Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Stephenie Meyer created it all.

A/N: Many, many thanks to LyricalKris and Lellabeth for their hard work making this one-shot readable. A beauitful banner by Twillly is on my profile. This was written in honor of the men, women, and families who serve our country everyday.

Song Inspiration: "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Rascal Flatts


You promised me.

"I'll be home on Christmas Eve, baby," you said, and I was stupid enough to believe you. You sounded so sure, but I knew. I had a bad feeling from the beginning. I told you but you didn't listen. You said I was being silly, like I had been every other time you left me to serve the nation. I know I sound selfish but you see, it's been five years since you made that promise.

Now, it's Christmas Eve again, and you're still not home.

I remember how warm it was when you held me in your arms. I remember your silly smile when you baked treats, how much you loved to decorate the cupcakes into Santas and reindeers with pretzels and M&Ms. You loved going to pick out the best tree, just like you loved to help me decorate it. We went all out on Christmas, remember? It was our favorite holiday. Do you remember that? Do you remember me? Our sons?

They're all grown-up now. Emmett's a year away from college and Jake will follow soon. Will you be back by then? I won't have anyone once they leave; I'll be terribly lonely. You must be back by then. If you're not, I'll…I'll come searching for you. You know that there will be no corner, no crevice in this world where I won't look for you. But this world is a dangerous place. Maybe someone will hurt me. Maybe someone will kill me. Then you will be the one alone in this big, bad world. Now, that's a horrifying thought, isn't it? So, yes, you must be the one to come to me, my dear.

It hurts to live without you here. Sometimes I think about leaving, but I shouldn't. I can't abandon the kids. So I'm stuck here until my time comes. Dumbledore was right: there are worse things than death.

The note in a shoebox in the attic says that you're missing. The guy who delivered it looked at me with pity and said you're probably dead. Of course, he was nice and delicate about it, but he was also wrong. You're alive, I can feel it. No matter what anyone says, in my heart and soul, I know that you are alive.

The only thing I worry about is if you are in pain. Are you hurting? Are you trying to get out of there? Can you? I'll kill them, baby, anyone who hurts you. I'll kill for you. I love you, and I'll never stop. Not now. Not even when I resemble a prune and walk with a cane.

Always and forever, love. That's the vow we made to each other when we stood at the altar with me in white.

I feel a pair of arms surround me. Emmett's coffee-chocolate scent penetrates the air and I smile despite the agony inside of me.

"You a'ight, ma?" My dear boy, always thinking about everyone else first. What am I going to do when you leave?

"Yeah, I'm good."

"Then why are you staring at the photo of you and Dad like that? And you're crying too." Crying?I didn't realize I was… I reach up to swipe at my cheeks, only to discover that my traitorous tears have spilled over my eyelids. I sigh and smile at my baby.

"Just thinkin', that's all."


I squeeze his arm lightly, smiling at his insistence. "Yes, I promise. 'Sides, it's not like I can go anywhere," I joke.

His black eyes narrow.

I roll my eyes for good measure before huffing at his concern. "I'm kidding. Gee, you're worse than Grandpa."

He grins at my answer and kisses my cheek before heading for the kitchen where Jake's making cookies. Yeah, J takes after you in the baking department, though he can't cook for shit either. We worked it out in the end, after I took a cooking class and stopped microwaving spoons.

I follow Emmett into the kitchen where sugary-sweet scents envelope me in a cocoon. My stomach growls in response and J hears it. He smirks at me before returning to flattening dough. I grin at him, plop down on one of the bar stools near the island, and steal one of the popcorn-and-M&M balls.

J gasps and then swats at Emmett's hand which has been inching toward the snowman cookies. "You guys are horrible! You know the rules! Ma, you made 'em!" J accuses me, shaking his head vigorously in disappointment.

I cover my mouth in an attempt to not laugh at him. "I'm sorry, babe. I got hungry."

He scowls. "What's his 'xcuse?" he asks, jerking his chin at his brother who's head-deep in the fridge, no doubt searching for something to eat.

