Hello, dears. Hope everyone is having a great week. My pre-reader called this an "insane" chapter, so keep that in mind. Many thanks to Rhi my beta and V my always honest pre-reader.
Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. I own the contents of this story.
The Distance in Between
Chapter 20: What we can live with
"Sir! Sir! They've cornered us, Colonel Cullen! What do we do?"
I tightly gripped the reins in my fist and spun the horse around. Marshall was correct. We had a wall to our back and Confederates on three sides of us. I glanced over my men, knowing the order I had to give and wondering how many I was going to lose. I couldn't dwell on that. I had to save as many as possible and then count the losses.
"Push forward! Break through their line on my command. To me! To me!"
At that, I slammed my heels into the horse, and he bolted forward with a surprised whinny. I didn't look to see if my men followed. They were loyal and well trained. They followed.
We rode through, guns blazing, swords slashing, and, with relief, I realized we were free and on the other side of the enemy and reinforcements had almost reached us. I grinned as I turned and met the opposing officer's eyes. The grin fell from my face as I saw him holding Marshall up by his collar, nearly choking him to death as he lifted his skinny body so high off the ground that his feet dangled.
My eyes flickered to his frightened, youthful face. No! Not him! I lifted my pistol and aimed, realizing too late that the barrel was empty. No time to reload. Time seemed to stop as the officer put a pistol to Marshall's head and pulled the trigger.…
"Edward! Edward! Oh, Edward."
A baby was crying. That made no sense. I blinked and still saw the battlefield in front of me. What fool brought a baby to the battlefield? They'll be killed. Just like Marshall. No. Not him! Not him. No.
I felt arms wrap around me and clutch me tightly. I realized I was sitting up in a bed, my body drenched in sweat, the scream still upon my lips.
I was disoriented for a moment, so lost was I in my memories of the skirmish that had ended Marshall's life. Clarity came crashing down on me, and I realized that it was Bella that was holding me and our son that was crying.
Bella. Wills. It was just a nightmare. Just a nightmare. More like a memory.
I leaned my head against hers for a moment. "Please attend to Wills. I-I think I've frightened him mightily."
She kissed my cheek and then slid out of bed. She lit a candle before she picked up Wills, hugging him to her.
"Shhh, now, little man. Dada just had a bad dream. We need to love on him. Shh."
She crawled back into bed and placed Wills in my lap. We stared at each other, his crying fading to whimpers and hiccups. I frightened my child. A sob tore out of me, and I clutched his little body to my chest, burying my face in his soft hair.
I felt Bella wrap her arm around my shoulder, running her hand up to my hair. She stroked it lazily, in a gentle pattern as she hummed softly. I closed my eyes and let myself be comforted by the warm bodies against me of those I loved best. After a time, I raised my head and gazed into those brown eyes I loved so.
"I'm sorry for waking you and Wills. And I'm so sorry for what I put you through. I told you it would not be easy living with me and my darkness."
She placed a fingertip over my lips and shook her head, giving me that grave look of hers. My serious, so serious Freckles.
"The demons, they come at night. They steal at your dreams and gnaw at your soul, but they are mere shadows to be chased away. I will not allow them to rule you. I will not allow them purchase upon your soul, for it belongs to God and to me. No force of darkness and despair could ever hope to overcome such love. I fought God once for your life and won. Do you really think the Devil stands a chance against me?"
I was unable to hold back my fleeting grin. "No. No creature, whether living or otherworldly, could ever stand a chance against the will of Isabella Cullen."
"Indeed," was her succinct reply. "You are mine, Edward Cullen."
More than she'll ever know. "Yes."
I felt Wills pat my chest as he was wont to do. "Dada?"
"Wills?" I asked my son with a gentle smile.
"Yes, and I'm sorry for scaring you, son. Dada never meant to do that."
"Dada hurt," Wills said as he turned to his mother with a sad face.
"Yes. But we'll help him not hurt so much anymore. Give Dada a hug and kiss, and it'll make him feel better," Bella instructed him.
