Sunday, October 28, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 14

Chapter 14
"Th-Thank you." Archie swallowed nervously but faced us all bravely. "I-I don't know...what to say..."
"Well, holy hell," Kevin murmured, wearing a proud smile. "Say anything. At this point, it doesn't matter."
Archie sighed, fighting a small smile. "Sorry about that..."
I'd heard him decide to speak way before he actually uttered the words, and of course, Alice had practically bounced right out of her skin when she saw it coming. Archie's voice was unsure, soft, and very similar to his inner tone, but it was Jasper's mind that was amused the most.
Damn, Ed... He's practically overflowing with gratefulness. He truly means that shit. His thoughts were laced with amusement because he understood that feeling. When he and Alice had first joined us, we'd welcomed them immediately. He knew what the overwhelming sensation of being accepted felt like, despite one's past or mistakes.
I gave him a quick nod, wrapping an arm around Bella from behind, but it was Carlisle that was about to speak for all of us.
"Archie, there's no need to thank us, son, and you certainly have nothing to be sorry for," he started calmly, but in his mind, he was truly amazed at the strides and steps Archie had taken today. "There isn't one of us that hasn't been lost or confused at some point in our lives. What binds us together is a desire to overcome what we are. Some of my family, I changed myself, and the rest joined us from every walk of life imaginable. You've heard their stories, but the one thing I've always tried to do is accept each and every one of them for who they are. We simply wanted to show you that you have the freedom to do as you please and the strength to do anything you want – just like every member of my family. If you ask us to leave or find the courage to make your own way, or even decide to remain with us, we will support you, help you."
Bella leaned back against me, linking our fingers together at her waist. I dropped a heavy kiss to the back of her head, but we all stayed quiet because Carlisle wasn't finished.
"We're all incredibly different, and yes, sometimes we step on each other's toes, but we try to keep our family strong at its core. We've all had moments when we were scared, when we lost faith in ourselves, and when we didn't think we'd get through one more day of this long life, but I want you to know that I can't imagine a better group of people – not just immortals – that I'd want in my corner. Okay?" he asked him, smiling softly when he received a silent nod in reply. "I know you're worried, but trust me, we've all been there. You've done an amazing and courageous job today, Archie. I am very proud of you."
I chuckled softly at Archie's mind, because not even his own father had ever said those words.
Archie took a deep breath and nodded, and it seemed he'd finally found his courage, because instead of relying on me to communicate, he spoke again. "I-I want to try," he stated simply and softly.
"And we want to help you," Esme told him, smiling when we all nodded in agreement.
Bella was quiet, but she was thinking that Archie had some hard times ahead. It wasn't easy facing fears, talking about the past, or finding the courage to change. Her mind swirled around many, many long talks with Carlisle and myself as she stood silently in my arms. Opening up about abuse and pain and lies had been so hard on her – and myself, if I were completely honest. Feelings of abandonment had been the hardest on my sweet, beautiful girl, and she seemed to think Archie was feeling a bit of that, as well. What she felt most grateful for was that Archie hadn't been in love with Victoria, because she felt that he'd have been infinitely worse off than he was.
Squeezing her fingers, I nuzzled her neck and gave her a long, slow kiss right behind her ear.
"I don't know where to start," Archie said, looking up at Carlisle, but it was someone else that answered – someone I wasn't expecting.
"But we do, little dude," Emmett told him firmly. "I told you before... We've got your back," he said with a chuckle and a hand pounding his chest. "It ain't easy, man. But look around you. Every teacher you need is right here."
Emmett grinned, and it was infectious as hell because all of us – Archie included – chuckled. And I snorted softly into Bella's hair with what was coming next.
"Dr. Feel Good...he's awesome at talking through the ugly shit," he started, dropping a heavy hand to Carlisle's shoulder, which only caused him to shake his head. "You got Jazz here, who can sense what you're feeling – thirst, anger, nerves. And he'll help with all of it. He'll know when you've reached your limit." Emmett held out a fist to Jasper, who pounded it. "Then there's the pixie," he went on, trying to ruffle Alice's hair, but she ducked out of his reach with a giggle. "You even think about making a dumbass decision, and she'll know about it."
Bella laughed, shaking her head, and she wasn't the only one.
