Thank you for your patience. Thank you for sharing amazing stories of grief and recovery in your reviews and PMs. Thank you for laughing with me.

I'm grateful for Sunshine for beta'ing this chapter, xo EMC for the feedback, and songster for her great eye and gentle advice.

Last time, on SGMR… Edward was rushed to the hospital after spending the night in an alley behind a dumpster. He had a severe case of pneumonia and, although it was touch and go for a while, he was on the up and up by chapter end. Bella was there when he woke in the hospital, and after a month-long separation, they didn't appear to have an ounce of love lost. Edward is now needing to deal with suppressed memories of his parents' murders and piecing his life back together.

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Chapter Thirty-eight
Atonement

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"Hi Nicole. Are they still in there?" I ask from behind the glass partition in Dr Eleazar's waiting room.

"Yes. Bella and Dr Eleazar should be done soon. I just made some coffee, would you like a cup?"

"Yes, please."

Nicole disappears behind her reception area and makes me a cup, just the way I like it, sweet and light. Touching her long, straight blond hair, she looks over her shoulder and smiles at me sweetly. She has the kind of warmth that softens the blow of whatever is to come behind the doctor's door.

We exchange shy smiles as I lift my mug, then take my familiar seat and wait.

This room, this hospital, has become a second home since I first entered about two weeks ago. First, the week in a hospital bed to repair my body, then three days in residence in at the behavioral health wing to begin repairing my mind. Now, I spend much of my days here in group and individual therapy sessions, and spend my nights at Carlisle and Esme's where we talk frankly about my fractured past.

Always, through each step, Bella has been by my side. Attending to my needs, listening, or simply sitting with me in silence when the spoken word cannot compete with the internal volume of newly remembered images.

I take another sip of coffee, my warm comfort, and contemplate the hour ahead. Today is our turning point. Dr Eleazar and I have already had sessions with Carlisle and Esme, even Jasper came for a session, and now it's Bella's turn. If all goes well, I'll move back into the condo tonight, Bella will move in this weekend, and I'll cut back my sessions to a few times a week.

I brush my hand over my smooth face. Never wanting to see a hint of that beard again, I've taken to shaving every day, sometimes twice a day.

Lost in thought, staring at my coffee, I feel someone sit next to me.

"Hi." Bella's voice is quiet.

"Hey, there." I peer over to Bella's beautiful face and deep eyes. She's wearing worn jeans and my white cable knit sweater she's adopted as her own. "I didn't even hear you."

"I noticed." She places her warm hand on my knee. "Are you okay?"

"Yep, I'm great. How about you? I mean, how was it? Did you like him?"

"Very much. He's as good as you said."

"He's pretty direct, isn't he…? He calls his style aggressive."

"Yes." Her eyes widen. "My dad would call him a straight shooter."

"What did you um… What did you talk about?" I promised myself I wouldn't ask, and held out a full 20 seconds before giving in.

"Ahh, a few different things." Her brow briefly furrows. "He wanted to hear about my sessions with Anne… and there were a couple of things he brought up that I think he wants to talk about with both of us."

"Sure, yeah. Right, right."

Bella threads her fingers through mine, reassuring me. Weeks ago, I'd be frantic that Bella had secrets. But now, it is just a low hum of worry filling in the background of my mind.

"So, are you ready to go in?" she asks.

"Yep. You?"

"I'm ready." Her curt nod and pressed lips tell me that she is preparing herself, maybe even more so than I.

We walk in and Dr Eleazar gives me a firm handshake and gestures for us to sit across from him on the couch.

He is a lanky but fit man, probably in his mid-forties, with black hair, eyes of flint, and a thin, handsome face. He exudes calm wisdom, as if he is much older than his years.

"Edward, Bella was catching me up to date on her own therapy and some things you and I have discussed about her past—her relationship with Mike, the accident, your relationship—but we haven't discussed how she closed the case on your parents. Bella, I'd like for you to take me through that now."

"Okay."

I've heard this story several times in the last two weeks. Each time I ask her to tell it to me, I think of another question or learn a new detail.

"It started the day after Edward first told me about his parents' mur- when they died."

"You can use words like murder or kill. That is what happened," he assures her.

She flashes her eyes to me and I take her hand, whispering, "It's okay."

With a small nod, she continues. "It was clear that Edward had a lot of trouble talking about the… murders, and I didn't want to push him."

"That was the weekend of your most severe PTSD episode, wouldn't you say, Edward?"

I nod and find the power not to advert my eyes.

