Contest: Season of Our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest
Pen Name(s) (will be removed before we post): shelikesthesound
Twitter or Facebook (will be removed before we post): shelikethesound

Title: Of Nightmares and Lullabies
Picture Prompt Number:
1
Pairing:
Edward/Bella
Rating:
M/MA
Word Count (minus A/n and header):
7,177

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): What would you do if your worst nightmare had become a reality? Edward and Bella were living a happy life, but a twist of fate destroyed their once perfect family. Will they get their happy ending?

Warnings and Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all rights to Twilight and its respective characters. I do not. I just borrow them from time to time.

The story below contains one or more of the following situations listed in rule # 7 on the Seasons of Our Discontent profile. If you are sensitive to any of these subjects, after checking out the profile page, I advise you to discontinue reading. If not, please read with caution.


"Daddy!" I heard, as my four year old daughter, Renesmee, attached herself to my legs. Bending down, green eyes—myeyes—stared back at me. I smiled at her, grabbing under her small arms and pulling her to me.

"Where's Mommy?" I asked.

She giggled. "She's in da kitchen. She says I hab to come get you."

"Is that so? Well, I'm glad you came and got me. I haven't had any Eskimos today," I said, shifting her in my arms and pointing to my nose.

"You're so silly, Daddy," Renesmee waved her finger at me.

I pouted playfully, and she threw her head back in laughter. That sound was the glue that held me together, and Renesmee was my light and happiness. My girl took pity on me and rubbed her nose with mine.

"I wonder if Mommy's going to make French toast this morning?" I pondered as I chuckled.

Renesmee's eyes went wide, and she started wiggling, trying to remove herself from my hold. It was no secret in our house that French toast was her favorite food. If she could, she'd eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I released my squirming daughter, and she ran toward the kitchen, her bronze curls bouncing behind her. I looked down and noticed the wrinkles on my blue button-up shirt. Sighing, I tried to straighten it out as best I could. My boss would not be happy that I looked like a slob.

I made my way to the breakfast table where my two favorite girls were seated. Renesmee was sitting in her booster seat, devouring her French toast and dripping syrup all over herself. Sitting next to her was my rock, my lover, and my reason for getting up in the morning.

My Bella.

We'd been typical high school sweethearts and started dating when we were sixteen. After graduation, we attended the same East Coast university and went through the ups and downs that came with trying to keep a relationship and figuring ourselves out at the same time. It was hard, but it was so fucking worth it. We had come out stronger from because of it.

By the time we were college graduates, I knew I couldn't wait any longer for that gorgeous creature to be my wife. I proposed spontaneously one night during a walk through the local park. I'd had the ring in my pocket for weeks, but the time never seemed right. That night, she'd looked so beautiful in the moonlight, and I realized a more perfect time would never present itself. I dropped down to one knee after we stopped, asking her to marry me. The moment she said yes made me feel like my life had finally started.

My sister, Alice, ended up planning our wedding. Bella and I were ready to kill her for the way she practically took over everything. In the end, though, we were grateful for her hard work. We were free to relax and just enjoy it, instead of freaking out over things that weren't important. Tying myself to Bella was the best day of my life.

The second best was the day Renesmee was born. At first, when I found out Bella was pregnant, I freaked out. I was twenty-five years old and didn't feel like I was ready for fatherhood. As Bella's stomach grew, so did my love for the small person inside of her. Feeling our daughter kick was like a religious experience for me, because I had helped create the tiny creature.

Once I held her in my arms for the first time, I knew I was a goner. There was nothing I wouldn't do to keep her safe or see her smile. She was everything to me.

"Edward?" Bella asked, breaking me out of my musings.

"Huh?" I questioned dumbly.

"Where did you go just now? Your breakfast is getting cold," Bella said, shaking her head in amusement.

Renesmee giggled. "Daddy is in twouuuuble."

"See…that's why you should always eat when you're told. Even Daddies get in trouble when they don't listen to Mommy," I teased, poking my daughter's stomach and making her squeal.

