Wednesday, March 21, 2001 | By: Drotuno

Blood & Glory Chapter 12

CHAPTER 12
BELLA
"No, Alice," Jasper chided gently. "Don't turn off the safety yet." He chuckled as he reached over and stopped her hand.
"Holy shit, if you shoot me, I'll be so pissed," Rose growled, looking up at the two of them, and I couldn't help but laugh.
Rose and I had taken over the kitchen counter, paperwork spread from one end to the other. Alice had researched every fucker on the list of Twilight Tech employees Carlisle had sent her, and we were going through each and every one, looking for shit that might set off any alarms.
Carlisle's email had been a week ago, which totaled my time in hiding to almost two months. A week was also the last time I'd had any real conversation with Edward. He'd switched to the night shift, sending Mickey to days so that he and Jasper could work together.
The first morning after our huge fight, I'd awoken to one more flower on his pillow, sitting next to the tube of scar cream, and that was the last interaction we'd had. Not that we weren't busy, because we all were, but we were clearly avoiding each other.
When it wasn't raining, Jasper worked with Alice and Makenna, teaching them how to handle a handgun. Emmett and Rose started to sketch out how to wire the house with some sort of alarm system, and I helped them on most days. Mickey and I took the morning perimeter check, Rose and Emmett the midday, and Esme and I took the last one of the evening together, except tonight, where Emmett was doing it alone and Esme had made a supply run.
Sometimes, I'd see Edward in passing. He'd make breakfast before heading off to bed, or he'd help Esme with dinner before disappearing outside. He'd get the rundown from Emmett about how the alarm system was coming or from Alice about research but was gone immediately, usually out to the shed until Jasper was ready to run the grounds with him.
"Does Carlisle really need to know which motherfucker was a Boy Scout or not?" Rose scoffed, setting the next page to the side.
"Maybe," I chuckled, flinching when thunder rattled the whole house.
I turned toward the sliding glass doors to see rain pouring so hard that the lake could barely be seen. It was almost dark, and Edward was due up any minute.
I looked around the house, shaking my head at the changes it had gone through. The back wall of the dining room had been turned into a display of all of Makenna's sketches. Some of the faces up there were scary, others benign, but the first one always made my breath catch. Miller was first. To look at his picture, you wouldn't think he'd be as evil as he was. He was thin, with light eyes that I knew for a fact were blue, light brown hair, and a scar on his chin, but the simple picture didn't depict the way he spoke or the wicked smile or way he smelled – like sweat and lighter fluid.
The dining room table looked like something out of a gangster movie. There were guns, grenades, wires, and tools all over it. Emmett was a weapons specialist; apparently, he'd carried a "few" things with him in the false bottom of his Jeep Cherokee and had brought them in the house as soon as we'd decided to stay.
I sighed, looking up at Rose. "I miss Roy's."
She snickered, nodding, and said, "Best beer on tap, I swear to God!"
"Damn, I could really use a beer," Mickey grumbled, getting up from her chore of cleaning her gun.
"Me, too," Rose and I said together, and I hopped down to grab a few bottles from the fridge, passing them around.
"What are we toasting, ladies?" Emmett boomed, walking in and shaking the rain from his hair. He'd volunteered to take the last perimeter check of the night alone.
"Um," Rose mused, smiling up at him. "The installation of the alarm system. We should be up and running, don't you think?"
"Hells, yeah!" he laughed, grabbing his own beer, popping it open, and clinking to ours.
"Let's check," Jasper chuckled, running to the front door and opening it.
A shrill, shrieking sound resounded throughout the house, causing all of us to groan but cheer at the same time. I was proud of our work because everyone had pitched in, but I was tired of girl stories, especially about Edward. I was tired of feeling alone when I went to bed. And I was tired of thinking about what his silence meant. I was also furious at him for ignoring me.
"Jesus Christ!" we heard from the hallway, and Jasper slammed the door shut as we all turned to Edward, who looked extra cranky and like he'd just woken up and showered.
"Oh, shit! Sorry, dude," Jasper said, grimacing.
"I take it the alarm is working," Edward grumbled, rolling his eyes as he made his way into the kitchen.
"Yup, hooked it up today," Emmett said proudly. "Bellsy and Rosie ran the wires to the electrical box. Mickey and Alice set up the sensors on the driveway. There are two: one at the entrance off the main road, and another just before the last curve, which I guess we'll hear when Esme comes back from a supply run."
Edward nodded, pouring himself a cup of coffee, and then leaned back against the counter. "Any other updates?" he asked, looking to Alice.
