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A few days later Edward found himself being held tightly in his sister's arms. "I can't believe you're leaving us already!" Esme sniffed, making no effort to hide her tears as she crushed her brother to her chest with a strength that slightly rattled him. "It seems like it's only been a few weeks since that day when I picked you up at the airport."
He'd looked so different then, she quietly mused. So broken and…gone.
And just look at him now.
She smiled, nuzzling into her brother's hold as she relished in the changes she'd seen happening right in front of her eyes. It had been only a few days since Bella had come to live with them but already Edward seemed so much happier. In fact, he'd been happier than she'd seen him in the past five years.
Isabella was Edward's redemption.
Not therapy, not drugs, not punishment and probation – she; a pale, scrawny little thing with eyes made of fire and a tongue as sharp as a knife. His love for her went deep, profound enough for him to want to change and be a better man again – a whole man. For her.
It was a good thing she saw that same desire reflected in Bella's eyes whenever the two of them shared one of those off-in-their-own-little-bubble glances or she would never have given up her precious little brother to her. She would keep him in check, Esme knew as much from what she'd seen over the past couple of days and, at the same time, she'd give him all the love, comfort and care that he so desperately needed.
He would be safe with her, as safe as she felt with him.
She could let him go now.
Meanwhile Edward had the same desire, though for completely different reasons. "Sis, show some mercy?" he wheezed. "You're about to smother me."
"Oops!" she giggled, loosening her hold on him. "I guess all those trips to the gym paid off, huh? That or you're going soft in your old age!"
"I'm not old!" Edward grumbled, his sister having touched a sore subject. "And if I am, then you're geriatric seeing as you have over a decade on me."
"What can I say?" Esme snickered, not about to backtrack on her brother even if it did mean admitting to the fact that she, too, was getting older. "I look damn good for my age."
"Yeah, yeah," Edward grumbled. "Just don't go putting ideas into Bella's head. She's been calling me 'Ned' ever since you first told her about that damn nickname!" It was all in good sport, of course, and he had to admit that sounding like a hushed prayer from Bella's plump, raspberry lips as they made love, it didn't even sound so bad…but he still didn't like it.
"Did I mention how much I like her?" Esme spoke, her laughter still ringing through in her voice before fading out as she turned serious again. "Seriously Edward, I'm so happy you found her. Being in love…it's a look that suits you."
Throughout the past few days she'd gotten to know her brother's new love a little better as she helped Bella get her first bearings around modern living. The look on the girl's face as she'd taken her to Port Angeles to shop for clothes and other necessities had been priceless. It was like she'd just been handed the keys to the Disney castle and told it was her new home.
She was still struggling to adapt to the hectic and crowdedness of the world outside her forest home and often found herself overwhelmed and in need of the peace and quiet of Edward's rooms but Esme had no doubt that, with the right kind of help, she would find her way in the big city.
"Thanks, sis," Edward smiled, dutifully letting her pull him back into her arms as she bid her farewells, the two kisses she pressed to his cheeks mixed with tears that were both happy and sad as the siblings finally stepped away from each other, leaving Esme to throw herself on a very startled looking Bella as Edward moved towards his former boss and brother-in-law.
"Thanks," he spoke, nodding as he shook Carlisle's hand. "For everything. You really stuck your neck out for me when you didn't have to and…and I really appreciate it."
"That's what family is for," Carlisle nodded back, using the leverage of Edward's hand to draw him into an awkward, one-armed, no-groin-areas-going-anywhere-near-each-other hug. "Besides, I imagine we haven't exactly been worse off, having a big shot brain doctor hanging around our premises."
Edward shrugged. "I learned a lot from you guys as well." That was the truth. He might not have learned a lot where it came to the practice of medicine but when it came to combining said practice with being a human being, he'd learned more in the six short months he'd spent in Forks than all his years in Chicago. And he was going to need it, if he was ever going to live up to the kind of man Bella deserved. "Say hi to Maggie and Mark from me?"
"Will do." Carlisle smiled, remembering how forlorn Maggie Molina had looked the day before, when she'd said her goodbye. As much as he knew the relationship between them had been one of violent opposites – motherly love and professional hate for someone who'd all but thrown his education and talent away – he knew she'd miss him like crazy. He knew that because he felt exactly the same way.
As much as Edward had felt reminded of what it was like to be a normal human being and a doctor again, Carlisle had been taught that same lesson. Having Edward around had served as a sort of pressure cooker for all the things in his life that had been wrong; the very things he'd done his best to hide from for as long as they'd existed.
There was no more hiding now and that wasn't just because the disastrous events that had all but destroyed his family had taken care of most of the underlying problems as well. It was because right now he knew that it felt so much better to face your problems head on than to hide from them. He only had to think back on the way Edward had looked when he'd first arrived in Forks and the way he looked now.
He glanced sideways where, surprisingly, his daughter stood, locked in a firm embrace with Bella, something he'd never expected to see in his whole life but, then again, they were both young women who carried severe scars on their souls. Maybe that was what had bonded them in the short period of time they had been thrown together. He chuckled as Rose tried to extort a promise of regular Skype'ing from the other girl, which was answered with a blank stare and a counter promise to write.
He sighed, looking at his little girl. Slowly, but surely, she was starting to bounce back a little again and connect with the world around her, though never in the way she used to. He would have been lying if he said he'd been happy with the kind of person she was before tragedy had stricken but he would still do anything in his power to get that girl back again if it meant never seeing the empty, broken look in his beautiful Rosie's eyes again.
