourself away from me." He pauses briefly, just long enough to open his eyes and drag his hands through his hair. "I said to you in the hospital that you were in there because of me, and that's true, but what I wouldn't admit to myself was that you were also in the hospital because of you."
It hurts for him to tell me this, I can see it, the pain etched in his face, but his eyes flash and blaze with his anger. I don't know whether to be hurt or angry myself, but through my confusion I can see the truth in what he's saying.
"He said he had Renee," I whisper.
"I know, I know he did, but you shouldn't have gone to meet him, you should have told me!" He's almost hissing, now. "You should have trusted me to look after you. You knew what James was capable of, did you really think you could outwit him? Or outrun him? You went there to die, didn't you? You went to that ballet studio knowing you would die."
"And you kept quiet about it to protect your mother."
"And to protect me."
"I knew you'd come and I didn't want him to hurt you."
Edward groans and bangs his head against the wall again. Charlie's snores snuffle and stop and then pick up again.
"You would risk yourself to keep me safe. Me," he murmurs. "Can you imagine, for just one moment, what it would have done to me if you'd died?" He leans forward, his hand outstretched, imploring me to understand and the agony in his eyes makes sure I do. "Can you conceive, at all..."
"It would be like my life without you."
He drops his hand and shakes his head. "I'm so sorry…" he says. "This must seem crazy to you, hearing this now, so long after it happened. But I couldn't tell you back then. I was just so grateful to have you safe and still in love with me after everything I'd put you through…the anger seemed wrong. I wouldn't allow it."
"No, it's not wrong. You should have allowed it. I would have been angry with me too. I was angry that you went after Victoria, remember? And you didn't put me through anything…" I want to hold him so badly. I'm debating whether to climb into his lap when he starts talking again.
"I brought you into my world, Bella, that's what I put you through." He sighs. "And now I'm proving all over again how selfish I am. I'm making this all about me, telling you how angry I was with you when I should be on my knees begging forgiveness for what I've done…"
"No, stop." I shake my head as I hold up my hand and his lips still. "Enough," I say. "Enough now."
But for Edward it's not enough.
"I was not a good boyfriend to you," he says. "I was controlling and manipulative and arrogant, so arrogant, and I lied to you more times than you know. I treated you like a child, but I thought I was trying to protect you. I never wanted to see you hurt or harmed again and you didn't seem to have any regard for your own safety, so I thought…"
"You thought it was your job to make sure I stayed alive and safe."
He nods slowly. "But I hurt you over and over again and now I don't know how to make up for it."
"You don't have to. You're here, we're together, that's all that matters."
He's wallowing. I sort of expected it but after the past few months, with a different Edward, this is hard to take. I wonder if this is how it will be now. My heart tightens because if he's gone back to who he was, then I don't know how we're going to make this work.
"I set all the rules for our relationship," Edward goes on. "And I did stupid things, like taking you to the dance when you didn't want to go, and I wouldn't listen to what you wanted. I dismissed your opinions…" He scrubs his hands over his face. "I was suffocating you and if you seemed reckless to me it was probably because you were just trying to fight against that."
"Suffocating? Edward, okay, you were controlling but there were a lot of times I didn't exactly listen to you either, did I?"
He blinks, surprised I think, but keeps talking.
"I thought, because of what I am, because of my years and my mind reading, that I knew better than you. But love was as new to me as it was to you and in that we were even, but I didn't see it that way. I handled everything so badly."
"I don't like who I was. I can't believe it was me," he whispers. "I don't recognise myself in those memories. But it was me. It is me. And I can't take back what I've done." His hands sit limp now in his lap as he watches me, head cocked in that way he has. "You held me in those woods tonight," he says, so softly now I can barely hear. "You held me through the shock and through the shame that followed it. I'd have gone mad tonight without your arms around me. Every memory was like an assault, a physical battering but you held onto me, you didn't let go." He blinks slowly. "You held on. And when you defended me to your father, even though I could see in his thoughts what I'd done to you..."