"Um, nothing from your dad," she said, sitting down at the counter next to me and pulling out a few pages. "We've been working on that list he sent me of new TT employees, and I wrote a program to scan Billy Black's movements, not only at the office, but his home computer, as well."
"You...wrote a program..." he verified, his eyebrows raising high into his hairline.
I snorted. "She's small but carries a big brain," I chuckled, kissing Alice's spiky head. "Don't ever change, pixie. You're beautiful."
She giggled, rolling her eyes.
"According to Alice, she doesn't score high on the... What did you call that?" Edward chuckled.
"The facial grid, Edward," she scoffed, rolling her eyes at him.
"How do you know about that ridiculous grid she believes in?" I asked him, surprised he was even speaking this much, considering we'd probably exchanged ten words in the last week, most of which were, "Good morning," or "Good night."
"She taught me all about it when we were looking for you," he huffed, shrugging and turning to the fridge.
Alice scoffed. "I could really teach you. I've tested that program on all us girls. Wanna know the scores?"
"No, Alice," he sighed, sounding bored and setting out ingredients for whatever he'd decided to make for dinner. "I don't need to know the scores."
"Good, because they're a waste of time," I scoffed, stopping Alice when she started to argue. "Don't, pixie. I know you like that piece of technology, but I hate it. Beauty isn't measured by binary code."
Edward snorted into a chuckle. "Exactly."
"Well, I wanna know," Emmett countered. "What were the scores?"
"Rose was an eight point nine," Alice told him, turning in her seat. "Mack and Bella were both eight point two and eight point three...in that order."
"And Alice was a seven or some shit," Makenna growled. "It's a crap test, Alice!"
"Seven?" Jasper gasped. "That's bullshit!"
His outburst caused Alice to laugh but blush profusely.
"No kidding," Edward muttered. "Eight point three doesn't even come close." His words were mumbled with his back to me.
I was the only one around him so I heard him loud and clear, and it only added to my confused feelings about Edward.
"Yeah, well, I'm not taking it again," I huffed, pointing to the scar by my eyebrow. "Stupid score would probably go lower."
Edward's face darkened as he spun around to look at me, clearly unaware that anyone had heard him. "Jazz is right. It's bullshit," he growled.
"It works on men, too," Alice chirped, and that caused the end of the conversation because all three boys backed slowly away from her.
I chuckled. "See?" I grinned, turning to Emmett. "It's crap!"
The alarm sounded a different tone, and we all jerked.
"It's probably Esme," Emmett stated, picking up his gun.
"Yeah, but let's use it as that drill we planned," I told him, turning to Edward. "You're with me."
Edward nodded, turned off the stove, and took his gun from his waistband.
Jasper took Alice and Makenna up to the attic because there were three ways to look out, and he could guide them well. Emmett and Rose went out the back, taking a right to skirt around the side of the house. I was to take Edward – who had no clue about this shit because he hadn't really spoken to anyone all week, and we'd only planned the drill that day while he was asleep – out the kitchen door to a clump of trees. Mickey took a low spot right in the front window, killing the lights in the living room.
"It probably is just Esme, but we've been wanting to test this drill Emmett and Mickey set up," I told him, leading him out of the side door, which led to the left side of the house.
"'Kay," he said, running low with me across the side yard, stopping behind a very large tree that split just perfectly and faced the final curve of the driveway.
Rain poured down around us, fat drops falling on our heads, faces, and shoulders from the tree, as we watched the driveway. Bright headlights swept across the field in front of us, and I recognized Carlisle's BMW instantly.
Edward relaxed, but I gripped his arm. "Wait," I whispered. "Emmett gives the 'all clear.'"
He huffed in frustration, and for a moment, I wondered if it was because he wasn't in charge.
"Why wasn't I told—" he started but shut up when I spun in front of him.
"Because you've been avoiding the entire house for a week," I deadpanned, folding my arms across my chest. "You chose to switch to nights, so deal with it. We needed to take precautions when the alarms were installed today, Edward."
"I didn't choose," he countered, shaking his head. "Mickey came to me and asked me to switch for a few days. She couldn't sleep in the daytime. I was just helping her, Bella."
"And you just happened to do this after we'd practically killed each other after Carlisle's email," I sneered, feeling hurt that he couldn't have just told me this shit. "So you were really just avoiding...me."
"No," he gasped, shaking his head again. "I've m-missed you this w-week," he sputtered.
"All clear!" Emmett boomed from the garage door.
