A/N: I do not own Twilight, or any of its characters, it all belongs to Stephenie Meyer!
Thank you so much for all your support, votes, PMs, forum chatting, reccing and of course, the glorious reviews.
I couldn't do this without bookbag. See my bottom A/N for something interesting that bookbag's cooking up.
Chapter Thirteen- The Password
Time was elastic, meaningless, in this strange otherworldly space between the four golden walls. The moon was suspended unmoving outside the window, its light unable to breach the thick curtains.
There were no shadows. There was no movement.
Bella wore no watch tonight and Edward never did.
Clocks could tell Edward nothing he wanted or needed to know. He was guided purely by the light in the sky and the effect it would have on his photographs. Dawn and dusk, filtering clouds.
In the absence of any other indicators, Bella was subconsciously marking the passage of time by each shallow rise and fall of his chest, the staccato shivering that gave way to grave, heavy stillness.
She wasn't sure which was more alarming.
The pool of lamplight caught and held them in an amber resin; she perched on the edge of the mattress, he sprawled across it. The bed was encircled entirely by the inky shadows, graphite and velvet black, the outer edges so far removed from the present reality she could not even recall what was there.
Just like Esme, lying one floor above, on this endless night Bella's entire world had folded neatly down into one room.
Only a tiny square of lime green light, gleaming on the side of Edward's laptop across the room, punctuated the dark.
Bella tried not to look at it, but it glowed relentlessly, a tiny dragon's unblinking eye.
With each shiver that skated across his skin, her heart stuttered until his face smoothed and he grew still again. The sepia haze threw the planes and shadows of his face into stark relief, the weariness etched into his features.
She tentatively took his icy hand in hers. She tried to rub some warmth back into his heavy, calloused skin. She pressed it against her fevered cheek, the scent of his skin as familiar as the linen on her bed, glad of his cold.
She needed to stop burning.
She was achingly tired, but unable to contemplate sleep as her splintered thoughts consumed her and churned her stomach with nausea.
His words were on a constant loop in her mind. She tried to remember the inflections in his voice as he said the words, his intent, but with each replay she grew unsure.
"I've tried it with so many others, but it's you that I hear."
Was she to take that literally? Did he mean that he could only hear her mind, or that it was only her he wanted to hear when touching other women? How many others, exactly?
Was she his thirst? Was she his scar?
"All of it- it's you."
Her heart was a caged bird, fluttering in fright. However she looked at it, his admission was beautiful and disturbing.
Either way, the strange truth was finally slipping out, whatever it was.
She prayed her heart would make it out of this eternal midnight still intact, still beating.
The air felt thin in her lungs as she rubbed his knuckles rhythmically, willing some warmth into his bones, and some kind of understanding into her own, regarding his splayed body with a sorrowful fascination.
He looked like a victim in a crime scene, without the chalk outline. The damp layers of black and white fabric split open, baring his chest, his chilled skin. His long limbs were crooked, his pale skin in sharp contrast to his strangely dark lips.
As ever, his face was tilted towards her.
He was lying on top of his blankets, and with a start she realised she should cover him. She kicked herself mentally as she tried and failed to tug them out from under him. He was too heavy.
She hurried to her bedroom, feeling idiotic for merely rubbing his hand as he lay frozen. Blinking owlishly as she flipped on the harsh white light, she began pulling the blankets from her own mattress, pausing as she saw her cell phone.
She tentatively touched a button as though it might give her an electric shock. Eleven missed calls. She turned the phone face down with a grimace. If tomorrow ever came, she thought tiredly, she would sort that out then. She was almost surprised to remember that contact with the outside world was possible.
Bella wrapped the blankets around her shoulders. They were surprisingly weighty as she trod ungracefully back down the hall, feeling feathers from the eiderdown pricking at her shoulders.
She hoisted them over him and arranged them with difficulty as best she could. There always seemed to be one hand or foot that remained exposed.
