Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga& all associated characters are the copyrighted creation & property of Stephenie Meyer. Any other publicly recognized characters, brands, quotes or "catch phrases" are the sole trademarked &/or copyrighted property of their respective creators. No copyright or trademark infringement is purposely intended with this story. The plot & any original characters of this story are the property of Artemis Leaena, and may not be reposted, reproduced, or translated without the express permission of the author.
A heaping helping of thanks belong to the amazing caz12771 for her pre-reading skillz, & the fantabulous wmr1601 for putting up with my neurotic keister long enough to beta this piece! =)
"Here ya go, honey. Do you need anything else?"
I looked up with gratitude at Esme as she handed me a steaming cup of coffee. It had been a long, exhausting night and I was in desperate need of the caffeine and its magical ability to bring me to life. "No thanks." I gave her a tepid smile, unable to muster a genuine one at the moment.
"Are you sure you're okay, darling?"
Reaching up to grip the hand she'd placed on my shoulder in concern, I tried one more time for a happier smile, but it just wouldn't cooperate. "Yeah, Mom. It was just another rough night is all."
Her eyes crinkled at the corners with her overwhelming desire to pry, but she didn't – I knew she wouldn't. It wasn't in Esme's nature to intrude where she wasn't invited. That distinction, even after all these years, belonged to my adorably meddlesome sister.
"Okay. I'll just leave you to your thoughts then." She bent to place a kiss on my forehead, and with a final squeeze to my shoulder and a sad, pity-filled glance to the chair beside me, she went back into the house.
I leaned back in the Adirondack style chair I'd been occupying on the back deck for the last hour, enjoying the early morning chirping of the birds and the way the barely risen sun glinted off the morning dew that clung to the surrounding vegetation. Yes, I'd rather be up in my old bed – or even in the large king sized bed back at my house in Seattle – sleeping, but today was March thirtieth, and that meant I was back at my parents' house, like the consummate masochist that I am, reliving the day twelve years ago when I'd died. Alright, so obviously I hadn't actually died, but I might as well have.
It had started off as such a wonderful day. Bella and I, after more than eight years of dancing around each other and never saying what we felt, had declared our love for one another the previous night, and I'd woken up in her arms for the first time ever. It had been pure bliss. I had been so excited about our confessions – and the fact that she'd been naked and writhing beneath me – I'd even let her pick the game we played that day despite it having been my turn to choose. She'd picked archery and we'd set out for our meadow, a euphoric hope fluttering away in my heart.
Everything had gone to absolute shit from that point on, though. She'd agreed to the modified rules where, instead of keeping a score and having the winner choose something for the loser to do, each time we shot, we'd have to perform whatever task was written on the paper for that section of the target. Bella had stepped up and shot first, her arrow sailing straight and true to land in the bull's-eye and had gone to find out what her first action would be. I knew what her paper would say – they all said the same thing: Marry Edward.
I'd followed along behind her, got into position on one knee as she faced away from me, and prepared to offer her the world. There had been no doubt in my mind when she'd turned around and smiled through her tears as I knelt before her, or when she'd tackled and kissed the ever-loving life out of me, that she would accept my proposal. Imagine my surprise when she'd sat up and told me no, shattering my heart at the same time.
I sat up, scrambling out from under her to jump to my feet, and gaped down at her incredulously. "What do you … how can you … what the fuck?" I stammered out.
Bella slowly rolled into a standing position and went to take a step toward me. She stopped, wringing her hands and biting her bottom lip, when I flinched. It killed me to see tears rolling down her cheeks and know that they weren't the happy ones of a moment before, but damn it all, I had offered her my soul, and she'd treated it like it was nothing but a bug that needed to be squashed.
She took another tentative step toward me, her outstretched hand and voice imploring. "Edward, I'm sor–"
"It's fine, Isabella," I snapped, not wanting to hear a fucking apology. I took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly while I prayed for enough composure to be able to make it back to the house without falling apart. "Let's just get this stuff put away and get back. I still need to pack before my flight in the morning."