His voice breaks. My throat burns and my eyes sting as I try not to cry.
"Everything seems so different now. I see the world differently, and I see you very differently." He pauses. "You've changed too."
"But looking back, in a way I can understand why I acted the way I did. You were the fragile little human who attracted danger but you were also a danger to yourself. You seemed reckless and foolhardy, but you were also brave and selfless. That's a dangerous mix. And you seemed so eager to throw your life away on me, before you'd really lived, before you fully understood what being with me really meant." He pulls his hands through his hair and locks them on top of his head. "For a while tonight I didn't know what was right anymore. Had I been right back in Forks, even if I didn't like who I was? Or was I right now? The memories, the feelings, the fear, it was like being crushed from the inside."
And hearing this crushes my heart.
"I wish I'd been with you."
"No," he shakes his head. "I needed to be alone. To sort through everything. Having you there would have been more confusing. I'm sorry."
I shake my head. "Don't be."
He unlocks his hands and drops them into his lap. He turns his head sharply towards the window, it's a swift move that reminds me he's not human, but he is Edward.
"My instinct to protect you is still there," he says, turning back. Apparently whatever caught his attention has gone. "And it's still powerful. Even now, remembering how Tyler's truck came for you..." He shudders. "Even now, right now, I want to tell you I won't let you out on the roads again without me. But I also know you've driven from Washington to Florida, and back again, without incident." Suddenly he frowns. "It was without incident, wasn't it?"
He exhales and nods his head.
"And the ice skating. I stood and watched while you stumbled your way around alone on those sharp blades..."
"I liked that you stood back and watched. That you let me try on my own. You wouldn't have done that before."
He gives me the smallest of smiles. "If I start to slip back..."
"I'll let you know."
He nods. "You might have to be patient with me sometimes." He looks apologetic, like it's a terrible thing to ask of me.
"That's okay," I smile. "I can manage that."
"Thank you," he says and for a moment we sit in silence.
"Edward, there I things I want you to know too."
He looks at me curiously, frowning slightly. The fingers of his right hand pick at the hem of his jeans.
"You said before that I've changed, and I have. I never looked beyond Forks, before; I can see that now. And I never thought about what it would be like to live with you in the real world. I was so desperate for you to change me but I didn't think about what that would mean. But I see things differently now too."
"I know," he says. "There's a strength in you I didn't see before..."
"It wasn't there before."
He nods and I think he understands what I'm saying.
"Back in high school, I never believed you loved me, you know." His voice is unsteady again and my teeth bite hard into my lip. "Not as much as I loved you, anyway. I thought your feelings were human and limited, just an infatuation that ran a bit deeper than the usual, and I believed that one day you'd leave me."
"Edward, no..." I reach out to him but he doesn't move. I drop my hand and stay where I am on the bed. Right now he needs to get this out and off his chest, I know that.
"There was so much danger being with me, and there was so much I couldn't give you. I was always waiting for you to realise that. In some small way I wonder if, when I left, it was to protect myself as much as you."
"You don't believe that now, do you? About me not loving you enough?"
"No," he whispers. "I've known for some time now how much you love me."
He climbs gracefully off the desk and comes to sit on the bed. He stares deeply into my eyes. Tentatively, he takes my hands in his.
"I can see it. And feel it. It's in your eyes when you look at me, and in your touch, and how you hold me. It's in your forgiveness." He stops and takes a slow, deep breath. "It was there tonight in the woods when I remembered. Bella, I didn't think it was possible to feel any more loved than you've already made me feel over these last months, but tonight you proved me wrong. And I still don't know why you love me the way you do, especially after what I've done, and I've spent a lot of the past eight hours trying to understand, but now I give up. I'm beyond analysing and questioning, I'm just going to let you love me, if you'll let me love you too."
I let go of his hands and open my arms and he comes to me, curling his body around mine and we fall back onto the bed. I draw up the covers as he kicks off his shoes and he nestles against me.
