|Strangers In Our Skin
Author: LyricalKris PM
"The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend." Is it possible to repair the sharp edged shards of a shattered reality?Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Edward & Bella - Chapters: 2 - Words: 15,292 - Reviews: 131 - Favs: 168 - Follows: 63 - Updated: 05-28-12 - Published: 03-22-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7948003
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: So, I really struggled with whether or not to post this. The original o/s worked well on its own, and I loved the way it ended. But at the same time, I had more to say, more in my head. So I wrote it down and here it is. Read it or not, it's your choice.
Everlasting thanks to Shug, barburella, jfka06 and you online ladies - I know you know who you are - who enabled... I mean... encouraged me. Much love.
"Edward… It's me, too."
Even though she'd flung herself into his arms, holding onto him tightly as he, instinctively, held on to her, Edward didn't let himself believe the truth of what was happening until those words slipped out in her trembling voice.
Not two minutes before he'd been entirely unable to keep himself upright, had staggered under the weight of his grief until he sagged against the wall, lifeless and utterly breathless. There was an agony at the very center of his being, under his skin where he couldn't get to it, and he'd been struck with the knowledge that nothing could soothe that wound; nothing would ever lessen that anguish.
Nothing except the woman he'd begun to believe he could never again hold in his arms.
The low light of hope that had been snuffed out like a wavering candle when she drove away rekindled in a heartbeat, and he gasped, filling his lungs for the first time in months.
"Edward," she said again. Over and over, she repeated his name, her hands on his face like she was seeing him for the first time. "I'm sorry," she mumbled after a moment, leaning her forehead against his and sobbing out the words. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry."
He was so caught up in revelling at the sound of her voice – for once not hard or frightened – that he almost didn't comprehend the words she was muttering.
"Bella… I… You…" He tried to speak but found he was sobbing too hard, his voice raw with emotion. He contented himself with tightening his grip on her – though he didn't know how she could still breathe, he was squeezing her that tightly – holding her head against his shoulder as he rocked them both.
The house was silent save their overlapping, staccato breaths, the occasional hiccup, and sniffling as they both calmed.
It felt like an eon before he finally had control of his voice, but at the same time, it wasn't long enough because he could hold her this close forever and not be satisfied.
Somewhat reluctantly, he loosened his grip on her, shifting them so he could caress her face with his hands, finding her cheeks slick with tears. Her eyes were bloodshot, her cheeks were splotchy, she still looked too gaunt, and yet, she was so unquestionably beautiful to him, his heart ached.
"There is absolutely nothing you have to be sorry about," he whispered fervently, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
She seemed dubious at the thought, but dubious was legions above withdrawn, angry, or terrified.
Before she answered, her lower lip began to tremble again, the tremors quickly taking over her whole body.
Edward's heart leapt up to his throat, choking him. "Bella?" he asked urgently, rubbing her back, holding her tightly again.
She ducked her head, hiding against his chest, so that he almost didn't hear when she spoke. "They're really dead?"
He put his hand to the back of her head, rocking her again, squeezing his eyes shut.
Yes, they were dead, and he wanted to tell her how badly he wished he was the one who got to tear them apart.
But he didn't want to scare her again.
"They're gone. I promise. They can't ever hurt you again."
Her hands came up to his chest, and she gripped her fists tight in his shirt, holding on for dear life as she shook uncontrollably.
Edward wished with all his heart he could pick her up, curl himself around her so she would never have to feel any pain, so no one could ever hurt her again, even slightly. Or maybe he could take this hurt away from her, hold it inside himself so she wouldn't have to feel it.
But this he could promise. "They're dead. All of them. They'll never touch you. Not ever."
Healing was a long, slow road, but they were traveling down it hand in hand.
Now that Bella was aware she wasn't being coerced into anything, Edward had finally been able to contact Alice, getting a hold of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant meds his father had recommended.
Even still, she'd obviously been nervous about taking them. Edward had handed over the pills for her to examine and had taken one himself – whatever it took so that it sat well with her psyche that he wasn't trying to trick her into taking medication for his own purposes.
Bella tended to ignore the anti-depressents, hating the way they made her mind feel fuzzy and dulled around the edges.
Sometimes, the anti-anxiety meds were absolutely necessary.
Her body and mind backed out of survival mode very slowly, and as she began to truly accept she was safe, the pain of what she'd been through hit her particularly hard.