He shuddered, his hands trying clumsily to clutch at the blankets over him. She pulled them higher, calming him with a hand on his temple. He wasn't getting warmer. She heard the faint clicking of his teeth.
"Shhh," she breathed in his ear, making him stretch against her, seeking the warmth of her breath again.
It was time to get Carlisle.
She ran lightly upstairs and tapped at Carlisle and Esme's bedroom door, but there was no answer.
She dithered for what felt like an eternity, and then finally opened the door a crack. Esme lay in a pool of grey moonlight, the curtains open as always, but no Carlisle beside her.
Bella closed her eyes, rested her face on the doorframe, breathing the poignancy of the beautiful silence, until she felt she could close the door again. She did so as quietly as she could and as she descended to the first floor she heard a faint noise elsewhere in the house.
She followed the faint tinkling sounds to the kitchen, her heart in her throat.
Carlisle was washing the dishes from the dinner in almost total darkness, bent awkwardly over the low sink, his back surely aching.
"Carlisle?" Bella said softly, and he jumped, wiping his cheek on his shoulder so quickly she wondered if she imagined it.
"Bella? Everything OK?" He set down a sudsy wine glass and wiped his hands on a towel, turning. Outlined by the same pearl grey that Esme lay in upstairs, Bella felt her heart constrict as she thought of him, alone in the dark, washing the plates they had eaten from.
She didn't have to ask why he had left the light off, because she would have done the same thing.
She crossed to him and did what she never could with her real father. She wrapped her arms around him, and as they hugged for a few moments, she said the only thing she could.
His hug reminded her of Edward as he squeezed her, and she felt selfish for allowing him to make her feel safe, small, protected. He smelled of wood fire and soap.
Carlisle pulled back slightly to squint at her face.
"You know you never need to apologise to me, sweetie." He tucked her hair behind her ears, an old gesture. "What's the matter?"
Bella gestured upstairs. "Edward sat out on the patio for a long time and he's really cold. He passed out a while ago. Could you come and check on him?"
She was glad she had her arm through Carlisle's as they walked through the dark house; past the black, gaping doorways. The house, normally a warm, breathing entity, was a silent, disapproving witness to the charade she had participated in.
She cowered closer to him, feeling impossibly spooked and childish.
Carlisle followed her into Edward's bedroom and navigated the littered carpet with practiced ease. He surveyed Edward's chalky pallor with a critical eye.
"He drank a lot, didn't he? Was there any scotch left?" Carlisle laid his hand on Edward's forehead, then his pulse. Bella instinctively fell silent as Carlisle's eyes followed the sweep of his watch's second hand. Finally, he looked up in askance, removing his fingers from Edward's neck.
Bella ducked her head, playing with the edge of the blanket as she perched awkwardly on the end of the bed.
"A couple of inches maybe." She felt dreadful for Edward. His disgrace was always somehow felt like hers.
She lifted her eyes, praying Carlisle wouldn't judge him.
"Help me roll him onto his side," Carlisle said gently, and together they gathered up Edward's limbs and rolled him to his side, the blankets slipping.
Bella covered his scarred side before Carlisle could see it.
"Edward," Carlisle said, tapping his cheek lightly. "Edward."
He blearily opened his blank eyes with a visible struggle. The green was static.
"Edward, can you touch your thumb and your little finger together?" Carlisle spoke kindly to him, like he was an ill child, and demonstrated the action.
Edward's brow creased, but he slowly touched the fingers together.
Carlisle nodded, apparently satisfied, and sat back.
Edward gusted a sigh and his eyelids slowly slid closed again, green still visible through slits for a disconcerting moment before his thick lashes pressed together entirely.
"He doesn't have hypothermia- he wouldn't be able to squeeze his fingers together if he did. His dexterity would be gone." Carlisle busied himself anchoring the blankets more firmly, tucking Edward into the feather cocoon.
"Oh my God," Bella said softly, "He could have gotten hypothermia? Really?"