"Yep. Daddy better eat before he gets put in time out," Bella warned in a playful tone.

I took a bite, glancing at my watch and noticing I had exactly forty minutes to get to work. Fuck. Since I'd been daydreaming and had gotten lost in my thoughts, there was a real chance I was going to be late to work. The bastard, better known as my boss, would love to write me up for it. I began eating faster and almost choked on a couple of bites.

"Slow down!" Bella yelled, laughing. "You're not setting a very good example."

I looked over at my daughter, noticing her watching me with wide eyes. I swallowed the bite in my mouth and cleared my throat.

"Renesmee," I started, making eye contact. "Don't eat like Daddy was. It's not safe."

She nodded seriously, holding my gaze. A chuckle threatened to burst out, but I held it in. The wife would have killed me if I laughed.

I downed my coffee and stood up. I really had to get going—morning traffic was horrible, and I if I continued to mess around, I would never make it on time.

Bella got up and picked up our daughter, following me to the door. As I put on my suit jacket, I stole a kiss from each of my girls and left the house. Whistling, I opened the car door and got inside. I looked over at the porch as I drove off, seeing Bella and Renesmee waving at me. I smiled and waved back, driving down the street toward work.

One minute. That's how close I came to being late. I sighed as I got up from my desk to get some coffee. Working as an accountant was boring as hell, and the caffeine fix was a must if I was going to stay awake at my desk for eight hours.

My day progressed slowly, as usual, and I was ready to step away from my desk at lunch time. Pulling out my phone as I left the building, I turned it on. Sometimes, Bella called me during the day just to say Iloveyou or to let me talk to Renesmee. Honestly, those were the times I lived for, because it helped break up the monotony of my day.

We'd decided after our daughter was born that Bella would stay home with her. Bella and I felt better having her at home with her mother, rather than some stranger we might not be able to trust to take care of our precious girl. I made enough to make up for the lack of income coming in from another person working. Sure, we weren't millionaires, but we were comfortable. The simple life we had with our daughter was more than enough.

I walked over to the deli across the street and ordered my lunch. Deciding it was too nice of a day to go back inside to eat, I sat down on one of the benches in front of the building. I wondered when my girls would call me as I ate. Seconds later, the phone rang. My girl must have been psychic and knew that I missed her. I picked up my phone and answered it.

"Edward!" Bella said frantically.

The tone of her voice stopped me short, and it took me a few seconds to recover so I could answer her.

"Edward, are you there?" Bella continued in the same frightened voice.

"Baby, calm down. What's wrong?" I asked, hoping my words would pacify her.

"Oh, God. She's gone." Bella sobbed.

"Who is gone?" I asked, her words starting to scare me. "Calm down and tell me what's going on."

"I turned my back for a minute. Just a minute, and then she wasn't there," Bella said.

"Bella, please," I begged, rubbing my forehead.

"Renesmee. She's missing," Bella cried.

I dropped the phone as the words registered.

No,shehastobemistaken.

I felt like my lungs were being squeezed tightly—I couldn't breathe. Putting my head in between my legs, I began taking deep breaths, trying to stop what I knew was a panic attack coming on. After a few moments, I felt like I could function. I picked up the phone and listened as Bella continued to ramble about Renesmee being gone. I called out Bella's name to quiet her down. She paused, and I spoke again.

"What do you mean Renesmee is missing, Bella? Tell me everything. I'm on my way."

She told me they'd decided to go to the park after I'd gone to work. After she'd cleaned Renesmee up from breakfast, they had packed a picnic lunch and headed out. Bella had let her play before eating, and she had seen one of her friends, Charlotte, there. Her daughter, Katie, had been with her, and the girls had run off to play in the sandbox.

Bella said she and Charlotte had sat down on a bench nearby to talk, watching the girls. Sometime later, another woman they both knew had come up to them, and they'd begun talking about her pregnancy. Bella had helped the woman when she'd dropped something, and she insisted it only took a minute. When questioned, Katie had said there had been a man standing near the girls, asking for them to help him find his puppy. The little girl said she had been scared of the guy and started to walk away, but Renesmee had wanted to help. In the time between Bella being distracted and Katie running to the adults to get help, Renesmee had disappeared.