"And if she doesn't catch you, Eddie here will! But you already know that," he added with a cheesy-as-hell smile my way, and I rolled my eyes, but it was good to hear Archie's chuckle. "You've got Kevin and Adrian that are new to the diet and to the family, so yeah, they'll be right by your side."
When Emmett pointed their way, Kevin and Adrian nodded silently. They were both ready and willing to do what was needed to help Archie. Though, Adrian could understand Archie's shyness more than any of us.
"My beautiful Rosie and Esme will always be straight with you, no matter what, and you can ask them anything," he said, wrapping an arm around Rosalie's shoulders. "And then there's Bellsy," he crooned with a big smile, shooting a wink her way when Bella raised a dangerous eyebrow at him. "Nobody can touch you if she's on the job. No way, man. Honest. And you two have more in common than you know just yet," Emmett concluded, his thoughts suddenly sad as he thought about Bella's last human days.
My brow furrowed, but I didn't say anything because Bella simply nodded. She knew she had to tell Archie the rest of her story, though she wasn't looking forward to it. It wasn't that she minded him knowing everything, but she tended to get emotional when she talked about my leaving and Jake's abuse.
"And you?" Archie asked wryly, which caused that small amount of tension in the room to dissipate.
Emmett grinned. "When you're ready, little man, I'll show you exactly what you're capable of, but we can't exactly do that in the living room. Got me?"
Chuckling, I looked to Archie. "Emmett's talent is his strength, Archie. He never lost it from his newborn years. What he's saying is... Once you're able to go outside, he'll help you learn what you're physically able to do." I paused for just a moment, eying the two. "And he's really good with technology. He can catch you up on what you've missed."
Emmett grinned, giving a fervent nod. He hadn't even thought about that aspect of things.
"Archie, you should feed," Jasper stated firmly with a nod.
"I know," Archie replied, looking to Carlisle. "As much as... I mean..."
"You've taken some big steps today, son. We'll work up to getting you ready to hunt animals on your own. Okay?"
"Okay," he conceded, though he was disappointed more in himself than with the denial of hunting because he knew he wouldn't have been able to do it – Bella's shield or not.
"Don't sell yourself short, Archie," I told him, shaking my head. "You've accomplished more today than in the entire time we've been here."
"You'll do it," Alice suddenly piped up, linking her arm with his. "Just not today."
Her eyes locked with mine as a small, wry smile graced her face. The vision showed one thing for sure: the first time Archie took down his first doe, it would be instinct that kicked in, not bravery, and it would happen right outside the cellar doors. But it wouldn't happen for some time, because I could see that there was just a bit more snow on the ground.
Next week? She asked the question silently and shrugged a shoulder because neither of us could tell.
"Come on, Archie. We'll get you fed. And I'm assuming the rest of you are off to hunt before tomorrow night?" Carlisle confirmed.
"We're going, we're going," Jasper teased, grinning over at our father. "We've all been sequestered in this house for weeks. With that many humans around us, we'll all need to hunt."
"We'll be back by sunrise," Alice vowed knowingly.
"You going?" I asked Carlisle, but my eyes flickered between him and Esme. They'd debated on attending the carnival with us but weren't sure that Archie wanted to be left alone.
As if he could hear that thought, he chuckled. "I can be alone, you know. I...appreciate the concern, but I've been by myself before."
Bella giggled. "Now that you're talking, I kinda like it. You're a bit snarky like the rest of us," she told him with a sweet laugh.
Archie smiled shyly and shrugged a shoulder. "But I'm okay alone," he urged because he just didn't want to see us worry about him.
Rose chortled, shaking her head. "I imagine that you are. In fact, I'm surprised we haven't driven you bat-shit crazy yet."
He shook his head. ", not at all. But you were a lot to take in at the beginning."
I barked a laugh, thinking how noisy we'd all been cleaning up the house to move in. "I just bet we were."
"I'm sorry I didn't talk before," Archie said sadly, and he wasn't sure how to say what he'd been feeling. "I just..."
"You didn't feel safe yet. No one here thinks less of you for protecting yourself," Jasper stated firmly. "Whether you realize it or not, a part of that came from your human days."
"That's what Edward said," Archie sighed, grimacing a little. "I just wasn't used to it..."
"And then the vampire Brady Bunch comes rollin' up in here," Kevin said with a laugh. "Yeah," he sighed, shaking his head. "No one blames you, Archie."
