In the morning, I was startled awake by the most disturbing sounds I had ever heard in my life. Snarling, growling, breaking, thrashing.
I jumped from the bed and flew out the door and down the hall… but I stopped dead when I reached the stairs.
About halfway up the flight, was Edward – he was in front, like he was blocking the way – with Emmett, Jasper, and Alice. Jasper was in the middle, Emmett was behind him, holding him in a vice-grip, and Alice was next to him, touching his face, like she was trying to get his attention.
Jasper looked possessed. He was the one who was growling and snarling. His crazed eyes landed on mine, and that just seemed to infuriate him further.
The railing was broken. There was glass and debris on the ground below.
"Bella, go back to the room!"
My stomach dropped to my feet. It took a second, but I finally made myself move. Fast. I was barely through the door when I felt someone enter behind me.
I spun around, defensively, but I didn't even have a second to feel relieved that it was him. Edward.
He slammed the door, then, whoosh, and he was by the bed. Whoosh, and my suitcase was on it. He started flinging my possessions into it.
What the hell was going on? I must have said that out loud, though I have no recollection of doing so, because Edward answered.
"You have to go home."
"Why?" I didn't want to go home. Not yet.
"Bella, you're… bleeding."
Confused, I started taking mental and physical assessment of my body. I glanced down, tried to feel pain, struggled to determine…
"You're not injured."
I was still confused – not surprising really, given what I had just seen. It was enough to cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"Bella, your cycle…"
Oh! Oh, God.
He was finished packing in seconds. Or maybe it was three years. Time didn't make sense again.
He took me by the waist. He held me at arm's length. He sat me on the bed. I was only vaguely aware that he was putting my shoes on, no socks.
"I need to get dressed…" I was still in my nightclothes.
"No," was all he said.
He pulled me to my feet. He slung me up onto his back. He grabbed my suitcase and the rest of my crap. Then we were falling out the window wall. As soon as his feet hit the ground, we were running, around the house and to the front.
Alice was there, holding my jacket out towards me. There was no smile on her pixie face.
I was on my own two feet, but I could barely feel that. I just knew I was.
Alice handed me my jacket, almost like she was trying to pass food to a dangerous animal.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. Then she was gone.
Edward directed me to his car. He opened the door. He encouraged me to get in.
Numbly, I complied.
We drove in silence. I knew what had happened, but I couldn't wrap my brain around it.
"I didn't think—I'm sorry."
"Is he going to be okay?" I asked.
"Bella, please. I can't hold my breath and talk."
He took in a short breath and… God. He was in agony!
I clung to my door, as far away from him as I could manage in the enclosed space. I would have leapt from the vehicle, if I could have and not been killed.
Minutes later, Edward extended his hands towards me. Cautiously, I took it.
I wasn't scared of him. I was worried for him.
After we pulled up in front of my house, he was at my door in a flash, but he paused before opening it. I could only assume he was steeling himself against the pain he would feel when I exited.
When he did finally open it, he seemed to be in less pain. Thank God.
He helped me out of the vehicle, then continued to hold my hand all the way to and through the door. I pulled mine away from his once inside, then I dropped my body onto the stairs. He remained by the open door nearby.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
"This isn't your fault. You didn't know. The fault is ours. We didn't know how to ask."
That didn't help my guilt any. Poor Jasper.
"You don't have to stay, if it's too difficult for you. I'll be okay on my own."
"No. I plan to stay, unless you want me to leave."
"I don't. I just don't want to cause you pain."
"I'm fine. I have been away from it longer than Jasper has. But could I ask one thing?" I nodded. "Could you please… tend to things? It might make it easier."
Oh, God. Boyfriends often knew when their girlfriends were… But this was different.
"My suitcase…" I gestured towards the car, and he nodded.
I wanted to scrub myself raw. I wanted to rip my uterus out. I wasn't so sure I wanted kids, anyway, so what was the point to having it?
