A/N We don't own Twilight
Thank you all so much for the wonderful response to our story! We wrote this to thank our faithful readers, but also to honor the people who served, and we wrote this in honor of the fact that the US troops have finally left Iraq. We wrote this in honor of the families who have waited for their loved ones to come back home again. In honor of those that have had to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
Opening my eyes, I stretched languidly. Edward was next to me, sleeping peacefully. Sensing that I was awake, he scooted closer to me and enveloped my body with his.
"Merry Christmas," I murmured.
"Merry Christmas," he whispered back.
I closed my eyes again and thought back to this day a year ago, the day after Edward had come home after having been held captive by rebels for over a year.
I woke up that next morning, wrapped up in Edward. His arms were wrapped around my waist and his head was nestled in the crook of my neck. Our legs were intertwined, as if he never had been away. The glorious feeling overwhelmed me and I started crying instantly, my body shaking with the sobs I couldn't control.
"Baby?" Edward's groggy voice sounded. He lifted his head. "What's wrong?"
"I'm just so glad you're home," I whispered through my tears. "It's almost impossible to believe that you're really here."
He held me tighter, and while part of me reveled in being held by him like that, I couldn't prevent myself from noticing that he had lost a lot of strength during his time in captivity. My chest cracked when I realized that my worst nightmares, save for the one in which he didn't survive, must have been his reality for all those months he was a prisoner.
"I'm here," he whispered, unaware of my mental chaos. "I'm here."
He kissed my cheek sweetly, and then when I turned my head to face him, his lips touched mine. I felt like I was melting to have his velvet mouth kissing me again. How long had I longed for this?
In the other room, David started crying.
"Do you want to go?" I asked Edward.
He looked bashful, shy. "I know nothing about parenting, Bella, I... I'm not sure if I would do it right."
I smiled and kissed him in reassurance. "We can learn together then." I slid out of bed. "Don't go anywhere," I warned him.
"Never again," he replied, and he looked so sincere that I nearly choked up again.
David stretched his arms out at me the moment I appeared above his crib. I quickly changed his diaper, daydreaming a bit of the joy it would bring to have Edward help me with this. I couldn't wait for him to get to know his son, and I couldn't wait for my son to get to know his dad. David was still so young, he would never remember that there was a time when his father wasn't around.
Another miracle, if you asked me.
Cradling David in my arms, I walked back to the bedroom. I had put David in his own room when I kept waking him up at night with my dreams, startling him with my cries. I would have loved to keep him closer, but I had to consider his well-being.
For the first time in all those months, I wasn't apprehensive to open my, our, bedroom door again. Because this time, Edward would be in that bed, waiting for me. Unable to stop my smile, I opened the door.
Edward was sleeping again. His hand outstretched over my pillow, as if he was looking for me, his eyes closed, his face peaceful. I smiled again, so unbelievably happy to have him home. Carefully so as not to startle him, I slid into the bed again. When I brushed his hand, he awoke with a jolt, the fear clear in his eyes.
"Ssh," I said, "It's just me. Don't be scared."
He calmed when he recognized me, recognized the room he was in. "I'm sorry," he stammered.
"Don't be," I soothed. "I didn't mean to startle you."
He swallowed thickly. "I'm afraid it might be a while before I can sleep restfully again."
Our gazes locked for a long moment. "Was it bad?" I finally asked quietly, referring back to his time in captivity.
He looked away, and that for me was answer enough.
Now it was my turn to swallow. "Did they hurt you?"
He didn't look back up at me when he nodded.
"Oh no," I whimpered, my voice breaking as I choked up with tears once more.
In one quick movement he was with me, wrapping his arms around me and his son. He hid his face in the crook of my neck and I felt rather than heard his sobs. I held him against me, rocking him gently until he had calmed down again somewhat.
"Only thinking of you gave me the strength to go on," he said. "But I don't want to think of that time. Not now, not now I'm here, with you, with... with my son." His hesitation when he mentioned his son was clear, but so was the unadulterated pride in his voice.