He reached up with baby arms, and I lifted him so that he wrapped his sweet, pudgy arms around my neck and squeezed with a grunting sound as if trying very hard. He then gave me a wet, open mouth kiss on my cheek, and I nearly felt my heart burst from joy in the moment. I hugged him back and placed little kisses all over his face as he giggled.
"Never has there ever been a better boy than you!" I said in pride as he grinned at me.
"Dada!" he said proudly and then, "Mine!" with a smack to my chest.
I roared out a laugh as I slid my eyes to Bella. "No doubt he's your son."
Bella laughed and gave Wills a kiss on his cheek. "No doubt, and no doubt that you belong to us."
At breakfast, I noticed once or twice looks exchanged between Bella and Rosalie and Rosalie and Charles. I let out a deep breath and stared down at the table, feeling horrible about disturbing everyone's sleep so much. The nightmares, they kept coming. I thought they'd ease up or maybe go away now that I was here with Bella, but instead, they came almost every night.
"I'm sorry," I said quietly.
There was silence and then Rosalie's soft reply. "For?"
"For putting you all through this ordeal. For waking you at night with my nightmares. For being practically useless around here. Curse this worthless body of mine!"
I wanted to scream in frustration as I awkwardly got up and slammed out the back door.
I didn't go far. I couldn't. I didn't have my crutch. I limped to the maple tree outside the kitchen window and slumped down to the ground, leaning back against its trunk.
I looked over to the right, to the fields that I didn't have the stamina to neither plow nor hoe and thought, I'm a worthless excuse for a man. What good am I around here? What good am I to any of them? I needed to get access to my money so at least I could contribute to the household financially instead of being nothing but a drain. My military skills were practically worthless for running a farm.
I heard Charles clear his throat and sighed. I guessed he was the one elected to come speak with me this day.
He didn't say what I expected.
"How much longer y'all gonna be here?"
I looked his way, noticing he was sitting on the back porch, his legs dangling off the side, his hands clasped, resting loosely between his knees.
"When y'all leavin' here?"
"I'm not sure that we are."
"You are. As soon as you hear back from your folks, y'all be gone. Everyone. I need you to promise me somethin'."
I sat up straighter. "And what is that?"
"That you'll protect not only Bella and Wills, but Rosalie and Ezra as well, with your life."
"That goes without saying."
"I promise. But-"
"That's all I wanted. Got work to do," he said curtly and abruptly stood up and walked away.
I watched Charles walk to the barn and wondered at that strange encounter. How unlike himself he'd been acting. At the promise he'd had me make.
Something wasn't sitting right with me, and then I realized what it was. The shotgun had been lying beside Charles on the porch and he had been carrying it to the barn. He hadn't been dressed for hunting. He'd…
I scrambled up as quickly as I could and took off as fast as I was able for the barn. I felt the pain in my left leg, but I ignored it. My instincts had kicked in, and I was solely focused on getting to Charles. I did some kind of loping, hopping gait to get me to the barn quickly, almost falling a couple of times in the process.
When I reached the open double doors, my eyes tried to adjust to the dim interior. I frantically searched for Charles and then noticed the edge of his shoe sticking out of an empty stall at the right side towards the back of the barn.
"Charles?" I yelled as I frantically limped toward him. "Charles!"
It only took about two seconds to process what I was seeing, and then I was in battle mode, my entire being focused on what needed to be done.
I dove for the shotgun propped against his left foot and aimed at his face. His eyes met mine as he pulled the trigger back, and there was a second where everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I swung out with my right arm and hit the shotgun as hard as I could as I fell to the ground.
The boom of the gun discharging was almost deafening inside the barn.
I rolled over, wiping hay from my face and noticed the hole in the back of the barn, the shotgun lying on the ground. Had I been in time? I scrambled to my knees and found Charles there, folded in on himself, as if he was an old building that suddenly caved in. Tears were streaming down his face, his head hung low.
I leaned back and sighed in relief. He was alive and unhurt, but that relief was quickly replaced with anger. Almost blinding anger at what he'd been about to do. How he'd almost hurt Bella and Rosalie with his cowardice.
I gripped his collar and lifted him partly up off the floor, my fury giving me strength. My command voice came out of me without me even thinking about it.
"Tell me just what the hell you think you were doing!"