Kids are great, but I just wasn't so sure I wanted to have them. Could a vampire even have kids?
Whoa! Okay, I've known the guy for a little less than four days, and already I jump to that? Kids? Probably marriage, if kids were involved? It was way too soon to be thinking like that.
Or was it?
Stop it, stop it!
I finished my shower, then I, as Edward had put it, tended to things.
He wasn't in my room. I tossed my toiletry bag onto my bed, then descended the stairs, to see if I could find him. Maybe he left. Maybe he couldn't deal after all. I wouldn't blame him.
As soon as I rounded the corner off the stairs, I saw him, his back to me. He stiffened.
"Not any better?" I asked.
"It's better," he answered. I kept my distance anyway. "I like this one," he said, gesturing towards a picture on the curio shelf.
I leaned a little to see which one it was, then rolled my eyes. "Yeah. Dance classes. Not such a good thing for me."
He turned just a little, and I could see his expression was curious.
"Two left feet," I explained. Then I shifted to my heels and tapped both sets of toes against the hardwood floor twice. He grinned.
My heart fluttered a little. I wanted to be near him, but there was no way I was going to do that to him. If I had to keep my distance for three to five days of each month, it was a small price to pay for the other twenty-five to twenty-eight days of closeness.
"So," I asked, hesitantly, "what now?"
"You have homework. Your English essay."
I didn't bother to consider how he knew that. He just knew things.
"It's a nice day. Cloud cover, no rain."
"Is it easier for you when you're outside?"
Must have to do with the fresh air. Not as concentrated a… smell. I fought not to shudder at that thought.
"Won't you be bored?"
"I'll go get my laptop."
When I got back downstairs, he wasn't in the room any longer. He was probably outside waiting for me, but even with that very likely probability, I felt a little sense of panic.
I darted outside, and, sure enough, there he was, in the side yard, sitting on a blanket. He stood when he saw me.
As I approached, he gestured to the blanket – I recognized it; it was the one that hung on the back of our couch – and then he took several steps away. We would still need to be at a distance, apparently, even outside.
The essay should have been easier than it was, but the inability to concentrate prolonged me finishing it for hours. And for the whole of that time, Edward stared at me.
Glad to be done with it, I hit save on the document one last time and slammed my laptop closed.
"You bite your lip when you are concentrating."
I wasn't the only one noticing every little detail. It made me smile.
"Yeah, I guess I do." My smile dropped. "Will Jasper be okay?"
"He almost ended your life, Bella, and you're worried about him?"
"It was just his instincts. It wasn't personal."
He scoffed and shook his head, then finally answered, "He's fine."
Present tense. Okay, good. That alleviated my guilt a little.
"How is this going to work, if you stay?"
"You have windows in your room. I'll open them. Sit next to one. Don't worry, I have better control than Jasper does."
I wasn't worried about that. I was worried about him. "I'm not afraid of you, Edward."
"I know. You seem to have a flawed sense of self-preservation."
Did I? "How do you mean?"
"If our kind isn't trying to lure our victims, they usually have an inner sense to be afraid and avoid. You don't seem to have that."
He sighed heavily. Pain slipped into his expression. "I'm the world's most dangerous predator, Bella. Everything about me invites you in. My voice, my face, even my smell. As if I would even need any of that. There's no way you could outrun me. No way you could fight me off."
Okay. No way I could outrun him. Speed. I knew that. No way I could fight him off. Strength? Made sense. He lifted me so effortlessly. Carried me on his back like I weighed no more than a feather.
"So, you have super strength, too?"
He laughed. "Of everything I just told you, that is your response?"
What did he want me to say? Well, I knew what he wanted me to say. He wanted me to call him a monster. That wasn't going to happen.
I shrugged. "Was just curious. I've seen the speed. The strength… well, you lift me like I weigh nothing to you at all, so it makes sense."
My eyes followed him as he stood. Then, he gave the tiniest gesture of jerking his head before turning and walking towards the forest. I followed.
