Synopsis:

After a forced marriage filled with violence, Bella escapes from Edward with their unborn child. Almost four years later, Edward has found her and their daughter and he refuses to let them go


"Murderers are not monsters, they're men.

And that's the most frightening thing about them."

- Alice Sebold


Chapter 34

Tainted Love

For Edward and Bella, the following year flew by in a blur of waiting for the divorce decree, attending state mandated seminars on the effects of divorce on children and attending mediations regarding custody of Alexis. Their mediator, Mrs. Mark, had also recommended they attend a couples' counseling session and while there, the counselor had asked them if they would like to work out their problems and stay together. Before Edward could answer, Bella had quickly answered in the negative. She pointed out that, other than Alexis, nothing positive came out of their marriage, and trying to save something that was built out of deception wasn't right. They both needed a clean break from each other, and the divorce was their chance to do that.

At the time, they'd even wondered whether or not to tell Alexis about the divorce, but then they figured it was best not to. Mainly because they doubted Alexis had even known they were married to begin with. Mrs. Mark had agreed with their decision, and she pointed out that having a set visitation plan might help Alexis gain some normalcy in her life. If they could still co-parent well, she need not be affected at all.

For a long time, Edward and Bella had been standing on uneven, unsure ground with regards to their relationship. Now they'd reached a point where they both understood where they were. Any sliver of a relationship had been severed, and they were now free to go their separate ways. The only requirement was that their lives remain parallel to each other so they could both raise Alexis.

During their divorce proceedings, Edward's lawyer had informed him that because Bella was out of work at the time and without a home, Edward could have fought for and won full custody of Alexis. Edward had fired the lawyer on the spot.

In the end, they'd both agreed on Bella retaining physical custody but them sharing legal custody. Edward had agreed not to put up a fight on it if Bella agreed to go to therapy as well. Mrs. Mark, who still didn't know the specifics of their relationship but knew it had been violent at one point, agreed. She pointed out that Edward wasn't the only one deeply affected by their past relationship, and by seeking help, Bella could work on coping with the trauma better and this would help her be a better parent to Alexis. Eventually, Bella had agreed to it, for which Edward was relieved. He never stopped blaming himself for what she'd suffered and continued to suffer because of him, and he was determined to help her get the support she needed.

For Edward, once the divorce had been finalized and all the details had been ironed out, it took a while to get used to the new arrangements. Under their new agreement, he didn't get to see Alexis every day so he was grateful for the times that he did. One of the first things he'd had done, during the initial process, was have his name entered onto Alexis's birth paper. He'd asked Bella why she didn't put his name on it in the first place. Her response was that legally she couldn't put his name on without his permission, but they both knew that wasn't the only reason. When Alexis was born, she'd been determined to keep him out of her life.

Alexis's last name had also been a small bump. Edward had wanted her to have his last name as well, while Bella thought it was too much. After some back and forth, they'd eventually agreed to have it hyphenated with both of their last names.

Late one Friday evening, Edward sat in his car at a park waiting for Bella to bring Alexis for his visitation. Bella and Renee were renting a house a little bit further from his house than where the previous house had been, and the park was a midway point for them.

It was just a few minutes after the scheduled time when Bella finally stopped alongside his car with Alexis.

"Hiya, Daddy-o," Alexis called when she saw him.

"Hi," he replied picking her up into a hug. "Are you ready for a fun weekend?"

"Yeah. I got a new movie we can watch." She held out the movie case for him to see.

"Oh great, another family film where everyone sings," Edward said as he read the title.

Looking up, he saw Bella waiting with Alexis's bag in her hands. Once she saw he was looking, she held it out for him to take.

"She has a slight ear infection and a cough. I packed the antibiotic and medicine in her bag," she said.

"Okay. I'll call her pediatrician if it gets worse."

After a quick goodbye, she drove away. That was how exchanges were between them. With couple's counseling over, their conversations only consisted of what the other needed to know about Alexis. It was another thing Edward had to get used to. The realisation that it really was over between them, and it was time to move on. As with everything else, that was easier said than done.

After buckling Alexis into her seat, Edward drove back to his house. Despite what he'd told her about having a fun weekend, Edward didn't actually have a lot planned for her, but the good thing about Alexis was just being able to stay with him for a few days was good enough.

"What do you want to do this weekend?" Edward asked as they walked through his front door.

"I don't know." She thought about it for a moment. "Can we go to the movies? I asked Mommy to take me, but she was busy at her new job and forgot."

"Oh. Okay, I'll take you. What movie is it that you wanted to see so badly?" Edward asked, walking behind her into the living room.

"The one with the fairies."

Edward wasn't familiar with it. "Lexi, do you know what your mom is doing this weekend?" Edward asked.

"Yeah. She said she had a lot of work to do," Alexis replied as she started taking the movie out of the case and putting it into the player.