I ran to my car as Bella told me the events leading up to my daughter's disappearance. As I listened, I felt sick. We'd told Renesmee over and over again the dangers of talking to strangers, drilling it into her head that an adult does not need a child's help. Bella and I both stressed that it was a way for a bad person to get a child alone and take them away.

Why? Why didn't she listen?

No, I wasn't going to go there. It wasn't her fault. She was four fucking years old. Bella should have been watching her closer.

Stopit,Edward.BlamingBellaisn'tgoingtofindRenesmee.

As I got into my car, I contemplated running upstairs to my office and explaining the situation to my boss. That thought, though, vanished as quickly as it came. In that moment, I didn't give a fuck about my job. I could always find another one. I only had one daughter.

I pulled out of the parking lot and sped toward the park. Even though Bella hadn't mentioned which one, I knew where they were. There was one park that Renesmee loved, and they always frequented it.

Bella finally stopped talking as I got closer to her.

"Did you at least call the police?" I asked, trying not to sound like a jerk.

"Of course I did," she replied, sniffing. "I called my dad, and then I called you."

That made me feel a little better. The longer it took for law enforcement to get involved, the longer…I couldn't even finish that thought.

Calling Charlie, Bella's father, had been a good idea. He was Chief of Police, and if anyone could get an investigation going quickly, it was that man. Knowing he would do everything in his power and use every resource available to bring our little girl home was the only thing keeping me from breaking down.

I started to speak, but I heard Charlie's voice in the background. He was asking Bella questions. I told her that I'd be there in a few minutes and hung up the phone, concentrating on weaving in and out of traffic so I could get there sooner.

I screeched to a stop when I reached the edge of the park, turned off the car, and jumped out. Bella and Charlie were standing by the swings. I ran over to them as fast as I could.

"Bella!" I called out, trying to push passed the crowd that had gathered. An officer tried to stop me, stating it was a crime scene and I wasn't allowed to cross it. It was then I noticed the yellow tape sectioning off different parts of the park. I began arguing with the man, telling him it was my daughter they were looking for.

Just as I pulled my arm back to punch the bastard in the face, Charlie sprinted over and dragged me through the barricade. He explained who I was and that it was okay for me to come through. Fucker. Officer Shit Head should have listened to me.

"Edward, are you insane?" Charlie admonished me. "Punching an officer of the law and ending up in jail is not what my daughter needs to deal with right now."

I hung my head as he dragged me over to my wife. He was right, but I felt like I had to do something, to hurt someone, to help straighten out the mess of emotions swirling around in my head.

Bella flung herself into my arms when I finally made it to her. She held on to me tightly and started sobbing into my shoulder. Her pain was what broke me. My legs gave out, and we tumbled to the ground as I let out everything I'd been holding in.

The sounds of our cries mingled together as the despair claimed us. I felt so fucking helpless, because I had no idea where my daughter was or where to start looking. I was supposed to be her protector—the man that scared the monsters away. I'd failed her before I'd even known a threat existed.

That thought drove the grief away and replaced it with anger. I was angry at everything. The man that had taken her away, Bella for not watching our daughter closer, and the officers wandering around the "crime scene," looking like the situation wasn't as serious as it was. The sight of cops standing around, doing absolutely nothing other than drinking their coffee and wasting space, made me see red.

My arms released my wife as I stood. I could hear her voice, but I couldn't understand her words. Instead, I had my sights set on the two officers twenty paces ahead of me laughing and joking around. My legs carried me toward them without a conscious thought, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground struggling against someone trying to put handcuffs on me. The words hit, OfficerNewton, and jail flitted into my brain but did not register. I could also hear the sound of Charlie yelling at someone as I lay on the ground with a knee in my back.

"Sir, he assaulted an officer," I heard a voice say.

"Let him up, now! He's not thinking rationally," Charlie said with authority.