They slept in the same bed now, Bella hardly wanting to let him go and Edward far from arguing. They started off the night wrapped in each others arms, talking quietly or just breathing each other in. But after she fell asleep, Edward would reluctantly untangle himself, scooting to the far edge of the bed to watch her.
Most of her nights were plagued by bad, bad dreams. Dreams that had her thrashing and screaming. Dreams that trapped her for minutes that felt like years in a place where she wasn't safe and he wasn't him. He'd learned the hard way that if she woke from a nightmare restrained in his arms her panicking would be worse.
Instead, his heart would break night after night, watching as she writhed in her sleep, waking crying and struggling, alternately begging him not to hurt her and cursing him in language more colorful than he thought her capable. He'd found that gentle touches worked best, and so he caressed her face, her arms, her hair, all the while repeating, "You're safe. It's me, Bella. It's me," until she calmed enough to hear it. Then, he would wait, stroking her hair and her arms until she scooted over to his side of the bed, murmuring, "It's me, too."
It wasn't just at night that her demons reared their ugly heads.
Sometimes, it was just the way he would step or a phrase he would use that would send her back. He'd see the fear in her eyes as she stumbled away from him, terrified for moments or minutes on end that she'd believed a lie, and he really was one of her tormentors, reeling her in so he could hurt her all the more.
One day, during a particularly light moment, she actually giggled. He was so entirely joyous at that sound – it had been very near to half a year at that point since he'd heard her laugh – he pulled her into his arms and danced her about the little living room. It was a perfect moment until he laid his head on her shoulder, crooning softly in her ear a song he used to sing to her as they made love.
She went rigid in his arms, clawing and scratching at him, completely out of her head until he let her go and she flung herself across the room.
When she calmed enough to understand what had happened, she was livid, hurling things about the cabin in an incoherent rage.
Exhausted after a few minutes, she slumped to the floor on her knees in the middle of the wreckage, crying into her hands.
"I hate this," she said when he knelt carefully in front of her. "I hate that he's been in my head, in your head. I hate that he stole everything from us, all the moments that were only ours."
Edward understood. When he'd figured out that Aro and his team used his own memories against Bella, used them to complete the lie, he'd felt absolutely violated. It still made him sick to his core.
He tried to ignore the way she was looking down, not looking at him because he was both her pain and her comfort. She was safe in his presence, but if she looked up into his eyes, she might panic again. They both knew it.
"We'll make new ones," he promised, taking her hands first. It was best to start slow. "We have the rest of our lives, and no one will ever take those moments away from us. Not ever again."
He would burn down his lab, the Volturi lab, and Aro's house if he had to.
She breathed in deep, shuffling forward on her knees. She looked at their clasped hands for a long, long while before she lifted her head up slowly.
Edward held his breath, but her eyes stayed clear, focused.
Relieved, he stroked her cheek.
She lifted a shaky hand, wrapping her fingers around his wrist against her face. Taking a shaky breath, she nodded, a look of determination coming over her face.
"We're going to be okay."
It was a declaration.
His smile was gentle as he looked over her, seeing her strength return inch by painstaking inch.
They were both still aching from their wounds. He knew they would probably always ache. But despite all that, they were together, and they knew who they were; they had control of who they would become.
Because of that, Edward had no trouble in agreeing as he gathered her in his arms, silently promising – to himself and to her – that he would never let her go again. "Yes. We are."
"You're quiet today," Edward observed.
They still took walks almost every day after lunch, though now they took them hand in hand. Most of the time, they talked, making up for three months of absence and seven weeks of near total silence. Today, though, Bella hadn't said more than a few words, responding minimally.
Coming to a stop, Edward leaned back against the thick trunk of a large, moss-covered tree, carefully pulling her with him. She felt the usual flash of irritation - hating how necessary it was that he walk on eggshells around her - but it soon melted away with his embrace.
Closing her eyes, Bella breathed in his scent along with the clean, damp air of the forest around them.
No more claustrophobic rooms.
The air and the forest were real. These things could not be faked, she tried to remind herself.
Edward was real.
Maybe they'd succeeded in duplicating his image and his voice, but nothing they'd done had ever made the atmosphere around them feel like this - warm and charged with his love and complete devotion.
That was real.
But therein lay the rub with the kind of torment Bella had been forced to endure. Bruises healed, contusions scabbed over, bones could mend, but a fractured reality was quite a different malady all together.
Aro and his fellow scientists - monsters that they were - had set out with the purpose of pushing Bella to the very limits of her sanity, hoping to unlock the secrets of her mind. To a much larger extent than Bella wanted to concede, they'd succeeded.