"Emmett, you scared the fucking hell out of me!" Esme growled, and I swore I could hear a smack resound across the driveway.
"Clear!" I called out, not breaking my gaze from Edward. "I've missed you, too," I told him softly. "But I'm not going to beg for your attention. I won't force my company on someone that can't deal with my shit. I can barely deal with it, so I get it, Edward. You can just tell me you can't fucking take it, okay?"
I wiped rain from my face and started to head back to the house, but strong hands reached out and gripped my upper arms, forcing me back into the tree.
"Stop!" he growled, looming over me, rain dripping from his face to mine. "Stop acting like you know what I'm thinking, Bella. It drives me fucking crazy!"
"Well, what am I supposed to think, Edward?" I growled back, glaring up at him. "One minute, we're fooling around in your room, or making out in the lake, and the next, we're fighting like cats and dogs. And then...you're gone. Poof! I know you don't like talking in front of your crew, but a simple 'this isn't working,' or 'I'm not into it, Bella,' would have sufficed. Don't just fucking ignore me!"
"I swear, I'm not!" he growled back, but he didn't move from right in front of me. "You seem to have it in your head that you're just this...obligation to me. It's not true, Bella. It's more...and it's so much more that I can't even fucking see straight!" He panted heavily, taking his grip from my arms and placing his hands on the tree trunk on either side of my head. We were slowly becoming drenched in the rain. "I'm not ignoring you. I just needed to get my head straight. You cause me to make irrational decisions because nothing can fucking happen to you..."
He stopped and ran a hand through his hair, causing it to slick back.
"You think I wanted to be away from you this week?" he asked, huffing in frustration when all I did was shrug up at him. "I fucking lose my mind when I can't watch you every minute."
I snorted, rolling my eyes, and shook my head. "Always have to be in control."
"It's what I fucking know!" he growled back, finally losing his tentative grip on his temper. "It's not about controlling you, Bella! It's about making sure that every second, you're okay. About making sure that you don't get hurt, or have another panic attack that I can't be there to help you through. And fuck me to tears...I miss kissing you!"
"Why didn't you just say something?" I pouted, now feeling like a spoiled brat.
"No time, baby," he whispered, finally touching my face. He wiped the rain from my cheek, leaning in to press his forehead to mine. "You guys were working so hard that by the time I'd get caught up with all that I needed to do first thing, you were already sound asleep in my bed." He took a deep breath, shaking his head. "Believe me, it was all I could do not to crawl in beside you."
"A note?" I teased, poking at his chest. "Just knowing that you wanted to be there but couldn't...it would have made a difference. I didn't feel safe alone..."
"You weren't alone," he countered softly, now leaning every bit of his weight against me. "I was there. I'd check on you all night when we weren't running perimeter checks. It's a habit I started when Jake was in the house, only this time...I can go in the room..."
I watched his half smile quirk up his face, and I rolled my eyes again.
"Stalking me, are you?" I asked, finally giving in to my need to touch him. My hands snaked up his chest to either side of his neck.
"It's my room," he chuckled, wiping more water from my face. "And those other things you mentioned, Bella...my room, the lake. I've really missed those things. I hope you don't think I'm done with you, because I've only just started..."
"I really missed you," I admitted softly with a furrow to my brow. "I don't feel safe unless you're there."
"I miss watching you get better," he replied, brushing his lips across mine and leaving my whole body tingling with that simple gesture. "I didn't want to switch, but when one of my crew needs me, I have to help them. I just did it without thinking."
"Just tell me next time," I sighed. "I spent the whole week hearing about bars and clubs and bets to see 'who could get the girl.' I heard about girls and back alleys and public bathrooms...and if you think they don't know your business..."
"Bella," he groaned, pulling back a bit. "This isn't like that. I want you. I want to be with you...whatever that means..."
I looked up into his eyes, and nothing but pure green honesty stared back at me.
"I'm sorry you heard that shit, baby... They don't know how to keep their fucking mouths shut, and that's why I never tell them anything," he growled. "What they've seen and what they know are two completely different things. It's the part of the military life I'm not proud of, but this isn't like that. You are in control of this," he said, motioning between us.
"Why me?"
"Because I'm stupid when it comes to relationships, Bella. If you want me to do something, you have to tell me." He paused for a moment when I nodded but then continued. "You have to tell me when I touch you wrong, or if something I do makes you uncomfortable, or if you're feeling—"
"Neglected," I huffed, watching him flinch just a bit. "I want this...so bad, Edward. And it's not easy because I just don't know what's okay for me. But if you're just going to drop me like the blonde in the alleyway...I can't..."