"Rational or not, he broke the law," the officer said.

"Son, he's the father of the girl we're looking for. Can you tell me that if you were in his position that you'd be acting any differently?" Charlie shouted.

"Sir, I—"

"Maybe if your men would do their fucking jobs instead of treating this like a goddamn party, then he might not have felt like taking a swing at Newton. Now, let him up, or I'll suspend your whole squad. Do you understand me?" Charlie's voice took on a frightening tone.

The arms holding me down let go, and the body pushing me into the dirt was removed. I pushed off the ground, brushing myself off once I was standing. An officer, most likely the one that had taken me down, looked at me with pity and then walked off. Before I could let that look piss me off even more, Charlie's voice caught my attention.

"Boy, I don't know what's going on in your head, but you need to take Bella home."

"Charlie, with all due respect—" I said, ready to refuse.

"I wasn't asking. You're only getting in the way. Let me handle things," he said, dismissing me.

I stood there, stunned, as he walked away from me.

Four fucking days.

That was how long Renesmee had been gone. The police had combed the area, after Bella and I left, and couldn't find anything other than a hair ribbon she'd been wearing. A few hours after she had gone missing, an Amber alert was issued with the descriptions of her and the man who had taken her. However, the kidnapper's sketch had come from the account of a distraught, four year old Katie, and I didn't put much faith in it.

Bella and I merely existed in the same house along with the ghost of the happy life we'd once had with our daughter. We hadn't said more than a few pleasantries to each other for two days, and I'd moved into the guest bedroom. Sleeping next to her wasn't possible. Even though I knew it was irrational, I still blamed Bella for not watching our daughter close enough.

My family and Bella's father came around as much as they could, trying to give both Bella and I their love and support. Having them in the house had the opposite effect on me, though, and every time one of them went to comfort Bella when I wouldn't, I'd leave the room.

I was never separated from my cell phone. I carried that fucking thing with me throughout the house, hoping and praying the call would come that she'd been found. So far, the phone had been silent. There were investigators looking into every small lead from a tip line that had been set up for my daughter's case, but there had only been dead ends. I waited for one of them to call me, and as each hour passed that they didn't, it crushed me further.

Bella and I were alone, for the first time in days. I sat down on the couch, pulling at my hair. Not knowing if Renesmee was okay, or safe…or…or…was slowly driving me crazy. I didn't know what would come home to me when she was found—I refused to believe any other alternative—nor did I know how I was going to handle the aftermath.

"Edward," Bella's whispered voice broke me out of my thoughts.

"What," I said in a short tone, refusing to look at her.

"Are you hungry? I made something…" Bella started to say.

"I don't want anything," I said in a dead voice, standing up to walk away.

"Please…" she said, grabbing my arm to stop me.

I jerked it away from her. "Just…don't. Get off of me."

"Edward," she began to cry. "I need you. I—I can't…its killing me."

"It's killing you?" I screamed, losing the last grip I had on the anger I had been trying to hold deep inside me. "It's fucking killing me! You were supposed to be watching her, but instead you were more worried about gossiping! Our daughter is missing because of you!"

Bella was sobbing loudly, but her cries couldn't break through the pain that was threatening to choke me. "I can't comfort you…I can barely look at you, because when I do, all I see is some shadowy figure dragging Renesmee off into the darkness."

Bella fell to her knees, breaking down. "Stop crying!"

She either couldn't hear me or wouldn't listen to me. I grabbed the first thing my hand came into contact with and threw it at the wall, and I watched as the vase my parents had gotten Bella and I as a wedding present shattered. The room became eerily quiet after the tinkling sound of glass falling to the ground ended. I looked down at my wife, the woman that I had vowed to love and honor, and felt sick.

I had just broken every promise that I'd made to love and take care of her, and I had to get out of there. The anger, pain, and betrayal I'd been feeling since that fateful day was turning me into someone I didn't recognize at all. I backed away slowly and grabbed my car keys off the table in the foyer on my way out the door.