She knew what was real, but that didn't mean she trusted her own judgement. It was a hellish thing, not being able to believe her own eyes.
"I was thinking - I want to go with you when you see Alice tomorrow," she said quietly.
He tried to keep the skepticism off his face, but she saw it. And who could blame him? She was uncertain as well. Her psyche was unpredictable, and who knew what it would do when faced with a complete stranger.
"I just think it's the best option," she continued before she could panic and talk both herself and him out of it. "It's been months since I've seen..."
"Since you've seen someone who isn't me," he finished. She heard the pain in his voice and hated it.
"Yes." She nodded, a fresh determination coming over her. "I think it will help, and it's better than going into the town." She stared down at her feet. "At least Alice knows. She would understand if I... don't react well."
Carefully, he cupped her cheek, waiting until she looked up at him. His smile was easy, but she knew it was practiced. There was a tightness to his eyes that belied his worry. "Of course you can come."
The meeting with Alice went well.
Bella trembled, but in all honesty, though she was obviously a fierce little character, Alice was also more diminutive than she was.
In her terror, Bella always felt more animalistic than anything; backed into a corner, she felt like she could rip anyone threatening her to shreds. Of course, Aro's little friends had always showed her in no uncertain terms just how helpless she was, even in her fear and rage. Staring at little Alice, Bella's nerves were frazzled, but when she looked at her with that eye - assessing her as a predator - her innate feeling was that she could take Alice, if she had to.
All in all, Bella was able to keep herself calm. She interacted a little with Alice, gripping Edward's hand tightly the whole time.
It wasn't easy, but when they got back to the cabin, Bella felt hope that when they were able to return to the real world, she wasn't so irrevocably altered that she couldn't grasp normalcy again.
If there was one thing Bella wanted more than anything else, more even than she missed the day to day monotony of life - work, school, friends, and family - it was being able to be physically intimate with Edward again.
Some days, he was absolutely terrified to touch her, and that killed her. Yet he had every reason to be scared. It was often when they let their guard down, let their kisses get too ardent, that she would be sent into a panic yet again.
Edward was always content to hold her at night, but Bella was aware that he stayed awake to untangle himself from her, lest her nightmares get all the worse. He stayed awake and watched and waited for her to fall apart.
One night, very shortly before they were to return home once and for all, Bella was determined not to have to let him go.
Whenever he reached his limit, the line he didn't want to cross because it was too hard to stop, Edward would put some distance between them. Not much, but enough that he had the control he needed.
That night, Bella didn't let him take that space. She hitched her leg over his side, holding him to her.
"Bella," he groaned.
She kissed him, trying to show him she was okay.
He caught her face between his hands, looking into her eyes, and then he gave in with a low moan. His hands were everywhere, and god, he felt so good. She tugged his shirt, and he slipped it off.
She was okay.
Until she wasn't.
With a wild gasp and a frightened cry, she pushed away from him and rolled over, curling in on her herself, breathing hard.
Bella squeezed her eyes shut, clutching her hands in fists, digging her fingernails into her palms to try to keep herself in the present.
There had been the times she'd been in the most pain, like when they sent electricity through her body. It had taken all her willpower not to beg for death then.
But the worst times by far were when they came to her in the night, or whatever period she chose to sleep.
Sometimes she heard the door, other times she woke to their hands on her.
They never raped her, a fact that likely kept their consciences clean. She would wake up with the weight of one of their bodies on her, pressing her into the thin mattress or the cold metal floor.
Edward's face not an inch from hers, his slow, sexy smile.
His nose running along her cheek when she turned her face away.
His lips on her chin, her neck.
His hands running down her sides while his low, musical voice whispered sweet, gentle, loving things in her ear.
Things Edward would say.
Because, of course, they knew. They knew everything he said to her.
The sense of violation was almost more than she could bear. She'd kept her eyes closed so she wouldn't have to see his face, wouldn't have to associate her Edward with someone who would make her feel so entirely filthy.
Under the circumstances, Bella thought her psyche might have fared better if they'd been rough with her, as horrible as that sounded.
Bella squeezed her eyes tighter, but her tears spilled over anyway. She was furious, but at the same time, she was exhausted. If it hadn't been for the adrenaline coursing through her body, she might have just let the world drift away.
She hated the pain in his voice.
Gritting her teeth, Bella got to her knees. She kept her eyes closed but felt along his body, using her hands to guide her as she straddled his waist.