Charles just cried some more. "Tell me!" I demanded as I shook him a bit.
"I-I…It was too much. There's some things…some things…"
"What?" I asked in frustration. "What could possibly be so bad that you'd attempt to take your own life?"
"It was Rosalie. It was…you all leaving. It was my own cowardice. It was…what he did. Some things a body can live with. Some…" I let go of his shirt, and he slumped down again. "You can't."
I fell back on my bottom, fear making my heart ice cold. "Tell me what you're talking about. Tell me right now."
"You'll hate me. I hate myself."
"Perhaps. Tell me anyway before I go mad."
Charles nodded and kept his eyes down as he began to speak.
"I waited for you to come back. When you didn't come back right after the war was over, I figured you for dead."
"Or wished me dead."
Charles shrugged. "No. Bella loves you. And there was Wills. I never wished that. I wished myself dead."
"Two days after Wills was born…they came."
I grew cold. I knew I was about to hear something I did not want to.
"Who…came?" I asked slowly.
"The 'federates. A small band of them. Mean ones. They came after breakfast. There was no time to hide them all."
"God, no," I gasped out.
"He demanded food, their Sergeant. They took every last thing in the kitchen cellar, but that wasn't enough. It wasn't enough…"
Something so terrible came over me in that moment that I wanted to hurt Charles Swan. I gripped his lapels and pulled him up again. "Look at me! What did he do? What did he do?" I screamed.
"He ma-made m-me leave t-the house," he sobbed. "The b-boys. He made me take the boys. He was going to s-shoot Ezra! The babies. I couldn't let him hurt the b-babies…"
"Christ almighty! If he hurt Bella…if he laid on finger on her…" I was so livid I couldn't get a sentence out.
"No. No. Not Bella. Not Bella. She ran out of the house. Rosalie said…she said…"
"What? Spit it out!"
"She said nothin' happened, but I know that wasn't true. I heard her screams. I heard her screams."
He broke down sobbing again, and I, feeling as if I wanted to vomit, let him go, nearly flinging him down into the straw. I stumbled back and fell against the side of the stall. Shock, anger, and horror washed over me so strong, my emotions such a boiling turmoil; I nearly reached for Charles to beat him to release it.
"Name. Give me a name."
Charles didn't answer, just huddled into himself.
"Name, Swan!"I roared out in my command voice, and Charles raised his head and looked at me in shock.
"Buxton. His name was Sgt. Buxton."
Buxton. I knew of that son-of-a-bitch. I'd heard the stories about him. He better hope he never crosses my path, for if he does, I'm going to kill that son-of-a-bitch.
I grabbed the shotgun and stood up, hovering over the mess that was Charles Swan.
"I won't tell them what you were about to do. I'll say you were cleaning the gun when it went off and shot a hole through the barn. But hear me now, you'll get up, you'll clean yourself up, and you'll live. No more attempts to end your life. Yes, we may be leaving, but no one said you couldn't come with us. As to the other, we all have our own demons to fight. Gird yourself man and learn to live with them as I have."
I reached down and gripped his arm, pulling him standing.
"What use to them, or to anyone, if you're dead? You think Rosalie would rejoice in your death? Do you honestly think she blames you for what happened? This wasn't about you, but you've made it about you. I may have reacted differently, but you did only what you knew how; you gave in. You're no fighter. We both know this."
"Yes," Charles meekly agreed, and I wanted to throttle him. Fight back, I wanted to scream at him. Where's the fire inside of you?
"Clean yourself up. I'm going to talk to Bella. If he did touch her…"
"Why do you care? You left her here carrying your child. You left her alone to whatever could befall her. I thought you were a man of honor."
I went very still.
"How dare you. I love her. How dare you ask why I care. I went back to fight that bloody, horrible war for duty and for her. So that she may have a peaceful future. How dare you question my honor. There are two men standing in this barn, and one of them gave nearly everything he had for his family, for his love, for his country, and one just tried to pathetically end his own life. It is not my honor that is in question here. Never make the mistake of doing so again."
Charles held my eyes for a moment and then looked away. "Forgive me. You're right. That was uncalled for and below the belt. I'm the coward here. You spoke of being worthless earlier, and, well, you're wrong. I'm the worthless one."
