In the water, everything was quiet.
With the others away hunting, I could lie here in the tub for as long as I wished – which, as it turned out, was six and a half hours. I only sat up every so often to drain the bathtub and to fill it again with scalding hot water, after which I would submerge myself once more.
I could be very patient when I needed to be.
Earlier today I had noticed that the pressure of the water on my eardrums as I turned my head slightly from side to side offered the illusion of a rushing sound, almost like blood pumping through my veins. I reveled in that for some time.
And I'd discovered, too, that when my eyes were closed and my body was still, I had the strange sensation of being lost. Not weightless; I could never feel weightless. My body rested heavily on the bottom of the porcelain tub like a dead weight, which, naturally, it was. No, I lost the sensation of where my skin ended and the water began. The molecules that formed a perfect microscopic sleeve around my hard flesh seemed somehow to become part of me, or the strange atoms of my flesh seemed to join the hydrogen and oxygen, blending one into the next, like I was expanding, becoming living water, or water becoming undead.
It was odd. I liked it.
When I opened my eyes and looked up at the lights in the ceiling through the water, everything seemed far away and impossibly close at the same time. By the way the light was changing in the room I knew it was nearly dusk, our favorite time of day, the time of day when Bella looked positively magical, her skin blue-white in the waning light, her eyes dark and longing. She would be here soon.
I closed my eyes again and waited.
I heard the truck rattling toward the house, the engine sputtering off, the rusty door slamming, her quick footsteps up the stairs to the porch, the knock on our front door. Bella always knocked, even when I told her she could just come in. She'd said she wanted to wait until she was official before barging in. Official. I wasn't sure if she meant after the wedding, or –
There was another knock. I couldn't answer it; that would ruin everything. She'd come in eventually. I wondered if she was wavering there on the porch, worrying about me.
I heard the door creak open, then a hesitation. She spoke my name. The door shut behind her.
Footsteps whispered across the living room floor. I heard her running her fingers along the edge of my piano when she neared it. With my ears beneath the water it sounded not like varnished wood but skin being caressed. I smiled.
Come on up, I thought, my lips moving, letting more water enter my mouth. I opened my eyes to watch the surface shimmering in reaction to the movement of my silent words. I could feel the hair swirling around my head like kelp clinging to a sunken shipwreck.
As if acknowledging my request, I heard Bella ascend the staircase cautiously, deliberately. She called my name again. She knew I could hear her, so she never raised her voice. I remained still – not wanting to deceive her, but unable to rise just yet. Not yet.
She was drawn by the light of the bathroom – surprised, probably, that any one of us would have used it. Much like our dining room, the bathrooms – except for Rosalie's – were largely props.
She was here now, standing inside the doorway. I heard her pause in front of the mirror and lean against the marble countertop, checking her appearance in spite of herself. I smiled again, imagining her furrowed brow, as if her brow had anything at which it needed to furrow.
A drop of water fell from the faucet into the bathtub with a plink. And I sat up – slowly, I thought.
Bella's shriek pierced the silence and startled me, while the wide eyes in the mirror took a split second to locate my head peering out above the edge of the tub.
"Sorry, love," I said, my voice full of contrition – though my grin may have given me away.
When I breathed at last, after essentially six and a half hours of holding my breath, I realized the entire house smelled of her. How had I not noticed that before? It was ambrosia, everywhere.
"Edward!" she hissed, whirling around to face me, the blush on her cheeks replacing the pallor that had been there a moment ago. "What are you doing? Trying to scare me to death?"
"I'll explain in a moment. Get in bed." I smiled. "Please?"
I submerged my head again and waited, still smiling. Out of my line of sight, she hurled angry words at me for a while, words that turned into mutterings and eventually changed into half-hearted grumblings as her feet carried her into my bedroom.
I heard her hesitate again when she noticed what I'd put on the bed. I could almost imagine I heard the whirring of her mind, if not the actual thoughts there. Soft thumps and rustlings told me she'd removed her shoes, socks … and jeans. The jeans coming off – that was new. After another hesitation I heard the clasps of her bra come undone and then it, too, was on the floor. I always marveled how she was able to remove the undergarment through her sleeves without taking off her shirt.
I heard Bella then slip between the covers, only clad, I envisioned, in her underwear and tee shirt.