I peeled out of our driveway and drove with no destination in mind. I had to get away and find a way to deal with the feelings poisoning me, or I was going to do something that I'd regret for the rest of my life.

Unconsciously, I ended up in the spot that, at one time, had been mine and Bella's. I parked along the dead end road and got out of the car. I knew if I made the half mile hike, I would end up at the edge of a stream. It was the place where I'd told her I'd loved her back in high school and became the place where we had gone to escape everything and just be us.

As I made the journey to the stream's edge, it hit me how wrong it felt to be there without Bella. However, I felt compelled to keep going anyway. It was like something was pulling me toward the destination.

When the sight of the water came into view, I fell to my knees, overpowered by just how fucked everything had gotten since the last time I'd been there. In that moment in time, Bella and I were about to be married, and we felt that the magic of that place would somehow bless us. Coming back, it felt like I had cursed the beauty it once held.

I had been so focused on whose fault it was that my daughter was gone, not realizing that I was just trying to find something tangible to blame. The real person responsible was nothing more than smoke slipping through my fingers, and since I couldn't take it out on him, I zeroed in on the one thing I could—my wife. In my misguided need to find fault, I had all but destroyed one of the only people that mattered to me. With each accusation, cold shoulder, and acidic word, I had slowly ripped Bella apart…piece by piece.

I could see that she felt guilty and—God—I just kept feeding into it. I, the person who was supposed to love her in good times and be her rock when things went bad, had done the opposite.

Pressing my forehead against the cold ground, I cried for my daughter, my wife, and myself. It hurt, so fucking much, and I didn't know how to make it stop. I just wanted my daughter back, and I wanted to be the husband I was supposed to be, not the monster I'd become.

Eventually, the tears had run dry, and I lowered myself to the ground. I turned my head and lay on my stomach, letting the numb feeling that was starting to wash over me take hold. Wet, prickling raindrops hit my face, but I didn't move. The cold beginning to seep into my skin didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore.

I didn't know what time it was when I finally walked through my front door, except that it was dark outside. I climbed up the stairs and turned to the guest bedroom, wanting to fall into the bed and pass out—wet clothes and all. The door to what used to be mine and Bella's room made me freeze when I caught sight of it out of the corner of my eye. In that moment, I was torn between staying in the numb state I'd fallen into by the stream and sleeping in the guest room, or taking a chance and seeking Bella out. I was hoping beyond hope that she'd take pity on me and pull me out of the dark I was slowly slipping into. I argued with myself for a few minutes and then made a decision.

I opened the door, walking in quietly. I didn't want to wake Bella if she was sleeping. I took out some pajamas and stripped out of my wet clothes. After changing, I decided to grab my pillow and a blanket off the back of the chair in our room. I wasn't worthy of sleeping with her that night. I had a lot of making up to do. Laying on the floor beside the bed, I prayed that I hadn't messed things up so badly that I had no chance of making things right again.

That morning, I got up and immediately sought her out, apologizing for the way I had acted. It was two more days before Bella spoke to me. I told her why I'd said the things I'd said, but she just walked away from me.

In all that time, there was still no word as to where our little girl had gone. It was like she had disappeared into thin air. It pissed me off, but for the first time since it'd happened, I directed my anger at the person that was really to blame—the kidnapper. However, I was dying a little more inside each day.

"We can't keep doing this," my wife said as I heard the kitchen chair scrape across the floor. I looked up from my hands and watched Bella sit down to the right of me at the table. It wasn't lost on me that the last time we had both sat together in the same spot, we'd been a family of three.

"I know. It's my fault things are so bad between us. I'll keep saying sorry until it makes it better, or I'll do whatever it takes to make you forgive me. You don't know how much I wish I could take all those hurtful words back," I admitted, shame keeping me from making eye contact.

"You know, for the longest time, I did think it was my fault," she said, not acknowledging my words. "I mean…what kind of mother doesn't watch their kid closely. I don't even like Gianna, but I was more worried about appearing polite than making sure Renesmee was safe. But then, it hit me. Regardless of what happened that day, it was out of my hands. Someone else made the decision to take her."