I simply turned and walked away from him, still too angry to deal with him right then. It was Bella I needed to find right this moment. Charles could wait.
I found her upstairs changing the bed. Rosalie was changing hers as well across the hall. They both stopped and stared at me standing there holding the shotgun.
"He was cleaning the gun. It went off and shot a hole through the barn. He was unhurt," I replied to Bella.
I carried the gun in our bedroom and propped it in the corner. I then picked up Wills and carried him over to Rosalie.
"Watch him please. And take the boys outside."
"Now?" she asked in confusion.
"All right." She gave me an odd look as she placed Wills on her hip and took Ezra's hand, leading him down the stairs.
I went back to our bedroom and firmly closed the door.
"Edward? What is going on?" Bella asked me with wide eyes. "Your face. I've never seen that look on your face."
"And I pray to God you never will again. Tell me everything that happened the day Sgt. Buxton" -I spat his name out almost as a curse- "and his men came."
Her mouth fell open, and dismay was clear on her face, but then she shrugged. She sat down on the edge of the bed and fiddled with the pocket of her dress.
"They came and took all the food in the kitchen cellar."
"And then they left."
I crossed my arms. "And now tell me the rest."
She frowned. "I did. They came, took all our food, and left."
"Please don't lie to me, Bella. Please. Not over this. It's too important. Did he touch you?"
She looked down. "No," she said as a whisper. "No."
She was silent for too long. "She wouldn't…I shouldn't…"
I went and sat beside her. "Just tell me what happened," I said in frustration.
Then the words came rushing out of Bella like a torrent.
"He was horrible. He took all the food, and I protested, but Father told me to be quiet. I had the pistol in my dress pocket and was standing in front of Rosalie who was holding both of the boys. I would have given my life for any of them, but Buxton changed the game. He told his men to go out front and Father to go with them and take the boys. Father refused, and then Buxton held the gun on Ezra and said…and said, he'd kill him if he didn't. Rosalie and I told him to go. Both of us would've willingly done what it took to protect our children."
I took her hand, and she gripped me so tightly, it felt as if my bones would break.
"After Father left, Buxton said…he said he needed a woman. That either would do and to choose between us. He said he'd take us both and kill us all if we didn't. I went to speak, but Rose cut me off and offered herself. She sacrificed herself! She made me go. She told me to go. I ran out to Father, crying. We heard her screaming."
Bella was then in tears and my own heart was nearly broken.
"When he came back…he was smiling. Smiling! He thanked Father for his hospitality and threw confederate money at his feet then they left. I ran to take care of Rose and found her sitting on the back porch, calm as can be. She said it was nothing. Nothing! And that he couldn't touch her, not really, and made me promise to never tell Father, but he knew. Of course he knew. And we lived that lie, and Rose got pregnant, and then she miscarried, and…"
She collapsed over on the bed, sobs wracking her body.
I swiftly was with her and holding her in my arms. "Shh. I've got you, Freckles. I've got you. Shh."
I held her and stroked her hair and wiped her tears. My anger at Buxton, I tamped down. It had nowhere to go at this moment, but I could give comfort to Bella. Rosalie…I couldn't deal with that just yet either. What he did to her…no. Not now. Now, Bella needed me. I held her and rocked her until she calmed down.
"She sacrificed herself to keep us all safe. Oh, Edward. She sacrificed herself," she whispered as she buried her face against my chest.
I stroked my hand down her hair, then just held her closely. "I swear this to you: no one will ever hurt her again. Not as long as I have a breath left in my body."
Bella raised her head and gave me that direct look of hers. "Let's leave here."
"Go to my family?"
"Yes. I think it for the best for all of us."
"He'll come with us. I'll make him. He wouldn't know how to take care of himself."
"You won't get him to leave here if he does not wish it."
Bella shrugged. "We should go soon, before winter, and before I'm too far along."
I wrinkled my brow. "Too far along?"
"My courses were to start three days ago. My body is never off. I think I may be carrying your child already."
I gazed at her with wide eyes. "Already, dearest?"
"I think so. Another month and I'll be sure, but I'm quite sure I do not wish to travel when I'm heavy with child."