We were working up to this. We'd managed to get me unclothed so far, but not her. It was still too much for me; the venom would drop like mother's milk and I'd have to pull away, away from her.
And our wedding was only a week from now.
I stood up, grabbing the towel from the rod, and dried off my body and hair as swiftly as I could. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on my way to the bedroom. I was neither proud nor ashamed of my form, as different as it was from my former self's scrawny habitus. I was only glad of it insofar as it pleased Bella.
Time was of the essence tonight. I dropped the towel to the floor and now I was in bed, naked, under the covers with her, having moved so quickly from the bathroom to the bed that I'd frightened her once more. She gasped, and I heard her heart palpitating.
"Sorry," I said again.
"'S okay," she breathed.
"Hello," I said.
"Hi," she replied, smiling. She tugged at the blanket at her throat, the one I'd sandwiched between the top sheet and the coverlet. "Electric blanket?"
"Turned up to eleven," I said, pulling all the covers over our heads so that we both were engulfed in the hot darkness together.
She giggled, and I arched forward to kiss her.
When our lips met it took exactly two seconds before she gasped again and pulled away, blinking in the darkness under the covers. Her fingers touched her own lips, then reached out for mine, tracing them tentatively. I kissed her fingers, wrapped my hand around hers, let my tongue tease her fingertips.
Her heart pounded faster.
"You're … you're warm."
"H – how?"
I smiled. "Sous-vide."
"Sous-vide." While I spoke I kept warming her hand in mine because, for once, I could. "You remember all the cooking shows I watched before I made you dinner on prom night?"
"Yeah …" she said slowly.
I wrapped my other hand around the nape of her neck, feeling her exhale in response to the heat.
"I learned about sous-vide on one of them. Sous-vide is a way of preparing meat." The hand on her neck traveled down to her breast and settled there over her tee shirt; I watched her eyes close. "You put it in an airtight plastic bag and give it a slow hot water bath to cook it." I grinned again. "It's French."
Bella's eyes flew open and blinked as my words finally sank in. "You … you cooked yourself?"
"Yes," I replied, opening her fingers and pressing her hand to my hot chest. "Yes, I did. Want a taste?"
"Oh." I could see her blinking in the darkness under the covers, her eyes moistening. "Oh, Edward." Her voice broke.
"Was that – was that all right?" I asked, uncertain now.
"Oh, Edward," she said again, touching my face, running her hands along my jaw and chin.
And she kissed me. She kissed me as if we'd been apart for months instead of merely seven hours and seventeen minutes. She kissed me earnestly, wholly, and in the darkness of our cocoon I saw tears glistening on the tips of her eyelashes.
Even under the electric blanket I couldn't be sure how long it would last, before my body would start to cool; so I shifted until I was hovering above her and got to work. I covered her body with mine and kissed her, and her pleasure was evident as she arched into me, making me dizzy with longing as I felt new parts of her against my bare skin, parts that I'd only felt through her blue jeans before. My fingers reached down and fingered the edge of the frilly underwear at her hip, and she pressed against me again. So far, so good.
I had to be careful; even though our bed was soft, my body was too hard. I could crush her pelvis if I got carried away. So my movements were measured, so very measured.
It drove her wild.
My cells' turgor further increased; and I was again grimly gratified by how easily my body could mimic a human's, giving me the tools I needed to please Bella, to please myself. I couldn't give her a child, but I could offer every wicked pleasure her mind, or mine, could devise.
If I could control my … other urges.
Suddenly, as if she had no control over them, her hands trailed down the hairline on my torso, finding the heat between my legs. I raised my body a bit, to allow her to reach me more fully – but I had to stop kissing her while she did so. I tried to focus on my own breathing in and out, in and out. This was new; I'd never allowed her hands there before without my clothes on, and it felt … it felt … there were no words. I could barely think while she touched me.
I tried to find distraction by watching her face; but it was the picture of innocence, sultry innocence caught in the act of discovering some unanticipated, forbidden delight.
I tasted sweet wetness as the venom exploded in my mouth. Her scent, her thighs against mine, her hand tightening around me; it was far too much. I stopped breathing briefly and swallowed the venom, focusing on her fingers around my warm flesh, because I simply couldn't stop her. It was excruciating rapture.