I wanted to tell Kevin that the Brady Bunch reference was lost on poor Archie, but it didn't matter because Archie grasped what he was trying to say. He nodded with a smile and turned back to Carlisle.
Carlisle snickered, placing a hand on Archie's shoulder. "You guys go ahead. Esme and I will catch up."
Linking my fingers with Bella's, I said, "We'll head north. You can meet up with us when you're done."
We left Carlisle to take care of Archie's thirst, heading out into the dying light of the day. It turned into a race as we got closer to the Canada border.
"It sucks!" Emmett growled, folding his arms across his chest as he sat down on the log next to mine.
At first, I couldn't quite see what he was pissed off about, but then his thoughts focused in on hunting, and I had to laugh and nod at the same time. He was tired of deer and moose – as was I.
I was already finished hunting and was just waiting on everyone else after taking down two moose and two lynx. And while the lynx tasted infinitely better than than the moose, I'd had to restrain myself. Otherwise, between me and Bella, we could seriously deplete the entire population of the wild cat in the Maine and New Brunswick region. They weren't a large cat to begin with, so it definitely took more than one to even approach sating our thirst.
"I'm surprised you just didn't wake the bear up out of hibernation," I told him.
"Where's the fun in that?" he scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, sure... He's cranky, but he doesn't exactly fight back."
Laughing, I shrugged a shoulder. "You'd have to head south for what you're looking for," I explained. "Georgia? Florida, maybe?"
He nodded and didn't argue. Winter always tended to make hunting for Emmett boring when bears went into hibernation. I understood his point because I couldn't exactly hunt what I wanted, either. Mountain lions only resided in about sixteen states. Maine wasn't one of them.
"We should go to Florida...a hunting trip," he said excitedly. "You get panthers, and I get black bears."
I grinned, but it fell quickly as shook my head. "Too close to Renee," I stated. "The temptation to see her would be too much for Bella."
"Oh," he sighed, looking heartbroken for a moment. "Yeah, can't do that..."
As much as Emmett teased Bella, he would never hurt her, never want her in a position that made her uncomfortable, and we all knew that Bella would struggle if she were that close to her mother.
"I know what you're saying. But I don't see any hunting trips coming up anytime soon," I said, leaning forward with my elbows resting on my knees. "At least...not together as a family."
His nose wrinkled, but he nodded. "Archie's had it rough, man." He shook his head slowly. "He did awesome today, though."
"He did," I agreed, looking up when Bella and Rose approached us.
They were laughing together, walking almost at a human pace as they chatted about the upcoming carnival. Rose took a seat next to Emmett, leaning into his kiss to the side of her head, and Bella situated herself between my legs, snuggling closer when I wrapped my arms around her.
Burying my nose in her hair, I had to smile. She smelled like deer and chilly forest breezes and the snow from our snowball fight. No winner had been declared, but it had been an all-out war in the backyard. It had been hilarious to watch her and Carlisle pummel Jasper and Emmett with massive balls of ice.
"You really think Archie's okay by himself?" Bella asked suddenly but then rolled her eyes at her own question. "I mean, I get it...he's been alone forever, but he's been through some changes the last few weeks. Big ones."
"He's just fine, sweet girl," I soothed not only her, but Emmett and Rose, who thought it was a legit question. Tucking her hair behind her ear, I said, "He actually needed a minute alone for those very reasons. He's used to sorting things out on his own. And today was a bit overwhelming, so he just needed a chance to relax without us worrying about him."
Rose scoffed. "Like that's gonna happen," she said with a chuckle. "He's the perfect 'stray' for Mom and Dad."
We all laughed, but she was right. He was an enigma, a problem for Carlisle to solve, and he was also in serious need of care, so Esme was willing to dote on him as much as Archie would allow.
"He's not a stray," Esme argued, stepping into the clearing beside Carlisle, with Adrian and Kevin right behind them.
Grinning, Kevin shrugged a shoulder. "No, he's not, but you have to admit, he's pretty rough."
Alice and Jasper were the last to join us, and she smiled over at Kevin. "And that's why Carlisle set up this secret family meeting..."
It was true, and he wasn't sure if it could be done, but when the opportunity of leaving Archie alone presented itself, then he took advantage. He had wanted to talk to us without Archie around. It wasn't as if Carlisle was hiding anything from him, but he wanted the freedom to hear our opinions without fear of upsetting Archie.
