Sunday, October 21, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 12

Chapter 12
BELLA
Edward ran for miles – well into Canada. At one point, I'd actually lost sight of him, but that wasn't exactly a surprise, considering just how fast he was. Fortunately, I was able to track his scent.
My heart broke for him because I knew my husband. He'd always had a tendency to carry the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. I wasn't sure – and I mentally noted to ask Carlisle – if that was something that came with his change, a result of hearing every thought around him, or if Edward Anthony Masen Jr. was just as sympathetic as a human. My theory was that it was a little of both, but I still wanted to talk to Carlisle. In fact, it had been ages since Edward and I had sat down with him to just...talk – something I planned on remedying as soon as possible because ever since moving to Caribou, Edward had been struggling.
I couldn't imagine Archie's story, and there was a part of me that really didn't want to hear it, especially if it had upset Edward this much. But we'd offered our help, and like the song says, "in order to understand the future, you have to go back in time." If we were truly committed to helping Archie, then we had to delve into what made him the way he was.
I sighed deeply, both to catch Edward's scent in the forest and let out a little frustration. This shit was not going to be easy. First things first, though...I needed to calm my sweet Edward down.
The scent of sunshine, honey, and clean linen grew stronger, which led me to believe Edward was close by...and had come to a standstill. Slowing down to a human pace, I stepped lightly through the dense woods. I wanted to give him time, but not too much. He'd wallow in his misery if left for too long.
I stepped into a small clearing, my eyes aching with the need to shed tears at the sight of him. His shoulders were tense, but almost slumped in posture. His fists were balled up at his sides, and his back was to me. He stood perfectly still, only his heavy breathing giving movement to his graceful frame.
"Shield yourself, Bella," he said almost so softly I didn't hear him.
"Edward..."
"Just fucking do it!" he snapped, and my first reaction was to be pissed, but I slammed my shield down around me anyway.
"Okay." My voice was tentative, but I had an idea what he was about to do.
In a blur of movement, he darted from one side of the clearing to the other. Trees snapped under his strength, growls and snarls echoed around us, and a boulder was wrenched from the ground and thrown as easily as a child throws a baseball. Pine needles, twigs, dirt, and leaves showered down around me, but they slipped down my shield to my feet.
When Edward stilled again, the clearing was at least another thirty feet wider in diameter, the air reeked of pine sap and wet earth, and his eyes were a blazing black heat as they finally locked with mine.
"You done?" I asked calmly, folding my arms across my chest as I leaned a shoulder on the tree next to me.
He shot me a brief but withering glare, saying nothing as he surveyed his surroundings. Immediately, a hand clawed at his windblown hair, knocking pine needles to the ground.
"There's..." he started, his voice rough and raspy, but he shook his head. "There is no justice for him," he finally said, though it was soft and a touch sad.
"Yeah, there is, sweetheart," I soothed, now understanding his reaction – he couldn't just fix it. He couldn't make sense of what he'd seen. Had Victoria – or even William Varner, for that matter – still been alive, he'd have ended them immediately, simply for what they'd done to Archie.
"You've already done it. She's gone, Edward. You did that." I pointed a finger at him, glad he was talking, at least. There was a time when he wouldn't have spoken so quickly.
His nose wrinkled as he nodded in acceptance, but he took a deep breath and let it out.
"You can't kill her again, baby," I said with a little bit of teasing to my voice, smirking when he rolled his eyes my way. "It's true." I laughed once, shrugging a shoulder. "I'm sure you'll tell us all what his story is, but seeing the end result tells me it wasn't easy."
"He never stood a chance," he stated firmly, his eyes glaring at the ground with a faraway glaze to them.
"Well, you know how I feel about that," I said, urging him to keep talking because as long as he was talking, he wasn't clearing the forest of young saplings. "Everyone deserves a choice, but sometimes, fate takes over."
I stepped closer, finding an old fallen tree to sit down on. I thought about calling him to me, but he didn't look ready.
"You're talking about me," he said, his voice just a little too growly and disbelieving for my taste, but I nodded.
"I'd like to think that you were changed for me," I said haughtily, waving a hand at the air in a dismissive gesture. "But I'm a little selfish when it comes to everything about you." I watched him fight a smile...and win. Sighing, I went on. "Maybe...just maybe...Archie is here for some other reason."
"He's been stuck in that house for over a hundred years, Bella! What possible plan could fate have for that?" Edward snapped, rolling his eyes again as he pointed toward the south.
"And the one family that moves in is the only group of people that can really help him. Us. Stop yelling at me, Edward," I growled right back. "I'm not the enemy. There is no enemy. You killed her over seven years ago." I couldn't take not touching him any longer. "Please come here..."
He frowned, shoving his hands into his front pockets. The stubborn thing knew that the moment I touched him, his anger would dissipate, and he fought it like a child.
"Just fucking do it," I said, smirking as I used his own words against him.
Instantly, he appeared in front of me, falling to his knees. "I'm sorry... I should never have..."
I covered his lips with my finger at the same time that I brushed an errant curl from his forehead. Kissing his wrinkled brow, I inhaled the scent of him.
I tsked, shaking my head. "I'm not mad, though I should be...yelling at me like a crazy man..." I muttered the last words teasingly, wanting to kiss him stupid when his face morphed into the most adorable contrite expression. "But there's nothing that can change what happened to him, baby."
With my hands on either side of his handsome face, I kissed his lips briefly. His still-dark eyes were slowly lightening up to the sweet, warm honey that I loved, though his jaw was still clenching under my touch.
Tilting my head at him slightly, I frowned a little. "Can I ask you something?"
"Anything."
"Without telling me what happened to him, because I know you'll only want to tell it once, what about this is bothering you so much, Edward?" I asked, tracing his bottom lip with my thumb and smiling a little when he kissed it.
