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Seducing Ms Swan

Summary:
AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...


Notes:
Thankyou to twike for beta work. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


16. An Ending

Rating 3.8/5   Word Count 4143   Review this Chapter

Chapter Songs: 'Everchanging' by Rise Against and 'Call It Off' by Teagan and Sara are both so perfect, I couldn't choose between them.

Have you ever been a part of something
that you thought would never end?
And then, of course, it did.
Have you ever felt the weight inside you,
pulling away inside your skin?
Then something had to give...

*~*

I won't regret saying this
This thing that I'm saying
Is it better than keeping my mouth shut,
That goes without saying
Call, break (break) it (it) off (off)
Call, break my own heart
Maybe I would have been something you'd be good at
Maybe you would have been something I'd be good at
But now we'll never know

Even if I had been blindfolded, I would have known the very second Edward entered the room.

I was exactly where Jacob had left me- half sitting, half lying between crisp, unfamiliar sheets on a hospital bed in Rochester. The same machines whirred around me; the same-snow strangled light scattered through the slats of the blind; the same nondescript, generic picture- provided by the hospital in a half-hearted attempt to make their wards seem less clinical- hung on the wall over-looking the foot of my bed.

The room was exactly the same as it had been a few moments ago. But then the door clicked, the air seemed to shift and everything was different.

The light sharpened, the picture blurred- even the monitors seemed to hold their breath. I knew who it was; I didn’t have to look up and check. There was only one person who could make every minute and mundane detail of my world change so utterly and completely, just by being there.

As he stood surveying me from the threshold, Edward’s expression was unreadable. His eyes were dark, stared at me in a way which made my cheeks burn and flush.

“Bella,” he said. There was something there, in the way he said my name, which made my heart hurt, but I buried the feeling away.

“Hi,” I replied, in as strong a voice as I could manage.

“Can I come in?”

I nodded, and with a purposeful, almost painful, slowness, he closed the door. It made a small thud, and the breath caught in my lungs. We were alone for the first time since the accident. Edward hung by the door for a few moments, before taking a seat against the opposite wall. We sat in silence for almost a minute, when Edward spoke.

“How do you feel?” he asked, his voice ridden with genuine concern.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m a bit sore, but I’m still too drugged up to feel any real pain.” I half attempted a weak smile, but gave up at the sight of Edward’s face.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. His features were sorrowful and riddled with self-blame.

That irritated me slightly. “Don’t,” I said curtly.

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t do that,” I said, with more force than I had intended. “I can see you’re blaming yourself for the accident and for me ending up in hospital, even though I’ve already said it wasn’t your fault. I just spent half an hour doing by best to defend you to Jacob, so don’t you dare try and play the guilty card.” I had to fight to keep the frustration out of my voice.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if Edward had replied angrily to my words. Anybody else surely would have done. But of course, Edward wasn’t anybody else, and he took my cutting remarks with gentlemanly ease. He stood up and came towards me, pulling a chair to the edge of my bed. The proximity made my skin tingle.

“I’m not trying to play any card, Bella,” he murmured softly, causing me to shiver. “It’s beyond difficult for me to see you like this and I can’t help but wish I had got to you in time to spare you any injury.”

I found myself irritated by his diplomacy. Come on, fight back! I thought. I wanted him to respond in kind and fight fire with fire. I wanted to have a good reason to shout at him again, and release some of the emotions that were constricting my heart. Not trusting myself to construct a civil answer, I kept my mouth shut.

Edward opened and closed his mouth. He seemed to be searching for the right words. I didn’t help him. He sighed, his shoulders sinking slightly. “I’m sorry,” he said, plainly. “For everything. For leaving you, for not coming back sooner, for the way I’ve been acting since our return. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you from Victoria and that I wasn’t there to save Brady. There are so many things I’ve done wrong, so many colossal, monumental errors of judgement. Even if you’re right, and I’m not to blame for your physical scars, I can never absolve myself from the other ways I’ve hurt you. I accept that, and I doubt I will ever be able to truly forgive myself for it.

“But I just want you to know that, despite everything, I have always had your best interests at heart. Yes, I was wrong- monstrously so- but I never intended to injure you in any way. I was trying to make your life better; I was trying to give you the future that I never had. I wanted to save you from myself, from all that I am, and in trying to do so I just made things worse. I see that now, but at the time I took what I thought was the only solution. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to earn your love and trust again. I know it won’t be quick or easy, but I love you more than anything in this world and I’ll do whatever it takes to make myself worthy of your forgiveness.”