Edward wanted badly to ask Alexis if Bella was still going out at night to see a friend, but he knew better than to push it. Alexis was not aware that her mother was dating, and if Bella didn't want to tell her, it wasn't his place to.

Several months before, Edward had made the discovery late one night when he'd stopped off at a diner to pick up dinner. He'd spotted her and the guy she was with, but she hadn't seen him. Edward had subtly asked Alexis about it, and she had said her mother went out some nights to visit a friend. He'd known asking Alexis about it was wrong, but a small part of him would always see them as being together. He'd realised that when shortly after their divorce had been finalised, he'd gone out on his first date with someone, other than Bella, since high school. It was a suggestion made by his therapist who thought it might help him with moving on. The relationship hadn't lasted long. He supposed that over time it would get easier, but for now he still couldn't look too far ahead.

The rest of the evening and the next day passed quietly, as Alexis and Edward watched the movie four times. Alexis's cough had gotten slightly worse, so Edward had opted to keep her indoors for the day. It was just after three in the afternoon when Edward's phone rang. It was Esme's number that came up. Edward contemplated whether or not he should answer it. During his hesitation, it stopped ringing. After taking a deep breath, he looked away from it, and just a few seconds later, it began ringing again. Alexis had fallen asleep on the couch, and the sound was causing her to stir.

"Hello?" he answered, walking out of the room and into the hallway so she wouldn't hear him.

"Edward, I'm sorry to bother you at home, but— " She paused.

"But what?" Edward asked. His relationship with Esme had not improved during the past year, and aside from sporadic meetings in town, he never spoke to her if he could avoid it.

"I just wanted you to know that Emmett was arrested last night," she said.

That caught Edward off guard. He hadn't spoken to either one of his older brothers since Carlisle's funeral.

"What did he do now?" Edward asked, though by the sinking feeling in his chest, he already knew. Anyone who'd spent time with their family already knew.

"He and Rosalie got into a fight again. She's in the hospital now, and from what I've been told, the doctors aren't sure she'll make it. I'm flying out tonight to see her. I know you and Emmett had your differences, but I thought you might want to know."

Edward let out a harsh breath as he passed his hand over his face. Hearing about Rosalie shouldn't have surprised him. This wasn't the first time they'd fought, but it was the first time he'd actually been arrested. Usually, Rosalie would beg the police to not take him away or she would refuse to press charges. No matter what Emmett did to her. Edward supposed this time was different. This time she wasn't able to cover for him.

"Thanks for letting me know," Edward told Esme.

"Are you going to see him?" she asked softly.

At first Edward was going to refuse. He and Emmett had not been on good terms so he couldn't find any reason as to why would he fly all the way out to Chicago to see him, but at the same time, he was still his brother, and if Rosalie survived, she would need all the support she could get.

"I don't know," Edward said in response to Esme's question.

"Okay, I'll talk to you soon then."

"Bye." Edward hung up before she could respond. It was always one thing after the other in his life.

For the rest of the day, Edward tried to push the information that Esme had shared with him out of his mind, but the more he tried, the more he found himself wondering whether or not he should go. He didn't know why he was considering travelling all the way to Chicago to see a brother he despised and a sister-in-law he wasn't close to, but something kept pulling at him and nagging at his thoughts. It was that feeling that led to him arranging a flight out to Chicago on Sunday night. That nagging feeling wasn't enough to pull him away from spending time with his daughter. Whatever was happening in Chicago could wait two more days until, according to the custody arrangement, he was supposed to drop Alexis back by Bella.

Much to Alexis's delight, they were able to go to the cinema, and when Edward met Bella at the park Sunday evening, she was still bouncing from having seen the movie.

"Mommy, I saw the fairy movie," she announced the moment she came out of the car.

Bella looked at her confused for a second, and then realisation dawned on her. "Oh right, we were supposed to see that last Tuesday. I'm so sorry, Lexi," she said.

"It's okay. Daddy took me."

Bella looked up at Edward and smiled slightly.

"How was it?" she asked him.

Edward was caught slightly off guard by her questioning him on something unrelated to Alexis.

"It was like all children's shows. Lots of colours, singing and always a happy ending."

"Guess I didn't miss much then. I'll see you Friday." Bella began stepping back to leave.

"Wait," Edward said. Turning to Alexis, he told her, "Alexis, why don't you go play on the slides for a bit so I can talk to your mom."

Alexis looked between her parents for a second before she ran off.

"I just want to let you know that I'll be gone for a few days," Edward said. "I'm hoping to be back by Friday in time to get Alexis. I already told her, but I just wanted to let you know in case of anything comes up."

"Is everything alright?" she asked.

"Not really. Emmett is in jail," he said. "He and Rosalie got into another fight. She's in a coma in the hospital, and they're not sure she'll make it."