I stalked over and started dismantling the two targets while she crossed the meadow and retrieved the equipment and bow bags we'd left on the other side. By the time she returned and got everything stored in the trailer, I was already swinging my leg over the ATV in the front position. No fucking way was I going to endure a crawling, hellish ride. She silently strapped on her helmet and climbed behind me, her tiny hands barely touching my sides as her fingers fisted in my shirt. Fine by me. I'd no doubt have said something prickish if she'd tried to wrap her arms around me at this point.
We were back at the house in less than thirty minutes, and as soon as I'd killed the engine, I jumped off the vehicle as if it burned me and stalked across the yard toward the deck stairs. I was brought up short halfway across the yard by the smiling and expectant stares of my family as they stood watching us. Fuck! This was just what I needed now.
"So, are you guys official now?" Alice chirped excitedly, bouncing in place, as I mounted the stairs.
"Yeah," I growled, "I'm officially a fucking delusional jackass who believed he stood a chance, and she …" I waved my hand in an angry, blind arc behind me "… is officially …" I threw my hands in air "… what-the-fuck-ever." I stomped past them, ignoring their collective gasps of disbelief. "I hope someone in your betting pool had 'never gonna fucking happen,' because that person just won the damn lottery." I ripped the French style door open, slamming it soundly behind me, and bounded up to my room, closing that wooden portal with even greater force.
The rest of the early afternoon was spent tearing my room apart and haphazardly packing what I needed to take back with me to Chicago and the things I wanted to take with me to Seattle. There was no way in fucking hell I was stepping foot back in this house so long as she was here, so the things going to the new apartment – which I would find and lease online before I came back – would need to be packed and clearly labeled for Carlisle and/or Esme to either bring or ship to me.
I wasn't going to go down to supper, but I took my father's even-keeled voice drifting through my door telling me, "If you've found and reattached your balls, dinner's ready," as a personal challenge and schlepped down the stairs. Much to Esme's dismay, Carlisle's chagrin, Alice's horror, and Bella's humiliation – I would assume, I refused to look at or address her at all – I wolfed down my food, barely even chewing, in my haste to get back to my room. If anyone had anything to say about my atrocious behavior, however, they didn't say it to me.
It was about nine o'clock when I'd puttered around my room and packed all I could and, having run out of things to do, decided to turn in for the night. I had just crawled onto my bed but not beneath the blankets when a timid knock shattered the silence. Reluctantly, I went over, sure that it was either Esme or Alice, and prepared to pretend to be just fine so they'd leave me alone. It wasn't either of them, however, that stood outside my room; it was the last fucking person I wanted to talk to right now, and I slammed the door in their face, flipping the lock so they couldn't just barge in.
They tried the handle, the metal twitching and jiggling with their efforts, but resorted to pounding and screaming when they couldn't gain entry. "Edward Anthony Cullen, open up this fucking door right now. We need to talk, and you acting like a whiny-ass baby isn't going to solve anything."
I stalked back over, threw the latch, and swung the door open with enough force to rip it off the damn hinges, rage pouring from every point of my body as I sneered. "What the fuck is there to talk about, Isabella?"
"I hate it when you call me that."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Am I supposed to give a fuck? Because I don't. Just like you don't give a rat's ass about making me believe that you loved me and wanted to be with me. I'll bet you and Alice had a nice good laugh over my foolish behavior these last several days and especially today."
Her eyes grew wide, and her hand flew up to cover her mouth as she gasped and started shaking her head in emphatic denial.
"Yeah, that's right, I know all about how the two of you have been playing me for years. Tell me, Bella …" I said her name as if it left a bad taste in my mouth "… did she tell you I was in love with you before or after you got up here? You know what …" I waved my hands furiously, cutting her off before she could say anything "… it doesn't matter when. The fact is you knew, and you still ripped my heart out on purpose. Congratu-fucking-lations, sweetheart. You've finally gotten your revenge on me. Consider it lesson fucking learned. Now go the fuck away."
I neither saw nor anticipated the hand that came up and cracked against my cheek, my head whipping to the side from the impact. Lack of forethought afforded her the opportunity to accost me, and surprise over the attack gained her entry into my room. She was the one who slammed the door this time as she exploded verbally.