He was so quiet for so long that I feared he wouldn't answer, but slowly, he pulled me into his lap. "I need to touch you, sweet girl," he said simply, and this time, his voice was back to the smooth, silken tone that I was used to. His brow furrowed as his forehead fell to mine while his hands gently coursed over my head and down my back. He took a deep breath and then let it out, pushing his scent across my face. "I feel...ashamed, Bella," he confessed softly, looking like he could cry if he'd had the capability. "I've complained about my life, hated what I was for so long that it has become a part of me. You've tried since the day I met you to tell me differently, but I didn't listen. I didn't want to. I love that you love me that way, but it never really sank in, you know?" he asked, tapping his temple.
I smiled a little at his boyish face that looked just a bit confused.
"I know the joke between us is that I'm spoiled," he said, smirking when I giggled a little. "But I never knew – until now – just how truthful that statement was...and to what extent." He pulled back a little, though his hands never stopped touching me – my hair, my back, the outside of my legs straddling his. "I really had it easy..." That confession seemed to be the most difficult thing he'd ever said because it came out through gritted teeth.
"You compare yourself to him, but you shouldn't," I told him. "I get it. I mean, you're from the same time, you're the same age, but your paths are different. Sweetheart, there will always be someone worse off than we are. You of all people should understand that," I soothed him, tapping his temple lightly. "You hear it every day. Abused children, homeless families, heartbroken souls...I can't imagine the list of heartache you could relay. What makes you extraordinary is that you hurt for them, whether you act upon it or not."
"I didn't always..."
"No, but you do now," I countered. "Edward, you have always carried everything so close to your heart. Always. You know you can't fix everything, but that doesn't mean that you can so easily ignore what you hear. I hurt for you for that."
"You shouldn't," he argued, frowning. "I'm used to it."
"But I do," I said with a smile. "When I first met you, when I figured out what you were, what your talent was, and saw you with your family, I realized the roles you played. You're the older brother, protective and firm. You're the oldest son, caring and responsible. And you're the baby...the youngest changed. After all you've seen, experienced, and heard through the years, combined with all those roles you fulfill, you still kept everyone back just a little, kept yourself private. There was just a tiny part of you that no one knew."
"Until you."
"Until me," I agreed, kissing his lips softly. "And I love that I know that part of you...like it's all mine, and mine alone." I grinned a silly, dreamy smile, just enough to make him chuckle, which was music to my ears. "But instead of feeling ashamed of yourself, you should feel grateful. You should take what you are most proud of and share it with someone that obviously needs us."
"I'm most proud of you," he growled sexily. "And I'm not sharing."
"That's not what I meant!" I laughed, my head falling back, and I hummed when his smiling lips met the skin of my exposed throat. "I meant your experiences, your knowledge, and your compassion – because you are compassionate, whether anyone else knows it but me." I grasped his face again. "You knew this stuff, Edward. You honestly didn't need me to tell you."
He huffed a short, soft laugh but looked away from me briefly. "I'm sure I did, but...my temper got the better of me."
"You think?" I teased, but my voice was joined by someone else's.
With a grin, I glanced over my shoulder to see Carlisle approaching.
"How much did you hear?" Edward asked him, setting me back on the log and taking the spot next to me.
"Enough to know she's right," Carlisle replied, wearing a wry smile as he communicated with his son silently while he took a seat on his other side.
Edward nodded, his frame relaxing just a little as his eyes fell to the forest floor, his elbows rested on his knees, and his fingers stayed linked with mine. Normally, I would tease them about keeping it vocal, but it seemed needed in this case. My thoughts had been shielded since we'd left the house, so I hoped that whatever Carlisle was telling him would sink in, considering that his was the only mind around for miles. They spoke with quick answers, shakes of heads, and finally, looked to me.
"Yup, still here," I teased them both, wiggling my fingers at them.
"I'm sorry, love," Edward said with a chuckle, kissing my temple. My handsome thing still looked a little frazzled, his face a bit contrite, but he looked calmer, more himself.
Carlisle barked a laugh, shooting a wink my way, but he really was worried about Edward. I could see that much from the solemn look that crept promptly back over his features. He gave his son's shoulder a squeeze, getting up to start pacing slowly.
"Son, why don't you tell us what you saw, then we'll go from there. Okay?" he suggested.
For the next several minutes, Edward explained what he'd seen through Archie's mind, starting with his mother's death and ending with his own mortal one. My lip curled in hatred for everything that poor Archie had been through. I despised William Varner for treating his son like a discarded animal. And my hatred for Victoria flamed anew with everything she'd done to him before and after his change. When Edward was finished, he was almost back to his angry mood again, although Carlisle and I weren't much better.
"He's so broken," Carlisle whispered in dismay, shaking his head. "I see it in his face that he wants so badly to be...normal. But his fears override it."
"Has anyone even asked him at this point if he wants our help?" I asked, looking between the two men. Their silence was my answer. "Don't you think we should? I mean, he's been feeding now, so he can think straight, but he's never really been given any choices of his own."
Edward's brow furrowed, but he nodded. "The way he sees us gives me reason to think that he wants this. He's never really had anyone to show him...anything. So he's now looking to us to lead him." He looked up to Carlisle. "The fact that we don't drink human blood isn't the only reason he doesn't want to. Despite the fact that he likes the taste, the idea that it's human just puts him back into that 'monster' mindset. But in order to change his diet—"
"He has to leave the house," Carlisle concluded for him.
"Exactly. I think Esme would lose her mind if you brought a deer under her roof," I stated wryly, but it was the truth.
Carlisle grinned. "She would. I mean, I could collect animal blood for him, but perhaps it would be an incentive to go outside...even if we just brought the deer to the backyard."
Edward hummed in agreement, turning my wedding ring over and over. "He doesn't like that we're providing for him, but he can't resist feeding. I think he wants to learn, but it couldn't hurt to actually ask him."
We were quiet for a moment, but Edward finally asked a question that had slipped my mind.
"What do we do about that room of his?" he asked Carlisle, grimacing a little.
"Demitri has agreed to handle it, with our help, of course, but Archie won't let us look yet. To be honest, I think he's waiting for you, son," he remarked, and I noted a touch of pride flickering across his face. "What did you see down there?"