"You are my life now," he growled huskily. "There are no more blondes...or redheads. There's only this one brunette that knows exactly how to drive me nuts! She's the only thing I can think about. She's beautiful, and smart, and so fucking sexy. I want her to the point I'll go mad! And I'll want her even after all this shit is said and done and King is six feet under. I'll want her even if all she can do is kiss me for the rest of my life, but I'll do my damnedest to erase every bad memory she's got!"
"Edward," I breathed, looking up at him.
"What, love? Tell me."
"What if the memories never go away?"
"Then we'll make better ones to crowd them out," he countered.
"What if I...can never... What if you can't really touch me?" I asked, thinking no normal relationship would survive that.
He snorted, rolling his eyes, but his hands started to move. They drifted down my sides to my ass, one cupping my cheek while the other continued down to my thigh. With one swift tug, my leg was wrapped around his hip.
"I'm touching you...now," he purred, his eyes darkening, and I could feel everything line up just right.
We were soaking wet, standing under that tree in the rain. Edward's white T-shirt clung to him like a second skin, and I could even make out his tattoo through the thin fabric. Every muscle he had flexed and rolled with the restraint he was using.
I panted as I looked up at him because he didn't realize his thumb was caressing the long scar on my thigh. I looked down at his hand on my skin and then back up to him.
I could feel him freeze, but I said, "Don't stop. Touch it again."
His thumb dragged over it again, slowly and sensually, and I moaned at the feeling and the black intensity of his gaze that was locked onto his own hand on my leg.
"I'm touching you now, Bella," he said again in a whisper, pressing his hips into mine, and I closed my eyes as his lips and tongue ghosted down my cheek to my ear. "You will get better, and I don't care how long it takes, love. I told you, I can be very patient when it comes to something I want. I just...I n-need..."
I couldn't take it. I couldn't take the sweet stutter or the warm, wet, almost-trembling Edward in front of me. I couldn't take having spent the last week thinking he'd just gotten tired of me or frustrated. I couldn't take the feel of him between my legs without kissing him because God, I loved him, and the reason I'd been so mad at him was because I'd thought he was pushing me away.
I didn't know if we were on the same page, but I knew it was damn close, so I pulled him in, kissing him with all that I had because I'd missed his touch. We both moaned, my own breath catching when his hips pressed into me with just the perfect pressure.
Using the leverage from the tree, I pulled myself up, wrapping my other leg around his waist so that he was holding me completely against the trunk. Edward broke away from my mouth and looked at how we were wrapped around each other. He smiled a wicked, carnal smile, gripping my ass as he began a slow rhythm of grinding his erection into me. Over and over, he pressed, his mouth leaving open, suckling kisses next to my ear. My eyes rolled back with every moan he let loose in my ear.
"God, that feels so fucking good," I growled, grabbing both sides of his face to pull his mouth back to mine and rolling my hips over him. "I missed your touch this week. I thought...I'm sorry I..."
"Shh," he breathed against my mouth. "I'm not going anywhere, Bella. I'm sorry I didn't just tell you I was switching shifts..." His mouth captured mine, his tongue delving in to slip along mine until I was a panting writhing mess, but he reached up and cupped my face. "I c-can't let you g-go, baby," he stated, his voice a cross between a whine and a husky sexiness that I'd never heard before. "I c-can't let you go, 'cause... I l-love y-you..."
I inhaled sharply, my fingers gripping his wet hair as I forced his forehead to mine. His sweet stutter just added to the honesty that I heard in his voice, but I still stared at him wide-eyed...and so very close to coming.
"I do, Bella. I love you so fucking much..."
My legs squeezed him closer, feeling myself lose that final grip, and I came. Hard. I wrapped my arms all the way around his head, burying my face in his neck and blinking back rain and tears as he shattered against me. And I knew that things would never be the same for us again.
~oOo~
EDWARD
I was a fucking idiot. Not only had I just changed to nights without even saying anything to Bella, but I'd just told her that I loved her as I dry humped her to orgasm – hers and my own – against a fucking tree.
She shivered in my arms at the same time her phone beeped.
"We should get inside, baby," I told her, watching as she pulled her phone out, shutting off the beeping. "You'll catch a cold."
"Yeah," she sighed. "I need to put that medicine on."
I frowned, tilting my head at her in complete confusion. "What medicine?"
"That scar cream," she said, her legs slipping down my body until her toes touched the ground. "It only works if you keep putting it on every so many hours."