"No. No. I would not wish that for you. We would not," I said distractedly, my head spinning from the revelations of this day. Not the least of which was that my wife may be going to have another of my babies.
I reached up and cradled her face in my hands. "My perfect Freckles. I do so adore you. I never got to be there for you with Wills. This time, I won't let you down."
"You didn't let me down last time," she quietly replied. "You were always with me."
I swallowed and blinked the tears out my eyes. "You always move me to my core, Freckles."
"Silly man," she replied with a faint grin. "Don't you know? I am your core. Come. Let's go speak to Rose."
I nodded and then gave her a tender kiss.
"I won't speak to her of what happened. I do not think she would wish it."
"No. She would not."
I opened the door and took her hand. I went to lead her out, but she tugged on me and pulled me back to her.
"And no more talk of being useless, Edward Cullen. You're not useless. Not in the least."
I saw the spark in her eyes and decided to play along, needing the lightness after so much dark this day. I darted my eyes to the bed behind her and then to her breasts, before meeting her knowing face.
"It's good to know I'm good at some things, Freckles," I replied with a smirk.
"Indeed," she pertly replied, before bestowing on me a hard, fast kiss and darting out the door. I was grinning like the well-loved man I was as I went to follow my playful wife down the stairs.
I scrubbed my face with my hands. What in the world had I been thinking? Ezra started climbing the banister up the stairs, swinging like some sort of squirrel in tree branches, and I shook my head and had to laugh.
"Ezra, get down!" I said in laughing frustration.
I never knew watching two small boys would be so taxing, but my respect for Bella and Rosalie had just increased one-hundred fold. This was exhausting work. I had wondered at Bella's and Rosalie's sly smiles to each other when they asked if I would keep an eye on the boys so that they could go clear out the remainders of the garden. I had offered to help. I often helped them, but they insisted on doing it themselves.
Bella had whispered in my ear as she went out the door that they just wanted a little break from constant mother time. I could understand that, but I'd had no idea what I was getting myself into. Ezra seemed to find everything he wasn't supposed to, including the good china, and play with it. Thankfully, I caught him before he broke any.
"Wills! No, son. You cannot get on top of the bookcase." I grabbed him and set him down on the floor. I stood there eyeing my curious, grinning toddler and a mischievous four-year-old Ezra.
"How about some music, boys?" I asked as I flipped back the lid from the keys and sat down on the bench. Wills climbed into my lap, and Ezra sat down beside me.
"Mama says we can't touch this," Ezra said with wide eyes.
"I doubt that's kept you from doing so," I replied with a chuckle, and Ezra giggled. "Well, I'm an adult. I think it'll be okay."
I then began to play them some simple songs on the sorely out of tune piano. They boys didn't care. They grinned and clapped their hands and bounced in their seats.
I had just finished a song when I heard a quiet knock on the kitchen door. That made no sense. Who on earth would be knocking on the back door? I got up, carrying Wills on my hip. Ezra ran ahead of me and opened the back door.
"Miss Sadie!" he yelled happily.
"Mr. Ezra," she replied with a wide grin.
Her eyes fell on me, and she smoothed her face out to no expression whatsoever. I knew who she was, of course, but had never met the former slave of the Hale family. She was not what I would have ever expected. For one, she was much younger than I would have thought, and for another, she was beautiful. She had flawless, smooth brown skin, olive shaped brown eyes, and high cheekbones. She looked regal, like she should be a queen of some exotic distant kingdom. Perhaps her family had been.
I frowned. What a disturbing thought that her ancestors had been brought here by force. How truly terrible slavery had been. How did people of good conscious, Christian people, justify such atrocities for so long?
"Ma'am," I said with a nod. "I'm Edward Cullen, Bella's husband. You're Sadie…?"
"Sadie Sparrow, sir," she replied. "I gave myself the Sparrow. Birds are free. Never again will me or my descendants be held captive."
I nodded in agreement. "Never again. Mr. Lincoln took care of that. I love the Sparrow. It's beautiful. Please have a seat." I offered her a chair and she looked at me askance. "Here?"