I stared at the table, not knowing what to say. She was right—of course she was. There were times I'd taken Renesmee to the park myself, and I hadn't kept my eye on her the entire time. With all the families that frequented the area, it created a false sense of security. Bella had probably felt the same way I had every time we'd gone…someone was bound to see something. A parent wouldn't let another person's child be stolen. Only…they did. Either someone had seen and hadn't done anything, or they had been just like us. Not paying attention and sure that someone else would step in if needed.

"I just miss her so much…" she said, breaking off into a sob. I pulled her chair over to me and took her in my arms for the first time since we'd come home from the park six days before. She clung to me, soaking my shirt with her tears. Crying myself, I buried my face in her hair, letting her take my pain as I took hers. It was how things were supposed to be, and I finally realized it as we broke down.

On day seven, a search party had been formed. There had been no solid leads for the disappearance of our daughter, and law enforcement had given up hope that there would be a happy outcome. The news had upset Bella and me greatly, and both of us refused to believe it, going as far as to kick the investigator who informed us of that out of our house.

My father was the one who convinced me that we should join the search. After arguing with me for hours, he accused me of giving up. My temper flared—how dare he question me. He wasn't the one living in hell, but the more he talked, the more he was able to make me see reason. We needed to find her. She could be out there…lost, scare, cold, alone. It was the motivation I needed to help me focus.

A central camp had been set up. Police had already combed the forest next to and around the park, and they had decided to look in a larger area. Dogs—trained to do things I couldn't think about—joined with officers, and different people from the community gathered to help find Renesmee. Everyone was given a different map of a certain area to help them navigate the forest.

Bella decided to stay behind with my sister, Alice; my mother, Esme; and sister-in-law, Rose. They were going to help coordinate with the different groups, making sure everyone knew which area they were assigned to. My father, Carlisle; father-in-law, Charlie; brother, Emmett; and brother-in-law, Jasper, and I were going to pair off and try to cover as much ground as we could. I ended up with my father, and we'd decided to take a section to the east.

After getting our map and walkie-talkie, we headed in the direction we'd been assigned. Thirty minutes later, we were deep in the woods, far away from the other parties. The day was gray, like any other day in Forks, and everything was covered in a thick blanket of green. Dad and I looked in every possible nook, cranny, and crevice we came across, leaving no proverbial stone unturned. We moved slowly, purposely, and methodically through the dense vegetation.

I attempted to ignore the eerie feeling created by the trees closing off the sky, exuding a sinister atmosphere. The silence, save for the sound of our footsteps crushing the plants under our feet, felt wrong. I pressed on, trying to push away the claustrophobia the entire place had created.

A flash of blue caught my eye in a clearing, to the west, on the edge of the forest as we continued on, and I almost didn't stop. Something, though, drew me in its direction.

"Edward, where are you going? We need to continue this way," my father called out to my retreating form.

"Just a minute. I want to check something out!" I yelled back, not faltering in my steps.

I heard my father huff in frustration, and then the sound of his footsteps got closer, letting me know he was going to indulge my need to veer off the pre-set path. The trees gave way to a meadow-like area that formed a near perfect circle and, I could see the blue thing take shape beneath a large tree in the center. It was a tarp.

That tarp looked so out of place, standing out in the vast expanse of brown and green under that tree. When I reached it, I bent down and noticed that it wasn't flat on the ground, but instead, it was bunched with a lump in the center. I looked back and saw Dad was behind me.

Turning back around, I picked the corner of the tarp up and tossed it to the side. The sight of the contents underneath made me fall on my ass.

"Edward! What is it?" my dad asked, concerned.

The wind had been knocked out of me, and I had lost the ability to form words.Thisisnothappening.I'mdreamingstuckinsomegoddamnnightmare.Ineedtowakeup.Bella,ifyouhearme,pleasewakemeup. Someoneanyonepleasewakemeup.