"Shit," I sighed, kneeling in front of her gorgeous legs. "Just one more thing I fucked up. I was supposed to help you, wasn't I?" I asked, looking up at her.
My eyes focused back on the long scar on her thigh that I'd touched just moments before. Leaning forward, I locked my eyes with hers as I pressed my lips to it.
"It's okay, Edward," she mumbled, pulling at my shoulders.
"No, it's not. I'm sorry I didn't tell you what I was doing, Bella," I said, pressing my lips to that scar one more time with reverence because that was the first time she'd ever let me touch one of the results of Miller's torture, and I wasn't going to take that shit for granted again. "I'm just so used to...doing shit. I didn't think. Do you still want me to help you?"
She nodded quietly, pulling at my shoulders again at the same time I watched a shiver wrack her entire frame.
I stood before her, cupping her face. "You're cold. Come, let's get you inside."
We walked back into the kitchen door, soaking wet from the rain. I wanted to get Bella dry ASAP. When we stepped in, everyone glanced up.
"It's raining, you know," Jasper said wryly, folding his arms across his chest.
"No shit," Bella and I growled, and I shook water from my hair.
"What the hell took you guys so long?" Emmett asked, his brow wrinkled, but I could see him fighting his smile. "I mean, we were back inside in like five minutes..."
"I..." I started, not knowing what to say because I'd just ripped my heart out of my chest and handed it to the girl at my side, but it wasn't lost on me that she hadn't said it back.
With the way I'd told her – all grinding teen, make-out session up against a damn tree, for Christ's sake – I'm not sure that I blamed her. However, I didn't need to tell this whole crew about that shit. If I didn't know where the fuck Bella and I stood, then these assholes weren't getting a fucking thing from me.
"Um, I thought I saw someone on the grounds," Bella lied smoothly. "So we waited it out."
"Fuck, what was it?" Mickey growled, standing up from her perch on the sofa.
"A deer," I sighed, shrugging, "but we didn't take a chance that someone might have followed Esme from the store."
"Right," Bella said with a nod and a bone-rattling shiver.
"Shower," I ordered, pointing down the hall. "Before you catch pneumonia."
"'Kay," she agreed with a snort, rolling her eyes and wiping water from her face.
I looked around the room, hearing the pouring rain batter against the windows and roof as Bella made her way down the hall. Mickey looked tired as she, Rose, and Emmett watched a movie in the living room. Alice was sitting in front of a laptop, intently studying whatever was on the screen. Makenna was sitting with Jasper, and they were going over step by step how to load a shotgun, cock it, and then disengage it. However, it was the woman in the kitchen I needed to speak to.
"Can I talk to you for a moment?" I asked Esme, who looked up from her bags of groceries.
"Yeah, Edward," she said with a nod, walking down the hall to the room she'd shared with my father as I followed behind her.
When the door was closed, she turned to me, concern all over her face. "What's happened? Is Bella okay?"
"Yeah, she's fine," I told her, running a hand through my wet hair. "I'm sorry I'm dripping..."
"Never mind that, son. Talk to me."
"I want to help Bella with that scar stuff you gave her. I just don't know..."
"What to expect?" she finished for me, and I nodded. "With Bells, there's no telling." She chuckled. "From what I gathered, she closed her eyes when Miller started to...well, you know..."
"Right," I growled, hating the sound of that fucker's name.
"She's been using it regularly this past week," she continued, starting to pace. "But her own touch is different than someone else's. Just...go slow. Gauge her every reaction. If it's too much, make her finish. And I wouldn't force her to show..."
"I wasn't going to make her strip, Esme," I grunted, rolling my eyes at her chuckle as I started for the door.
"She's been upset this week," she said softly, raising an eyebrow at me.
"I'm...an idiot," I sighed, falling into a chair. "I'm a busy idiot that just didn't tell her..."
Esme laughed, and I realized it was comforting sound because she wasn't laughing at me. She was just laughing at the situation.
"Oh, Edward. You really have to work on communication with her!" She snorted, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Not that she's innocent, because she isn't, but I watch her struggle, sweetie. This whole week, she thought you were ignoring her, but I could see her shrug it off because she's damaged."
"She's not fucking damaged," I growled, sitting forward and gripping my hair.
"Yes, she is, Edward. She's not the Bella I know. The girl I met could set a room on fire just by walking in the door. She could command the attention of an entire bar full of men, never even giving them a second look. She could break hearts without saying a word."