We went in a fairly good ways – I would have never been able to find my way back on my own – and then he stopped and turned towards me. When he held up his hand to stop me from moving any closer to him, I halted without hesitation.
It happened so fast, it took my brain a second to catch up. He grabbed an unearthed root of an old stump and yanked it from the ground, then threw it off to the side like how one might casually toss their laundry into a clothes hamper.
And then we just stared at one another. I knew he was trying to figure out my thoughts – he had that look on his face he usually did before asking me what they were – but he didn't ask.
Eventually, he just lowered himself to the ground, cross-legged, in front of the carnage he had created. I followed suit, exactly where I was.
"What else is 'super' about you? Speed, strength, eyesight, hearing… but what else?"
"All human senses are heightened."
Smell? That would make sense, considering the events of today. Taste? Probably, but if you survived on the same liquid diet all your life, it seemed a waste. Touch? Interesting.
I nodded. "I should eat soon. I haven't yet."
Blink, and there he was, in front of me, offering me his hand. I took it, he helped me up, and then we were strolling back the way we came.
The wind was blowing a little, from the right – the side Edward was on – to the left. I was downwind. That seemed to make it easier on him.
He didn't let go of my hand until we were standing in my kitchen. We didn't have much in the way of food – my mom had been planning to go shopping Thursday, but left Wednesday night – but there was a frozen meal in the freezer. Eh, it was food, at least. Esme had spoiled me too much.
As I puttered about, throwing the meal into the microwave, grabbing a fork, snagging a soda from the fridge, Edward watched from across the room.
"What are you thinking?"
He asked that a lot. I didn't mind. He must feel almost crippled, not being able to read my thoughts, like he could others' so easily.
"Do you think Jasper will forgive me?"
That irritated him. "He should be the one apologizing to you, Bella."
"I was in his home, Edward. He wasn't in his right mind at the time. I don't want him to apologize. I just want him to be okay."
He didn't respond to that, so I dropped it. Once the heat of the moment had passed – maybe in a day or two – I would explain it to him again.
The microwave beeped, so I carefully pulled my meal from it and set it on the table, to join my soda and fork. As I sat down, I glanced up at him.
He wasn't watching me anymore. His eyes were downcast.
"It's not just about instincts, is it? This is causing you physical pain."
"Yes." He seemed reluctant to admit that.
"What's it like? The pain?"
He wasn't just reluctant to answer that. He flat out didn't want to.
"Edward, please. I just want to understand."
My food sat untouched as I waited. It seemed to take hours for him to answer.
"Searing pain, like fire, in our throats."
Okay, so, not only were their instincts telling them to kill, but they were given intense pain as a punishment if they didn't.
And yet, even with all that, Edward wanted to stay with me. But it was out of guilt and obligation, I was sure of it. The knowledge made my stomach roll.
I barely touched my food. Just pushed it around the plastic container, really.
"I am eating," I muttered.
"You're fidgeting with it."
"Your mom spoiled me. This is crap in comparison."
It was only the partial truth. Yeah, Esme had spoiled me, and, yeah, frozen convenience foods tasted like cardboard in comparison, but that wasn't the only reason I had no appetite.
For the next three to five days, Edward would stay with me, in agony, simply because I wanted him to. Simply because he felt obligated to. Guilt wasn't even close to a strong enough word.
I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up, straight into Edward's firm stare. He had retrieved his cell phone from his pocket, and was dialing a number without even looking at the keypad. Then he raised it to his ear.
I saw his lips moving, but no words were audible. Just the sound of a breeze that couldn't be felt. So that's what he had been doing that first night.
When he disconnected the call and slipped his cell back into his pocket, I asked, "You have super speech, too?"
He didn't answer. He just continued to stare at me. But I saw the slightest hint of a twitch near his mouth.