"I just need to feed him, and then it's high time you get to know him, don't you think?" I asked softly.
He nodded both solemnly and eagerly, and started to move to leave the bed.
"Where do you think you're going?" I asked playfully.
"Ehm, to the kitchen?" he said, confused. "You said you wanted to feed him?"
"I did. Come here," I invited, patting the bed where he had just been lying. When he crawled back next to me, I closed my eyes for a moment to simply enjoy his heat next to me again.
I positioned David, who was looking quite eager, and looked at Edward. "I still breast feed him," I explained quietly. To my own amazement, I felt some trepidation about exposing my breast. Edward was my husband, but I hadn't seen him in almost a year and a half, and he hadn't seen me, either. It felt almost weird to expose my body to him.
But David was hungry, and Edward had seen me countless times before he left. So I scooted down until I was lying on my side, facing Edward, and exposed my breast. I guided David to the nipple with practiced ease and smiled at Edward's awed expression.
"That may just be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he said, his voice hushed. Carefully, he cupped the back of David's head as David drank happily. After a while, I switched breasts, until he was full and I could let him burp.
"Now, go sit with your daddy," I crooned at David and Edward held out his arms as I handed his son over to him.
It didn't surprise me to see the silent tears falling down his face as he took in his son. He had seen him the day before, for sure, but in all the fuss and the hurry there hadn't been much quiet time for him. Now, I watched as my husband got to know the miracle that was his child.
"He's such an angel," I told Edward. "He rarely cries. He plays for hours by himself. He's never fussy. I couldn't have asked for a sweeter child."
Edward just cried and said nothing, and I sat in bed with him as we both basked in our overwhelming emotions.
Our little bubble was interrupted by the doorbell. Jake barked, alarming us that there were visitors. I slipped into my robe and left David with Edward as I went downstairs to open the door.
Carlisle and Esme stood on the porch, beaming.
"Come in. We were still in bed," I explained a little bashfully, gesturing at my robe.
They both smiled. "No worries," Esme said. "I just couldn't wait one more minute to see my son again, as you will understand."
"Of course," I replied, hugging her fiercely. "You know I really couldn't believe it when I opened my eyes this morning?"
"I bet," Carlisle said.
"Where's James?" I asked.
"Alice and Jasper arrived over this morning. They are keeping him company," Esme said, smiling.
I smiled back, happy that the man that saved Edward's life - and by extent of that, mine - was taken care of. I guided them further into the house and saw that Carlisle had brought his black leather doctor's bag with him.
"I'll go tell Edward you're here," I said, turning to the stairs.
"Or we can come up with you?" Esme proposed. "I suppose you have to tend to David there, anyway?"
I nodded and they followed me up the stairs. As we reached the bedroom, I saw how Edward was playing with David, the little child crowing with laughter in Edward's arms.
"Oh," Esme breathed, her hand pressed against her sternum. "What a sight."
Edward looked at us when he heard his mother's voice, and his gaze softened into sadness. I went to Edward quickly to take David from him, so that he could greet his parents again.
When he rose from the bed, clad only in his boxers, Esme gasped audibly, alarmed. Carlisle's lips pressed together in agony. Having seen the state of Edward's body the night before I wasn't as surprised, but I could understand their reactions.
Edward was painfully thin. He bore the marks of hardship in scars all over his body. He was limping, a broken leg that had never properly healed. But most painful to me were the scars he had psychologically. His stance was no longer straight, but hunched. A slight tremor had settled over his body, and only when he slept was he completely still. His eyes looked gaunt, his cheeks were hollow.
He was lucky to have all his teeth still, as well as his fingers and toes, I thought with a shudder.
Carlisle stepped forward. "I brought my bag, Edward. You would oblige me if I could check you out."
Edward nodded. "I've been waiting for that. The file with all the documents is in my pack, downstairs."