"I'm too cold," he whispers and tries to keep a layer of quilt between us but I push it away.
"I'll warm you up," I say, and kiss his forehead. He touches the tears on my cheek and wipes them away.
"Don't cry," he says. "I've made you cry enough."
"I'm just so glad you're back."
I pull him closer, tucking him under my chin the way he does for me, and he rests his head over my heart that pounds for him. Only him. His arms curl around me, his legs twine with mine and he burrows into the crook of my neck.
We lay quietly for a long time, our breaths matching, chests rising and falling together as one. I stroke the back of his neck, I run my fingers through his hair. He sighs and whispers things I can't hear but their meaning is clear when he presses his lips to my shoulder, my neck and my chest.
"I love you," he says, lifting his face. "I love you."
I tell him I love him too and his face lights up in a smile that is the first real one I've seen tonight. It's beautiful.
"Did you find any good memories tonight?" I ask.
"Lots," he says. "That day in the meadow when the sun was out and we lay on our backs and looked for shapes in the clouds."
"I remember that," I smile. "And the fireworks in Port Angeles on the fourth of July."
"We took off our shoes and walked barefoot through the park when they were over."
"And then you piggy backed me back to the car because you were worried about broken bottles in the grass. And you pressed me up against the side of the car and kissed me for a very long time." I crawl to the edge of the bed and sit. "You said they were the best fireworks ever."
"They were." I feel his smooth, cool lips against the skin of my chest. "The bicycle? Do you remember?"
"Yes," I laugh. "And the pillow fight..."
"The chariot race with the trash cans..."
"And photo booth in Seattle..."
"Oh, the photo booth," he groans. "What about the first time I kissed you?"
"Um?" I tease. "Let me think."
He chuckles and nips lightly at my neck.
"Oh yes, I remember now." I grin and he lifts his head and captures my lips with his, kissing me slowly until I'm boneless in his arms.
"And I remember the little beach," he whispers as he pulls away. A breathless smile spreads wide across my face.
"I remember that too."
It was a secluded spot Edward had taken me to during that perfect summer when the outside world didn't intrude on our lives. It was a small beach, an alcove hidden along the coast, tucked away, that Edward had found and on a day of brilliant July sunshine he'd taken me there to swim.
"You wore a yellow bathing suit, with blue swim shorts." He lifts his hand to touch my cheek. "And you buried me in the sand."
My laughter fills the room and Edward chuckles softly. His chest vibrates against my body.
"That was fun," I say. "But you just stood up like it was bubble bath, not sand, and threw me over your shoulder and then you walked to the water and threw me in!"
"But I kissed you first."
I sigh and run my hand over his chest. "You looked good in those red board shorts. And when you took your t-shirt off while we swam, you were beautiful." I kiss the top of his head. "You built me the Taj Mahal out of sand."
He nuzzles me with his nose. "You let me rub suntan lotion over your back and legs and arms."
His hands wander over me now, over my hip and side.
"I wanted to make love to you that day," he whispers, almost to himself it seems. I realise I'm holding my breath.
"Was that the only day?"
He shakes his head. "No. Once those feelings started to surface I couldn't stop them, but I could control them." He looks into my eyes. "I never let you know that side of me. The side that wanted you that way." Suddenly my heart is pounding. "I barely let myself acknowledge it. It seemed wrong of me to want you like that. Everything seemed wrong. And impossible."
I'm starting to see how it was for him back then. So much going on inside his head, so much confusion and fear, yet he seemed so cool and in control.
"Not now though?" I ask. "Things don't seem wrong now, do they?"
"No," he says. "Now, everything is very, very right."
He kisses me again, long and slow, and I shift until he's lying between my thighs.
"Will you make love to me now?"
He pulls back, frowning.
"Is sleeping. And we're adults. An engaged couple. You're not some one night stand I brought home."
He growls and it makes me laugh but I wonder too if he'll say no. He looks around us, at my room, and I know he's struggling with who he was and who he is now. He opens his mouth and I'm prepared for him to say no, we can't, not here, not now. It would be inappropriate.
