One thing before we get started... For my Right There readers... please bear with me. The happy place that is that story is just hard to get to when things are everything but for me. It means too much to me to risk doing it wrong just to give it to you. I hope everyone can understand that.
And the way I did this.
Chapter Twenty Three: Declarations
I'm not alone or without him.
I don't know where I am exactly, but I know that Edward is here with me. My Edward.
He's returned to me. Given himself back to, and given up his irrational fight against.
I can feel it in his gentle touch. His vulnerable and sorrowful grip on my hand, that holds but is afraid to do it too hard.
And I can hear it in his voice…
That with its unpracticed and unrehearsed and unforced declarations of brokenness brought me back from darkness. Carried me through it, with weakness-replaced strength.
I heard the surrender of the first clearly. The absoluteness of it. That, this time, will not shatter or break.
Because I didn't. Was strong enough to not. Stronger than it…
"I need you. I need you so much… "
And stronger than him. "I know that you silly boy. I always knew it."
There are a million things I want to say to her. A million things I need to… but "I'm so sorry, Bella… so so so so so so sorry… " is the first to flow from my lips to her precious ears.
And a whispered "I know you are" is what she gives back to me when it reaches them. Preciously. And graciously. And then an equally both "I always knew that, too."
And it makes me feel even worse, though I didn't know worse was possible. As long as she was in front of me, where I could see her and touch her and… well…
Be given the honor to do either in any way. The second of which I just barely do. My hand still cradles hers, but not in a way that dares to lay claim. Or declare it. Or tell her at all that it thinks it has the right to anymore. Or that I do. Even though that hand that I cradle wears my rings that promised and declared that I always would. ALWAYS.
Promises and declarations and claims that she accepted from me. Let me make and give to her. Put on her.
And wore proudly once I had. Every day, never once taking them off.
I know that she can. And that they can. Can still be taken off. Given back to me. Thrown in my face, even…
If that's what she chooses. Instead of me again. Or me still. Us.
The choice is hers. It never wasn't. Was NEVER mine at all. To make or take away from her…
And so I wait. For her to make it. And while I do, think of all of those things I want and need to say to her. Those things that I pray I'll have the chance to. That she gives it to me. One more time. For the last.
And lets me have, and keep…
Her. For forever.
I wasn't waiting–just–because I wanted to. Or because I had any audacity to think I had the right to silently do so.
I was waiting because she had finally woken up. And that was more important than anything I could say or do. The most important thing of all...
And what had my father's undivided focus and attention. My doctor father. Whose hands I trusted with her. And whose knowledge and expertise I depended on. And had faith in. Unwavering faith.
That gives me unwavering comfort when he smiles at her. And kisses her cheek. As her father in law. Before nodding at me, and telling me with that simple gesture, and a deadly seriousness in his eyes, that he always wants to be. First and foremost.
And a father to a son who would never give up. And never throw away everything he had simply because he couldn't have everything anymore.
Not twice, anyway.
My father wasn't the only person I waited for. Watched with Bella before I would try to tell her and show her that my only want was to watch myself grow old with her.
A happy and healthy her. And a loved more than any person could be. Well...
Any person but me. Because I am loved so much…
Bella much. Which is…
The only way it could be described. The only way a person who knows her could understand it, if it could be understood at all.
The only way I could. And do as her eyes flit to me over and over again.
I'm right beside her, I haven't moved, but I'm there patiently. Here…
I sit as patiently and as quietly as I can while Charlie has his time with her. Time he shouldn't have to have. Or have to spend in this way, or for this reason.
I don't listen to the things he says to her… past the I love you that he said first.
I don't feel like I have the right. Because I made him say it. This time, and in the way that he did.
The heavy way that he did. With so many layers, so many other emotions, weighing it down.
Worry and fear and devastation…
And the relief that the last didn't come crashing down on him to bury him.
Or trusting me.
"It wasn't me," I hear Charlie say, and see his arms raised in declared innocence as he steps back from Bella's bed.
I don't know what he's talking about, but Bella certainly seems to. And says "I know that" in a low whisper. And then "I know exactly who did it."
And I think whatever it is must have been done by me because she's looking right at.
So I say "I'm sorry… "
Because I am for whatever it is. Am for everything…
Everything I did to bring us to this horrible place, and everything I said and did before it.
"So sorry… " The words I can't stop repeating keep coming. And may never stop. Because I'll never stop feeling them. And buried alive by.
They're a weight I'll never be able to crawl out from under. Or drag myself away from.
I know that. And I'm more than willing to live with it, but will she be able to? Live with them between us? Always in our path, if she'll go down any with me at all? After she found herself in mine?