"The alcohol didn't help, especially since he probably didn't feel how cold he was getting. He'll be fine, though."
He heard her exhale slowly, a breath she had been holding a long time. He nodded encouragingly at her pensive expression.
"He will, Bella. He'll start to warm up in a couple of minutes."
Bella nodded, and inched up to sit in the middle of the bed, opposite Carlisle. She stroked Edward's hair away from his face, frowning to herself.
"Bella? Was what Edward said true? Are you engaged?" Carlisle hated to ask, inwardly wincing at her whipped puppy expression.
"Yes, it's true," she said, masochistically relishing the acid guilt that flooded her. She deserved it.
"Michael asked me to marry him a few weeks ago."
"Why didn't you say something?" Carlisle began, but as his glance strayed down to his son, the answer was already on his tongue. "Edward."
Bella picked up Edward's hand again, pressing it tightly between her own as if in prayer.
"He thought it might be upsetting for Esme. He said that she wanted him and me to…" Here, she motioned between herself and Edward, not sure of how to put it, how to say it aloud, especially to Carlisle.
His expression was unreadable, and he chose his words carefully.
"If you and Edward ended up together, she'd be thrilled. But you should never feel like you need to lie. Your engagement is good news that I'm sure you wanted to share with us. I'm really happy for you."
He was sincere, but as he spoke his eyes unwittingly flickered down to Edward again.
"I'm disappointed that you allowed him to manipulate you." He made his voice soft as he chided her.
She defended Edward without thought.
"No, it wasn't like that. I would do anything to make Esme happy, especially… now. If that means pretending that I'm going to be the one to make Edward happy, then so be it."
Carlisle looked cynical. She touched his arm.
"Carlisle- really. If Esme didn't hear his comment last night, would you mind not mentioning it to her? I don't want her to think I'm a liar."
"But aren't you lying, sweetie?" Carlisle said this gently, kindly, and she swallowed a lump. She hated that he was thinking badly of her.
She tried to formulate an adequate response with no success.
Edward slowly rolled towards her.
Carlisle worried over the two of them, watching them slowly arc towards each other, like horseshoes, like magnets. He privately wasn't sure how much of a game it was for Edward, either.
"Carlisle? Would you talk to me about Esme? How exactly did you meet? How did you know she was the one for you?" Bella paused. "If you can't talk about her, it's OK."
"No, it's alright." He watched Bella get comfortable, curling up against the pillows, still slowly rubbing Edward's hand like she was soothing an animal.
"It's not a very long story. It's the simplest story of my life, actually. I was in a first year pre-med lecture. I can't even remember what the topic was. This gorgeous girl sat down next to me. I knew she was gorgeous before I even looked at her. All I could see were her hands; white, perfect, and they were folded very studiously on top of a flowered notebook. Everyone else in the class had a plain white pad, or a binder. But she had this flowered notebook." Carlisle's eyes sparkled.
"Halfway through the class, I got up enough courage to turn to look at her. She was already looking at me. Staring so intently, as if she was trying to place where she knew me from." He smiled, his mouth curling up lopsidedly, another trait Edward had received in his particular genetic jackpot.
Bella smiled too, feeling the warmth beginning to tinge Edward's fingertips.
"Esme was in a medical lecture? What on earth for? She studied industrial design."
Carlisle laughed. "She's always said that she went into the wrong lecture. I've always had my doubts, though."
Bella considered this. "I bet she saw you from afar, and did whatever she could to be sitting next to you." She poked his arm playfully. "You were gorgeous back in the day."
He feigned a hurt expression, and she added, "Still are, of course."
How like Esme, Bella mused. She would have seen her destiny, and followed it blindly, trusting fate to pull her in the right direction like a compass needle finding north.
"Well, thank you." Carlisle said, slightly embarrassed. "Anyway, I'd already told myself I wasn't going to get romantically involved with anyone in my first year. I wanted to focus on my studies. There was a lot of pressure on me; continuing the tradition of medicine within my family.