I've told him about that that weekend in vivid detail—forcing her over the couch, running away, returning to find Bella trapped in a nightmare, slamming at the window—all of it.

Bella squeezes my hand. Always forgiving.

"I was… I was very difficult to deal with," she defends me. "I locked myself in the bathroom, and was horribly sick, but Edward took care…"

"Bella, I'm not judging Edward's behavior. I am simply setting the stage for what happened. We will get to the PTSD before long."

My stomach tenses. I knew the PTSD conversation was coming, but it still makes me shake inside. Lord, give me strength.

"Why don't you continue with the story?" he suggests.

Taking a deep breath, she starts again. "I had so many questions… The next day I went to the library to look up newspaper articles surrounding the event. But the only new thing I learned was that the case was still open. Since I was taking time off from work, I spent my time looking through the police blotters and news articles to find something similar, other crimes in the area—but couldn't make any connections. That's when I called my father."

"He's the Police Chief in Forks," I jump in. "And Bella has a degree in Criminal Justice and is going to go to law school." I sound more like a proud grandfather than a boyfriend.

Dr Eleazar suppresses an embarrassed smile for me and looks down as he crosses his legs.

"What did you ask your father to do for you?"

"I asked him to get the file on the Masens' case."

"And how did he take that?"

She laughs. "Concerned… curious, but that's my father."

"But he got it for you."

"Yes he did. But I didn't do much with it until Edward and I… until we… when we…"

"Until you and Edward broke up?"

"Yes," her voice is quiet and she drops her eyes to our intertwined fingers. I brush my thumb across her hand.

"I moved back to Forks and after a day of wallowing, I saw the file on the kitchen table. My dad must have taken it out and put in there."

A new detail.

"And it just consumed me. I looked over all of the interview transcripts—witnesses from the neighborhood, suspects—I kept thinking that it had to be someone from his parents' company… but nothing. Until I looked at the last date the partial fingerprints were run through the national database. It was long ago—a decade."

"Another favor from your father?"

"You could say that, but he was on board. The database turned up a long list of names, and from there it was a process of elimination. Who lived near Seattle during the time? Who committed similar crimes…? It took a while, but I eventually narrowed it down."

"Royce and King, they committed similar crimes?" he asks, remembering everything without ever writing a single word.

"For the most part they only had small burglaries on their record—with one exception—a home burglary that ended in the residences' death. They um… they killed them and were serving time. King was named the accomplice, Royce, the murderer." Bella's voice fades to nothing.

The room goes silent for a moment as Dr Eleazar leans forward, looking like he is ready to challenge her the way he does me, but I don't know why. I have the urge to protect her.

"Edward told me you interviewed King yourself, is that right?"

"Yes."

"You didn't want to let your father or Detective Jenks take over."

My eyes shift between the two of them. Bella's focus sharpens. I don't know what is happening, but something intense is transpiring between them.

"No," she says, tightening her jaw.

"Why?"

"I wanted to talk to him myself."

"Why?"

"I had to know." Her volume increases.

"It was dangerous."

"It was not." Her body stiffens next to me. "Why, why does everyone say that? It wasn't dangerous, he was incarcerated."

"You could have harmed the investigation."

"I wouldn't. I knew what I was doing… and I wasn't going to let Jenks, the court system, or anyone else screw this up before I got a piece of him, before I got the truth—before I looked him in the eyes and saw for myself... before I had chance to ask him point blank—"

"He told you?"

"Yes, yes he did. It didn't matter what happened after that. I'd always have that bit of truth I could give to Edward."

I'm silent, watching their rapid exchange.

"Why did he tell you?"

"He wanted what we all want—atonement."

"Did he get it?"

"No. It's not for me to give."

Dr Eleazar lets her breathe for only a second, and says, "But you and Edward weren't even together."

"It didn't matter, it doesn't matter. He..." She turns to me, eyes tearing. "You were sick with heartache from the minute I met you. Happy and kind to everyone, but suffering. All I've ever wanted to give you is a little peace. But I was so weak, I felt like I kept failing you. It didn't matter if we were apart… I'd never stop loving you."

I feel my mouth drop open. Though she has articulated her love many times, it's never felt quite like this—as if her feelings no longer lie on the surface of my skin, but permeate me. She fights for me, and always has.

"Edward, how does hearing this make you feel?"

I answer him, but keep my eyes on her. "Cherished."

"I do. I cherish you, Edward."

"And you're embracing this feeling?" he asks.