Mine that– "I didn't know you were there, Bella… I never would have–"
"Edward, I know that. You don't have to tell me."
"I do, Bella. I have to. Tell you that and so many other things. Different things than I have been… "
"Well, I won't disagree with that. Because you're right. Again, finally. And because I want to hear them… those other things. Even though I already know them, too."
"You do know. I love you, Bella. I love you so much… "
"Especially that one."
"I'm so sorry… "
She looks at me for a long moment. And there's a clearness in her eyes that I know I don't deserve, but am so grateful for…
But not only that. That clearness isn't the only thing I see at all. I see an undeniable fog, too. Fog that I don't know what means.
I don't know if it's the kind of fog I shrouded her in this morning with my stupid, careless actions…
Or an entirely different kind. That would also be entirely my fault.
Because nothing that we're shrouded in now isn't. I'm to blame for all of it. Fully responsible for and horrifically ashamed of.
Like I am of everything but that I once was smart enough to choose her. And work to prove myself to. So that she would choose me back.
Like I want her to do now. Again.
Will beg her to.
Because I am...
Still me. The me who lives and breathes for her.
And who is still smart enough and willing enough to do the work. Again…
Willing to start from scratch if I have to. From less than. And lower than. And certainly lower than this place where I am. "If I could get down on my knees for you… "
"Careful, my dad is here," she teases softly, "and can hear every word you say."
And I can't help but smile at her for it. For a second. Because she's smiling at me. And because "I absolutely would for that, too, Bella. And I don't care who knows it… as long as you do."
She nods, telling me she does, and then tells me with her following sweet-faced silence that she also knows that it wasn't at all what my if meant or was about. And that I'd never dare make light of this place I put us in because I couldn't get down on my knees and do something. Or anything. Like thank God–and her–for her. And for my life with. No matter what kind of one I was given the opportunity to have and live.
"I swear I would, Bella," I say, going back. To what I was trying to tell her. Trying to begin to. "And will lay–which I can do–at your feet because I can't do anything else. And because I don't deserve to be higher than that anyway. Ever, but certainly not–"
"Edward." She interrupts me with the simple forming of my name on her tongue. And I still mine, because never again will I deny her anything hers wants. Or any part of her that can still want any part of me. "Please stop saying those things. If you truly don't want to hurt me, please stop. Because they do. They hurt me so much. They break my heart."
"I don't want to do that…" I tell her, my eyes pleading with her to believe me, "or mean to… hurt or break any part of you... in any way…
"Not now, Bella. Not this time. And not ever again. Not after I came so horribly–TOO horribly–close to doing it in a way I never meant to."
"I know what you meant to do, Edward."
"I know you do."
"I knew the whole time."
"But what I didn't know… what I wasn't sure of… and am still not… is if, in your heart, not your head, you believed you would accomplish it? That it was possible? If you believed, or still do–even though I think you've given up?–that I didn't love you enough to make you fail?"
What she didn't know… still doesn't know…
Just like I knew it would. Because I knew she'd ask me. If she said nothing else to me, or asked nothing else of, I knew I'd have to face that. And how much I hurt her by making it something I would.
I said it felt like an accusation before…
But that's not how it feels now coming from her. Her, who didn't accuse me at all, but asked me, leaving room for me to give her a heartfelt answer instead of a stupid excuse or defense. One that we both pray, I think, will take the tears from her beautiful, battered, and exhausted eyes.
"No, Bella. How could I?"
"I think that's what I just asked you. Isn't it?"
It is. Of course it is. She just asked it in a different way. A way that I should have answered with no question at all. "Yes. It is. And no… I didn't believe that. In my heart, that I refused to let my stupid, stubborn head listen to at all. Because I knew it would have told it to stop. That it was all pointless. My plan…
"And impossible. And hurting you for nothing, instead of the something I was willing to for. Would only ever have been willing to for… "
"A life without you," she says, so I don't have to, I think, "that you told yourself–your stupid and stubborn head–would be better for me than the one I promised to spend with you."
"That you had no chance in hell of convincing me to live. No matter how much you hurt me in the one I continued to choose to live day after excruciating day with you."
"Y-y-yes," I say again, the agony of hearing that I made anything excruciating for her breaking the single word into pieces. And my heart again, the glue of hope dissolving with the salted shame of my tears.
That through I see dissolve her. "Those better be tears of happiness," she warns, "because there's a new SHEriff in Cullentown, and she won't tolerate any other kind."
Oh, Bella... my sweet, sweet Bella...
"A new SHEriff, huh?" I repeat, though I know it's unbelievably and shamefully selfish...
To let her make this moment so easy for me.