"You apparently haven't learned jack shit, because you're still the same arrogant, selfish bastard you've always been. The only thing that's different is that you've finally admitted to caring about someone other than yourself. I'm not finished yet, asshole," she snarled in response to my furrowing brow and opening mouth. "And for the record, Alice didn't tell me fucking anything about your alleged feelings.
"Yeah, that's right, I said alleged …" she was laughing, but it was a wholly evil and demonic sound "… because you don't treat people you love the way you've treated me since we returned from the meadow, and I'm still talking, so shut your damn trap, Cullen. You say I ripped your heart out today? Well try feeling like that for eight fucking years, asshole. What? Did you think that just because you finally – how did you put it last night? – pulled your head out of your ass that I was just going to roll over and be fucking grateful?
"Yes, I love you, and I want to marry you someday. Wipe that fucking smile off your face, jackass." How the hell did she do that? She wasn't even facing me, her pacing having taken her to the other side of the room where she had yet to turn back around. "You can't expect nine days of treating me like a human, instead of a sperm receptacle, to make up for the all those years of being oblivious."
I'd been too afraid to move once she started roaming the room like a caged animal, and she finally stopped her agitated prowling, coming to a halt in front of me, her entire demeanor sagging under the weight of her defeat. She sounded almost broken, but I refrained from reaching out to her, unsure if she would welcome my touch or if it would reignite the inferno that seemed to have been snuffed out.
"I just–" She stopped and took a deep breath, holding it for the longest time before finally exhaling, deep, still pools of coffee colored glass seeking me out. "I'm sorry that I hurt you today. Truly I am, but we're not ready for that. We don't know each other well enough for marriage."
There was no containing my insulted scoff or my angry tone. "That's bullshit, Bella. We know everything there is to know about the other. Hell, we've known each other our entire lives. How can–"
"No, Edward, we don't." She closed the distance between us, took me by the hand, and led me over to sit beside her on the edge of the bed. Once down, she turned, pulling one knee up on the mattress, so she was facing me and kept hold of my hand as she spoke calmly, without any heat. "The Edward I know is a treasured confidante, heroic champion, shoulder to cry on, compatriot to laugh and celebrate with, and the best, most loyal friend in the entire world, but I don't know him as a boyfriend, lover, or future husband."
I shook my head, trying really hard to comprehend what she was saying, but none of it made of lick of sense to me. My gaze found hers, and I tried to keep my hurt at bay – I wasn't trying to make her yell at me again. "Bella, I don't understand. I'm sorry, I'm trying, but I don't. I don't see how being all of those things as your friend, including your lover, isn't the same as being your boyfriend – just without the title."
She smiled indulgently at me, which only served to make me feel even more ignorant instead of comforting me as I'm sure she'd meant it to. At least I hadn't pissed her off again, though.
"Edward, honestly, all those times we had sex as friends, were you in love with me?"
"Yes," I declared without the slightest hesitation. This was a question I'd asked myself a thousand times since realizing my feelings and didn't feel the need to even think about my answer.
"But did you know it at the time?"
I was starting, sort of, to see where she was going here … maybe. "Um … no?"
Her genuine laughter, quiet though it was, was music to my ears, but I was getting a little tired of that placating grin she was giving me. Yes, I'm a schmuck, but did we really need to dwell so heartily on that point?
"That's the difference, baby." Her free hand wrapped around my cheek, caressing the planes of my face with her thumb. "We know how to work together as friends and occasional sex partners, but we know nothing of communicating as a couple. Fuck, look how long it took us to admit our feelings." We both chuckled, and I felt a bit of the tension suffocating me drain away. "I want time to get to know the Edward who's my lover, my partner, my help mate."
I furrowed my brow, thinking I was finally on the same page of understanding that she was, but I'd been wrong so many times in the past, I felt it best to ask rather than assume. "So you want us to … uh … date?"
"Yes," she exclaimed, bouncing on the bed excitedly, and the hand that had warmed my face came down to join her other one in squeezing the life out of mine.
I was on a roll here and hoping like hell that it held. "And today?" Her eyebrows rose, but I pressed on before she could say anything. "You weren't really telling me no, you were saying not yet?"