His speech came to an end, and I knew that I had to reply. How could I not, when he had just all but given me his heart? But the problem was, I didn’t know what to say. I was conflicted. I wanted to forgive him, and have him kiss me, and for us to live happily ever after. Yet there was a part of my heart- the part which had stayed resolutely broken since I was eighteen- which was still too raw and painful for me to even contemplate anything nearing forgiveness.

Perhaps if I had been younger, that wouldn’t have been the case. Maybe I would have heard Edward’s velvet-toned apology and unravelled, listened to his perfectly crafted declaration of undying love and dissolved into a cloud of reverent acceptance. I probably would have apologised to him for ever doubting his judgement, tumbling over my words until he leant over and brush my hair away from my face, awing me into silence. Then he would have murmured my name, and I would have melted, forgetting and forgiving all for a few honey-coated syllables, before willingly giving in to his kisses.

I felt a mild form of contempt for the impressionability of that version of myself, yet at the same time I envied her for the ease with which she forgave.

But I wasn’t her. I had never taken that path because it had never been presented to me. I had had to learn to live without Edward and his protection and love. I grew more independent because I had to; I became tougher and stronger because the alternative was wasting away in a quagmire of self-pity. I was no longer the girl who could melt at words; my heart-break couldn’t be healed by a stream of gentle caresses. Most importantly, I didn’t believe that all wrongs could be righted by an apology.

The cruel irony of the whole situation was that I had finally got exactly what I had wanted for the last six years- Edward’s love. Funny how it now seemed hollow- how it suddenly wasn’t enough.

Had Edward simply announced that he loved me again, without revealing his original reasons for leaving, I probably would have taken him back without question. Actually, there was no ‘probably’ about it. When I looked back at how I had dreamt and fantasized about him on a daily basis, even before he had walked into my 12th grade English class in January, I knew that I would have jumped at the chance to be with him again. For six years I believed that he had left because he hadn’t loved me- and had never blamed him for it, not once. Yet now I knew that he had left out of a desire to protect me, and I practically loathed him. Was my self-esteem really so low that I could hate someone more for leaving me out of love than dislike? Yes, I could have taught an entire class on the irony of my dissatisfaction.

The problem was that no matter what Edward said, he had still lied to me and his lie had almost killed me. I didn’t want an apology, because all I really wanted was to turn back time and for all that had happened to be undone. I wanted to make it so he’d never left.

I guess in some ways, I still was immature. .

“Bella, please say something,” Edward said, taking me straight from my own thoughts. There was a nervous, almost pleading tone to his voice. He’d never looked so vulnerable to me. I suddenly became aware of how young he looked.

“What do you want me to say?” I was trying to play for time.

“Anything, whatever you’re thinking.”

“I don’t know what to think,” I said, truthfully, “I have absolutely no idea what to say to you.” If he was shaken by my words, he hid it well.

“I know it’ll take time for you to forgive me, Bella. That’s okay; I’m not going to rush you. I’ll wait forever if need be.”

I shook my head. “It’s not that simple, Edward.” It hurt even to say these words. “Time alone isn’t going to make this better.”

Edward looked at me cautiously. I thought I glimpsed a flash of something like fear in his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Well, what if I don’t want to forgive you?” I replied, so quietly I could barely hear myself. “What if I can’t? What if this-us- whatever it is or was, is beyond repair?” Do you believe that? I wondered, Or are you just too scared of being hurt again?

“But you said you loved me,” Edward said, his eyes fixed upon me. “You told me so in the snowstorm. You said that despite everything I’d done, you still loved me.”

“I know,” I whispered.

“So, was that true? Or are you saying that you were lying?” Edward seemed to be having the same trouble moderating his tone as I had earlier. Perhaps I had been wrong to want him to be more aggressive.

“No. It was true; it is true. I’ll never stop loving you, as long as I live.” Such is my curse.

“Then I don’t understand, Bella. We love each other and I’ve told you that I’ll do anything to atone for leaving you. What’s missing?” The tension in his voice was palpable.

I raised my eyes to look him straight on. I needed to say exactly what I felt- there had been enough misunderstandings between us to last an eternity. “It’s not enough, Edward. After everything that we’ve been through, a simple apology and the fact that you love me can’t change things. It can’t reverse the past events or it can’t neutralise this feeling of betrayal; it can’t save Brady’s life or regain the six years that I lost in pining for you.”

Unable to restrain himself, Edward grasped my uninjured hand in his, leaning in so close to me that I could almost taste him. “I keep telling you that I’m sorry. I know that an apology is poor repayment for my debts, but there’s nothing else I can do. There’s no way to undo the things that happened, but you know that if there was I would do it.”