"It's..." Edward started to answer but then paused and shrugged a shoulder. "It's exactly what you're thinking. It's a room that still stores some wine and alcohol. That was William's true secret room. It's now...a crypt. Archie buried them as best he could, because the floor is dirt, but after this many years, he's pretty much run out of room. It wasn't very big to begin with."
The girly part of me simply could not stop the shiver of disgust that wracked my frame. The mere thought that our home sat atop a crypt freaked me out a lot. I was pretty sure that it was written all over my face because both men snickered at me. But the instinct to remain secret, to survive as an immortal, also told me that we needed to hide and dispose of all the bodies down there. However, the human aspect of it all came flying out of my mouth.
"Those missing people will remain missing...always," I sighed, thinking of Tim and Caroline Dixon and how they could so use some closure.
"Unfortunately, yes, little one," Carlisle concurred softly, kneeling in front of me. "Even if we set it up so that they're found in another state, or even here in Canada, every single person leads back to that house...and to Archie."
"And to us," Edward added, his face sweet and filled with understanding as to why I'd said something.
"I know, I know." I waved their concern off, nodding a little. "I get it." I leaned into Edward when he wrapped a loving arm around me.
My thoughts were still closed to him, and I was a little grateful for that because I wondered just how long Lisa's family really held on to false hope, despite the appearance of Archie that last night – they had declared her legally dead, but I didn't like the idea that poor Caroline would never know for certain her mother was really and truly gone. Hell, even my own mother, who thought Edward and I had died in a fiery car crash, had gotten some sort of closure at our "funeral." Tim and Caroline had never gotten that, and something about that made me sad.
"Hey," Edward called softly, tilting my chin up so he could look at my face directly. "Open this to me, sweet girl," he commanded gently as he tapped my forehead lightly before tucking my hair behind my ear. "I really don't like this face."
I gasped dramatically, which caused Carlisle to crack up. "You should love all my faces," I countered with a put-on scowl.
"I do. All of them. Though, some more than others," he teased, waggling his eyebrows, which made me collapse into a fit of giggles and Carlisle to mutter something about Emmett. "But that one made me nervous." Edward chuckled, constricting his fingers until my face was all scrunched up. He dropped a silly, sloppy kiss to my puckered lips.
I smiled, kissing him once more as I opened my mind for him. "I was just feeling...sympathetic toward the Dixons. It's a shame there will always be a 'what if' in the back of their minds, you know?"
Carlisle had been watching us with a smile on his face, but it fell when I made that last statement. "I wish we could do it differently, Bella, but with the advancements in forensics now, there isn't any choice. Plus, you also run the risk of the accusations toward Tim Dixon coming to fruition. They assumed he killed his wife and was hiding it. If her body shows up now, they may still implicate him. There is no statute of limitations on murder. And a ten-year-old case would warrant big publicity, as well."
"Oh, hell," I groaned. "Can't do that, either."
"Caroline would lose her father, too," Edward pointed out, wincing at the idea. "That's not fair. He didn't do it."
Remembering what it was like those few years when Charlie thought I was dead made my heart hurt, so I understood that it would be torture for Caroline without her only parent. And that simply made me want to call my dad just to hear his voice.
With a nod, I said, "Okay," standing up from the log and pulling Edward up with me. "So what now?" I asked, looking between the two. I loved them both with a sickness sometimes. However, I could see that Carlisle had something to say, because even Edward turned toward him.
Carlisle grimaced a little, but let out a slow breath. "The road ahead may not be easy, and with you two... Well, I just want to make sure that you're paying attention to your connection. I know you don't need me to tell you, but I can't help but worry."
"That wasn't what this was, Carlisle," Edward countered with a shameful expression. "I've come to some new...conclusions about myself," he started, looking a little uncomfortable and very young as he shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, but he continued on. "I should thank you, actually...for what you've given me. I'm not sure I've ever done that."
I kept quiet, but Carlisle's face was filled with a bit of shock.
"Son, you owe me...nothing," he told Edward in a tone of voice that sounded in awe, and once again, they communicated silently.
"I...I know...but you deserve the respect," Edward stated firmly, his face almost dark with how much he meant it.
"Look at me, Edward," Carlisle sighed, but he was wearing a smile as he gripped his son's shoulder. "For many years, I thought I'd condemned you to this life. I worried that you were too young. I considered that asking you to bear the weight of our security on your shoulders was just too much. I watched you struggle with your gift, flounder in your beliefs, and come so very close to hating us all in your loneliness." Edward started to argue, but Carlisle cut him off. "Everything I did, everything I continue to do for you...for all of you...is what I wished someone had done for me. It's the reason you feel the call to help that poor boy back home. Do you understand?" he asked, his eyes flickering to me, as well.
Edward and I both nodded quietly.
"Good, because every battle that one of you wins, is a win for me." He sighed deeply, looking weary. "When you came home after those ten years, when Jasper overcame the struggle with his diet, when Bella conquered her shield and her abuse, when Alice finally was able to remember her past, when Rose found Emmett, giving her something in this life worthy of letting her hatred go...all of those things made my life worth it. I don't need thank yous, Edward. Watching you flourish after decades of misery may be my biggest battle won yet," he declared with a bit of a smile toward me.
Edward glanced down at me, his face filled with an unreadable expression, but his eyes said it all. They were warm and sweet and filled with a glow that told me his love for me was just under the surface, just on the tip of his tongue. And I could well imagine that Carlisle was showing his son the mental pictures of just what Edward had looked like before me and then after.
"I'm selfish in all of my children's successes," Carlisle said, shrugging a shoulder in an uncharacteristic manner. "But I can't say that I'm sorry...not for any of you. But I most certainly don't want thank yous. There's a term for what you're doing for Archie..."
"Paying it forward," I whispered, causing both men to turn to me.