My poor, agonized hand was released, but my neck took its place as arms surrounded me and a body tackled me. Instinctively, my arms came up to hold that body to me as we fell backward onto the bed.
"So I'm forgiven for being an ass and treating you like shit today?"
Her laughter vibrated throughout my entire body, and her smile was so bright it was my own personal sun.
"Yes …" she placed a chaste, smacking kiss on my lips "… so long as you never act like that again."
"I promise, my love." One of my hands slid down to the small of her back to press her more tightly to me, and my other one snaked up to tangle in her hair as our mouths fused together, tongues reaching, wrapping, writhing around each other.
A snort to my right not only brought me out of my reverie but also broke up the soft, constant snores of the gorgeous brunette sleeping beside me, her hand still wrapped around the untouched mug of coffee Esme had given her before handing me mine. I hated to wake her up, but we had business to attend to. Business that was the true reason why we journeyed back here every thirtieth of March: our wedding anniversary.
After graduation, both Bella and I had immediately moved to Seattle, but not with each other. She'd been adamant about us dating and getting to know Bella and Edward the couple, so she'd refused to move into the little one bedroom apartment I'd rented near campus, and moved in with Alice and Jasper as they'd planned all along. She'd even held me to the vow I'd made to her on that long ago morning and refused to do anything more than heavy petting and making out until she "belonged" to me.
For a little more than six months – in which time my dick and I got into many heated arguments about why we'd gone along with this plan – we went no further than a heated foray into "second base" territory. But on one glorious night in December, after finals were over for both of us, I took my angel out for a romantic dinner at the Space Needle and proposed … again. This time she said yes, and we went back to my apartment where we made love the whole night. The next day, after calling everybody either of us had ever known – that's what it felt like anyway – she moved in.
We had originally planned to have the ceremony the following July, even though we knew Alice's head would spin off into another dimension at only having about six months to plan her best friend's wedding, but things didn't quite work out as we'd hoped. It started with Nana Cullen passing in her sleep the week of Valentine's Day, and ended with a pale, stricken Bella pointing to a little white stick with two pink lines that was sitting on the bathroom counter as she threw up in the toilet later that month. Being the lucky, karma-blessed individuals that we were, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the point-one-percent of people who could get pregnant while faithfully taking birth control.
Bella refused to get married while she was, as she put it, "as big as a fucking house," so we pushed the wedding back. Since she was due in October and didn't want to still be breast feeding during her wedding either, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to turn a day haunted by bad memories into a day to celebrate. This was a decision I whole-heartedly supported, because as much as I already loved my unborn child, I didn't want to share Bella's splendiferous – it's a word, shut up – tits on our wedding night.
Joshua Charles Cullen was born at two-thirty in the morning on October twentieth – the day his daddy had a huge test on the Endocrine System to take and no sleep on which to do it. I was there for the birth, but as soon as they had him cleaned up, and Bella was resting comfortably, I high-tailed it to campus. I don't remember how I did on the test, I just remember rushing back to the hospital so that I could hold my brown haired, green eyed, miracle of a son again and to be there when his mommy finally woke up. That madhouse day of running on no sleep was pretty much the theme by which we lived our lives from that day forward, but I wouldn't have changed it for anything.
Our wedding was small, the guest list comprised of just immediate family and close friends, and was held in Carlisle and Esme's backyard as we had originally planned. There had been some question of pushing the date forward when it turned out Bella wasn't able to breastfeed Josh – she just didn't produce enough milk to satisfy his needs – but threat of death from Alice made us stick to our second date of choice. We had also briefly thought about having the wedding in the meadow, all the guests forming a convoy of ATVs to get there, but Mom and Alice were already struggling to accept how we wanted to deliver our vows that we relented on that point as well.
My beautiful bride-to-be had the brilliant idea of further erasing the stain of this date by having us write private vows to each other that we would attach to archery targets to be retrieved and read by the other before we would stand before Pastor Weber and recite more traditional vows. I thought it was genius, Esme was afraid of flying projectiles around the baby, and Alice was fainting hourly over Bella's arm and finger guards clashing with her dress. It went off without too many hitches, though. Bella, naturally, hit the bull's-eye on her first try and came back from reading the words I'd written to her crying and smiling. I blame Josh squealing at a butterfly for making my first shot go wide, but I hit my mark on the second try and ended up shedding a bucket of tears over Bella's sweet message of love to me.