"What did you say to your dad, that first night I was at your house? He came up and asked to speak to you right after," I reminded him, so that he would know what I meant.
His expression held guilt as he looked away. I had my answer just by that alone, but I pressed for a more definitive one.
"Did you ask him to come up and say that?"
He sighed. "Yes. No, not exactly. I just told him I needed help."
"Help with what?"
"Help with leaving the room. I don't have the strength to stay away from you, Bella."
"You don't have to stay away from me." I didn't want him to stay away from me. "It was because I was asking too many questions, right? That you wanted to leave the room, but felt you couldn't?"
The knock at the front door startled me. I shifted to leave my chair so that I could go answer it, but Edward shook his head. I didn't have time to question it.
Flash, and he was gone, and he returned almost as fast. He held a plate in his hand, loaded down with what appeared to be leftovers of the huge Italian dinner Esme had made for me on Thursday night.
Now, normal people – well, humans, normal or not – usually transport food in sealable plastic containers, but, apparently, vampires don't. There wasn't even foil or cling wrap on it.
Even though I hadn't felt hungry before, I found myself inhaling half of what was on the plate. Once I got started, I couldn't seem to stop… until my stomach threatened to explode.
"Who brought it?" I asked as I pushed the remainder away. I would store the rest in the fridge for later.
"Alice. She apologized again. She says Jasper is very remorseful."
"Could I… talk to him? I mean, on the phone?"
He eyed me for a moment, then slowly reached into his pocket for his cell. He dialed the number, again without looking, before extending it towards me.
As soon as I put it to my ear, I heard Jasper's voice.
"I'm sorry, Edward."
"Um, this is Bella," I said. Whispered. He sounded like he was in hell.
"Oh. Hello, Bella."
No, he sounded like he was in hell, purgatory, and at the dentist getting long, slow, painful root canals without the aid of anesthesia.
"Jasper, please, don't feel too bad about this. I know you would never consciously do something like that."
"It's very gracious of you to forgive me. I'm not so sure I deserve it."
Boy, the Cullens sure liked to beat themselves up over stuff. "You do. Please? As a favor to me? I feel horrible for the trouble I've caused."
"You haven't been any trouble at all, Bella."
He said my name with the sweetest inflection. Not with reverence like Edward did, but with genuine affection, like how one might speak to a cherished sibling.
"I'll let go of my guilt if you'll let go of yours. Deal?"
He laughed at that, and it made me smile.
"I'll work very hard on that."
"Thank you. Here's Edward." I handed the phone back to him, then took several steps away, to hopefully make him a little more comfortable.
He spoke in soundless, rapid speech again, but said 'goodbye' in a normal pattern and volume.
"He's in awe of you," he said.
Edward seemed in awe of me, too. It made me uneasy. Maybe I had self-esteem issues, maybe I didn't, but that aside, I certainly wasn't anyone who should be inspiring awe.
I put some foil over my plate of food and shoved it in the barren fridge – it would make a nice dinner later – then I led the way up to my room. It didn't matter where we were in the house. Unless we were outside, he would be hurting.
Releasing him from his self-imposed obligation would have been the right thing to do, but I couldn't seem to find the words. And, honestly, I didn't want him to leave. Just thinking it made me feel empty inside. The only compromise that selfish side of me could find, was to make him as comfortable as possible during his stay.
Earlier, he said if he sat near an open window in my room, he would be fine. So that's where I took him.
He remained several steps behind me as we climbed the stairs and headed there, him not breathing, me breathing a little too erratically. If his reaction in the car was any indication, that simple function was like the fires of hell to him.
The moment we entered, I ran to each window and opened them. One stuck a bit, but I was finally able to pry it open. More fresh air the better.
When I turned back to face him – and I did this nervously, because I wasn't sure what to expect – I saw that he was glancing around. Watching him carefully, I noted everywhere his eyes landed. My stack of books. The papers on my desk. My collection of CDs I had haphazardly splayed on the top of my dresser. He was obviously far more organized than I was – his room actually seemed to be catalogued alphabetically – but he didn't appear to think poorly of me for it. If anything, he seemed amused by it.