"Yes, ma'am," Carlisle agreed proudly. "He hates this life. He's been alone and scared and confused. You love your life, Isabella. Show him why." He locked gazes with Edward. "She's right. Don't be ashamed that you felt cheated, because it doesn't matter now." He gestured to me. "Be proud that you came through on the other side a better man. This is a long life we live, and he could start over...really start living right now, with our help. It'll require patience and kindness and possibly a firm hand. And it'll most definitely require you to help communicate because I don't know if he'll ever speak."
"Yes, sir." Edward nodded, but I noted his demeanor was more determined and less angry.
For that alone, I stood up on my toes, kissing Carlisle's cheek, because I was pretty sure Edward needed to hear that more than anything, and I wondered if we shouldn't have had this conversation ages ago.
Instead of saying thank you, I simply whispered, "Love you," against his jaw. And in order to break the seriousness of the situation, I added, "But I'm not carrying dead bodies, Dad."
Both men cracked up, my husband wrapping his arms around me to pull me into a rough hug.
"No one said you had to, my sweet, beautiful girl," he crooned in my ear as he continued to chuckle.
"Good, because I'm willing to be a team player and all...but no...just no," I told him.
Carlisle kissed the top of my head. "Fair enough, little one." He gestured toward the way we'd come and said, "We should probably get back."
Edward and I nodded, starting to follow him, but a wicked smirk crawled up my husband's beautiful face.
"Speaking of team players... Who won the football game?" he asked Carlisle, grinning like a kid on Christmas morning when he apparently got his answer as to whether or not the boys got to hear what we were dressing them as for Halloween.
"Aw, hell," I groaned, shaking my head, but I sealed my thoughts off from him, much to his disappointment. With a giggle, I said, "You may get to find out, but I'd rather show you..."
He fought his smile but nodded fervently. "Just tell me this... Is Emmett gonna be a teddy bear?"
I laughed, shaking my head as we took off toward home. "No, Edward."
"That purple dinosaur?"
"Barney?!" I cracked up at the thought, making note for next year. When he nodded, I sighed, "No, Edward..."
"Please tell me he's at least something he'll hate. And you didn't make me a pirate, did you?" he begged, causing Carlisle to laugh so hard that he almost stumbled.
"Shut up, Edward. You'll find out soon enough, I imagine." I glanced over to him to see his pleading face as we ran, and I knew what he wanted. He so badly wanted to have information to hold over his brothers' heads. With a grin, I gave in, opening my mind back up to him. "There. Happy?"
I was actually glad he knew, because while the idea was fun, I sort of needed his input, especially for what I'd picked out for him.
"Really?" he asked, his face looking a little shocked yet very pleased. He grinned so beautifully, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip, that I almost stumbled myself. "That's actually...awesome."
Giggling at his rare use of the word "awesome," I rolled my eyes. "Come on, Edward. Let's get back so you can torture your brothers..."
~oOo~
EDWARD
The sun had started to set by the time we drew closer to the house. There was a large part of me that wanted to climb the walls to the attic window, avoiding the family altogether, only to escape with Bella in our room. And not for the first time did I wonder what I'd done in this life or my human one to ever deserve her. She knew exactly what I'd needed – to rage, to confess my shame, and to know that what we were doing for Archie was not out of guilt but as an act of charity.
Carlisle, on the other hand, saw my anger for what it truly was. He knew that the injustice of it all had gotten to me, even though he hadn't known the details. Archie's fears, demeanor, and personality told him that his life had been a travesty. When Carlisle had shown up in that clearing and seen the signs of my temper, his first thoughts to me were a reminder that the old me – the Edward before Bella – wouldn't have stopped running, wouldn't have talked about it until it had almost completely eaten me up on the inside.
And he was right. I couldn't run from her. Despite seeing red with my rage, knowing she was following, knowing that she'd be there when I stopped had been comforting. My beautiful, smart girl knew exactly how long to let me rant, how long to let me wallow, and then she'd put a stop to it using sweet touches, a calm voice, and rational thinking. My anger faded away like an early morning fog once the sun had come out.
Paying it forward.
It really was the easiest way to put it, and it was the right thing to do. It was something Bella did all the time, as well as Carlisle and Esme. My wife considered us blessed and happy, so giving that back to someone – even if it was just a human student in one of our many classes – was important to her. It could be as simple as a kind word to someone rejected by others, or as hefty as a donation to a worthy cause. To Bella, they were all the same. We were giving back.
My Bella also respected Carlisle to the ends of the Earth and back, so to her, he was the utmost example of how lucky we truly were. He was kind, giving, and sympathetic to those around him, and he'd provided every single member of his family with a safe place to land, no matter what mistakes or bad choices they'd made.
And it was that last thought that helped me find determination instead of anger. Archie had found the safest place to land, even though we had technically found him.
I slowed down, and Carlisle and Bella followed suit. The minds from the house were loud, concerned, and frustrated, but the strongest of those was Alice.
Edward, it's Bella that has to talk to him. Not you. Her vision was clear. Bella's sweet smile and Archie's trust in her was going to be the key to cleaning out that room of his. I saw him decide to tell you about his change. Believe me, we all wish we could kill Victoria again.
Chuckling, I came to a stop and waved my girl to me. Placing my hands on either side of her sweet face, I said, "Alice says it's you that has to speak to Archie. Not me. He'll listen to you, Bella."
Her brow furrowed, but she nodded.
"Bella?" Carlisle verified.
"Archie sees her as an older sibling of sorts," I tried to explain. "She takes care of him, but she's not afraid to put him in his place." I grinned when his mind told me she did that for me, as well. "Yes, and then some."
"I don't know," she hedged, but Bella's mind was open again, and she was a little disappointed. She'd really had other plans.
"Sweet girl, once you've talked to Archie, you can call Charlie. I promise," I vowed, making sure she knew that particular thought hadn't slipped by me. "And you can show me that brilliant costume idea when you get off the phone."
She giggled, nodding again. She actually was kind of glad she could tell me because she wanted my input.