"Unless you'd rather sit in the parlor?" I asked in confusion.
"No. The kitchen is fine, Mr. Cullen." She slid into a chair looking uncomfortable, and Ezra climbed into her lap.
"Just Edward. Would you like some coffee? Bella made some turnovers for breakfast. I'm sure the boys would enjoy one."
"Want one!" Ezra chimed in.
"Me!" Wills said eagerly.
"See," I said with a grin.
She was still staring at me as if I was crazy.
"Would you prefer tea? I think there's some left, or perhaps some water?"
"Mr. Cullen. It's not right for you to serve me. I just came to see Miss Rosalie."
"You're a guest here, so yes, it is right for me to serve you, and Rose is out in the garden with Bella. They'll be in shortly. Meanwhile, we can enjoy a snack with the boys as we wait. Coffee?"
She slowly nodded. "Yes. Thank you. That would be nice, Mr. Cullen."
"Edward," I reiterated.
She held my eyes for a moment before replying. "Mr. Edward."
I shook my head. "May I call you 'Sadie'? I do like 'Miss Sparrow' an awful lot, though."
"Sadie's a bird!" Ezra said with a grin.
"Indeed I am," she replied with a smile for him. "Sadie is fine," she replied to me.
I got the boys settled with their turnovers and cups of milk. I served Sadie her coffee and turnover and then slid into my seat with my own turnover and coffee.
Sadie sipped her coffee in silence, but never touched her turnover.
"That can be eased some," she said with a point to my leg. I had noticed Sadie eying my bad leg. How mortifying that I couldn't even walk around a kitchen without limping.
"I'm not taking morphine," I said with a frown.
"No. Heat. It needs heat. Miss Bella could heat some strips of cloth in water over the fire and wrap your leg and let that seep down to your bones. Or she could heat flat rocks in the fire, then wrap towels around them and place them on your leg. They'll help."
"That would work?"
"Yes, sir. It might help."
"Then we'll try that. Anything to help me get around better. Thank you for your advice."
I heard Charles' boots clomping up the back stairs, and then he threw the door open. We'd been standoffish toward each other since last week and what I called the 'incident.' I was trying. Not as hard as I should have been, but I was trying.
Charles looked in surprise at Sadie sitting at the kitchen table. "Sadie," he said quickly and turned his face away, but not before I saw his cheeks flush red. What was this? Charles washed up and grabbed a turnover and cup of coffee and then sat down at the table beside Ezra, but never once looked Sadie's way.
A few minutes later, Bella and Rosalie came in from their garden work, and Rosalie exclaimed in delight to see Sadie. She hugged her and then sat down to chat with her.
"I see you survived," Bella said to me in amusement.
"Barely," I replied.
She laughed. "A big strong soldier like yourself can't handle two small boys?"
"Huh. No one ever told me the horrors of keeping watch over a toddler and a four-year-old. I'm in awe of mothers everywhere."
Bella kissed my cheek and then sat down between me and Wills. She chatted with Wills and stole bites of his turnover.
The room had gone quiet when Sadie spoke, making us all turn our attention to her.
"I hear you folks is going to Pennsylvania."
"That's right," Bella said.
She almost shyly looked around to all us adults and then nodded as if deciding something.
"I won't be no trouble. I swear. I can cook or help take care of the boys."
"Sadie. What are you talking about?" Rosalie asked in confusion.
"Mr. Edward just served me coffee," she replied to Rosalie.
"Sadie, are you feeling all right?" Rosalie asked as she reached over to feel her brow.
Sadie pulled her head aside. "I'm feeling right fine. No white man has ever served me."
"Ever?" I asked.
"Of course not," she replied as if I was crazy. "I was a slave, Mr. Edward. It was my job to serve white folks, but you ain't like most white folks. Are all people up North like you?"
I shrugged. "Some are, some aren't. It is different from here. Slavery was illegal there. We pay people to work for us."
"I don't mind to work, but I would like getting paid for it."
"So, Sadie, what is it you wanted?" Rosalie asked.
"Again, I won't be no trouble."
"You want to go with us," Bella stated.
Sadie nodded. "Yes, Miss Bella. I want to go with you."
Thanks for reading!