I snorted but nodded because I could well imagine. "That Bella is still in there," I muttered, and I felt stripped bare because I desperately wanted to hear the three words back that I'd told her outside.
"She is, and I see her emerge when she's with you. Every fiery argument. Every offer of a beer on the dock." She laughed heartily when my head snapped up to look at her. "Oh, yes. I watched that whole thing... And every time she teases you. I see it. Whatever you're doing, Edward, don't stop."
I smiled, nodding, and stood. "Thanks, Esme."
"Anytime, dear," she sighed, opening her door.
She walked back down the hall to the kitchen, and I made my way to the bedroom I shared with Bella. I stepped in, closing the door behind me, and found a clean, warm Bella sitting in the middle of my bed, wearing a bathrobe. Her hair was brushed and still wet, but in her hands, she was studying the tube of medicine.
"Hey," she said, smiling sweetly when she looked up at me.
"Hey. You weren't starting without me, were you?" I teased, chuckling when she grinned and shrugged her shoulders. "Give me few minutes, okay?" I asked, and she nodded.
I grabbed a towel and some dry clothes, taking a quick shower. When I was done, I rubbed a towel over my wet head, pulling on clean shorts and underwear. I entered the bedroom again to find Bella nervously chewing on her bottom lip. I sighed, frowning at the sight because I never wanted her to be afraid around me.
"If you aren't ready for this, baby," I whispered, sitting on the bed in front her, "just say the word. This is your show..."
Her little hands clenched into fists, and I watched as she steeled herself to do this. Her eyes squeezed closed, she took a deep breath, and then she finally locked gazes with me, holding out the tube of cream.
"How do you want me to do this, Bella?" I asked, noticing that she wasn't talking very much.
"I usually do this in the bathroom...in the mirror," she told me softly, "but I'd rather just..." She gestured to the bed.
I nodded, swallowing thickly, because I really didn't know what I was doing and I didn't want to see her upset, but I had a feeling I was about to really push her boundaries.
"Lie back," I whispered, setting the tube on the bed and crawling up beside her. I played with the belt on her robe, but my eyes never left hers. "Are you dressed?"
"A sports bra and underwear," she giggled, looking away from me with brightly blushing cheeks.
I chuckled once. "Bella, look at me," I commanded, and her head spun back. "I'm untying this now, but I want your eyes open and on me, got me?"
"Yeah," she said, her voice a little shaky.
"The very second you think it's too much, you need to tell me."
She nodded again, but her eyes closed when my fingers tugged open her robe. I shouldn't have been shamelessly ogling her, but I couldn't help it. Yes, there were scars on her flat belly. Yes, her hands immediately went to cover herself, but fuck, she was beautiful. She was toned, with strong muscles and soft curves. Her breasts were full, and I had to fight my groan at the mere hint of nipples peaking up due to the cool room. The sweet cotton boy short underwear just completed her perfection because they were multicolored stripes and just adorable.
"Bella, eyes open," I told her, cupping her face and rubbing my thumb along her cheekbone. "I don't want you seeing him. I want you seeing me."
"'Kay," she groaned, looking up at me with pure terror.
I reached down, dragging my fingers over the scar on her thigh. "We've gotten this far, love. We can get a little further."
She nodded, taking a shaky breath as I bent down and kissed that scar again before taking the tube into my hands. I wanted to start where she was comfortable, or at least as comfortable as she could be, and then move on to the harder shit.
"Tell me how, baby," I told her, making sure that her eyes were open and on me.
"Put it on like you were covering a zit," she said, smiling up at me when I chuckled.
"Okay," I snorted, shaking my head one time at her because sometimes, even in the most scariest of moments for her, that beautiful spark came shining through.
I smoothed the cream over her thigh, making sure to cover the whole thing, every now and then checking to make sure she was still watching. I squeezed a bit more of the stuff onto my fingers, locking gazes with her.
"Your stomach?"
She grimaced and nodded but gripped my hand when I moved forward. "Edward, I'm..."
"Scared," I finished for her, leaning over to press my lips to hers. "I'm right here. And you're beautiful and strong, and I'm just putting medicine on a zit," I told her, smiling when she snorted.
I kept my face near hers, whispering in her ear the entire time that my hand got closer to her skin. "It's me, Bella. It's just me."
She had two long burn scars up her stomach, and my goal was to get both of them. The very second my fingers touched her skin, she hiccuped a sob.
"I can't, Edward..."
"You can, love," I told her. "He doesn't own you, Bella. It's just skin. He'll never touch you like that again. No one will touch you like that. Only good touches from now on, I promise."