When the lecture ended, she stood up and said, 'Are we going? I'm dying for a coffee' like she had known me her whole life. She didn't even introduce herself, or ask my name.
I tried to say no. I made some lame excuse about needing to study. She just shook her head, as though I didn't know what I needed, and picked up my books and walked out of the room, leaving me no choice but to follow. And I followed her to the café, and I guess… I've been following her ever since."
His smile slipped from his face.
He didn't need to add it because it hung in the air. He had followed her now as far as he could, and soon he would be left behind.
"And when did you decide she was the one? Did it feel like fate?" Bella was suddenly ravenous for any words Carlisle could give her. She couldn't believe she hadn't tried to seek his advice earlier. He would know better than anyone what this was like.
He closed his eyes briefly. "It felt like….. I was a chess piece, being moved by something bigger than myself, bigger than my life. I had never believed I could feel that way. I was a scientific person, still am I suppose; I was used to being able to explain things. But suddenly, without actually saying a word, I was completely tied to this girl who walked from that room."
He leaned against the headboard of Edward's bed as he considered, trying to think of a way to explain it.
"It felt like I was an actor in a play, and the script I thought I was reading from had been replaced by something else." He picked up Edward's other hand, mimicking Bella's actions and rubbing it between his palms, the gesture so caring she loved Carlisle impossibly more.
He finally caught her eye. "Was it fate? For me, yes. I believe in fate now." He smiled again. "How could I not, after all these years? Esme worships fate like a God."
Bella nodded numbly and laid Edward's hand carefully on the bed, the bitter taste of truth on her tongue.
Carlisle opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly seemed to realise how this had all sounded. His eyes flickered from her, to Edward, and back.
"But, this isn't how it is for everyone, Bella." He said hastily. "It doesn't have to be that way." She avoided his gaze as he continued.
"For most people, their choice of partner is based on what they have in common, someone who makes you a better person. Michael sounds like a really fantastic guy."
Bella nodded mutely, letting a thick skein of hair partially conceal her face.
"I'm sorry I've never had the opportunity to meet him, but I know he's too busy to come to Forks. Tell me about him?" prompted Carlisle.
She wracked her brain.
"He's…. uh… He's a prosecutor, but you know that already. He works really hard at what he does. We met because I kept covering so many of his cases. He asked me to dinner, and we just continued dating from there. We moved in together last year. He likes cooking. He, um… does a bit for charity." Bella bit her lip.
She had just made him sound so lame, but she couldn't think of anything else to say.
What could she say? He's blond and medium height, he only seems to wear suits these days, he doesn't take weekends, he lives and breathes his work? He's obsessed with getting a promotion, and he gave me money for my birthday last year? He has conspiracy theories about organic food? He never rinses the sink after shaving? His mother is a closet alcoholic who will probably make a scene at my wedding?
She was shocked at how quickly her mind had filtered him into something negative. She tried again to think of how to describe him.
He is uncomplicated and gentlemanly, assists elderly women reach things in the supermarket, and has good table manners? He runs five miles a morning on a treadmill on a steep incline, can match his tie to his shirt in the dark because he leaves so early and doesn't want to wake me up with the light? He leaves a mug of peppermint tea on my bedside table before he leaves? He always tastes like coffee when he kisses me?
Her eyes lit as she thought of something.
"He's a real people person; he always makes people feel at ease. No matter where we go, at social functions he always makes everyone feel included and interesting. I think it's a real skill, one I wish I had, especially seeing as though I get so awkward."
"Do you go to many of these functions?" Carlisle laid Edward's hand down too, and felt his forehead again. Bella didn't miss the way he stroked across his forehead.
This was the closest that any of them had come to caressing Edward, or being able to give him affection, in so long. It was like sitting beside a sleeping tiger.
Bella nodded. "He calls it networking. He seems to know half the city. It never feels like a party, even if it's called one on the invitation."