"Can you be quiet?"
A shocked giggle bursts out of me and I quickly cover my mouth. "Yes," I whisper through my fingers. "Very quiet."
Edward sits up and gives an experimental bounce on the bed. The springs squeak and the wooden frame groans.
"Hmm..." he pulls his hand through his hair, thoughtful. "The bed wouldn't survive us," he says, apologetically, almost shyly. "Well, it wouldn't survive me." And I am boneless again. "I have an idea," he says, standing, and he holds out his hand to me. I take it and he pulls me gently from the bed.
"Would you object..." he says, trailing his lips along my shoulder while his hands grip my hips. "To the floor?" He tugs the strap of my tank top off my shoulder with his teeth. "I'd make sure you were very..." His tongue swirls over my throat. "...very..." His fingers dip inside my pyjama bottoms. "... very, comfortable." My head falls back on my shoulders, my knees buckle and he chuckles. "I'll take that as a yes."
He holds me close as he drags the quilt from my bed and lays it on the floor. He kisses all over my neck and throat and shoulders and chest and it's awkward as I tug his sweater over his head and he peels me out of my top. I unzip his jeans. He kicks them free and they land in the corner by a box full of fishing lines and reels.
Naked and ready, Edward hooks his fingers into my pyjama bottoms and pulls them slowly down my legs as he sinks to his knees. His eyes stay on mine.
"You are so heartbreakingly beautiful," he whispers and pulls me to him. He buries his face in my stomach. He kisses over my thighs and my hands fist in his hair. "So beautiful." And without even feeling it happen, suddenly he's beneath me and I'm straddling him as he lays on my quilt on the floor.
"You on top," he says. "The quilt is to wrap you in afterwards."
He slides into me and he groans quietly as I gasp. My hands claw at his chest as we begin to move. He holds my hips, he watches me closely and I can feel this new connection between us. This connection that accepts the past and embraces the future. There is nothing between us now, no hidden memories, no forgotten past – back in the place where we began, we start a new beginning. Edward shifts, sitting up so we're nose to nose and he moves deeper inside me. I bite my lip and grip his shoulders, hard. His breathing is sharp and shallow, he grits his teeth as he speaks and his eyes glow with love and lust. His fingers burn into my skin like a brand.
"This is me," he gasps. "This is who I am. You make me who I am." He groans, and pulls me closer, dropping his head onto my shoulder as I wrap myself, arms and legs, around him. "I belong to you."
He powers into me, my body rises and falls as I ride the movement of his hips. I feel like I'm on fire, like I'm shot through with lightning. It's too much and it's not enough. Each thrust is deeper, harder, than the last. He takes me higher, until his possession is complete and overwhelming and it's like I've touched the sun. As I shatter and burn he swallows my cries with his lips. Then he shakes and shudders and lets go of me, clawing at the quilt. He throws back his head, screws his eyes shut and bites hard into his lip as he comes. So quietly.
Panting, wrapped up together in my quilt on the floor, he holds me tenderly, and so close it feels like I'm part of him. Then he begins to chuckle as he looks around my room.
"You've wanted this since you were seventeen, am I right?"
I nod, unashamed and grinning. He grins back and kisses me.
"So have I," he whispers.
After a while he lifts me onto the bed. I'm almost asleep as he curls around me, and the last thing I feel is his kiss on my cheek. The last thing I hear is my lullaby on his lips, but the ending is different, brighter. Like sun after a storm.
"I like the new ending," I yawn.
He kisses me again.
"So do I," he whispers.
A/N: Thank you all so much for your reviews and support for this story. It means so much to me and again, I'm so sorry for the long wait.
And a big thank you to Melanie who looked this chapter over for me even though she wasn't well. You're a star, Melanie རྫ
We're getting very near the end, now – just a couple more chapters, so I hope you'll stick around to see how we finish up རྫ