I heard the word "no" repeated over and over, until I realized that I was the one saying it. Unable to tear my eyes away, I sat on the ground, begging God that it was all a mistake and I was not looking at the broken, lifeless body of my four year old daughter.

Certain moments in life were said to imprint on your brain and leave a lasting impression for the rest of your life, helping to shape the person you were. The day I'd met Bella, the moment she'd said "I do," and Renesmee's birth had all been examples of them…andnowthis. I could feel my sanity fracture as I tried to process what was in front of me. It was too…surreal…terrifying…impossible.

I didn't know how long I'd sat there, staring at the destruction of my happiness. The meaning of time…life…everything had ceased to exist. Except the pain. There was no way to escape the white hot agony radiating through my body.

I felt someone shake my shoulder. "Son? Son…say something."

I recognized the voice as Charlie's right way. It was good he was there, because he carried a gun. Maybe he'd take pity on me and shoot me in the head, so I wouldn't have to deal with my worst nightmare playing out in front of me.

"Are you okay, Edward?" my father's voice asked.

Was I okay? I felt like someone had ripped my heart out of the center of my chest and poured battery acid into the wound. I wasn't sure how he could think I'd be anything other than devastated, but I answered as honestly as I could.

"No, I'm not," I said in a lifeless tone.

I got up mechanically from the ground and walked over to my father, turning away from the scene. Medical personnel and policemen had flooded the area, and I noticed the same yellow tape going up as before in the park. The reality of what was going on hit me, and I bent over, emptying the content of my stomach at the base of the tree.

"I'm sorry, son, but we have to go. Bella…she heard Carlisle over the walkie-talkie back at camp. She's panicking and demanding to see you."

Bella.

Fuck.

How was I supposed to tell her that…that…our lives were over?

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and straightened up. It didn't matter that I had no idea how I was going to do it…Bella needed to be told.

Walking back toward base camp felt like walking toward my doom. A million different scenarios as to how she was going to react ran through my mind. Any one of them had the power to break the small thread of composure I'd gained in the last few minutes.

My eyes found Bella once we entered the command post, pacing back and forth with Rose, Alice, and my mother trying to keep her calm. It didn't look like it was working, though, because I watched as Alice began to pull her into an embrace. Bella shoved her away and started yelling. "Where's Edward? I told you…I want my husband."

I jogged over to her, and she fell into my arms as soon as I was in front of her. "Please, what happened? Tell me!"

"Baby, I…she's…she's gone." Tears ran down my face, blurring everything around me.

"No," Bella whispered, pushing me away.

"Please, baby…" I reached for her.

"No!" she screamed, backing away. "You're lying! Where is my baby?"

"She's gone, Bella. I—I…"

"You bastard!" she wailed, beating her small fists on my chest. "You were supposed to find her and bring her back to me."

Bella collapsed onto the ground, hunched over and sobbing. I noticed my mother moving toward her, but I shook my head, silently telling her no. Right at that moment, I knew that she didn't want anyone but me touching her. I knew…because I felt the same way about her. She and I were the only ones who could understand the crushing grief that had gripped us.

Getting down on my knees, I wrapped her in my arms as I leaned over—my chest touching her back. I held her as she screamed, cried, and cursed everything and everyone around her, whispering in her ear that we would figure out a way to get through it. It was the only thing I had left, and I had to believe in it.

For three days after, Bella and I locked ourselves in our bedroom and shut out the world. We refused phone calls, knocks on the door from family, and any other sign of someone trying to help or give sympathy. We didn't want it or need it. Instead, we chose to lie on our bed, staring at each other. Her eyes were lifeless—the same as mine, I was sure. It was almost as if we'd both gone catatonic, unable to deal with the anguish of losing our daughter.

I was lost in the hell that had been created the moment I pulled back that tarp. The image of what lay under it would not leave my head, playing over and over on a loop. It even invaded my nightmares. On those occasions, Bella would hold me and rock me gently. I would do the same when she'd call out for our daughter in the darkness, plagued by bad dreams. The only thing I was thankful for was that she hadn't been tainted by what had been in the woods. I'd take the torture a million times over to spare my wife that horrible pain.