And she nods her head with the slightest of movements, but with the fiercest resolve. "Yeah... we had a great one… man in charge… the best. For years… but he lost his mind. I mean, went completely batshit crazy… so I had to take over. Pull rank and demote him… for the good of the town."
"I see…" I tell her, and expel a heavy breath, before asking her what I can't not. "And are you a merciful SHEriff?"
"Merciful?" she repeats, though I know she doesn't need to. She knows what I'm asking her.
And what I don't have the strength to stop myself from needing from her. Or telling her that I do. "Mmm-hmm. Merciful."
"Well, he won't be hanged or anything… if that's what you mean."
"What about banished?" I ask next, once again unable to not. "From the town?"
"Never. It's his town, after all. And I have complete faith that he'll regain his sensibilities. In fact, I'm already seeing a change."
She shouldn't have to see a change. Because nothing should have. Our life was perfect. So far beyond...
And I wish I could find the words to tell her that. How beyond perfect it was because she made it.
But, once again, I can only get my mouth to speak one. "I'm sorry for all of the others. More sorry than I could ever tell you."
And I think maybe she's getting tired of hearing it. And I can't blame her for that… because I know it's not good enough. Not–
"I don't want you to tell me you're sorry, Edward. Or keep telling me… I want you to show me."
"I will, Bella. I promise I will, if you'll let me."
"I will. In fact, I want you to start right now."
"Right now? Okay… what do you want me to do? Name it. I'll do anything."
"I want you to go home."
I'm not trying to punish Edward. I know he's punishing himself enough.
And I'm not trying to sweep away all of his wrongs, or pretend he didn't commit them…
I'm sending him away to make him face them. And sweep them away himself. With help, yes, because he couldn't possibly do it without it…
But with help that won't be mine.
"I said I want you to go home, Edward. Right now."
"Right n– I'm not leaving you."
"Yes you are."
"No, Bella, I'm not. Not here. Not like this. Not–"
"No. You can pull rank with anything else you want, Bella… but not this. I'm NOT leaving you."
"You don't have a choice."
"Yes I do. And I'll be damned if I make another wrong one with you."
"I agree, you will be."
"Then don't ask me to, please."
"I didn't ask you. And I'm not now. Go home, Edward."
"I get it, Bella. I do, believe me. You're trying to punish me. Show me how it felt. How hard it was for you... how hard I made it for you…
"And I'm sorry. With all of my heart, I'm sorry for all of the things I did and said… and I deserve to suffer… in any way you want me to… and will… gladly… in any way that will make you happy… but–"
"You think I want you to suffer? That that could ever make me happy?"
"I think you want me to know how it felt."
"No, Edward," I tell him, but not only. Because I want him to understand. "I wouldn't wish that kind of knowledge on anyone. But certainly never, ever, on you."
"Then why do you want me to go home? Why are you trying to make me abandon you? By telling me it's what you want?"
"Abandon? Is that what I did? In your eyes? And to your heart? All of the times I let you order me home?"
"No? Are you sure, Edward? Because if it's what you'd be doing by leaving… then it must be what I did. Over and over and over again… "
"No, Bella. You never wanted to listen to me. You never wanted to leave me."
"No, I didn't."
"But even more than you didn't, you didn't want to take anything away from me, either. Anything else, that hadn't already been. Like my control over something. Anything… "
"We know each other, Edward. We understand each other. And we do things for. Things that others might not get, or understand. That, on the surface, may not seem right to someone outside of us.
"Don't punish us for it now by forgetting that. Don't hurt us by forgetting what us is."
"I could never forget what us is, Bella. What we are… even if you never let us be again."
"If I never– Are we sure I'm the one with the head injury?"
My question was meant to be playful. To take him away from the murky waters he was treading in, fearful that he'd never be pulled from.
In no way was it meant to hurt him…
But hurt him is exactly what it did. He looks like he was punched. Hard. Harder than he was when his beautiful face was marred in my unconscious absence.
And lower. In a place where damage isn't as easy to see. May only be visible to someone who looks upon you with untarnishable love in their eyes.
And in a place that takes longer to heal. A place already so beaten… "I'm sorry, Edward. That wasn't… We are not a game to me. Or a joke. Or anything less than everything. And that everything… Edward, I'd never trade it for nothing. It's why we're here. Because I wouldn't. No matter how much you were willing to. No matter how hard you tried, and to show me that you loved me enough to."
"You still trust me? Enough to want us to exist? As more than a beautiful story with a tragic ending?"
Trust. He didn't ask me if I still loved him. That answer he has. Knows without asking for it. But trust…
That's something entirely different. And something more fragile. And more easily broken.