“I know,” I said sadly, my soul weighed down with resignation. “I didn’t say that I had a solution. I just want you to understand why ‘sorry’ isn’t enough- why one night can’t possibly make me forget six years of hurt.”

“Bella-”

“I’m done, Edward,” I said, my voice hardly above a whisper. “I’m so tired; I feel empty. This is it. End of the line.” Just saying it made me feel physically sick. I wanted to be sick. I couldn’t believe that I was doing this. I was willfully throwing away everything I had yearned for. But it was the only option I could see, the only one which made sense. I couldn’t forgive him. At least not yet.

Edward looked like a man who’d woken up after a thousand years of slumber, only to find that his entire world was crumbling to dust. “No,” he said, the firmness of the syllable unable to hide the fact that he had begun to tremble. “No, it’s not over. It’s anything but over. With time and effort we can fix this and things can be like they were before. Don’t talk like you don’t even want to try to make this work.” He brought our unclasped hands to his lips, and I could feel them shake against my skin. I shivered.

I felt the first tear fall from my eyes and I wanted to scream. Inside my heart was screaming. You idiot! Take it back! You’re letting him slip away! But although it was breaking me apart, I knew I couldn’t ignore the way I felt. I knew I had to tell the truth, even if a lie was easier. Logic over emotions, head over heart. I wasn’t ready to love Edward again and no number of apologies was going to change that.

“No, Edward, things can’t be the same. A relationship needs to be built on trust and respect and a thousand other things as well as love. Right now, I can’t trust you at all,” I said, taking my hand from his. “Do you understand that? Not after the way that you broke me. Leaving like that, after you promised so many times that you never would, and not even explaining why. You made a decision which affected my entire life, and you didn’t even give me a choice in it. You just ran. You didn’t even respect me enough to be able to discuss it with me like an adult, or try and find another way. After finding out the reasons you left, I… I hate you for it. And that scares me, because you were always the one person in my life who I could trust not to betray me or walk out on me. I honestly thought you would never, ever hurt me.”

I suppose some part of me expected Edward to respond angrily. He didn’t. If anything, he only seemed to sink lower into his self-flagellation. His shoulders sunk and he looked at me with sorrowful eyes. “Bella, I’ve told you; I thought leaving was the only way to keep you safe. I know it’s an awful excuse, I know it was stupid and I regret it with my all my heart, but at the time it was all that made sense.”

I believed him. I believed that he was sorry; I believed that he would have done anything to go back. But even Edward didn’t have the power to turn back the clock. I said as much. “The fact that you meant well doesn’t change what happened. The situation is the same as it was the night of the accident; I’m the same. What did you think- that I’d be hit by a truck and everything would be okay again?”

Brady was still dying. Even with my personal feelings towards Edward forgotten, that was one thing that I couldn’t ignore. It was like a solid iron wall that stretched as high and far as the eye could see, blocking my path to Edward. How could I even think of being with him again when Brady was still in so much pain? How could I possibly look towards the future when the guilt of my past was so great? I couldn’t; I wouldn’t. I still wasn’t sure whether I deserved to be happy.

“No,” Edward said, “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I thought… I thought you’d want to try and work through our problems. I thought you loved me.”

“I do,” I repeated, closing my eyes. I didn’t feel like I could fight this battle anymore. “I do love you. But this isn’t just about me and you anymore, Edward. It’s bigger. There are more people involved, more hearts and lives...” I opened my eyes again, focusing on him. “You might be the same person as you were six years ago, but I’m not. I’m not frozen; I’ve changed. There are people I care about other than you; I have responsibilities outside of our relationship. I can’t dedicate my life to ‘us’, or working to reclaim something we might never be able to get back. Right now, my friend is dying on the other side of the country because of something that we did- something that our relationship caused- and I have to be there for him. That is more important than this.”

And it was at that moment, as I lay there in that hospital bed, that I knew I was becoming someone else; someone independent of Edward. I had wanted to wake up on my own. Well, this was it. This was my moment, my epiphany. I was choosing to tackle the past over the future, my friends over my lost love.

There was a silence, as Edward looked at me with pained eyes. “So…what? This is it? The end?” Edward finally asked. In a few short minutes his voice had achieved deadened tone which sent chills down my spine.

I couldn’t answer him; I was silenced by my own pain. Then, to my surprise, Edward let out a small, tortured cry and stood up, kicking the chair away. It slammed into the far wall, denting the plaster. I instantly had a flashback to his outburst at the parent/teacher conference.