"I'm all yours when we're done, but we need to clean out that room soon." I glanced toward the house, hearing Alice's quick mind. "Otherwise, we'll be stuck inside for days, due to a snow storm. The snow won't make it any easier to...do what we have to do," I told her cryptically, because according to Carlisle's and Demitri's idea, we'd have to not only scatter the bodies all over the state, but rebury them rather deeply in the ground. Snow would make our movements visible. If we did it prior to the snow, then all would be covered up once the storm was over.
"And waiting any longer won't make it any easier on him," Carlisle added with a slight grimace.
"Okay," she agreed, stepping forward to kiss my lips softly but too quickly for my taste. Her mind told me that she loved me – something that never got old no matter how many times she thought it or said it out loud.
"Love you, too," I replied immediately, linking our fingers together and making our way back to the house.
Demitri, Carina, and Esme were outside, but they were speaking with Marcus on the phone at the far end of the backyard. However, the latter met Carlisle halfway across the yard. My siblings were all in the library. Jasper's first thoughts were concern for me, but he could feel that I wasn't as angry as before. Rose, like Bella, was a little disturbed of what had been beneath the house this whole time. Kevin and Adrian were sitting together on the sofa, their minds a little saddened because they'd all been told Archie's story at this point by Alice. And Emmett really just wanted to help the "little guy downstairs."
Alice, however, was eying Bella like a traitor. "You told him."
"You lost the football game," Bella snarked back, wearing a smirk. "Don't come crying to me."
"What?! You know?!" Adrian, Emmett, and Jasper all bellowed at the same time, wearing matching faces of jealousy and curiosity.
Grinning shamelessly, I nodded, thinking this was another reason that I wanted Bella alone. I so owed her for giving me this moment. My father and my brothers may have won the football game, but the girls and Kevin had held out simply to torture them. It was that last person that spoke up.
"Hot, yeah?" he said with a grin. "Beats a mermaid any day. You have serious issues, Heavy E," he accused, showing me some of Bella's past costumes – cheerleader, Catholic school girl, and Princess Buttercup from the movie The Princess Bride. The latter had really been for her, not for me.
Laughing, I nodded. "It's perfect, really."
"Yes, well," he said haughtily, waving away our brothers when they tried to bombard us with questions. "For you, it simply was a matter of praying to the Gucci gods to dress you...and the Goddess, too, for that matter."
Alice and Bella laughed, but it was true.
"And it was all Rose's idea," Bella added, pointing to my smirking sister.
She simply shrugged. "I know you like that shit," she said, shooting a wink my way. "And really, I just wanted to put flowers in Em's hair."
"Wait! What? Flowers?!" Emmett shouted. "Aw, c'mon, babe. No flowers. That shit's not cool."
Alice's mind was filled with laughter as she thought to me, If you want to torture them a bit more, we don't mind.
"Excellent," I hissed with a grin, rubbing my hands together.
"So tell us!" Jasper growled.
"Not yet. We need to talk to Archie first," I stated, and while it was the truth, it was way too much fun to tease them.
Adrian scoffed, rolling his eyes, but Jasper and Emmett turned to their mates to argue their case. They'd won the game, so they deserved to know. Rose told them they'd find out when we were "damned good and ready."
I was still chuckling as I followed Bella downstairs.
You're so loving me right now, aren't you? Her mind caressed mine in an almost sensual tone.
"You have no idea," I admitted with a snicker and a slow shake of my head. "You're positively brilliant, my beautiful girl."
She grinned, leaning into my kiss to her cheek, but turned her attention to the basement. "Archie, sweetie... Can you let me see you? I'd like to ask you a few questions."
Archie appeared in his usual flickering manner. He was seated on his pile of blankets, almost protectively over his trap door. Without any preamble, Bella walked directly to him, kneeling down to his level. His sharp red eyes watched her every move, but his mind was concerned that he'd upset us.
"Not at all, Archie," I told him. "It was just...a lot to take in. Can you understand that?"
He nodded, his mind saying yes at the same time. Though, he couldn't understand why because it was simply the facts of his life. And that alone was just a somber thought.
Bella tucked her hair back behind her ears, gazing at him, but her mind couldn't decide exactly how to start. Taking a deep breath, she asked the one question we should've asked from the beginning.
"Archie, technically, we've just forced ourselves on you, but I don't think anyone has stopped to ask you if you truly want our help. Do you?" she asked, sitting back on her heels.
Archie's brow wrinkled, and he glanced from me, to her, and back again. His mind was a little shocked, which made his thoughts jumbled.
"She's giving you a choice. If you want our help, we're offering it to you," I explained.
"All your life, you've had no options. I'm giving you one now," she stated firmly. "Trust me, I understand fear, sweetie. And this won't be easy, but you should be given this choice."
His brow furrowed at her, but again, he turned to me. Fear? What has she ever been afraid of?
I huffed a humorless laugh, sitting down on the bottom step. "She's as brave as a lioness, I know, but she hasn't always been...protected."
"That's a story for another day," Bella stated, her eyes darkening in a warning toward me before turning back to Archie. "Everyone inside this house is willing to share their experience to help you. We're willing to teach you, work with you in order for you never to go back to the way we found you. Or...we can leave you be and move on."
After a century of loneliness, he panicked at the thought of our leaving. He shook his head profusely at her, but she wasn't sure which question he was answering, so Bella turned to me.
"He doesn't want us to leave," I translated.
"Okay, well... You know this won't be easy, Archie." She spoke slowly, nervously, because she was about to explain what he had to do. "You'll need to face every fear, trust us completely, and eventually, you'll be able to do things for yourself."
He huffed through his nose in a disbelieving gesture.
Again, she posed the question to him, putting the ball back into his court. "Is that something you want?"
There was a reason she was asking, but she wouldn't approach it until he gave an answer, and it was smart thinking. In order to help him, we had to strip him down to basics, and to strip him down to basics, we had to take away everything from his life before we moved in. And that wasn't an easy thing to do with an immortal. Our temperaments were set in stone from the time we're changed. Our attitudes, beliefs, and emotions stayed almost exactly the same. Changes were possible, but they didn't come easily. However, once we adjusted to something new, again, it was unwavering. My life before and after Bella was a prime example of that.