Carlisle watched her. "And he makes you happy?"
Bella hesitated. "Define happy."
At Carlisle's confused look, she said,
"Happy at home and happy here in Forks seem to be two different ball games."
"I think happiness anywhere is…. Like there's nothing else you need. That you're complete, and you can stop searching for that elusive something." He thought of Esme upstairs, and wished he could articulate the sense of home that he had found in her.
Bella was silent so long, her face drawn and pensive, that Carlisle got to his feet, stretching his stiff legs.
"As long as you're happy, that's all Esme and I want." He looked down at her, so small and forlorn. "You should go to bed. Sleep late. You've had a pretty big day."
Carlisle slipped from the room, once again avoiding the piles of clothes that punctuated every few feet of carpet.
Bella remained curled tightly as Carlisle's words lingered. Fate, choice, happiness.
Edward's eyes were flickering lightly, consumed by dreams playing out behind his eyelids. She hoped they were good dreams. She realised he was sleeping in silence; usually he wasn't able to.
All that she knew of him was constantly being revealed and concealed, like clouds sliding in front of the moon; shadows moving across what was once illuminated.
She ran her hand down his arm as he frowned in his sleep, and she did what she would not able to when the daylight touched them, when his eyes watched her, when his skin heard her.
Maybe this would be the last time in her life, she wasn't sure. If it was, she was going to do it properly; so she would remember it, so it could sustain her one day should she need it.
In the circle of light, she cradled his jaw in her hands, feeling the sharp bite of his stubble and the heaviness of his head, the scotch and the apple mingling.
She took a deep breath and leant down, her hair tumbling around them.
She passed her lips slowly over each of his sleeping eyes, feeling his lightly fluttering lashes curving beneath her bottom lip, her heart pierced by his vulnerability.
She rested her forehead against his, her nose sliding alongside his, and for a moment they breathed the same air before slowly, tenderly, she kissed him on his perfect mouth.
Bella jolted awake from the dreamless void she had fallen into. Whether she had closed her eyes a minute ago, or hours ago, she could not tell. All she knew was that the curtains were not glowing gold.
She looked automatically at the nearby alarm clock, but it had large cracks on the black display.
It had obviously received a beating for daring to rouse Edward.
She had not moved in the minutes or hours she had slept, sitting upright against the pillows as if she had been guarding him. Her neck was stiff. She touched the back of her hand to his cheek, relieved to feel languorous heat once again behind his skin.
She sat back against the headboard, her eyes unfocused, absentmindedly sinking her fingers into his hair and combing it languidly as she tried to muster up the energy to go back to her own room. An expletive passed across the blank page of her mind as she realised her bed had no blankets.
She sat upright, wilting with fatigue, staring vacantly across the room with glassy eyes, until her vision focused and she realised she was staring at the light on Edward's laptop.
She looked at the green light, and it stared back at her. Compulsively, she looked at Edward. Still completely asleep, breathing deep and even.
With every passing minute, Edward was sobering; his beleaguered liver working overtime to purify his blood.
If he denied everything when he woke, if he couldn't or wouldn't remember, she would have lost this chance to understand. Sheer panic flashed through her.
This was her chance to try to solve the enigma of Edward, and to in turn unlock the mystery of herself.
She was off the bed and walking towards the laptop before she realised it, the discarded black cotton clothes wrapping around her ankles. She sat down and swept her fingertips lightly across the keys, pressing one and bringing the screen into glowing life. She glanced at Edward. No movement.
I shouldn't do this, she thought as she pondered the password box. This is an invasion of privacy.
He'd do it to you, if he had the chance, her inner voice countered, clearly deciding to play the role of devil's advocate. He'd do it in a heartbeat. He'd access your dental records if he could. And he's already looked through your phone. He's tried to call your fiancé, and your therapist. He has invaded your privacy your whole life.