"Yes, I am." How can something so simple feel so profound? I've thought I've felt this before, but it feels new. "I feel… I feel worthy." She blinks back tears and tilts her head, smiling. "Oh, and I love you, too Bella."

Bella laughs and drops her head. "Thank you, Edward." She takes a deep breath and meets my eyes again.

As I hold her stare, I pray for the room and Dr Eleazar to melt away. I can taste the intimacy of this moment on my tongue. I want to be alone with her, hold her in my arms, and find the words that can say it all for me.

"Let's move on."

He can be ruthless.

"Bella, I'd like to discuss what you brought up to me before Edward joined us."

Oh, she looks mad.

"You do?" she asks with a hard edge.

"I want to talk about Teddy."

"Oh." She looks over and sees the fear in my eyes. "I'm sorry, Edward. I know you don't like that name."

"It's alright, Bella. I told you I didn't, but it's really fine." My tone is apologetic. I slide my arm around her shoulders.

"Using the term Teddy is a good way to open communication about Edward's PTSD episodes," he says.

"Okay." Bella starts timidly, "You see, I know how to deal with you, Edward, but Teddy… sometimes I don't feel safe with him." She says the word as carefully as one can manage.

I take my arm from her shoulder, and pull away fractionally. How could she feel safe with him? With me? Clearly, it's my turn to speak, but all I can do is stare at my shoes. Time passes. I don't know what to say. My shoes need polishing. I glance at Dr Eleazar's shoes, then Bella's. Her boots are shiny.

"Hey, are those new boots?"

"Yes, they are. Do you like them?" Bella elongates her leg so I can see them from heel to knee.

"I do. They're pretty."

"Thank you. I was wearing Alice's all the time. We both like them so much, I bought this pair. They're the same, just a different color."

"Yes, they are a little different."

"These are cordovan, her boots are cognac."

"Hmmm, cordovan. I've heard of that before."

"Just a fancy word for reddish brown."

I look up at her kind, patient face. "Your hair is cordovan."

"Yes, you could say that."

Her grace emboldens me.

"Here's the thing—I think Teddy might be sort of trying to hurt you, your feelings… and I'm really sorry about that."

"Thank you for saying so." Bella places her hand on my knee. "I don't know what to do when he comes out, so sometimes I push and other times, I run away… and I know that can makes things worse."

"Teddy is a defense mechanism for Edward," Dr Eleazar says. "For the most part, he arrives during a PTSD episode. It served him to keep people away during his teen years and early twenties, it's not serving him anymore."

"So what do we do?" Bella asks.

"Let's talk about some strategies for managing Teddy."

We spend the remainder of the hour discussing the angry teen who lives inside of me. Though we hope the anger recedes with more therapy, some part of him will likely always be with me. We listen intently, and don't even giggle when Dr Eleazar talks about things like safe words.

When the hour is done, he suggests we continue couples counseling, a few times a month, to start.

"You can keep seeing me, or I can recommend a few other therapists."

With a quick exchange of glances, Bella and I agree to continue our therapy here.

"Dr Eleazar, what do you think about us moving in together? Do you think we're ready?"

"Edward, Bella, you don't need my permission. You're ready when you say you're ready."

I mouth the words to Bella, I'm ready, and she responds, me too.

After our session, I drive Bella back to her apartment and walk her to the parking garage elevator.

She stretches up to her toes and gives me a kiss. "Are you sure you don't want to come up?"

"I'm sure I do want to come up." I kiss her again, and slip my hands down to her behind. "But I like the plan we already made."

"Me too," she whispers and kisses me, placing her hands on the nape of my neck.

"We should make it special. It will be our first and our last reunion."

"I like the way you think, Masen." She brushes her lips against mine once more and pulls away. "I know you have a lot to do tonight."

"Yes, tomorrow during the day, too. Sorry."

"Don't be. You're a busy boy."

"Girls night tonight?"

"Mm-hmm. But I'm all yours tomorrow night."

"Good. I'll call later, and tomorrow."

"Kay."

"Seven-thirty dinner?"

"I'll be ready."

I step away, but don't want to unlock our intertwined fingers.

"Today went pretty well, didn't it?" I ask.

"Today went great."

I watch her enter the elevator, then go to my car, pulling out my notepad a pen from the glove box. I have a long list to make.

~0~

The next morning, I pull up to the small cape cod house. The curtains open and Charlie looks out at me.

Lord, please help me here.

Proverbs 16:13 quickly comes to mind: Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.

King Charlie.