"We don't have to do this," Edward said softly. "There's no rush. Baby, don't push yourself."
She shuddered, hearing his voice in her mind. His voice when it wasn't him. Baby. You're so pretty, baby. The things I want to do to you.
"Don't talk," she bit out.
He made a noise that died in the back of his throat.
She breathed deep. "I don't want to push myself. I want to make love to you, and I want you to make love to me." Her voice shook as she spoke. "I do love you, Edward. So much."
To his credit, he said nothing, but he carefully stroked her fingers with his. Just her fingers. Nothing more.
She felt calmer.
"I-I... I know how unfair this is to ask you. But I... I need you not to touch me," she whispered.
Again, he said nothing. His fingers slipped from hers.
Bella smiled, feeling tears slip past her closed eyelids again. Happy tears this time, or at least bittersweet.
He loved her. He would do anything for her.
Slowly, her fingers trembling, she began to trace the lines of his face. For a man, he had such baby fine, petal soft hair. It was getting quite long - longer than she ever remembered it being, which helped tremendously.
Breathing deep, Bella tried to open her senses, willing thoughts and memories away - both her tainted ones of him and those of her tormentors. She tried to clear her mind of thought, concentrating instead on what she felt for this kind, beautiful, patient man.
She cupped his face in her hands, feeling each rough whisker against her palm. It had been days since he shaved. Earlier, when he'd nuzzled her, she'd laughed at the way his growing beard tickled the sensitive skin of her neck.
Keeping one hand on his cheek, stroking, hoping he understood how much she adored him, loved him beyond reason, Bella lifted her other hand, brushing her fingertips over the expanse of his forehead. She ran her thumbs over his thick eyebrows, down the strong line of his nose. Slowly, she caressed him, leaving no inch of his face untouched.
Obedient to a fault, Edward didn't move to touch her and didn't speak. His mouth was open, and she could feel the hot puffs of air against her wrist as his breath sped. When she ran the pads of her fingers over his lips, he kissed her skin - a soft, tiny motion.
Bella swallowed hard. In her heart, the heady emotion of desire was mingling with the love she felt, the love she so wanted to express physically.
What she wanted was to tumble into him. She wanted all the moments they'd shared back. All the intimate moments where they giggled and rolled on the bed, playing the games that lovers were wont to do. She wanted their shared passion for each other. Before, when it was inconceivable that their intimacy and fervor for each other could be made so ephemeral, he'd often wrapped her so tightly in his arms, she'd thought she might one day disappear into him completely.
But she had to have patience, she knew. If she pushed herself, not only would the mood be broken, but she would have to see that sucker-punched look on his face again. She would have to hurt him.
So she breathed in and out slowly, practicing some self-control, keeping her eyes studiously closed.
She let her hands see for her.
Down along the fine contours of his neck where she felt him swallow hard as she began moving over him.
She splayed her hands over his chest, over the sparse hair smattered across muscle. Edward had never been overly muscular, just enough to make the lines of his body pleasingly hard.
Bella gyrated her hips, teasing him. She heard a strangled moan that rumbled from the depths of his chest. She could feel the vibration beneath her palms. Her mouth was dry with want, and she ground against him more firmly.
Though his hips bucked up slightly, he was doing his best not to touch her. She felt movement and ran her hands along his side, finding he had stretched his arms above his head. She skimmed his skin, finding his muscles taut, and finally found his fingers wrapped hard around the bars of the headboard, holding on for dear life.
Her breath caught in her throat. She heard the words as clearly as though he'd spoken.
"I love you, too," she whispered, and he whimpered.
She could feel him growing harder beneath her.
With deep, measured breaths, she moved, drawing her fingers down his body, concentrating on his little moans and the way he writhed under her. Her hands shook as she pulled his pants down and hers off, trying to keep her mind in that anoetic space where she felt no memories, and no panic, just the strength of their bond and their love for each took his length in both her hands, stroking. He panted, a whine at the back of his throat as his hips bucked up against her.
When she lifted up, guiding herself down on him, his gasp was raw. She heard the bed creak in protest at the way he jarred the wood bars of the headboard.
"Move with me," she whispered.
He moved in her and she around him. Her hands on his chest, she leaned down, her lips hovering above his, terrified to break this moment of physical expression. His breath was hot against her lips.
Groaning at how good he felt insideher, at the overwhelming feeling of being connected with him like this for the first time in far, far too many months, Bella leaned down, her open mouth over his full lips.
His kiss was tentative, though his hips moved at a fast, fervent pace with hers.