Now, ten years later, we were back here to keep up the tradition of shooting for letters written by our beloved. If only I could wake the sleeping beauty next to me. Neither of us had gotten much sleep the night before, Bella because she was once again pregnant and about to burst, and me because I was up half the night with our screaming third child, two-year-old HollyAnn, who had an earache. Hopefully she'd be good with Nana and Papa tonight, because Mommy and Daddy had plans of an adult nature in Seattle.
Another snort followed by a whimper drew my attention back to my sleeping – and drooling, though she denies it every time I tell her about it – wife, her little nose scrunching up, and her hand coming up to rest on her protruding belly. Even though this would be our fourth child, it never failed to fill me with awe how truly gorgeous the love of my existence was every day, but especially while carrying our baby.
My fingers found their way to her cheek, and I ran the backs of them down her smooth, alabaster skin as I leaned forward and whispered, "It's time to wake up, angel, and you're drooling again."
"I don't drool," she grumbled and swatted at my hand, but opened her mocha-tinted, love-filled eyes and smiled at me.
"You do …" I wiped her chin off with the back of my sleeve "… but I think it's adorable."
"You're an ass, Cullen."
"I know, but you love me anyway, Cullen."
"Yeah, whatever, but if your demon spawn doesn't stop using my liver as a punching bag, I may never have sex with you again."
My boisterous laughter echoed off the surrounding trees, a flock of birds taking to the sky in fright from the sound, and Bella's scowl only made the situation more humorous. When I'd settled down most of the way, I captured her lips in a deep, groan inducing kiss that succeeded in wiping away the remainder of my mirth. I suddenly couldn't wait to get this over with so I could go make love to my wife without little hands reaching under the locked door they were unsuccessful at opening.
"Are you ready to do this?" I murmured against her lips.
Her responding, "Yes," was airy and laced with longing and had me jumping up to assist her out of her chair. As soon as she was on her feet, however, her one hand clutched my forearm in a death grip, and the other went back to her stomach as she bent over slightly on a gasp as a puddle formed at her feet.
"Okay," she breathed out with a smile, "Let's do this."
She turned to waddle her way down the stairs, leaving me gape-mouthed and flabbergasted on the deck. I scrambled forward to catch her before she could descend even the first step.
"Bella, your water just broke. We need to get you to the hospital."
"Edward …" she pulled me down to kiss me quickly "… I love you, but I want my damn letter. Besides, if this baby is anything like her siblings, she's going to take for-fucking-ever to come out. Now help me down the stairs."
Against my better judgment, and only after making her promise to wait to read her letter until we were in the car and on our way to the hospital, I helped Bella off the deck and fulfilled our annual tradition. As soon as we both had our letters, though – thank you archery gods for letting me get it on the first fucking try – we were off. Fourteen hours later, the newest addition to our family finally joined us. It had only taken me twelve years – and nine days – but I finally got my Eternity … Eternity Marie Cullen.
So that's the end, folks! =) I greatly appreciate all the reviews, rec's, & love that've been given this fic…y'all rock my face! There will be out/futuretakes to follow, despite my having marked this little ditty as complete, but with the exception of one, I don't know when they'll come. As for the one I do know about, it will be part of the Christmas Wishes Compilation to Benefit Toys For Tots (linkage is on my profile page.) I have put this fic together into - imo anyway - an attractive pdf. If you are interested in receiving it, shoot me a PM, email, or track be down at one of the below places! =D
Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart for embracing this fic. Please check out my other fics, hunt me up on Twitter where I babble incoherently as (a)artemisleaena, come watch me stumble around Facebook by friending artemisleaena(a)aol dot com, or join in the fun in the FB group dedicated to my fanfiction endeavors www facebook com/groups/TempleofArtemis.
Love & Edward nibbles,
Artemis – The One & Only Goddess of the Pride