“Come on, Bella, help me here!” he cried. It was as though his patience had just snapped. “Just say what you want. Are you staying or leaving? Do you want this or not?” His eyes were wild and his voice raw. “So you can’t forgive me: now what? If you’re finishing with me then at least have the bravery to admit to it. You can’t just leave me hanging, waiting for something that’s never going to come.”

I knew he was upset and that his anger was probably more directed at himself, but the implication of his words stung all the same. How could he call me a coward, when this was the hardest thing I had ever done?

“Just tell me the truth,” he repeated. “Are you going to leave?”

“Yes,” I said, not daring to meet his eyes. “I am… at least for now. I can’t stay here; I can’t give you the kind of definite answer that you want. I don’t know what I want.”

It was like Edward visibly deflated at my words, as if, somehow, he hadn’t quite believed me up until now. The dismay on his face just served to break my heart further.

“So… this could be the end?”

I inclined my head slightly, unable to manage words.

“No,” he said. “Please, Bella. Stay.” He ran a hand through his hair and I could see his arm was shaking. “I understand that you need time, I understand that you hate me for what I did but you’ve got to listen to me. I’m ready to do anything to make you happy. Anything. I’d give up the world for you; I’d spent eternity fighting for your heart. Why can’t you believe that? Why do you have to leave? What do I have to do to make you stay? How do I make this better? Don’t tell me I can’t; don’t tell me that it’s a lost cause. This is us. Me and you. Please.”

They were fighting words, but there was something in his tone that made me think he didn’t really believe them. Like he knew, despite himself, that this battle was already lost- that it had been ever since that fateful moment in the forest six years ago. Maybe Edward knew that it was he who had given up, he who had surrendered and thrown everything away with one simple lie. Perhaps he realised that I really wasn’t ready- that the path to forgiveness and acceptance was still hidden from me.

Or maybe I was just wanted him to think like that. Was I finding intonations in his voice that weren’t there, in order to make myself feel better about what I was doing?

I sat very still, avoiding his eyes. I couldn’t look at him, because I felt sure that if I did I would lose all my resolve. You’re doing the right thing, I told myself. You can’t forgive him now. Not yet. Someday, maybe. But not now.

“I’m sorry,” was all that I said. “There’s… nothing you can do. It’s me.” Edward laughed bitterly.

“‘It’s not you, it’s me?’ Come on, Bella, I thought you were above that kind of cliché.

I didn’t know how to answer that. In a way, he was right. This did have a lot to do with Edward. After all, he was the one who left the first time around. But I was the one who was unable to forgive. I suppose we were both to blame.

From the edge of my vision, I was aware of Edward moving towards me. He stooped and leant down to me, bringing his face mere inches from the top of my head. I closed my eyes. I could feel his breath on my forehead. His scent- so familiar and still so very intoxicating, even after all this years- was almost suffocating me. Even without looking, I somehow knew that he would be shaking. I felt a sob rise in my throat, but I bit it down.

He murmured my name and I instinctively lifted my face up towards his. It wasn’t intentional, more like a reflex. As soon as I realised what I had done, I began to pull away. But… too late. I suddenly felt my lips touch Edward’s.

It was barely a kiss, really. It lasted hardly a few seconds and, like all the kisses I had ever shared with Edward, it was strictly close mouthed. Yet there was something about it that made it different from anything I had ever felt before. It was like he was giving me a little bit of his soul, imprinting me with his very spirit. His regret, sorrow, pain, guilt and, above all, love. It was soft and beautiful, filling me with a sense of yearning. Yet at the same time it was one of the saddest moments of my life. I had tears in my eyes as I pulled away with a whisper of ‘no’.

I opened my eyes, looking at him through the mist of my own tears. For a couple of seconds I was flashed back to that moment in the snow the night before. When I had sobbed that I loved Edward, despite hating him and he had kissed me, without warning. Then, I hadn’t been able to deal with the emotions, so I had broken away from him and jumped onto my bike. This time, I knew that no kiss was going to prevent me from what I was decided to do. Two accidental kisses: neither of them at the right time, neither of them enough to make me stay.

“Bella…”

“I think you should go,” I whispered, closing my eyes. Shutting out the pain. I suddenly felt incredibly tired. I sank down in my bed so that I was lying down, turning onto my side to face the wall and window. The daylight was visible even through my eyelids. Behind me, I heard Edward say something, but I ignored it. I didn’t want to hear anymore. An age passed. Then, slowly, tortuously, I heard him stir. I heard the soft sound of footsteps on the floor and the hesitant closing of a door.

And it was in that moment of total and awful silence, curled up in a ball with my eyes closed, that I knew I was alone again. In more ways than one.