Carlisle grinned, nodding, and then took a deep breath and turned to me. "I need to know what he's thinking, Edward. I need to know if we...if there are changes that need to be considered."
"He doesn't want us to leave," I stated as pure fact. "Yes, he's been alone his whole immortal life, but it wasn't by choice, I don't think. He enjoys the family dynamic. He likes the feeling of being included, even before he was talking."
"He's extremely grateful," Jasper added. "I mean, that's really all I'm getting from him lately. There is some residual fear that still lingers, but it isn't from us. He's just...nervous and anxious."
"I get the feeling – and it's only a guess – that he still isn't quite sure what he's capable of," I told Carlisle. "Alice has had a vision of him taking down a deer right outside the house, and it's his instincts that take over. He's terrified at first, but then he smells his prey."
"Maybe he's afraid of his own instincts," Emmett piped up, shrugging a large shoulder when we all turned our attention his way. "They can be overwhelming, but think about it... He's starved himself for so damn long, fought what he was from the very beginning, that maybe he thinks letting himself go, even to feed or just walk outside the door, is a bad thing."
"Or that something bad will happen," Bella mused. "I mean, everything that went wrong with him happened because he stepped outside his own home." She ticked off her points by holding up her fingers. "His mother's accident, his fear of the woods, his father's wrath, and then finally, his run-in with Victoria."
Kissing her head, I hummed in agreement because Archie had thought that at some point.
"Don't forget," Esme said softly, a slight grimace on her face. "His first instinct when he woke up after the change meant he brutally drank from and killed his father. Not that he didn't deserve it..." she muttered the last sentence, and we all grumbled in agreement.
"The fact that William Varner forced his son to stay out until he brought home food may have everything to do with it," Carlisle agreed, his brow furrowed in anger.
"Forced," Alice scoffed in a low growl, rolling her eyes. "He was chained to a damn tree!"
"There's a special spot in hell for Archie's dad," Rose sneered.
"No shit," Adrian and Kevin muttered at the same time.
"He has no idea just how strong he is, does he?" Jasper asked me.
"No, not at all." I sighed, running a hand through my hair. "Even when he was telling me about Lisa Dixon, he felt weak for taking her, but he hadn't fed – really fed – in months...years, maybe. But in his opinion, he feels that he created something worse: Caroline's and Tim's pain, worry, sadness. However, he still fought his instincts up to a year before he was almost unable to stop himself. He really, really didn't want to kill a child. He'd done it before, and it almost wrecked him."
What I didn't say aloud was that was just one of the many times that Archie had tried to end his existence. It had been shortly after an orphanage had tried to take up residence in the house.
A single drop of blood... Bella thought to herself, her eyes on Jasper as a flash of a papercut and a birthday party flickered through her mind.
"Don't," I growled low in her ear. "It's not like that."
She spun to face me, her face serious. It's exactly like that, Edward. Instincts can be scary because you aren't yourself. You told me that a million times when I was human...more once I was changed.
"I know, but..."
Archie's reaction to Lisa Dixon was a natural one...both before and after. And so was Jasper's...
"I know that, too, but..." I sputtered because I hadn't expected this reaction from her, especially when she compared Archie's experience to Jasper. "This is different," I urged.
"How?" she asked aloud, raising an eyebrow at me.
"You guys wanna share with the rest of us?" Emmett snorted.
"No," Bella and I said at the same time, our eyes never breaking from one another's.
Bella, however, tilted her head at me. "How, Edward?"
"Because one knew better!" I snapped, my nostrils flaring at the old memory.
Bella flinched, but she stayed silent for a moment as her eyes never left my face. I forced myself to calm, but her memory of Jasper launching himself at her briefly swam across her thoughts. Jasper had attacked my mate...mine...knowing he'd needed to feed that day because he'd more than once told me that my own draw to Bella's blood back then had fed his own thirst. I'd long since forgiven him; neither of us were innocent in the situation. And it didn't help that I'd reacted all wrong once it was all said and done...and stitches had been sewn into my sweet girl's skin.
I'm sorry, baby! I didn't mean to bring up bad memories, but I just saw the similarities. Bella's hand forced my gaze to hers, and I nodded, kissing her forehead.
"No worries, sweet girl."
We both turned to Carlisle. "Sorry," we muttered.