"Just you?"
I smiled, kissing her temple and slowly moving my fingers to the next scar. "If that's what you want, Bella. I meant what I said outside, baby. I'm not going anywhere. I love you, and I'm here...if only to put cream on you..."
She groaned, rolling her eyes up at me, but God, she was tense. "I want more than cream, Edward. What about when this is all over? And you're not forced to live with me..."
"I may not let you go," I whispered, applying more cream to the second burn only to move on to a couple of long, what looked like cuts, on her ribs. She closed her eyes again at the change in the position of my hand. "Uh uh," I crooned, nudging her temple with my nose. "Eyes on me, Bella."
I had one more scar to go, and it looked like Bella was just about to fall apart.
"One more, sweetness," I said, giving her a half smile at the silly-ass name that Liam had called her in the law office.
"Edward," she whined, but a tear slipped down her face, and I kissed it away.
I put the cream on my finger, swiping it along her ribs, but instead of taking my hand away, I placed it flat on her stomach.
"No more," she panted, looking up at me, and my heart shattered.
"Give me your hand," I told her softly, kissing her temple. "Put it on top of mine, baby," I instructed, and when she did, I bent to her ear. "It's just me. Only me. Does it hurt?"
"No..."
"Do you think I would ever hurt you?"
"No, Edward..."
"Then memorize this feeling. Look at me. Feel me. And remember that this feeling is a good one, okay?"
"'Kay," she whimpered, looking up at me, and then she cupped my face with her other hand. She linked her fingers with mine on top of her belly.
I stretched out beside her, thinking "fuck it" to working tonight because Bella needed me. I placed soft kisses along her cheek, jaw, and finally, down to her ear. Our hands were still linked, still on her stomach, and Bella looked down at the sight.
"Okay?" I asked against her temple.
"Yeah," she breathed, though it still sounded shaky, but when she looked back up at me, I saw what I'd been hoping to see – that stunning smile of pride creeping up her face.
I chuckled. "Good girl." I placed a loud kiss to her ear, relishing the short but oh-so-sweet giggle it caused. Not that I didn't want to hear it again, but I didn't want her to neglect the rest of her scars, either, so I asked, "You have more?"
Her smile fell, and she nodded grimly. "Yes."
"You want to finish those yourself?" I asked, handing her the tube of cream.
"Are you asking if you can get in my underwear, Edward?" she asked, taking the tube from me.
"Mm, as much as I would enjoy that, and as much as you would enjoy that...no." I smiled up at her innocently. "I'm merely making sure that we don't push you too far this evening."
She grinned, shaking her head, and stood up from the bed. "Do you want in my underwear, Edward?"
"God, yes...a thousand times...yes. But not until we can...um, fully appreciate the experience, baby," I chuckled, falling flat on my back on the bed because she was killing me as she stood there in just her underwear and that open robe.
I heard the bathroom door close, cutting off her laugh, but she wasn't in there for long; soon, the bed dipped down beside me. I looked up at her, and her face was serious again as she leaned over me. Her hair created the most amazing-smelling curtain around our faces as she kissed my lips softly, only to pull away too soon.
I couldn't help but stare at her because the robe was gone, leaving just her black sports bra and her "so cute they made my fingers twitch" striped underwear.
"I need to say something, and I need you to hear me out, okay?" she asked, sitting back on her heels.
I nodded, my heart falling into the pit of my stomach because I could tell that she was way too serious at the moment. She was going to throw my "I love you" right back in my face because I'd said it too soon or because I said it while grinding against her outside in the fucking rain, but I wasn't expecting the next words to come out of her mouth.
"I knew Jake my whole life," she started, looking at her hands and not my face. "As you know, our fathers are friends. Billy is...a pain in the ass, but Jake has always been there, you know?"
I nodded, but I didn't know. I just wanted her to continue so that I could find out why we were discussing the cheating pig in my fucking bed while she sat there in her underwear.
"I dated in high school, I dated in college...and it was fine. Nothing ever super long-term. Jack was probably the longest – six months, maybe. But that was while I was in Virginia," she sighed, looking up at me. "He was a bartender at this bar we'd all go to, and it was fun...nothing serious."
"Bella, you're killing me," I groaned...or growled, I wasn't sure which.
"Just...let me finish," she pleaded, her eyes soft and deep brown but filled with something I couldn't quite place. "Anyway...when Jane got sick and my dad called me to tell me, I told Jack that I was going home. It was, 'Cool, see ya 'round.' And then I got home, and Jake was there. He was finishing college, applying for an internship with my father, and we started to hang out.