Edward watched as Bella's eyes widened slightly. He knew that she and Rosalie hadn't been close during the duration of her stay in Chicago, but they had bonded somewhat over their similar situations.

"Are you going to bail him out or something?" Bella asked suddenly, her eyes narrowing slightly.

"Of course not. I guess I just want to speak with him. I don't know why, I just feel like it's something I need to do."

"Well, I guess that makes sense," Bella said as her gaze wandered over to Alexis.

"It does?"

"He's still your brother," she explained simply. "Family is a hard thing to break away from." She sighed sadly. "I hope Rosalie recovers."

"If you want I can call and let you know when I find out. I don't plan on staying longer than Thursday."

Bella smiled a small smile at him, and seeing that made his chest lighten just a little. "You can't anyway. Alexis's preschool graduation is Friday. She'll never let you rest if you miss it."

"I'll be back by then," he promised. Nothing would keep him away from that.

After another goodbye to her and Alexis, Edward returned home to pack.

Less than twelve hours later, Edward had arrived in Chicago and was on his way to the hospital where Rosalie was warded. He knew Esme would be there, as he had to call her earlier to ask which hospital he needed to go to, so the entire drive there, he mentally prepared himself to see her. When the car stopped in front of the hospital, he still wasn't ready.

Edward disliked being in hospitals. It was impossible not to be affected by the smells in the air and the people milling around. Whether they were nurses hardened by what they'd seen or family members seeking solace in each other during their difficult time, it always left him with a harsh realisation of his mortality.

Rosalie was warded in the intensive care unit, and just as he predicted, Esme was there when he arrived. She was the only one there, which Edward found odd. He'd assumed that someone from Rosalie's family would be there. It was only then that he realised that he wasn't sure if Rosalie had any family. Emmett had kept her on a tight leash so it wouldn't have surprised him if he'd kept her isolated from her family like he'd done to Bella.

Esme smiled slightly when she saw him, but Edward wasn't looking at her. This wasn't the first time he'd seen the damage Emmett could cause. It was Rosalie's bruises that had snapped him back to reality back in Chicago and made him realise what he had been doing to Bella. So what he saw shouldn't have surprised him, but it did. Edward could hear the beeping of the machines and see the contraption that was keeping her alive. With the bruises and lacerations on her face, Edward hardly recognized her. This was what his brother had done. It reminded Edward of all the grievances the Cullen men had caused women over the past decades. From Esme to Rosalie to Alice to Bella. Cullen men should be locked up somewhere far away.

"Why don't we talk outside?" Esme said softly. Edward had forgotten she was in the room. Looking at her now, he could see she knew how much seeing Rosalie like that was affecting him.

He nodded and turned to exit out of the room. Once outside, he collapsed into one of the hard plastic chairs just opposite of Rosalie's door. Esme came out a few seconds later and sat beside him.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"Just peachy," he replied sarcastically. He didn't come there to discuss his emotions. "Emmett's first appearance and bail hearing would have been this morning. Do you know how it went?"

"He was remanded into custody. They believe he is a flight risk."

Edward was pleased to hear that. "Have you seen him?"

Esme shook her head. "I can't face him. It's a miracle I can even face Rosalie, but the hospital hasn't been able to contact any of her family so I came. But seeing her and him, I can't help but blame myself. All of this is happening, because I was too weak to leave Carlisle." Edward watched as she wiped tears from her eyes. He wasn't the only one carrying a heavy burden from their past. She looked at him then. "I can never tell you how sorry I am. I know that it was hard for you growing up, having to see what you saw. I'm sorry I didn't protect you from it."

Edward didn't know what to say to that. For the past two years, he'd been the one apologising so it was odd having someone else apologise to him.

"What's the prognosis on Rosalie?" he asked, not wanting to dwell on that topic. Today wasn't about him.

"They said we'll just have to wait and see if she improves. There was slight brain activity this morning, and they'll be running some more tests later." Her eyes went to the door to Rosalie's room as she added, "I can't do anything for Emmett, but I can at least stay here with her."

"Who's paying for her medical bills?" Edward asked, desperate to find any way to help her.

"I don't know," Esme responded. Edward could see that it hadn't occurred to her.

"I'll speak with the administrator and let them know I'll be paying for it. For however long she needs."

"Thank you," Esme replied. They were both seeking their own retribution for what they'd done, but for Edward, no amount of money could ever erase his sins.

The next day, Edward passed through the gates of the jail where Emmett was being held. When he was younger, Edward had imagined what it would be like to visit someone in prison. Back then, he'd assumed it would be Carlisle who would be in jail. His younger self used to imagine watching Carlisle through his jail cell as Esme told him that she was leaving him. In his imagination, Edward had felt no fear because Carlisle was locked up where he could never hurt them. He'd often imagined what it would be like to feel free from Carlisle's grip, and for Esme to finally stand up to his father. Edward was brought back to the present day the moment he passed through the metal detectors. He was suddenly older, and it was his brother he was visiting, not his father. There was no Esme at his side. He was alone.