The guilt of the hypocritical justification was acute as she traced the keys lightly, and started trying passwords hesitantly. Surely she wouldn't get in, so no harm done.
She tried their shared birthday, Esme, Carlisle, Emmett, variations of their names. And then their birthdays.
She was stumped, drumming her fingers lightly on the keys. She was failing at Hacking 101. Perhaps he had been sensible enough to choose something random. She tried to think of a family pet he might have been attached to enough to use as a password. Mercury? No, it wasn't that either.
It pricked a little to realise she knew him so little now.
Bella began typing variations of her own name with a sort of shameless self indulgence, thinking there was no harm in at least trying.
She would probably never get in, she told herself again, but she wouldn't have to spend her life wondering what would have happened if she'd tried.
Her fingers typed something before the idea even formed in her brain, and as the password screen gave way to the black desktop and his minimal icons, she breathed out slowly.
Holy shit, she thought as her mouth dropped open. What did that mean? Why would he use that?
Why would you think of it, the voice inside countered sneakily.
She shot another quick look at Edward. He hadn't moved. The tiny clock on the laptop showed 5:23am; dawn soon, and so little time left.
She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but she was suddenly desperate for any tiny clue she could find.
There were two folder icons on the desktop. They were labelled The Good and The Bad. She snorted sharply and covered her mouth, glancing over at Edward, amused.
It was so typical; he ruthlessly categorised much of his life this way. Black and white.
And typical of her, she tried The Bad first.
She clicked on it, wondering about it, not sure of what she would find.
As soon as she opened it, she wished she hadn't. The horror took her breath away.
It was a visual assault; an encyclopaedia of war and pain, isolation and destruction. Each filename had a serial number; he had always immaculately organized his work, if nothing else in his life.
Bella couldn't recognize the countries, only dirt, mud, sand, pristine picnic cornflower blue skies, flaming red hellish skies.
Flashes of fire. Rose red blood. White bones, torn flesh.
Women in dusty traditional robes with tear streaked faces, beseeching, hands clutching at the crumpled shell that was once their beloved husband, or son. The awkward, sickening angle of limbs.
A missile at the moment of impact, leveling a village of sandstone houses, a toddler's profile in the foreground, his astonished eyes shining from the blast, as if he were watching fireworks.
Bella dragged in a ragged breath as she scrolled down, relieved that each image was not full screen. She wouldn't be able to survive it.
The soldiers seemed weighted down by their rumpled, sandy clothing and gear, but their eyes showed the true burden they carried.
Another shot, a skewed perspective half filled with dirt and rocks, with what she instantly recognized as Edward's hand, smeared in blood. It was as though he had abstractly decided to document the moment as he pulled his hand away from his side.
One frame caught her, held her. A soldier crawling, blood trickling from his face into the gravel between his hands. The photograph was imbued with a sense of struggle, futility. This man should have been pitiful, on his hands and knees, but the fragile sense of dignity as he continued to try, echoed through the shot and made her want to weep.
That he crawled forwards, regardless of his defencelessness, was breathtaking. She wanted to bear this man's burden, to ease him, to lay him down on a feather bed and wash the blood from him.
She touched her cheek and realised that there were tears on her fingers.
She closed the folder, unable to handle any more, and doubled over to wipe her cheeks on the hem of her dress, the awful images still behind her eyes. She had no idea how Edward could immerse himself in this, over and over, how he could expose himself to so much violence for such sustained periods.
The stress must be enormous. He forced himself to seek out the worst moments for humanity; and capture them. She was surprised he had the capacity to feel anything anymore. It would shut down a weaker person.
How could he do this? How did he maintain a façade of normalcy?
She calmed her breathing slowly and puzzled over The Good folder. If he had decided these photos didn't make the cut, she could only imagine what was in here. It must be the work that transcended the rest.
What she had already seen was poetic in its uncompromising mix of intimacy and distance. How raw would the contents of this folder be? It would be the most revealing photos. Pieces of him.