Curious thoughts swirled throughout the entire family, but I simply shook my head, turning to Carlisle. There was no need to dredge up the past, especially when all was truly forgiven. It was why Bella had kept her communication to me silent instead of verbal. And the fact that Bella was worried about her upcoming talk with Archie wasn't helping.
"Bella and Emmett have a point," I told him. "Perhaps Archie is frightened of his own instincts."
"That would explain why he hasn't escaped that house and why he was starving," Carlisle said with a nod. "It's going to take a bit of cajoling to get him ready to even approach feeding him naturally. He'll need to be able to stay outside longer than thirty seconds."
"He just needs a slight push in order to stay a little longer every day," Alice piped up. "But I promise, he will feed on his own. Not far from the house, but it's a start."
"It is a start," Carlisle sighed before nodding and standing. "Let's head back. We'll go over all of this with Archie. See if he has any questions for us."
We all got ready to leave, but Bella stayed back, cupping my face. "I didn't mean—"
I smiled, kissing her lips to shush her. "Quiet, my love. It's an old wound. And I can't say I'm proud of the way it went, but I am a blissfully happy man now. Okay?" I kissed her again, nuzzling her nose with my own. "And like you so brilliantly pointed out once...Jasper's reaction was no different than my own that first day in biology. Hmm?"
My girl's brow was still furrowed as she let out a deep breath. "But you're right...there is a difference. No one showed Archie anything."
"True, but our nature is...sometimes unavoidable. It can't be contained. I'm sorry I snapped, baby," I said with a frown.
She smiled. "Like you worries."
Chuckling, I scooped her up and tossed her across my shoulder. "Good. Then let's go, silly girl."
"You know, you can come with us to the this shit another day, my Goddess," Kevin urged, sitting down next to me on the sofa of the library and laying his head on my shoulder.
My thoughts were shielded as I shook my head no, but my eyes stayed locked on the forms out in the backyard. I rested my cheek on the top of Kevin's head and sighed. I could see from where we were and without hearing them that Carlisle wasn't convincing Edward to go anywhere. I'd hoped I could talk to Archie with just Carlisle and myself, but Edward wasn't having it. Not one bit of it.
"Heavy E just wants to be there for you, B," Kevin whispered low. "That's all. I know he tends to...beat himself up over your past."
"I know, but..."
"But you hate to see his pain," Kevin finished for me. He snickered a bit and then kissed my cheek. "So stubborn...the both of you. And all over looking out for the other."
I grinned, glaring at him through narrowed eyes when he sat up straight. "Hush," I chided gently, reaching up to poke at his gelled hair. "Now, are you sure you'll be okay in public without my shield?"
"Goddess, I'm damn sure I'm not going to take anyone from some backwoods mall movie theater. You know I have better...taste than that," he teased, laughing when I snorted at him. He leaned in to whisper, "Besides, Alice sees everything going just fine."
"Good. Now, go," I ordered, giving him a playful shove.
"'Kay. Love ya," he sang and was out the door in a flash.
Carlisle and I had requested everyone leave the house for this talk. He'd suggested a matinee movie before we all had to get ready for the carnival later that night. Edward's and my past tended to dredge up old feelings of regret, disappointment, and anger. Most of that was from Edward himself, and that, I didn't want, but I could see that it was a futile request as he continued to stand steadfast with his arms folded across his chest as Carlisle talked relentlessly to him.
Edward, get in here, I finally thought to him, but I immediately shielded my mind again.
My handsome husband's head spun toward the window, and then he was inside quickly. "Bella, please..." he begged, kneeling down at my feet.
"Just...stay," I finally caved.
His brow furrowed as he studied my face, his frown looking just this shy of an adorable pout. "I can't hear you."
"No. No, you can't," I agreed, tracing a finger across his eyebrow, along his jaw, and over his bottom lip. "You will, but I need to think about how I want to do this, so right now, you can't."
"Fair enough, sweet girl," he conceded softly, looking a bit chastised.
"Hey," I soothed, cupping either side of his face and bringing him in for a kiss. "Everything I'm about to tell Archie is over and done with...forgiven and forgotten. You know that, right?" I asked, and he nodded, but his face wasn't exactly convincing. "This isn't for you to relive...just to explain. Because you know that I love..."
"The man that came back more than the one that left," he finished for me, sounding like a child that had memorized a passage. He grinned sweetly when I giggled and nodded.