Archie stood slowly and gazed out his small window. His mind was a flurry of fears, memories, and isolation. Bella stood, too, tucking her hands into the back pockets of her jeans, but she didn't even look to me for what he was thinking. She was giving him time.
It was silent down in the basement, but I lost myself in Archie's mind. He remembered growing up in this house, playing as a child in the yard, and watching his dad work in this very room. His brow furrowed as he remembered not really liking his father all that much, but the bond he had with his mother was unbreakable...until her death. It was then he felt unprotected, exposed, and defenseless against the man that blamed him for Elaine's death. The saddest part was that Archie blamed himself, as well.
"It was an accident, Archie," I said softly, and he nodded but didn't turn around. "Your father was wrong for blaming you. It was...an unfortunate chain of events." I sighed, looking to Bella, but I wasn't sure what to say. "I could blame myself for my own parents' deaths. I brought the disease home from school from classmates that had it. Carlisle said my youth kept me alive longer than them. Should I blame myself for something that I had no control over? The flu had taken so many at that point that it was impossible to tell who was next. You couldn't know that your mother's leg had caused an even bigger problem."
Archie spun to gape at me, his mind throwing questions at me left and right.
"I've attended medical school...Carlisle's a doctor. The signs were easy to diagnose through your memories," I explained as gently as I could. "She went into shock when the bone of her leg broke. You did your best to keep her warm and taken care of, but the circumstances were beyond your control. I can't even say she'd have survived back then even with proper medical attention. It may have happened anyway, because it was a risk you took every time you checked your traps. It could just as easily have been you."
Archie turned to face the window again, but his mind shuffled through what I'd said. He couldn't fathom the life I'd led – or any of us, for that matter – despite my immortality, which only added to how ashamed I'd felt about my endless whining. I'd hated my life, yet here was someone who'd had it infinitely worse.
I heard Jasper's mind when he felt determination, saw Alice's vision of his decision, but I never took my eyes off the man in question as he finally faced Bella with dark eyes. He was scared to death, but he nodded at her anyway.
"Okay," she said with a sweet smile. "Then I have another question for you...or a request, really."
He grimaced, which made me chuckle, because he knew what was next, and he was ashamed of how he'd fed.
"Relax, Archie," Bella said with a giggle. "No one's here to judge you, but we need to clean out that room. In order to move on, it's out with the old and in with the new. You have no idea how hard it is to hold Esme back from just hosing you and this room down. And she's dying to give you a real space to call your own."
He fought his smile and nodded, gazing down at himself and around the room. He really didn't want to watch what we were about to do, and the thought of facing what was yet to come was almost making him physically ill, which was impossible.
"You don't have to," I told him. "The house is yours, too, you know. You don't have to wait until we're gone to wander it freely." I smiled when his eyes shot to my face. "We have cameras, and things only went missing when we weren't around, so we weren't sure how else to find out."
Cameras... He mused over the word, but I could see that there were a few things in which he needed to catch up as far as technology went.
"We'd be glad to show you," I offered. "You've got some history to learn."
I know. He nodded, as well, but the only knowledge he had was from what he could glean from the humans that had come around and from what he'd read in books.
In order to not overwhelm him with our overzealous family, Bella asked, "Archie, do you like to read?" When he nodded, she smiled. "Good. Then maybe we should start you off with some history books. Yeah? Otherwise, Jasper may give you a long dissertation of military history, and you'll be bored to tears."
My chuckle turned into full-on laughter when Jasper's offended, "Hey!" wafted down to the basement.
Archie gazed up at the ceiling, a small smile curling the corners of his mouth, but he liked the feeling of being included. He'd watched us for so long prior to us finding him that now that he was getting to know us, he liked it.
Bella held out her hand to him, which put me on a bit of alert. It was the first time anyone had attempted to physically touch him. The fact that she was my mate made me possessive and protective, wanting no other man to touch her, but I could see in her mind that she simply thought of him like a lost child. Her heart and soul belonged to me, I knew that much, and I forced that thought to the forefront of my mind as Archie eyed her hand.
"C'mon. I'll take you someplace quiet so you can read...and get out of this room for a few, okay?" she offered gently.
Tentatively, he slipped his hand into hers, immediately feeling comforted and protected. And for a moment, I wondered if that was her shield at work on him. Alice met us at the top of the stairs, holding out a few thick books dedicated to American history and advances, which had been a Christmas present to Carlisle the year before from Jasper.
Demitri stood in the back of the room, watching them with a wry smile on his face and thinking to me, It's like you've adopted a child, Edward.
"I know," I snorted, shaking my head, but it was more than that. The whole family wanted to help him because the mere thought of staying in one space for so long was inconceivable to them. Every last one of them felt he deserved freedom from his past.
Esme joined Bella on Archie's other side, and they guided him to the dining room table, where Esme opted to sit with him. Bella, however, ascended the stairs to our bedroom. The rest of us looked to Demitri and Carlisle.
"There are two options," Demitri started softly, not wanting to spook Archie, who was completely absorbed in whatever Esme was telling him, despite the fact that he was nervous being out of his room. "We can fill that hole with concrete or dirt, sealing it up, or we can dispose of what's down there," he said, choosing his words carefully. "Doing that, we'd have to split up into several different directions."
"I think the girls would be more comfortable if we emptied it," Jasper affirmed, giving me a glance.
"He's right," I concurred. "However, I think once it's empty, we should seal it, because I think Esme's going to get to work in there."
Carlisle chuckled, not shocked whatsoever that his wife was planning on decorating yet another room. He briefly wondered what Archie would make of it.
"He's fine with it," Alice piped up knowingly with a grin. "However, his first bath will be...interesting."