As Edward sat in another hard plastic chair waiting for them to bring Emmett out, he watched the other families around him greet their relatives through the thick plexiglass. The only mode of communication was a telephone on the partition. There was a little girl who looked about Alexis's age smiling into the phone's receiver as she talked with a man. The child seemed oblivious to the place around her, and Edward briefly wondered what they had told her to help her to understand where she was, and why the man was behind the plastic wall. When Emmett eventually came out and took the seat on the other side of the partition, Edward thought about Alexis and for the first time, he realised that Emmett was Alexis's uncle. He'd seen his family as a separate entity or having no relation to his daughter. To Edward, he'd seen Alexis as being more a part of Bella's family than of his. For a moment, he wondered how he would explain everything to Alexis should hard questions come up.

Emmett picked up the handset on his side the same time Edward did.

"I'm surprised to see you here," Emmett said. "I thought you were too busy with your new life in that piss stain town to give a shit."

"I'm not surprised to see you here," Edward responded. "You never could keep your hands to yourself."

"None of us Cullen men seem to be able to. I'm just the one who got caught. If there were any justice in the world, you, Carlisle and Jasper would be right in here with me."

Edward didn't even bother to deny it, because it was true.

"Aren't you going to ask about your wife?" Edward demanded.

When Emmett didn't answer, Edward spoke anyway. "She's still in a coma, and doctors only found slight brain activity. There's still a chance she could die."

"I already knew that," Emmett answered roughly. Edward searched his brother's face for some kind of remorse. For anything that showed he was even a little bit sorry for what he'd done. He didn't find any. Emmett was Carlisle's son through and through.

"What happened?" Edward asked.

"What are you, my defense lawyer?"

"No, I'm just trying to understand how exactly my ass wipe of a brother got here."

"You know what happened," Emmett said after a moment. "I beat her."

"I got that, but why did you go off on her this time? This is the first time she's been hurt so badly. What changed?"

Emmett looked at him for a second. "She told me she was pregnant."

Edward balked at his confession. "So you beat her? You're more of an ass than I thought."

Emmett scowled at him. "You might have no problem bringing another Cullen into this world, but I sure as hell don't want to."

Edward looked at Emmett in disbelief. Emmett was even more ruthless than Carlisle. He didn't think that was possible.

"Why are you really here?" Emmett asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.

Edward looked at him silently before he answered. "I guess I just wanted to see you. To see if you were still the living embodiment of Carlisle. I wanted to see if there was even an ounce of remorse in you."

"And?"

"You're just as ruthless as Carlisle."

"Don't act all high and mighty. Don't forget you were just like me." Then Emmett smiled. "I may have his ruthlessness, but you inherited his cunning personality. I heard about Jacob. Smart move letting him dig himself into that hole."

The last Edward had heard about Jacob, the FBI had caught onto him, and he was busy giving information on the Russians in his desperate attempt to avoid the maximum jail time. They'd questioned Edward about his involvement, but because Jenks had burned the original inheritance papers Carlisle had left, there was nothing linking Edward to Carlisle's business.

"Jacob had it coming," Edward said, defending himself quickly.

"Hey, I'm not accusing you. I've never liked that little bastard so what you did to him doesn't matter."

"Have you heard anything from Jasper?" Edward asked suddenly. There was still one brother left, and Edward hadn't heard from Jasper in quite some time.

Emmett raised one eyebrow at him. "Jasper's dead," he stated matter-of-factly.

"What? How? When?"

"Loser overdosed last year." Emmett seemed bored already with the conversation.

"Does Esme know?"

"No. I don't know why I was contacted when they found him, but apparently, Alice didn't want anything to do with him."

"Why didn't you tell Esme or me?"

Emmett laughed one hard laugh. "After Carlisle died, you and Esme sort of banded together in your own team. I figured neither of you would care. So I just had them cremate the body, and I tossed the ashes into the ocean. I didn't even stop my car." Emmett laughed at the memory.

"Five more minutes," the guard's harsh voice called.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye then, huh?" Emmett said. "I doubt I'll be seeing you around here again. Then again, you are a Cullen so I probably will."

"I'm not like you or Carlisle," Edward said.

"You'll always be a Cullen, brother. No matter how much you deny it."

"I don't deny it," Edward replied, his eyes narrowed and his determination resolved. "But that doesn't mean shit to me. Cullen is just a word, don't blame it for what you did."

"Time's up," the guard called.

"Goodbye, Edward," Emmett said as he stood up and left.

Edward watched him go. There was nothing else left to be said.


Thanks to kitchmill, JulieToo and wime09 for all their help with this chapter.