He hoped it would get better once she was in a different environment; an environment his wife, of all people, would have to provide. It made him wonder if maybe it would be a good decision to up and move the whole family someplace else; to a place that wasn't marred by unhappy memories where they could all make a fresh start. Maybe somewhere near Chicago, since it looked like both his son and Emmett, the guy who had become a good and loyal friend to both Jasper and Rosalie and who, if Carlisle's eyes hadn't been deceiving him, might end up as his son-in-law after all if they would manage to make it through the separation, would be starting college the next year.
Carlisle chuckled as he glanced at Edward, thinking once again how much of a coincidence it was that Emmett had been accepted - early no less - into Northwestern's pre-medical program with a full scholarship to boot. As much as Edward had denied it, Carlisle suspected that at least one of the Masen children had had something to do with that. If only he could find out which of the two that was.
Edward, in the meantime, was completely unaware of Carlisle's quiet musings, keeping an eye on Bella at all times, causing him to miss most of what Jasper had been saying until something caught Edward's attention.
"…so I'll be seeing ya, I guess," the kid muttered, his eyes on the ground as he toed the gravel on the driveway while shifting around nervously.
"Huh?" Edward frowned, looking up.
"You know, since I'll be moving to the Windy City this summer?" Jasper, now aware that the speech he and Alice had practiced over the phone hadn't been heard, repeated in a slightly panicked voice.
"You're moving to Chicago?" Edward repeated, trying very hard not to think about the implications this move would have on his sister's state of purity. Her talking to Jasper almost every night had been very fine and dandy as long as the guy still lived on the other side of the country but in light of this new development? Not so much.
"I got accepted into Northwestern along with Emmett," Jasper cautiously explained, "so as long as I graduate with decent grades, I'll be moving up there this summer."
"That's…great." Edward had to use some considerable force to make the words come out at least somewhat enthusiastic. "I'll be able to keep an eye on you then." He had to admit that it felt good when the young man turned slightly pale, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed with some difficulty. "You know, for my sister's sake." He left unspoken just which sister – Esme or Alice – he meant - not that Jasper didn't understand him perfectly though.
As soon as Bella finished whatever crazy experiment had brought her and Rosalie close enough that they looked like besties all of a sudden, his attention shifted back to where it belonged again, his arms wrapping firmly around her slender shoulders as soon as they were free to be embraced again as he dipped down to kiss the top of her head. "So, are you ready to go?"
She looked up at him, the tip of her nose red from being outdoors in the cold for quite a long time and her eyes shining with a mixture of happiness, sadness and slight hypothermia given the coldness of the weather outside as she nodded. "All set."
Their family followed them out to the car, waving and shouting out their final goodbyes as, for the last time, Edward backed out of the Cullens' driveway. He watched them slowly shrink away as he drove off; sad to be leaving such a happy part of his life behind him but also happy to start the next chapter.
"What's on your mind?" Bella's soft voice spoke, pulling him out of his thoughts. "You look like you're miles away from here."
"I am, in a way." He chuckled as he lifted her hand to his lips, kissing it as he laced their fingers together and rested them on the center console. "What about you? You seemed to be awfully close with Rosalie all of a sudden."
Bella shrugged, though the mysterious smile on her lips told him more than she perhaps intended. "We talked some, while you were off to work, and I'm starting to understand a bit more of where she's coming from." Her face was pensive as she stared out of the window and Edward knew better than to interrupt. "Sometimes I think that in a way we are really alike, though the differences in our lives have made us change to polar opposites."
He nodded, to some extend being able to see where she was going. "You handled things way better than she did though."
Bella merely shrugged. "I wouldn't be so sure of that. I mean…" She paused angling her face to look at him, "when we first met, the way I treated you wasn't so very different from the way she acted around most people."
"But you changed," Edward countered, thinking about those days, when the very strong feelings he was already starting to harbor for her were still mixed with a boiling rage.
"And so will she," Bella persisted. "Just give her some time to grow and find out what she wants in life, as opposed to what she thinks people want her to become."
He squeezed her hand, keeping his eyes and his mind on her. "Like you needed time to find out for yourself?"
She nodded, the index finger of her free hand tracing a line over her lips. "I will still need some time every now and then to find my own way."
He knew she was trying to warn him of all the difficulties that still lay ahead; her uncertain future, his further rehabilitation and the hard task of keeping that which had grown between them pure and unspoiled by the outside world. If there was anything he wanted to do, it was the latter.
"I know, love." He nodded, having already thought about this and the way he would just have to deal with it, whether he liked it or not. "I'll give you all the space you need, as long as you'll still talk to me about what's going on in your head and…" He took a deep breath, voicing one of his greatest fears, though in the most veiled way possible. "…and as long as you'll still share my bed at night."
She stared at him until it was impossible for him to ignore her gaze, his eyes only away from the road for the slightest moment but long enough to see the look of pure, unadulterated love in her eyes. "I wouldn't be able to face this world any other way." Her voice was soft but sure, her hand this time squeezing his as she traced his thumb with hers. "We're on this road together."
And that they were, the car purring gently as it crossed another mile in pursuit of their final destination.
In pursuit of happiness.
Yes, this is definitely not the end, though Edward's journey to Forks ends here and with it, this story. Next week, same time, same day, you will get to see the continuation of Edward and Bella's journey together in the sequel, which will follow Bella as she discovers the world she's been a stranger to for so long as she finds her way around modern life, being a doctor's wife and, most of all, dealing with Edward's crazy family and her own past.
For now, I want to thank each and every one of you for giving this story a shot. I have loved reading your guesses, comments and thoughts on these chapters or even seeing people adding the story to their alerts and knowing my words were being read. It makes sharing this story such a pleasure. You all rock!
I also want to take this moment to say an extra thank you to my amazing beta team, Jadsmama and LadySharkey1, for all their amazing advice and words of wisdom. This story wouldn't be the same without you and writing wouldn't be as fun. Luv ya both!
Sooooooo...see you all next week?