"Edward?" Bella's fingers ceased their exploration, and she placed them on my hips again.
With the ensuing silence, I realized I'd been growling somewhere deep in my chest. I pulled my body away from hers, just slightly.
"I'm all right," I said with effort. "But … let me … let me touch you instead. For a while."
I kissed her, pressing my body into hers again, and her heartbeat escalated. The eyes locked on mine were vivid, glittering, shining too brightly for any mere human's. Sometimes, when I kissed her like this, she looked as if she were already –
I knotted my hands in her hair and kissed her as hard as I dared. She wrapped her legs around me, pulling me tighter against her. I moved against the fabric of her underwear, into her, a movement that felt to me like a caress, to her like grinding. As we moved, I suddenly found myself musing about how it would be when she was like me, how I wouldn't have to hold back, how we'd be able to – no, I couldn't, shouldn't think of that. It would happen soon enough.
Kissing my way down her jaw, I lingered on her neck, loving the exquisite torture her pulse offered me. The scent of the nectar beneath her skin made me tremble uncontrollably. I continued down to her heart, feeling the relentless pounding, pounding, pounding underneath my lips. I pushed her tee shirt up and lowered my lips to her skin. It was then that I realized my mouth was on her breast, my tongue on her nipple, and I was in control. There was no venom … yet.
Still under the electric blanket, Bella yanked her tee shirt off impatiently. She was so hot that she was sweating now. My hands grasped and squeezed, caressed and explored, while my mouth found her other breast. Her hips rose and fell, and my left hand went to her hipbone of its own accord and pushed gently, sliding downward until it was able to provide stimulation in, hopefully, the place and manner that she sought.
She uttered a throaty moan, bucking into me like a wild thing, and I felt the venom again. I pulled my hand away immediately and closed my eyes.
"I'm sorry," I managed. "A moment. Just – "
"Okay. Okay," she said shakily.
Our breath was harsh now. I saw her waiting, eager and anxious for me to touch her again, and it nearly killed me not to be able to give her that immediately. I knew she couldn't see my face in the dark under the covers, couldn't see the struggle. Under the electric blanket, between my heat and hers, with the sweat beading on her breastbone and fermenting sweetly between her legs, her scent was nearly overpowering.
I could master it. I could. I would.
Before I was quite ready, I kissed my way down her abdomen to the lace at the top of her underwear. I'd never been here before, at her womb, without the barrier of her jeans between my teeth and her flesh. I smelled it, knew instinctively where she was in her cycle, sensed the growing fount of blood, a monthly miracle mere inches beneath me. This was information I could try to ignore when we were clothed; but here, in such close proximity … I nearly passed out, my lips hovering over her.
I kissed her there, once, just once, on her skin, above the lace; and I felt my lips curl back, my breath hissing in and out between my teeth. I had to concentrate on keeping my jaw shut. Bella wisely remained still, one of her hands resting gently on my shoulder, the other in my hair. I was shaking. The venom wouldn't stop. I couldn't swallow it fast enough. I would choke on it.
My head traveled to the left without my wanting it to. My teeth were so, so close to her femoral artery, nestled vulnerably in the smooth hollow of the blazing skin of her hip, carrying fresh blood in a river from her heart down her right thigh, branching off into streams that would course toward her foot and toes. My tongue ran mindlessly along her femoral triangle, inside the concavity where hip met thigh, where the skin was thinnest. Oh, it would be so delicious, again, so very easy to taste –
I had to surface.
I crawled, trembling, up her body until my head was above the covers, and I took great gulps of cool, ambrosia-scented air. I fell onto my back next to her, instantly feeling the heat start to leave my head more rapidly; and the distraction that that sensation provided seemed to help me concentrate. I kept swallowing, doing everything in my power not to have to leave this bed. I held Bella's hand but didn't allow her to touch me as I focused on regaining control. Finally I had to hold my breath and squeeze my eyes shut.
But I was still here, with her. I could do this.
I tried to divert myself with thoughts of how it used to be. In the beginning, once we'd decided to move forward, when bits and pieces of her clothes started coming off and I heard her sighing and moaning under my lips, when I watched her tasting my whispered name inside her mouth, I'd have to leave the room entirely and pace the bathroom for minutes at a time. Later it was sufficient to go to the other side of the bedroom. I'd had to accustom myself to her incrementally, and my tolerance was building … just not fast enough for my liking.