And then his gaze landed on the photo album on my nightstand. I picked it up, set to hand it to him, but before I could extend it towards him, he sat on the edge of my bed. He looked hard at the spot beside him, and then stared back up at me. He wanted me to join him.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
He shut his eyes, seemingly in deep concentration, and then he nodded.
His eyes remained closed as I approached. Slowly. I wanted to give him the chance to stop me, but he never did. Once I got to the bed, there was nothing left to do but sit. So I did. Again, slowly.
I opened the album and set it across both of our laps, then waited patiently for him to be ready. Finally, his lids fluttered.
He had said in the car that he couldn't talk and hold his breath at the same time, so I did all of the talking. I went through each picture on each page, sharing thoughts, explaining events, and indicating my ages through the years. He smiled a few times – my sixteenth birthday, my seventeenth, and when I first got my truck.
When he saw the picture taken of me last year, when Angela and I both had dressed up as mythical Count Chocula type vampires for Halloween, his body shook as he laughed soundlessly.
I had forgotten about that until just then. That was embarrassing, but he seemed happy, so I choked it down and moved on.
After I turned to the end page, and shared the last of the boring stories about my equally boring life, I flipped it closed and settled the album on my lap alone.
And then I felt lost. I wasn't sure what to do next. How does one entertain a vampire? How does a simple person like me keep the interest of someone so accomplished? His world was, by leaps and bounds, far more fascinating than mine. We were vastly unequal. Completely unbalanced.
I wasn't even staring at the floral print on the cover anymore. I was seeing through it.
While we were in his world, he showed me things I never knew existed. Made me feel things I never dreamt possible. I had wanted our two worlds to merge, but now that they were starting to, I could see how truly inadequate I was.
Shaking my thoughts away, I shrugged, then stood to place the album back on the bedside table. I knew he was staring at me, but I couldn't bring myself to turn around and face it. He would see it in my eyes. Know I was troubled.
He knew it anyway.
I felt his hand on my shoulder, and before I could stop myself, I spun around and fell into his arms. He said nothing, of course, because he was still holding his breath, but expressed everything with the gentle placement of his hand on the cradle of my head, and with the way he rocked me ever-so-slightly.
Even with all my self-considered inadequacies, he loved me.
I don't know how we got there – I could only assume we had inched the distance after a million indeterminate minutes – but we were back at the foot of my bed.
His hand left my hair, and then they were both on my waist, pushing carefully to create a sliver of space between us.
His eyes were intense when I finally met them. Determined. Still he said nothing, but conveyed everything. He wanted me to know that he knew where my thoughts were, even though he couldn't read them.
He urged me to sit with a gentle downward pressure, and then he backed away from me. Slowly. His eyes still on mine. When he reached it, he lowered himself into the chair by the window.
Then he took in a cautious breath, and when he did, I held my own. Waiting. Worried. He winced a little, but otherwise showed no outward sign of discomfort. But I knew it was a mask.
I had to let him go. I had to. It was far from a selfless act. The guilt was killing me.
"You don't have to stay. You're in pain, I know you are."
"The pain is worse when not in your presence. Different, but worse."
I ached to be near him right then. I wanted to go to him, crawl into his lap, live there for an eternity, but I knew I couldn't. It was like the starving man and the steak analogy, only I wasn't the steak anymore. He was, and I was the man on the brink of death.
A simple instruction alone kept me from saving my life.
To be continued…
Okay, I'm done writing this fic. It is thirty-three chapters long, and is roughly one hundred twenty-two thousand words. I have to go through and fill in a few bits of things here and there, though, especially in the last two chapters.
I'm going to try to stick to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday update schedule, but I can't guarantee it.
Reviews encourage me to post faster. It only takes a sec, and is completely painless, I promise.