"Oh hell," I muttered, watching her vision of bubbles, bathwater, and dirt everywhere in Carlisle and Esme's bathroom. I gripped Carlisle's shoulder. "Looks like that falls to you, Dr. Cullen," I said with a chuckle.
"Fantastic," Carlisle sighed, but he wore a face that seemed okay with it. "Then let's get to work. If we each take one body, then we can get this finished quickly. Emmett, would you and Rose be so kind as to start getting his room prepared for Esme? Close up that passageway, and once we've cleared that bottom room, figure out how to seal it up," he requested, and they nodded in acquiescence.
Jasper, Demitri, and I made our way downstairs, shovels in hand, and Demitri yanked up the trapdoor. It smelled of earth, closed up spaces, and old alcohol. While Carlisle sought out something to conceal and carry the remains, Jasper and Demitri dropped into the darkness below.
Glancing up to the ceiling, I debated on going up to see Bella, but Alice nudged me.
She'll be fine. See? Her vision was just a second faster than the reality, and I smiled.
I heard my sweet girl's pacing come to a halt and the sound of her body falling to our bed, but nothing beat her voice. "Hey, Dad...just checking in..."
"Hey, sweetheart. How are things?" Charlie answered with a slight chuckle.
"Things are...interesting, but I want to hear about you," she told him, but really, she just wanted to listen to her dad talk. "So...what's new?"
"Come on, Ed," Jasper called with a laugh from below, tossing a shovel at me. I caught it swiftly, falling through the hole to land next to him, but his thoughts were solemn. We'll get done fast and get you back.
Swallowing thickly, I nodded and stuck the shovel into the loose dirt.
~oOo~
BELLA
I dropped my phone down onto the bed next to my side, letting a long, slow breath out as I rubbed my aching chest due to Edward's absence. I wasn't sure I'd ever talked on the phone that long, not even when I was a teen. I'd been on the phone for at least two hours. But it had been really good to talk to Charlie, and what was even better was that several of my friends from the reservation had shown up at his door, so I'd gotten to speak with them all.
Jake was doing well, Sue was taking amazing care of my dad, and the kids were all growing up so fast. Even Jessica, who was married to Quil, sounded so much more mature. Something about that was a little unnerving because I was...exactly the same. It made me feel so separated from them, apart from my dad.
The teasing, the laughter, the old jokes were the same. Jake's voice had brought back good and bad memories of not only riding motorcycles, but loud, aggressive fights. All of it combined made me miss Forks with an all-consuming ache, dredged up the feelings of pain and loss, but it also brought a smile to my face at the memory of my wedding and the Cullen house.
Listening intently to the sounds downstairs, I could tell that there were just few of us home. Esme was speaking quietly in the dining room to Archie, who remained silent as ever as he turned the pages of his book, but they'd been joined by Kevin and Adrian. Rose and Emmett were speaking to one another in the basement about measurements and hardware. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered Carlisle calling out that they were leaving and they'd be back soon, but I'd been lost in my chat with Charlie. I assumed that Carina and Demitri had left together, as well as Alice and Jasper, but I was pretty sure that Edward and Carlisle had chosen to go separately. I also wasn't sure exactly how many bodies they'd discovered. I'd tried to tune it all out, to be honest.
Getting up from the bed, I reached underneath it to take out a box I'd hidden. I had to smile at the thought of Halloween, which was just a few days away, because I actually couldn't wait to see Edward in what I'd chosen for him. The discussion with the girls had run the gamut of ideas – movies, superheroes, and yeah, even Rocky Horror Picture Show – but I'd argued vehemently against having Edward prance around in a pair of boxer shorts, despite how adorable he would've been in glasses. It had been Rose with the idea of favorite decades per couple. So that being said, I ran my finger down the prettiest, sharpest suit I'd ever seen.
Chicago gangster. I grinned at the thought. My costume would simply be a dress in the 1920s style, but Edward... Edward would be dressed in black and white pinstripes, black shirt, white tie, shiny black shoes, and a sexy-as-hell black fedora with a white satin ribbon around it. He was going to look amazing.
Emmett was going to flip out. Why Rose had picked the hippies era, I'd never understand, but poor Emmett would be rocking the flowers and peace signs painted on his face, along with bell-bottom jeans and moccasin shoes. Jasper would most likely be very pleased. Alice had picked the Civil War era, leaning a bit more toward the lines of Gone with the Wind. His Major costume was as close to the real thing as we could get.
Kevin, however, had taken some cajoling. His first choice had been to stick with the Rocky Horror theme, but not one of us could see poor, shy Adrian even leaving the house wearing nothing but a small pair of gold shorts, never mind that Kevin would be in drag as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. The small festival we'd be attending in Caribou wouldn't have known what had hit it. Instead, we'd helped him see the sex appeal of the 1950s style greasers – jeans, white T-shirts, and black leather jackets.
As far as Carlisle and Esme were concerned, they swore they weren't going. Or if they did, they most definitely wouldn't be in costume.
Leaving the box out so that Edward could see it, I turned, grabbed my laptop, quickly added a song to our ever-growing playlist, and set it back into his port on the stereo. Wandering into our bathroom, I lit candles and stripped out of my jeans and T-shirt, only to pull on a robe and knot my hair onto the top of my head.
The slamming of the kitchen door and hushed voices made me smile. Edward was back. I wanted to laugh at his brusque speech toward Emmett and Rose, not to mention his quiet and polite way of dealing with Esme and Archie, but his footsteps brought him quickly up the stairs.
He burst through the door like his hair was on fire. "I'm so sorry, baby... I didn't mean to go so far. You okay?" he asked in a rush as he automatically closed and locked the door.
"I'm okay," I told him, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Here," I said, tugging the box to my side.
He grinned, all sweet and cocky, but he merely nodded. "I saw it already, love," he whispered, kneeling in front of me and tapping my temple. "It's perfect. All that's missing is the Tommy gun."
"It's on order...should be here tomorrow." I snickered a little at his crooked smile. "And no, it's not real, but that wasn't for lack of Alice trying."
