No Betas were- yeah, yeah.
Wow guys. I honestly had no idea anyone bar a few who'd mentioned it to me had any interest in this little ficlet continuing. I'm absolutely floored by your amazing response. Thank you all so much!
This might be a good time to thank the amazing ysar and grrlinterrupted for making beautiful banners for this story a long time ago, which I've failed to properly acknowledge so far. If you check my profile, you'll find a link to my Photobucket where all the banners live, ICYMI.
This chapter, and the whole story really, was brought to you by the very inspirational soundtrack, "The Piano" - www . youtube watch?v=RctzXJsG3ZM
A week's time, she had said.
Such a small number of days to wait, when Edward had spent hundreds of them perfectly content in his own company, never knowing one Sunday from the next until she had claimed him, frozen heart and wretched soul.
She had never even known it back then. He'd hardly known it himself, until the deafening metronome inside him that called her name even as it counted the days between Sundays would be denied no longer.
Never had a week crawled by more slowly. He'd fussed and fretted over his little cabin- would she truly want to come here? How would she see this place that he'd called home for years, when it was nothing but wood, roughly hewn and imperfectly fitted together with only his own two hands? It had been good and serviceable for a bachelor such as himself, but now, now it was—
Edward despaired of it, completely.
Walking in his meadow had brought none of the usual calm, and he found himself imagining scenarios where Isabella grew to hate him even as she stoically hid her disappointment. He imagined escorting her back to her home, then burning his cabin and everything in it to the ground and finding a cave in which to spend the rest of his days. He knew just the place- perfectly desolate and silent, like his own heart would be.
When the day had finally come, unable to sleep for the anxious tugging on his nerves, Edward had ridden to the boundary where the thick forest ended and Isabella's home land began, to keep vigil until she woke so he could take her away just as she'd wanted.
He would keep his promise - he would do this even though it likely meant the end of things.
Edward's hands had trembled when he thought of it.
Riding in the pitch black of night, hours yet before dawn raised her rosy face, Edward had picked his path as easily as if the woman herself was north and he traveled upon a compass arrow instead of carefully picking his horse's path along a precariously wet, thickly grown forest floor.
He'd tied Henry's reins to a tree a little way away, but seeing no movement from Isabella's house by mid-morning, he'd come closer still, not wanting to wake her, the heat of shame prickling his neck at how urgently he'd come to crave her these recent days. In the end, he'd stolen close enough so that when she rose from her bed, he would see the flutter of curtains as she passed by or the glow of light thrown from her candle. He'd stood among the trees like a faithful ghost, waiting.
As the morning wore on and the mad choir of dawn birds dispersed, he'd become restless.
Not so much as a soft breath stirred the lace curtains. No sounds came to him from the house.
It had taken until the sun was at its highest for him to accept she was not there at all.
And still he waited. All day, Edward had skirted the nearby woods, watching and wondering, and all for naught. Now, hours later, the day had worn and frayed around the edges, just like his composure.
There was a fine line, Edward thought, between sanity and madness. He'd always imagined them to be poles apart, but truth be told, the two now seemed divided by the smallest of margins, hung between one breath and the next.
He was uncertain which side of the edge he skimmed at this moment, standing in the shadow of the Swan house at dusk, with Isabella still nowhere in sight and the house itself locked up tight. Despair crawled up into his throat until he could hardly swallow.
It seemed to grip him in waves, like a black tide. In one moment he was content to wait for her always, yet in another he was convinced that something terrible had happened to prevent her from coming.
Helpless at not knowing, he imagined her dear face twisted in pain or terror and cursed himself for having left her at all. He should have insisted on sleeping in her barn until she was ready, stupid, he'd been so stupid! He should have thought to-
Edward pressed his palm to his temple to still the runaway panic.
At his feet, Jim whined uneasily.
"Where do you go, boy?" Edward asked the dog as he knelt beside it on the mossy forest carpet, holding his hand out for sniffing and licking.
As was its way, the hound had been conjured up from only the devil knew where, simply appearing at his side as the afternoon stamped it's orange glow over the sparse sunlight. Edward had been so deeply buried in his own thoughts, he'd almost shot him, startled out of his stupor by Jim's paws crackling over leaves and bracken and rounding on the sound with his Colt already taking aim. Unperturbed, Jim had simply scampered to him, nosing at his legs, wagging tail and lolling tongue as good as a hello there, how goes it, old man?
"Where do you go, and why do you come back to me?" Edward said, fond.
It was a rangy thing, a dirty brindle hound, but its eyes were intelligent though its breath was foul, and it fended well enough for itself, the eerie and very satisfied crunching of small bones often heard around the place when Jim came to visit Edward at his cabin.
It had been easy for Edward to accept the dog as a friend of sorts when it had first started sniffing at his hunting campsite years ago. He'd thrown it deermeat and made a friend for life, it would seem, though it came and went as it pleased, and Edward didn't try to keep it. He'd named it on a whim, though naturally, it didn't come when he called it.
Edward smiled ruefully, scratching behind its ear, rewarded with a sigh of sheer bliss. "I'm glad of your company today, Jim, whatever the reason for it."
With one last pat to the dog's flank, Edward straightened, resuming his hopeless watch. Night had well and truly fallen, moonlight breaking through the thick clouds only to be soaked up by the canopy up high. Edward looked to the sparse light of it, helpless, clenching his fists.
Tonight, the moon gave him no quarter.
And still he waited.
Edward blinked into awareness. He'd been dozing, he realized, and something had woken him. He looked to the moon and found it well traveled across the vault of night sky, which now blinked with a thousand stars, the clouds having lifted since he'd last checked.
He felt exposed by the brightness they threw over the landscape and huddled closer into the dark floor of the forest, trying to get his bearings on what had woken him so abruptly.
Beside him, Jim stood on alert, ears cocked and panning for sound.
Edward watched the hound in silence, then looked carefully around the log he'd braced his back against, following Jim's line of sight deep into the forest. He'd no sooner turned his head than Jim was off at a run, silent and swift like the graceful deer that picked their flawless paths in the woods.
Edward rose to his feet, gun drawn for the second time in but a few hours, flattening to the thick trunk of pine that rose high above him. Carefully, he peeked around the tree, his arm tucked in close to his thigh. He'd not raise it until there was danger.
Sounds began to reach him and Edward strained his eyes into the mossy, damp darkness, clouds passing erratically above, allowing slivers of light to slide through. Tucking himself close to the tree, he waited.
"Edward?" The voice was but a hoarse echo carried to him on the ferns.
He ran then, tucking his gun away even as he vaulted fallen logs as Jim had done moments before. There was Isabella's horse, exhausted and filthy with the road, and he couldn't comprehend it at first- couldn't understand what he was seeing. His legs ate up the short distance in but a few seconds and he reached her horse just in time to catch her as she slid boneless from the saddle, settling in his arms like dead weight.
Beside them, Jim danced and whined like he'd never been so happy. Edward looked from the dog, to the horse, to the girl in his arms, and swallowed dryly. She was looking at him, into him, the stars like fireflies in her eyes.
"Edward," she whispered, smiling. "You're here."
Smiling so widely his face began to hurt even as all his doubts fell away to dust, Edward wondered where else on earth he would be.
A/N: Thank you for reading.