"I'll get it," Esme said quickly, and she disappeared. From where I stood, I could see her wiping her eyes as soon as she was out of Edward's sight. Poor woman.
Carlisle asked Edward to sit on the edge of the bed and hung his stethoscope around his neck.
"I'll go get David dressed," I said quietly. "I'm not sure if you want me here."
Edward grasped my wrist before I could move to leave. "Always. I need you with me always." Again there was that desperate edge to his voice when he spoke.
I bent to kiss his forehead, and felt his trembling arms wrap around my waist. "I promise you I will be right back."
At that moment, Esme came back up the stairs. "Let me handle your son, so you can help mine," she said softly, and she took the child from my arms. David was happy to go with his grandma, and I saw Edward's eyes lit up when he saw how familiar his mother was with his child.
"Okay, Edward, let's begin," Carlisle said. He went through the documentation Edward had brought home with him, and asked questions on the go. He listened to his heart, took his blood pressure, and checked his reflexes. He checked Edward's bad leg for movement range. He examined some of the scars that looked fresher than the others.
"Were you tortured?" Carlisle asked quietly.
Edward slid his hand over the mattress, seeking mine so he could grasp it tightly. "Yes."
Carlisle swallowed. "I won't ask you to go into details, but what did they do?"
Edward had to take a deep breath before he could speak. "Beatings, mostly. Sleep deprivation, starvation. Isolation, too. All the time I was there, I only saw someone when they brought me food. I saw little daylight."
His voice was almost emotionless, and I felt my chest crack under the weight of his confession. It must have been horrible beyond comprehension.
"Okay, son. Thank you for telling me. I think that in a while, we will have to find a therapist for you to unload some of your experiences on, don't you think?"
Edward nodded. "This morning when Bella came back to bed and I woke up again, I was so scared... I thought I was back there all over again. I think I upset Bella with my fear."
"No, you didn't upset me," I objected quietly. "I was just worried about you. You looked so frightened."
Edward closed his eyes in distress. "I'm sorry."
"Those wounds will take longest to heal," Carlisle said meaningfully. "But let's get your physical health better again first. I will go to the hospital today and get you the fluid food that you need right now. I can also bring back the things I need to draw some blood."
Edward nodded, and I could tell that he was exhausted again after this short amount of time.
"Why don't you lie back now," I said softly. "Rest for a while. I'll go and make you some broth, and after that, we can try to get you cleaned up a little."
He was clearly pained by the notion of having to rest again, but with Carlisle and me coaxing him, he finally lay back against his pillow and closed his eyes.
"I'll be right back," I said, kissing him softly. He was already half asleep.
It took a long time for Edward to become himself again. After that first morning, he slowly started to get used again to being free. This manifested itself in the tiniest, strangest things. For example, he had a hard time eating when he wasn't told to do so. He didn't go outside alone easily. He was nervous, apprehensive. I caught him looking over his shoulder more than once when we were walking Jacob.
But he fought, because he always had been a fighter. He moved on from fluid food to solid things, and with that, his appetite truly returned. His limp would never fully heal again, but he saw a physical therapist who gave him exercises to make his leg stronger. Slowly but surely, his strength returned in both body and soul. His stance got straighter, his walk lighter. He smiled more often. The nightmares became less frequent.
He got to know David. David took to his father as if he had always been around. Edward was there to see his son's first steps. We both cried that day.
And Edward and I got to know each other again. However much I had missed him, I had to get used again to having someone else in the house. We sometimes felt like strangers living under the same roof - even though we were the same people, we had both changed during our time apart.
Edward solved that problem handsomely by asking me out on a date. He made reservations at the Italian restaurant where we had had our very first real date, as well. He courted me as if we weren't really married, and we fell in love all over again.
It took a little time before we were both ready to be intimate again. Edward had to get into better shape first, health wise, before his body would function. But even when he told me, quite proudly and with a playful smirk, that he was fully operative again, we didn't jump into bed immediately. We took our time to get reacquainted, and the rediscovery was sweet, so sweet.