Or Bella's. I could see it in her smoldering expression. There was disappointment in every quick breath, in the eyes that raked expectantly over my face. She didn't touch me, wouldn't until I nodded that it was safe. It was how we had to do things.
I wanted to curse, to rail against myself, against my condition. I felt like a spoiled, petulant child who'd just been offered the best candy in the store and then been dragged away to church with the promise of later.
I tugged my gaze away from hers and stared at the ceiling. It was dark now. We'd missed dusk while we were under the covers together. My face and my arms, over the electric blanket now, were starting to cool already.
And then I realized …
The worst was past.
I nodded once; and Bella, understanding that I was in control again, immediately curled her body around mine. I slipped my arms around her, stroked her hair, kissed her forehead.
I sighed. "We're getting there."
"I know," she said. She kissed my shoulder. She never expressed her frustration during these moments, which made me feel somehow horrible and thankful at the same time.
I felt her naked breasts against my ribcage and her thigh resting over mine, and I smiled in spite of myself. We really were making progress. I had to be satisfied.
Bella reached up to kiss me, and she hummed into my mouth.
"Your breath is always sweeter after we've been kissing for awhile," she observed.
"Yes," I said, returning her kiss. I didn't tell her it was the venom. The sweet scent was part of the lure. I kissed her again, hoping she wouldn't ask any more about it, because I couldn't lie to her.
"Do you think we'll be … ready for it?"
It was the first time she'd asked me anything like this; she was starting to worry. "I hope so." I frowned. I really didn't know.
She held me tighter. "For our wedding night?"
"'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished," I mused.
I knew I was massacring Shakespeare's original intent – Hamlet's wish to be consumed by the dreamless sleep of death – but I didn't care. In a way it was one and the same, our lovemaking and the risks we were taking. Bella was courting death to be with me, and until she was like me she would continue to do so. We both would, because if I hurt her – if I hurt her –
But it couldn't happen. It wouldn't. Alice knew. But still –
"How long were you in there?" she asked, nuzzling her face in to my neck, probably trying to find the warmest spot at the nape before everything was cold again.
"In the tub?"
"For … a while."
"Bella." I shifted my body so we were facing each other. "I'm a little bigger than a one-pound cut of salmon."
"And denser, I might add."
She laughed. I smiled with her and ran my fingers through her hair, feeling the perspiration on her scalp. She smelled divine.
She lifted my other hand to examine the pads of my fingers. "Pruney?" she asked. "Of course not," she answered herself, letting my hand drop again in mock disgust. "Vampires don't shrivel."
I laughed. But as I watched, her expression darkened.
"What?" I asked.
She pressed her lips together and moved her hand to my hip, letting it rest softly there. Her hand was already warmer than my hip now.
"I – "
I waited. "Yes?"
"What you did was – oh, Edward, it was – "
To my surprise her eyes moistened again. But she didn't cry.
"Did it not please you?"
A look of horror crossed her face for a split second. Quickly, her hands found my face again and caressed it. "Oh, yes! Yes, it pleased me. You – you pleased me." Her gaze intensified, as if she wanted to make sure I heard the next bit. "But Edward, you always do."
Somehow, though, I felt I'd disappointed her. She must have seen it on my face because she persisted.
"You don't need to change anything about yourself to make me any happier."
I watched her carefully. "But I'm cold, Bella. And you're warm and delicious." I could say that to her; she knew what I meant.
"In case you haven't noticed, I tend to overheat when you're near me anyhow. You don't have to make things any worse." She smiled. "You don't need to change for me."
"Said the pot to the kettle."
She smirked. "We're not going through that again."
"I know. I just couldn't resist."
"Silly man," she whispered.
Then Bella kissed me, languorously but with intent, and it worked; she stopped every thought in my head … except for the word man.
I was that, to her.
"Fifty years from now," said Bella, still kissing me, "if we're bored and want to try something new, you can do that for me again."
Something inside my chest contracted – the memory of a heart capable of brimming over.
I smiled into her kisses, marking this date in my mind so I could remember it in fifty years' time.
"As you wish."
Thanks for reading! Edward loves reviews. ;)