His laugh was beautiful and musical, but he sobered quickly. "How's Charlie?" he asked, trailing the backs of his fingers down my cheek.
"He's good. They're all good, actually," I told him, kissing him quickly and letting him read my mind. It was just easier that way.
His brow furrowed at some of my memories, but he let out a deep breath before pressing his lips to mine in a kiss that was over too soon. My need for him was growing, and I wasn't sure if that was due to his brief separation from me. It had only lasted minutes, but the pain had been sharp, making it hard to breathe.
"I'm all yours," he whispered, repeating the vow he'd made earlier, but his face was filled with a touch of worry. "Everyone and everything else can wait, my sweet, beautiful girl."
Nodding, I cupped either side of his face. He smelled of dirt and trees and nighttime autumn breezes, but his clothes were filthy.
I smiled a little, meeting his warm, honey gaze. "I added to our playlist."
A sexy laugh huffed out of him, but he nodded. "Okay, now I'm pretty sure you beat me, because I haven't been able to," he said with a chuckle.
"I'm sure," I teased, kissing him again. "Turn it on. Meet me in the bathroom."
"Yes, ma'am," he stated softly, and I could feel his eyes on me as he remained kneeling for a moment.
Walking into the bathroom, I started the water and smiled when the first few notes wafted in from the bedroom. I smelled him before I heard his shoulder lean against the door jamb. When I turned to face him, he looked confused but pleased at the soft glow of the room.
But it was the words of the song that I focused my mind on, because had this song been around when we had gotten married, I'd have made damn sure we'd have played it, danced to it.
As Guy Sebastian's "Angels Brought Me Here" said words I wanted to say, I walked to Edward.
It's been a long and winding journey, but I'm finally here tonight
Picking up the pieces, and walking back into the light
Into the sunset of your glory, where my heart and future lies
There's nothing like that feeling, when I look into your eyes...
Without meeting his ever-darkening gaze, I reached for his shirt, and he let me lift it up and over his head, dropping it to the floor of the bathroom. He kicked out of his dirt-covered sneakers as I tugged at the button of his jeans, but his breathing picked up as he listened to the song.
My dreams came true, when I found you
I found you, my miracle...
If you could see, what I see, that you're the answer to my prayers
And if you could feel, the tenderness I feel
You would know, it would be clear, that angels brought me here...
Once he was undressed, he reached for me, fingers gripping the belt of my robe and slipping up the side of my face so he could tilt my gaze to his. Pulling me close, his head bent to capture my mouth with his in a searing kiss. It was sweeping lips, wanton hums, and exploring tongues.
The last few days – really, almost the entire time after we'd moved into this house – had been trying for him, a test to the faith he had in himself. I wanted so badly to prove to him that I still saw him as everything, that he was my whole world.
"Hey," he breathed, grasping one side of my face while the other pulled open my robe. "I know that, my Bella. It's the one thing I count on." His hands slipped over my shoulders but beneath my robe, causing it to fall silently to the floor as his forehead fell to mine. "Come here," he ordered, his hands skimming down to my bottom so he could pick me up.
His eyes never wavered from mine as he lowered us down into the warm, soapy water, keeping me wrapped around him.
Standing here before you, feels like I've been born again
Every breath is your love, every heartbeat speaks your name
The candles surrounding us gave Edward's skin a soft, warm glow, highlighting every dip and muscle, and his eyes seemed to be taking in every inch of me, as well. And as much as our minds seemed to want to be slow and savor every second, our bodies melted quickly together, trapping Edward's arousal between us.
"So beautiful," he barely said aloud as his hand skimmed up my stomach, between my breasts, and gripped the back of my neck to bring me back in for a deep kiss that shattered the illusion of taking things slowly.
Slippery, soapy skin, gripping hands, and calls for more and now eventually overrode everything. Edward lifted me gently, guiding himself slowly inside me as my mind chanted over and over how much he meant to me, how I'd worried about him, and how beautiful he was inside and out. And as the the chorus of the song I'd added repeated for the last time, I mentally begged him to listen, to believe, and for God's sake...to kiss me.
If you could see, what I see, that you're the answer to my prayers.
And if you could feel, the tenderness I feel
You would know, it would be clear, that angels brought me here...
Yes they brought me here...
If you could feel, the tenderness I feel...
You would know, it would be clear, that angels brought me here...
There were moments in our relationship that seemed to stand out as stages we'd needed to reach – first I love yous, first kiss, his leaving, his return, my change, and our wedding. All these things made up who we were as a couple, but that bath, that song, and our slow, deep lovemaking that went on well after the water had run cold and the bubbles had all dissipated seemed to be another stage reached. It was as if Edward was washing all old thoughts, all false assumptions about himself, down the drain with the rest of the dirt. He clung to me with strong hands like I'd suddenly slip away.
As the day dawned to a barely there sun due to the now heavily falling snow, Edward and I tumbled into our bed, ignoring everything else but each other. Whispers of love, secret smiles, and soft, teasing fingers brushed against still-damp skin as the sound of snowflakes spattered against our windows. Mouths satiated needs, but not enough to take away the constant ache, and as Edward whirled the covers over our heads, essentially blocking out the whole world, he loomed over me looking like the angel I'd always thought him to be.
My hands slipped down his strong back, pulling him, urging him closer. As he slipped slowly and deeply inside of me, his forehead fell to mine. It didn't matter that we'd already loved every inch of each other in the bath, that we'd come hard with silent cries of each other's name, because every time we became one, it felt like the part of me that was missing finally fell right back into place.
"God, baby," he panted, dragging his lips down my jaw to my ear. "It's like you were made for me. I can't... I'll never get used to it, Bella."
I wanted to tell him that I was made for him, and he for me, but my voice caught in my throat as he started to move. I wanted to tell him that everything he'd ever experienced was what made him the man I loved, but I couldn't. And he could see it all in my thoughts as I cupped his face.
"Everything?" he needlessly verified in the softest of voices.
"Everything, Edward. Always."

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