The door swings open as I step on the small porch.

"Edward." Charlie is chewing a toothpick. He scans my face and body.

"Chief Swan." I shake his hand and he grants me entrance.

"I just made a pot of coffee," he says, walking through the dinning room and into the kitchen. I follow behind, shoving my shaking hands into my pockets. "How was the drive?"

Don't be scared, just speak the truth.

"Fine. Good, sir. I made good time." He turns and looks at me with a disapproving glance. "I mean, I didn't speed. Light traffic coming out of Seattle."

"You take milk, right?"

"Yes, milk." I feel like a pussy, he's so cool with his black coffee.

"And sugar?"

"Um… yeah. Yes."

"Bella says you're feeling a lot better, you look better."

"Thank you. And, thank you again for coming to the hospital. I know it meant the world to Bella… and me. It was really nice for me, too… you know, for you to come." Calm down, Edward.

He gives a curt nod and hands me a coffee cup. I follow him to the dining room table where we each take a seat.

"So, a three and a half hour car ride, huh?"

"Um, yes."

"Too important to discuss on the phone?" He mirrors my message to him when I requested a visit.

"Yes."

"And Bella doesn't know you're here."

"No… sir."

He raises his eyebrows, expectantly.

"I'm here for two reasons. First, I wanted to thank you for helping Bella with my parents' case. I know I thanked you at the hospital, well, I think I did, but I wasn't fully cognizant at the time."

"You did thank me, and you're welcome." He shifts uncomfortably in his chair, and I do the same. "You… ah… you look good, better. You shaved."

"Yes. It wasn't my best look." I rub my skin, smooth with the exception of the slight growth from the three-hour drive.

"You know, Edward," Charlie clears his throat, "solving the case was all Bella. I didn't really do a thing; she gets all the credit."

"Thank you for saying so."

I know I'm stalling. The words I seek to say are stuck in my throat.

"So, you said there were two things you drove all this way for."

"Yes… that's true." Without realizing it, I begin to roll my neck, stretching out the tension that has developed. I brace myself with God's strength. "Charlie, with your permission-"

"Stop. Edward, don't."

Oh, fuck.

"Before you say anything, you should know something…"

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Charlie's eyes tighten to shards of black coal. "Bella never told me."

He waits for me to respond, but I'm at a loss. I sputter, "Never told you…? Never told you what, sir?"

"Bella never told me what sent her back here."

"Oh."

"Now, I guess you two had some sort of fight. Is that right?"

"Yes, sir. You could say that."

"And you worked it all out?"

"Yes. I think that's fair to say."

Where are you going with this, Charlie?

"'Cause, some people take a while to learn that… learn that a fight doesn't mean, you know." He rubs his hand over his face; his discomfort is palatable. "Bella's mom… her mom and I never really figured that out and ahh, well Sue… you met Sue…"

"Yes. Sue's great."

"She and I are better… look I guess what I'm trying to say is apologize and be nice to her after a fight, or argument, whatever."

Charlie looks out the window for a minute, pensive.

"Edward, when you and Bella fought… um… did you, did you hurt her feelings?"

"Yes. I think I probably did."

He continues to stare at the trees outside, nods, and licks his lips. "Try not to do that anymore. Bella is… she's special."

"Yes, she is. Very."

I thought he'd threaten me, but instead I've been given a gift. Before me is a man with watery sadness in his eyes. He believes he is about to lose a daughter. I do want Bella for my own, but I promise, I'll share.

"It's too soon, Edward. You're rushing it."

"I know what you're thinking. Really, I just want to make her a promise."

He lets out a long, throaty exhale. "Well, go ahead. Ask me."

~0~

I give the condo a once over:

-Calla Lilies and Roses on the table

-Good smelling soap in the bathroom

-Cabinets and fridge filled with food

-Engagement ring in pocket of sports coat

Okay, that's everything.

I glance at the clock. Still too early to pick Bella up for dinner.

I walk to my stereo, and decide to play a game I haven't in a long time.

Closing my eyes, I press shuffle on my iPod and pray for God to give me a sign.

The simple acoustic guitar strum brings a smile to my face. The Smiths, Please, Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want:

Good times for a change
See, the luck I've had
Can make a good man
Turn bad

So, please, please, please
Let me, let me, let me
Let me get what I want
This time

What a simple song. Well played, God. Well played.

I check for the ring again. It's still there.

Alright God, Mom, Dad… here we go.

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Next update, this weekend.

Oh, Edward... is it too soon?

Much love,

Liz x