On the fourth day, we finally made ourselves face reality. The autopsy had been completed, and we had found out what kind of a monster her kidnapper was. What she had suffered, according to the story her broken body had told the medical examiner.

It seemed the hits just kept on coming.

At the funeral home, as we went through different options for Renesmee's service, it was all I could do to keep myself together. Bella's threshold for how much she could take was shattered the moment we walked into the room that held the caskets. The sight of a small, pink casket sent Bella to her knees. Our girl always said that it was her dream to lie on a soft cloud of pink. The damn thing was lined with bubblegum colored silk.

I picked my wife off the floor and dragged her away from it.

"We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Renesmee Carlie Cullen. She is survived by her parents Edward and Bella Cullen, maternal grandfather Charlie Swan, paternal grandparents Carlisle and Esme Cullen, several aunts and uncles, and cousins. She was preceded in death by her maternal grandmother, Renee Swan.

"When a child is taken from us, the question 'why' comes to mind. Why would God choose to take such a beautiful little girl away from us? I cannot give you the reason…God works in mysterious ways…"

It was hard to sit in that church pew and listen to the pastor prattle on about God, His plan, and how fucking unfair the world was. In my mind, there was no fucking good reason that would explain why a small child should have to suffer such a violent death. If that was how God planned things…

Bella was sobbing next to me, while the rage inside of me built. I wasn't even close to dealing with it at all. Sure, I comforted my wife like a good husband should. It was the only way I could seek penance for the asshole behavior I'd directed toward her in the beginning. Now, I was mad. Mad at God, the police force, and the fucking predator that ripped my family apart.

After the service, and once our daughter had been laid to rest for all eternity, we retired back to our house. I ignored the looks of pity and words of condolence. Wishing every person who uttered the words or sent a glance my way would be swallowed up by a black hole. The knowledge that they could go back to their happy lives, tuck their children in at bedtime, and forget about the last couple of weeks, even for a moment, made me hate them.

Bella and I got through the reception the best way we knew how, with copious amounts of alcohol on my end, and Bella saying she had to lie down—taking some sleeping pills before crawling into our bed.

My father chastised me, like I knew he would, but I pointed out that all of his children were living and mine, the only one I'd had, was six feet under. Shocked gasps and admonishments followed me as I made my way to Bella. She'd had the right idea to seek some kind of escape.

It took us months of crying, screaming, drug and alcohol abuse, therapy, and finally acceptance before Bella and I came to the place where we were able to begin to heal from our shared tragedy.

During it all, we never again turned on each other. Instead, we sunk into a desperate and unhealthy co-dependence, to the detriment of my job and our health. It took both our fathers putting the proverbial mirror in front of our eyes and telling us that our daughter would not want us to live that way before we left our self-destructive paths.

The first step, once we'd realized what we had done to ourselves, was to find a way to let go of what had happened. With encouragement from our therapist, and the support of our family, we made the trek in the woods to the tree where my father and I first found Renesmee's body. It would be the first time that any of the family, besides Dad, Charlie, or myself, had been to that spot.

I had one arm wrapped tightly around Bella's waist as we made the journey. In my other hand, I carried a small, wooden cross. Even though her body rested in the cemetery, Bella and I both felt that, somehow, it was fitting to mark the place where her life ended. And to show that, even in that desperate spot, she had not been forgotten.

Our family was in tears as we passed into the clearing, and the air was heavy with grief. I let go of Bella and walked to where I'd found my daughter months before. I closed my eyes, trying to keep the images of that scene out of my mind. When I opened them, I drove the cross into the ground, making sure that it was set in deep.

I felt Bella come up behind me.

"I love you," she whispered, placing her arms around me.

"I love you, too."

Even though she had been taken away from us, I hoped that our little girl could see that her death hadn't broken us. We would eventually heal from the tragedy, though we'd never forget.

The wind whipped through the trees, and in a moment of madness, I swore I could hear Renesmee's tinkling laughter fill the clearing.