And something that he thinks he has broken. Even though I'm still in one piece. "Of course I do. You're still you. And I'm still me."
"I hurt you."
"Yes, Edward. You did," I agree, because I can't deny that truth. My pounding head would never let me. And my heart won't for both of our sakes. But… "But that elephant isn't the only thing in this room. Or the biggest, or most important."
"What could possibly be bigger or more–"
"Us. The I and you it's between."
"You don't look very big right now, sweetheart. And I… well, I've never felt smaller… "
It breaks my heart to hear him say that. That he feels small. My larger than life husband…
But not addressing that…
The right way...
Instead of trying to in my own way and believing it would be enough…
Is not a mistake I'll make again. "Separately… after this particular long and hellacious day… I suppose we may not look like much… to an outsider…
"But there aren't any of those in this room. And together… which we are… and will always, always be… we're bigger than anything. And the most important thing in the world to me."
"How can you say that, Bella? How can you forgive me so easily?"
"Because you love me so easily. And tried to so not. And do so much more than anything else. And because you knowing that you hurt me by trying to do it so selflessly, and do everything but hurt me, is killing you inside. And, because it is, and because I love you more than anything else, is killing me. And that's so much worse than a little knick on the head."
"If you're small, then it's a little knick."
"And if I said I was a giant?"
"Well, I'm not a doctor, so…"
"So, maybe we should ask my dad."
I look to Carlisle, who still hasn't left the room, pulling extra duty, I think, to try to make up for when he pulled none, and will him to help me. And not to help Edward make his point. A point that Esme, also still here, and now squeezing her husband's arm, agrees isn't one that needs to be sharpened.
"Your dad is off duty," Carlisle answers with an acquiescent sigh, "and therefore, only present in Dad capacity. And man, who, after thirty plus years of marriage, has learned when to let something go, and keep his too often thinks-it-knows-everything mouth shut."
"But you do know–" Edward starts.
Before I stop him, the only way I think I can. "Edward, the little knick hurts. And I'm tired, and want you to go home so that I can sleep."
And did. "Is it okay that she wants to sleep?" he asks his father, his off duty declaration no longer heard.
And when he nods his head at his son, is issued an order. "She's in pain, get up and give her something to take it away!"
An order I address. "Edward, I really just want to sleep."
But that he doesn't hear clearly. "Then sleep, sweetheart. I won't make a sound, I promise. And I'll be right here when you wake up."
"You'll be at home, Edward. Waking up in our bed."
"You didn't win that argument, Bella. And I won't let you exhaust yourself by still trying to for nothing. I'm not leaving, and that's the end of it."
"There's no ending, Edward. Not for us. And tomorrow, or whenever they let me go home, I want to see a clear path for us to keep going on."
"There will be, Bella. I swear–"
"And I don't want to have to clear it myself so that I can."
"I don't understand what–"
"You made a mess, Edward. And you're going to clean it up. Because I don't want to go home to that. I won't go home to it."
He looks at me as if he still doesn't understand. For a moment…
But then I see the clarity strike him. "Of course you won't. I'll call someone… a cleaning service or something. It–"
"Have I ever done that? Called strangers to come into our home and clean up after us? Clean up our messes? Or anything at all? Even though our home is big enough to house an army?"
"No. You never have. And you never would."
"I want you to do the work, Edward. Make our home beautiful again, like it was... like I worked every day to keep it for you. Happily."
He gets it. He understands. And I see the willingness. To do anything for me. Everything...
But "I don't think I can, Bella. Not by myself. Not because I wouldn't for you, but–"
"Did you hear her say by yourself, Edward?" my father asks him, getting up from the chair he was sitting in. "Did anyone hear that? Because I know I didn't."
"I absolutely did not hear that," Esme answers, getting up as well. "What about you, Carlisle? Did you hear it?"
"No," he says, and stands. And would have done both, I think, even without his wife's stern warning glare.
That resembles the one I give Emmett, who has spent his day here, too. And knows, without a doubt, where he is spending his night. "There's nothing wrong with my ears... "
Though he doesn't know he'll be arriving late. "You can meet them there in a little while," I tell him, just as he leans down, with the intent, I think, to give my cheek a goodbye–and goodnight–kiss.
That instead is a "Shit" against it.
"You're in deep," I tell him now, telling him he doesn't misunderstand a thing.
"I didn't touch The Holy Jaw!" he declares. "Certainly that's worth something? Some mercy?"
And maybe it is...
But he'll have to wait to find out.
Because Edward is waiting for his kiss goodnight. So that he can go home and clear the path for the lifetime of the ones waiting for him.
The ones he'll do anything now to have.