"And they say old dogs can't be taught new tricks," I teased, squealing when tickling fingers attacked relentlessly.
Tugging me to the edge of the sofa, Edward pressed his forehead to mine. "I want to stay. Archie will have questions for me. And when you're done, I want to be here to hold you, because I know – despite how strong you are – that you don't like telling it."
I nodded, my eyes stinging with the need to shed tears that I couldn't, because he was too sweet for words sometimes. He was right. I didn't like telling it. The ache that came with describing how he'd left me was almost as excruciating as the day he'd done it. I kissed him roughly, and we both glanced up when Archie walked into the room with Esme. Carlisle was right behind them.
"You're not going?" I asked her.
"Both my dates are here," she teased with a grin, gesturing to Carlisle and Edward. "No way. I'm not gonna be a fifth wheel."
"Trust me, one dateless night is nothing," Edward muttered wryly, smirking when we all chuckled at him.
"Hush, you," she hissed, ruffling his hair.
Edward stood, but dropped one long kiss to my forehead before picking up a guitar he'd promised Jasper he'd re-string. I imagined it was to keep his hands busy while I talked. He sat down in the chair by the tall windows.
I smiled at Archie as he took a seat next to me. Carlisle and Esme sat on the loveseat across from us. Archie handed me back Edward's book, and I took it quietly, thumbing through the pages. It smelled faintly of Archie, but Edward's scent was pretty embedded in there from all the times he'd read it.
I traced my finger around the Cullen crest on the front of the book, taking a deep breath. "Archie, when I wrote this for Edward, I was already changed," I started, glancing over at him, and he nodded, his eyes sincere and wide. "Four years after I was changed," I added, just so he understood.
"Okay," he said softly, and I smiled because it was nice to hear his voice. It was soft, sweet, polite, and it reminded me a little of Adrian, with a touch of Edward thrown in.
I nodded, sniffed, and looked over at Carlisle, only to focus back on Archie. "The reason they're all here is because the time after this book ends," I said, tapping the cover, "is when things become...hard. You're not the only one that was hurt by someone they trusted. I don't tell this story often because everyone in the house, aside from Kevin and Adrian, lived it."
"You...You don't have to," Archie stated, glancing between my face and over to Edward, who remained quiet, but his eyes were dark and downcast to the instrument in his hands.
"Yes, I do. I made a deal with you, and I intend to follow through, but I'd like to ask something of you before I start," I responded, tilting my head at him. When he nodded, I said, "I'd really like you to listen with an open mind and not judge...anyone in this room."
His brow furrowed, but he nodded once more.
"Good," I sighed, turning to my side so that I was facing him. "You need to understand something, if you didn't pick up on it already in this book. When vampires mate, it's instant, it's permanent, and it's all-consuming. And if you've fought your natural instincts for a hundred years, then when something major changes you, it can be so very overwhelming. Understand?"
"Yes," he stated firmly, nodding.
"You already know that Carlisle and his family would establish residence in various cities in order to live somewhat normally," I started, having to remove myself from the scenario just a bit. "So after prom, Emmett, Jasper, and Rose graduated...again, and Edward, Alice, and I moved up to our senior year of high school. That summer was fun, we hung out, I worked a part-time job, and when school started again, the three of us started together."
A loud snap echoed in the room, and Edward set the unstrung guitar down, glaring out the window, a new but now snapped guitar string on the floor in two pieces. Carlisle must have said something to him silently because he simply nodded.
In order to do this, to comfort Edward, as well as be truthful to Archie, I just...started. Opening my mind, I decided to let Edward into my thoughts and tell this story as quickly as possible, like tearing off a band-aid.
"As you know, I was still human when I started that next year of school," I began, making sure Archie was listening to me and not paying attention to Edward, who stood up to gaze out the window. "I turned eighteen that year, and Alice wanted to throw me a party," I told him.
I described my attitude about parties, about how I'd never wanted to celebrate my birthday because my age had been a bone of contention between Edward and me. He'd loved my humanity, wanted to revel in it. I, on the other hand, had wanted to be as close to his age as possible. I told Archie that I'd wanted immortality, if only because I'd known what I had with Edward would never end, that it would always be there.
Describing that day at school, the party at the Cullen home afterward, and Jasper's unfortunate reaction was hard, but Archie listened intently, wincing when he realized I'd been injured.