I shrug in reply and return to nibbling at my popcorn. Emmett gathers his snacks and trudges up to his room, muttering something about finishing up his homework. Yep, he's changed. He finally started taking school seriously when he became a sophmore. Now our son will be graduating early with straight As and college credits. Never thought it would happen, did ya? Neither did I, but I'm glad it did.

I catch Jake grinning at his brother's back as he walks up to his room, though when he notices my stare, he transforms his teasing grin into a look of innocence. "What?"

It's quite obvious he's not going to tell me why he was laughing so I just roll my eyes. The following minutes pass in comfortable silence. My mind lists all the things I'll need to do before everyone comes over.

Our families have taken to inviting themselves over every Christmas. It's not that I didn't want them here, but it'd be nice to be alone…and that's exactly why they do it. They know how much Christmas meant to us, and they don't want to leave me alone today. While I can appreciate their gesture, it's…suffocating to have them around. They all want me to move on, urge me toward it by bringing a "friend" over with them every time, but they know I can't. It seems to bring them worry and relief at the same time.

"It's been five years, honey. As much as it hurts to say it, I don't think he's…there anymore." That's your mother with tears in her eyes.

Mine takes a different approach. "Is Michael handsome, dear? He's the CFO of that Newton Company in the city. Why don't you go talk to him? Maybe you can go back to work."

I always end the night wanting to scream or throw something at someone, Ed. Maybe I need therapy, but you know that I'd go crazy sitting in that chair, letting a shrink strip down my walls.

Something shakes my arm and I jump away from the sudden movement…and fly off the chair. I curse as my ass makes contact with the wooden floor. I think I fractured my tailbone. Pain shoots up my hips when I try to stand, which is a sure sign that I'm getting old. A frail pair of arms helps me and I look up in confusion. Nut-brown eyes meet my own and I blink before focusing on my mother's face.

"Ma? What are you doing here so early?"

She scoffs. "Nice to see you too, darlin'."

"What are you doing here?" I ask as I pull her into a hug. I've missed her, even if she's perfected the art of annoying the hell out of me with her concerned gestures.

She pulls out from under my arms to spin me around so that I am facing the stove. "What?" I don't realize what she wants me to see until I notice the time. 7: 50 pm, the digital clock reads. That's when I notice the spotless kitchen—Jake must've cleaned it—and the noise level coming from the living room. It's a full house. How did I manage to sleep through that for a minute, never mind for four freaking hours?

I groan as I stretch my back and yawn. Ma chuckles from behind me and shoves me lightly toward the stairs. "Go get ready," she orders.

I do as she say, taking two steps once at a time to get to my room. I fling open my closet and grab the outfit I had ready for today. Darting around the room, I grab all the necessary accessories and toiletries before carrying it all into the bathroom and turning the shower on full heat. I discard my clothes and arrange the toiletries in the shower while waiting for the water to get hot. I glance at the mirror, noting my reflection. I won't lie, I've gotten thinner over the years and a few wrinkles are making an appearance on my face, along with strands of gray hair. Ugh. Those are your sons' faults. I'll have to visit the salon soon. A massage sounds very appealing at the moment considering I've been cleaning the house for the past few days. I look around the room and see that your side of the counter hasn't changed much. I can almost see you there, shaving, but then I'd be hallucinating, wouldn't I?

I see the steam from the water on the mirror so I step through the glass doors for a quick, hot shower. Once I dry myself, I pull on a pair of dark brown corduroys and a long-sleeved, thin, silky red shirt with snowmen and snowflakes on it. I twist my wet hair into a tight bun and secure it with a long jaw clip before patting my face with some foundation, and then coating my eyes with a thin layer of eye shadow and mascara. I drag a shiny, dark-red lipstick across my lips and I'm done. I plaster a huge smile on my face and head downstairs.

I hear the doorbell clang throughout the house and someone opening the door. Jake's clear voice carries a conversation with the visitor before the door closes. I hurry down the stairs wondering who it is, to see everyone crammed into the living room, as always, chatting animatedly with whoever is sitting closest to them. I scan the crowd, looking for my son, wanting to ask who it was at the door. I spot him next to Rose, Emmett's girl, and I walk over to him, cocking my eyebrow in question. He knows what I want and he shrugs.