When we finally came together, we both cried a little, and when our eyes met, I knew we both understood. We had made it. We were back to 'us.'
As soon as the weather allowed it, we packed a picnic basket and set out for our meadow again. Filled with bluebells, it was a tiny piece of heaven in the middle of the woods. David found wonder after wonder in the grass, and Jacob rolled around in the flowers, clearly enjoying a good mood.
In that meadow, I told Edward how I never had come back here during the time he was away. He hugged me and as David slept next to us, he rolled on top of me and kissed me sweetly for hours, tangling his hands in my hair and tasting my lips with his. I had my arms wrapped around his shoulders, feeling the returning strength in his muscles, and loved him beyond comprehension.
It was a beautiful day.
James was a big part of our lives. He lived with Carlisle and Esme until he could find a place of his own. Charlie kept his word and offered James a job at the station. James accepted with a huge grin and turned out to be an excellent employee.
Our friends and family were there for us as they had been there for me. It felt wonderful to have such a strong support system. It helped Edward heal, I was sure.
Summer trickled by, and ended with heavy rains and wind. Edward felt strong enough to start some courses to freshen up and finish his medical training. If all went well, he might graduate in the next spring.
One weekend when the weather was exceptionally bad, I stretched in bed languidly and turned to my other side, feeling Edward slide up against me behind me, wrapping his strong arms around my waist. We had brought David over to Carlisle and Esme for the weekend, and on that Sunday morning we stayed in bed late.
"I love you," he whispered, kissing the back of my neck.
"I love you too," I replied, pressing back against him.
His fingertips started a wandering path over my naked body, exploring the places he knew so well. I responded to his touch, adjusting my position to accommodate him. When he finally crawled on top of me, I was burning with need.
The festive days approached, and I was looking forward to them as much as Edward and the rest of our families. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I almost couldn't wait for the family to leave us before I could tell Edward my news.
I was pregnant again. And this time, he would be here during my pregnancy, and he would be with me when the baby would be born.
Edward's eyes shone with unshed tears as he kissed first my mouth, and then my belly in utter reverence. It was a beautiful, beautiful moment. We got a second chance, so to speak. And this time, we would do it right.
Christmas arrived, and we celebrated Christmas Eve at our house again. Alice and Jasper brought their baby, six months old, and we laid her to sleep in her travel crib in David's room.
We all reminisced how the previous Christmas Eve had gone. I remembered joking, when Jake was scratching at the door, that it might be Edward standing on the porch. Edward looked up when I said that. I had never told him that. We also laughed about how I had refused to pick up the phone, not knowing it had been Edward who had desperately been trying to call me. We laughed about Edward's stubbornness as well, when he had refused to leave a message.
James, who was with us, laughed. "Told you so, Edward," he grinned.
After dinner, Carlisle served wine. I refused, and when his eyes met mine, I winked. He smiled brightly and sat down immediately, giving Edward and me the floor to speak.
Everybody in the room was immediately silent, and all Edward had to do was place his hand over my nearly four-months-along belly. We'd purposely waited for Christmas to tell them. Thanksgiving had been too soon, but this was the perfect moment. Esme cried, Alice cheered, Rosalie bit her lip and clasped Emmett's hand. The men smiled, happy I hoped for Rosalie that she would find her happiness in motherhood soon, as well.
We got our congratulations and celebrated this most special Christmas together. After everybody had gone home, I kicked off my shoes and plopped down on the couch.
"I am still so happy to be here, with you, every day," Edward said as he sat down next to me, pressing a kiss to my temple.
"I am happy every day to have you here," I replied, nestling in his embrace.
"I'm glad I was able to keep my promise."
"Me, too," I said softly, my eyes falling closed. It had been his promise that had made us survive this ordeal. The promise of knowing that things would be all right.
The promise of hope.