I sighed deeply before continuing on with the story, glancing over at Carlisle for a brief moment. "There was a great big debate back then, something that had been going on way before I entered the picture, Archie. Carlisle, as you know, is a minister's son. Edward, as you also know, was rather devout when he was changed, as well. They had differing opinions of their souls and where their lot was cast in life now that they weren't human anymore. I don't know what you believe, but I wasn't...educated in religion. It wasn't something that was prominent in my life." I paused, biting my lip for a moment. "But those two," I said, pointing to Carlisle and Edward, "think differently. See...Carlisle believes that if we do our best with the life that's given us, then perhaps we stand a chance when we're finally face to face with God. Edward, however, believed – and I use past tense for a reason – that the very second we were changed, we lost our souls completely. So, to him, to change me meant that I would lose my soul, too. Do you see where I'm coming from?"
Archie nodded. "If my human days at church taught me anything, then I'd have to agree with Carlisle. You can repent, ask for forgiveness, and change your life. At least, that's what was written..."
"Yes," I praised. "Exactly. And Edward, at the time, disagreed. He felt all immortals were damned, no matter what."
"You don't believe that way now?" Archie asked, glancing up at Edward, whose back was to the room.
"No, I don't," my husband stated softly, never turning around. "Whatever soul I felt I'd lost was returned to me when I met Bella." It was such a simple statement, but it was delivered with an almost harsh tone. "Though, I didn't realize it until it was almost too late."
I grimaced a little at that but faced Archie again. "So, as you can see, Edward didn't want to change me. He felt he'd be destroying my soul, taking away all that a human life could offer – like children, a future, a career – so he denied me constantly." I paused, smiling at Archie's expression. "I see you agree. Trust me, I didn't want children, and it didn't matter in the long'll see."
Continuing with the story, I explained Edward's quick withdrawal from me the few days after my birthday. Taking a deep breath, I told Archie about that last walk into the woods, about Edward saying it was time for them to leave. My heart hurt when he denied everything, but I told it anyway – he didn't want me, he would simply disappear, and it would be as if he'd never existed.
"Christ," Edward breathed, his forehead hitting the window in front of his face with a dull thunk. He turned to face Archie. "Yes, I just...left her," he stated softly through gritted teeth. "All of it was blasphemous lies, but I thought she'd be better off!"
Esme quietly got up from the loveseat and walked to him, taking his hand in hers.
"He left you there?" Archie verified, glancing between us. "But you knew... I thought humans couldn't know. And you're...mates."
I smiled sadly, but nodded. "This is where I'm going to ask you not to judge him, Archie. He didn't want to destroy me, and he felt that everything that surrounded him was a danger to me."
Edward scoffed, but Esme shushed him gently.
"He felt that if he could leave me, he'd be protecting me, you see?" I sighed at the sight of Archie's furrowed brow. "What he didn't know was that I can find danger...anywhere," I chuckled humorlessly. "I didn't need a coven of vampires to get in trouble, trust me."
Edward leaned back against the window, and I felt his eyes on me as I began to tell the next stage of the story. I'd have to explain to Jake at another time that I'd outed his pack, but he trusted me, so I was pretty sure he'd be okay with it. I told of depression and threats from my parents, about retreating into myself and away from my friends at school, and I finally talked about the rez and the pack.
Jake's abuse was harder to get through than I'd thought it would be. There was still a part of me that felt small and weak at the sound of what I'd endured, but I spoke of bruises, hits, threats, and finally the loss of the ability to have children, which caused a dawning expression of realization to cross Archie's face.
"How long?" he asked.
"Two years," Carlisle stated softly, sitting forward in his seat and leaning his elbows on his knees. "Trust me, Archie, had we known, we would've returned sooner. None of us are innocent in this situation, except for Bella herself. She did nothing wrong to earn any of it." He locked gazes with me to make sure I'd heard him reiterate something he'd said more times than I could count. "I will tell you this... Both of my children suffered."
Archie looked to Edward, who answered his thoughts. "I ran like a coward, Archie. I ran to keep from falling at Bella's feet and giving into my selfish nature. I hid like a slug under a rock in Brazil, trying to starve myself. And I ran to find Victoria," he said, his black, angry gaze locking with Archie's. "I tried many times to track her, but she was...elusive. There's no excuse for what I did."
Archie's sweet face was troubled when he looked to me.