"At first, he was keeping me company when Jane would go to bed or was in and out of hospitals. It was comfortable...and comforting. It was easy. He was the first to say 'I love you.'"
I inhaled sharply, my stomach now roiling with nerves, so I sat up to face her. I started to tell her that just because I'd said those words, she didn't have to, but it would have been a lie, and she stopped me anyway.
"I loved him," she sighed, grimacing a bit, "but I'm not sure I was in love with him, so it took me forever to say it. And when I did, I meant it. I cared about him, and we took care of each other. He was there through all of Jane's illness and even helped with her funeral... I just... I just don't think I really knew what the words meant..."
I ran a hand through my hair, not giving two shits that it stuck up everywhere because it was still damp. Bella was killing me with this fucking story.
"Until...now," she breathed, finally looking up at me.
I froze, afraid I'd heard her wrong.
"I was so mad at you this week," she said through gritted teeth, "and that was just because I couldn't see you...talk to you. I didn't know if you were pushing me away or what, but I wasn't even that mad when Jacob fucking cheated on me!"
I grinned, shaking my head slowly. "I'm sorry, baby."
She snorted, rolling her eyes, and continued, her voice softening just a bit. "I remember every hit and slap and burn Miller gave me. But I also remember the sound of your voice the first time. I remember your eyes being the first thing that had made me feel safe in three fucking days," she said, a small sob escaping her, but when I reached for her, she just shook her head. "I remember that this scar..." Her finger traced down the long mark on her thigh. "That scar was the last one he gave me because you were there. I remember the first thing I ate was something you cooked. I remember almost killing Jake, and the only voice that mattered was yours..."
She sobbed again; only this time, she let me pull her to me.
"I'm so fucking scared, Edward," she said, gripping both sides of my neck and pressing her forehead to mine. "All the time. I'm scared that Miller will get to me...that something will happen to you, or my friends, or my dad. I'm scared that I can't ever touch you the way I really want to. I'm scared that my nightmares will never stop. I'm scared that we'll run forever from this shit."
She pressed a wet, sloppy kiss to my lips and then went on, so I just stayed silent because I was pretty sure this had been building for a while.
"I'm scared that when this is all over, I'll be lost because I won't have you. I'm scared that I need you too much because the only time I'm not scared...is right here."
I grimaced, kissing her roughly because I didn't know what else to do for her.
"I'm scared that you'll find someone...not fucked up. I'm scared that we fight too much, and one day, you'll get sick of it."
I laughed because I couldn't help it, and I buried it in her shoulder, turning my head to place a long, slow kiss to her sweet-smelling skin.
"You're gorgeous when you're pissed at me," I whispered in her ear. "That will never get old."
She sniffled a laugh but pulled back to look at me. "I'm even scared that if I get better, you'll need another person to fix. I'm terrified, Edward. My office is ashes, my friends and family have been yanked from their homes, I've been through hell and back, but the only thing I want is...right here. When I'm here, nothing seems to hurt me." She hiccuped another sob, her eyes closing, causing more tears to cascade down her face.
I reached up to wipe them away, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Bella, please stop crying," I begged her softly.
"I will always remember our first kiss," she admitted, sniffling and smiling a little at my groan. "It was angry and jealous and just plain frustrated. It was so us," she giggled softly, rolling her eyes. "I fell in love with your French toast..."
"I fell in love with your apple pie," I chuckled, kissing away more tears.
"Jane's apple pie," she corrected, continuing, "I remember meeting you when we were kids, with your stutter and the prettiest green eyes I've ever seen. I remember you carrying me up the stairs and out of Miller's basement...and the first time you made me laugh...the first time you let me cry...and the first time you shot someone in order to save me."
She tilted her head at me, biting that perfect bottom lip of hers. "But I don't remember when I fell completely in love with you. I can't do it. I've tried to figure it out, but I wonder if it was always there..."
My mouth fell open as I gazed up at her. She was still on my lap, her hands still on my neck, but they moved, running softly through my hair.
"I don't know if we'll make it through this," she sighed, her fingers making me want to purr, they felt so good on my scalp, "but I know that I met the most amazing group of people."
"I love you...so much," I whispered, cupping her face and looking directly into her eyes. "And I swear to you, we'll get through this, or I'll die trying."
She took a deep breath, pressed her lips to mine, and then a stunning smile crept over her features. "I love you, too, Edward."

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