"Some guy. Asked if you are here."

I furrow my brows in confusion. "That's all? Didn't you ask him why?"

"I did. He just muttered something, wished me a good day, and left. But he wasn't…weird or anything, you know."

I leave him after that, walking to the kitchen for a drink when your mother approaches me with a huge smile on her face and a glass of eggnog in her hands.

"Merry Christmas, baby! Hope you've had a great year!" she squeals before trapping me in a tight hug. She starts to chatter away about some garden club she's recently joined but I can't find it in myself to focus. Still, I look at her and nod and smile when appropriate. After about two minutes of non-stop recap, she finally stops to take a breath and the doorbell rings again. I see Jake pushing through the crowd, but I wave at him, letting him know that I've got it. I'm closer anyway.

A brief thought enters my mind and I wonder if it's the same guy from before. Probably not...

I open the door on the third dong and freeze.


You…You look different. Thinner. Sick. A little green. Pale. You seem to be sweating, even though it's freezing cold outside. I always imagined you healthy. I prayed that wherever you were that you were alright. But now you're right in front of me and you look...defeated. Your posture is hunched, your knees slightly bents, head tilted down. You look up at me through your eyelashes. There's hope in your eyes, along with the tears. Your hand twitches as if you want to touch me but can't. Your eyes hungrily take in every part of me, as I do the same to you. You fixate on the ring on my left hand, no doubt wondering if it's the one you gave me. Did you really think that I'd move on? I notice a slight movement to your right and see a tall blond man watching you closely, as if he's afraid you'll bolt. With that same fear, I take a step closer and a gasp flies out of you.

"You're here." I still can't believe it. Five years. My eyes are stinging with salty tears. My throat hurts from trying to hold all the crushing emotions back. I want to scream at you for leaving me alone, scream in joy and hug the living shit out of you because you're here. But I stand immobile as I watch you try to smile. The corner of your lips jerk as they attempt to stretch.

"I'm here." Your voice is scratchy, like you haven't used it in a while. It brings me out of my trance and I fling my arms around you, feeling the sudden urge to touch you, to know for sure that you're really here. I don't think I've completely realized it yet. I feel like my brain is still lagging behind on processing this while my heart is opening her arms and letting you back in.

I sob into your shoulder because I don't know what to say, and I have so much to catch you up on. You hug me back, your touch so careful, like I'm made from porcelain.

We hear the footsteps coming toward us. It's probably Jake, wondering what's going on. I wonder if he recognizes you. He does, and then, there are tears and hugs all over again. This noise brings more attention and reunions. You look a bit uncomfortable at first with all the attention, nervous even. But you calm down when I grab your hand. I'm never letting you go again.

The rest of the evening passes in a blur. It's filled with crying, laughter, tight hugs and teasing punches. Our sons stare at you for a while in the beginning, as if they can't believe you're here but they snap out of it quickly and join in as everyone catches you up on current events. You introduce us to your savior and best friend, Jasper, and I can tell by the look on your sister's face that he'll fit into the family just fine. He explains to us what went wrong, how you disappeared all of a sudden. He tells me that he went against the Sergeant's orders to pull together a search-and-rescue team for you because he got some inside information on your whereabouts. He speaks of you in a teasing, scolding, big brother type manner that melts my heart. He makes me promise that I'll take you to the hospital first thing in the morning. I doubt you'll remember what he asked in the morning, so I agree before wishing him goodnight. I need to be alone with you.

We're in bed now and all you're wearing are boxers. I teared up when I first saw what they did to you. You didn't have to say-I know you were taken and tortured. You look a bit ashamed, but relax when I kiss you. We don't do anything else after that kiss. No words are exchanged and silence captures us in her bubble. You slip your arms around me too lightly again, as if you're afraid that I'll reject you, before falling asleep. I stay up, watching your face. I think my brain's finally catching up, and I caress your cheek lightly as my emotions overwhelm me. I hug you to me as my emotions seep out of me in the form of tears.

I love you, always and forever.

A/N: I'd love to know your thoughts...