"Yes, dammit!" Edward sneered. "I checked on her...just not closely enough!"
"Edward," I sighed, begging him silently to please calm down, and Esme tried to help.
"Sorry, Bella," he murmured contritely, facing the window once more, and Esme wrapped an arm around his waist. "I know, I know," he sighed, the sound barely making it to my ears.
"I took a year off from school, but when I started my first few college courses..." I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and then swallowed thickly. "I'd learned to live with the pain, learned to cope with it. Hell, I'd even learned to avoid Jake's temper, for the most part. But the last really big fight we had, he slapped my face, and I tried to walk away from him because he asked me the one question that I had no lie for."
"What?" Archie whispered.
"He asked me..." I glanced over at Edward, whose expression had gone from fiery ire-filled to soft, loving, and oh-so-worried. "He asked me who I'd rather be with... Someone that had picked me up, dusted me off, and kept me sane, or the one person that wasn't there."
"You told him Edward," Archie surmised, wrinkling his nose a little.
"I did." I bit back a sob, facing him. "And it earned me a rather large bruise across my face." I smiled sadly. "But it was...and would always be...the truth."
Archie nodded, his face solemn.
"Now you understand why she doesn't tell this story often, Archie," Carlisle soothed, giving me a warm, encouraging smile, and Archie hummed in acknowledgment. "Mistakes were made, but they were all with good intentions. No one could've possibly known what would happen because poor Alice can't see anything when the wolves are in the picture."
"That next day," I continued, ready to be done with this whole conversation, "I had made the decision to let Jake go, to distance myself from him. I'd skipped class and was sitting on the shore when Victoria found me...and right behind her was Edward."
Edward was suddenly in front of me, turning me to face him. "Look at me, sweet girl," he soothed, brushing my hair away from my face. "So strong, so beautiful..." he rambled softly. Without taking his honey gaze from mine, he said, "She's stronger than I am, Archie. She always will be. And she didn't have to take me back, but she did. Now can you understand why I don't deserve her?"
"Yes," Archie stated, which caused Edward and me to glance over at him. He was wearing a wry smile. "But you were confused."
"Yes, I was," Edward admitted, nodding once. "The story doesn't end there. Bella had many issues to overcome when I returned – many to do with me, and many concerning Jacob Black. And it took a few months before Victoria actually attempted to harm Bella, but she succeeded. I had no alternative but to change her. And now...I don't regret it."
I smiled, cupping my handsome Edward's face. "You'd better not."
He looked every bit the seventeen-year-old when he chuckled softly, his eyes on mine. "Not a minute."
"Good," I told him, but switched to thoughts. Baby, can we stay out after the carnival? Just...anywhere? Just us?
"Yes," he whispered, nodding a few times, but his gaze was fierce, intense, staring at me like I was his salvation. "Anything you want." He glanced over at the clock on the mantle and then back to me. "We'd better start getting ready. Their movie's most likely over by now. I really don't need Alice yelling at me because I haven't gotten dressed yet."
Esme and I giggled, and Carlisle muttered, "No kidding." He turned to Archie. "You'll be okay alone? Esme and I won't be out as long as the rest of them, but..."
Archie held up a hand and smiled. "I'm okay," he said softly and then turned to me. "Thank you. I...I understand now why you don't speak of it." His brow wrinkled, and whatever he was thinking made Edward chuckle. "I can't imagine you two apart, seems that you've overcome a lot."
With a small smile, I said, "I have. We have."
Perceptive thing that he was, he turned to Carlisle. "You wanted me to hear this. This is why you kept saying that I needed to listen to them."
Carlisle nodded. "I did. And yes, you have a lot in common with the two of them. I think what I'd like to do is work with you like I worked with them when we came back and after Bella's change. A little talking, a lot of hard work, and I think you can set yourself some small achievable goals, Archie."
Archie took a deep breath, sighed, and stood up. "Okay. Tomorrow?"
"Bella and I are going to stay out tonight, but will tomorrow afternoon be okay?" Edward offered.
With a smile, he said, "Yes, but I'd really like you know...just in case."
I could understand that Archie had grown attached to having Edward hear his thoughts, and it was quite possible that he'd want my shield around him if he tried stepping outside again, so I smiled at him.
"No problem, Archie," I said, taking Edward's hand when it was offered and standing up from the sofa. "We'll be here."


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