She kissed him back.
The elation of that simple kiss heightened her senses, and thought slipped away entirely. There was only the feel of him beneath her and inside her, his adoring kiss on her lips. A reminder that their love had endured the torment they'd been through.
She rode the high of that realization - that their love would endure no matter the challenges they faced - to orgasm. As her neck arched, her body stiffening and tightening around him, her eyes opened.
At first, she saw nothing but stars.
Then, as she came down, tilting her head back to him, she focused on his face.
His lips were open, pouting out as he panted, catching his breath from his own release. His hands were still gripped tight around the bars, his knuckles white from effort. His eyes, hooded with love and lust, watched her with quiet intensity.
They could never duplicate the way he looked at her like this.
For once, there was no doubt in her mind who she was with.
"Hold me," she whispered, kissing his chin before she laid her head against his chest.
He grabbed the edge of the comforter, wrapping it and his arms around her.
It was a safe, warm cocoon.
Safe. She was safe with him and the men that had hurt her were dead, she reminded herself.
She never had to let her Edward go.
"Never again," Edward promised.
Apparently, she'd been talking out loud.
They shifted until they were facing each other, and she kissed him sweetly. "I love you."
He stroked her cheek, his movement always achingly tender. "I love you."
The day before they were set to return to reality, Bella stood alone in the bathroom, nude, staring into the mirror.
Her body bore the scars of her ordeal, though in nine months at the cabin, most of them had faded, become almost flush with her natural skin tone.
She still saw them, though, still remembered with bitter clarity how each one had been inflicted.
When she heard Edward's steps, she closed her eyes. He lingered in the doorway, waiting for her to tell him to get away if she needed. When she didn't, he stepped closer, and she felt the comfort of the soft robe at her back. She let him help her into it, and leaned back against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her waist.
"You'll never not be beautiful," he murmured against her ear as if he could guess the direction of her thoughts.
As if he could hear them.
She stiffened in his arms, breathing in through her nose. When he moved to let her go, she kept his hands on his, willing him to be still for a moment.
She opened her eyes again, looking at the couple in the mirror - the woman whose eyes were a little wild with fear, and the man who was scared for her.
"It's not fair to you," she whispered out loud.
His eyes found hers in the mirror, questioning.
"I'm not the same," she said, her voice dull. "I'll never be the same." The woman in the mirror looked like her, but she was a stranger. Once, Bella had been fearless. She knew she was smart, passionate about science and Edward, maybe even a little clever.
When was the last time she'd made Edward laugh?
"I don't even know if I could do what I did before," she continued.
How could she be a scientist now? She'd been working toward it, living science for all of her adult life, but now that world was barred to her. It had taken months for Edward to even convince her he was real. She would never feel comfortable in a lab now that she'd been the experiment.
Without that, without the life she'd built, who was she?
She was a stranger in her own skin.
"It's not fair to you," she repeated. The pain in her heart almost choked her breath. She was so selfish. He was her comfort, her safe and happy place. Her touchstone. He'd been so patient. He let her hurt him over and over again. But it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair at all.
His breath was a shudder. His arms tightened around her.
"Do you think I could go back to that?" he whispered raggedly. "Do you think I can laugh again so easily? Do you think I know who I am anymore?"
Again, Bella stiffened. She locked her eyes with his and calmed again when she saw the complete devotion and love there.
The love they'd never been able to duplicate.
He didn't have to read her mind. He simply knew her that well.
"I don't know anything but that I love you. And you're still my Bella." He kissed her cheek.
Turning in his arms, she cupped his face, looking into his eyes. "And you're my Edward."
He saw her. He knew her. She was not a stranger to him any more than he was a stranger to her. She knew him, knew his soul, knew the part of him that no one could ever hope to imitate.
For three months, Aro had made her a pawn in his quest, his desire to unlock the power hidden away in her mind. What he hadn't known, what a monster like him could never know, was that true power, true strength, was not of the mind but of the heart.
Edward's love had saved her.
She wound her arms around his neck, holding on and wishing she could stay wrapped up in this moment with him forever. But it was time to face the world again. It was time to figure out who they were going to become.
With him at her side, she felt like she could do it.
"No matter what happens, no matter how much we've changed, nothing anyone ever did or ever does could change how much I love you," she said, standing on tiptoe so she could murmur in his ear.
She felt his smile against her cheek. Edward pulled back enough so he could look at her. He kissed her forehead, a lingering kiss full of tenderness.
"Count on it."