Perhaps the kind of work that won awards, but might keep her awake at night.
Did she want to do this?
She double clicked on the folder before she could change her mind, and swivelled in the chair to check on Edward as the view pane opened.
She stopped dead. He was sitting up against the headboard, resting his forearms on his drawn-up knees, watching her, his hard eyes green and black, malachite. The blankets pooled at his feet.
She opened her mouth to speak, but he held up his hand, beckoning to her authoritatively, his body tensed.
"Please, don't look at that," he said roughly. "Please. Just come here now. Don't even look back at it."
"I won't look anymore," she said, embarrassment and shame tightening her throat, automatically turning slightly to fold the laptop closed.
As she did, her uncomprehending eyes caught sight of the frames. His groan of defeat barely registered in her brain.
They were all photos of her.
She had always known he had photographed her, but she hadn't been aware that he had documented her life from the moment he had picked up a camera.
And he had kept them.
He had rarely been able to get her to pose for him. She had always dismissed him, thinking he wasn't serious. The result was a collection of candid shots, profiles and looking over her shoulder; rarely was her face captured squarely. Here was an anthology of all the times he had been teasing her with the camera, firing off shots as she laughed, or rolled her eyes, or frowned and pushed him away.
He had scanned all the old ones in, poor quality polaroids, some brownish and faded or with creased corners, probably retrieved from old shoeboxes.
Bella scrolled down slowly in disbelief, pressing her hand to her mouth to muffle her strangled gasp, her heart pounding in her ears.
Her own face was repeated hundreds of times: furious, luminous, pensive.
The ones where she was surprised by him taking the frame always had the same fragile, aching melancholy quality; her unsmiling lips parted mid breath or caught between her teeth.
Her eyes in these revealed her true feelings, before she was able to mask them. Perhaps that was why he had sought to catch her off guard so often.
She was always somehow beautiful when captured by him. He had possessed this innate skill since he was so young, to make his subjects lovely.
He had captured her in every possible angle. Sometimes Emmett was visible, his bulk a solid and unmistakable blur in the background. There was Carlisle too; in one frame, he was clearly admonishing Edward as he reached for the camera, Bella ducking away under his arm.
One particular shot of her, probably sixteen, holding a wicker basket of clothes for Esme as she pulled white sheets off the line with a dark purple thundercloud overhead was breathtaking in its composition and the way he had caught the moment. The sheets almost looked like they would begin snapping in the wind, that the long spears of grass would begin nodding.
Tears slid down her neck as she unthinkingly touched the screen, tracing her fingers over Esme's face, her rounded cheeks, her vibrant flesh. She wished for nothing more than to be transported back to this moment, so she could put down the basket and hug her, to tell her that this was captured.
The earlier photographs showed her costumed in embarrassing clothing fads and unflattering haircuts framing her unsure face. As she aged, she grew into her looks, no longer gawky, slowly transforming, the ruddiness fading from her rounded childish cheeks. Her cheeks hollowed under delicate cheekbones, her skin a magnolia bloom.
There were a lot of photos of her around this time; and the teenage Edward's lusty, voyeuristic eye scorched through the lens. She felt her cheeks burn as she scrolled quickly past the seeming endless series of curves, lips, eyelashes, waists and taut denim.
Every possible type of lighting gilded her features. The sun appeared at different points in the sky, or created bright sunspots bouncing off the lens, making her eyes tortoiseshell, more gold than brown.
The skies were made of leaves, clouds, blankets or darkness. The four seasons were backdrops to the play that was her life; blue, red, white and green.
She lay sleeping and awake, shaded in black and white or vivid colour. Hundreds of shades of grey. Occasionally, he had deliberately overexposed the film and she appeared ghost-white and ethereal.
Bella realised she was shaking as she scrolled lower, unable to handle much more of her own face. She stared at her own face, until she could no longer recognize herself.
Her eyes... again and again.... alternately glowing with love, or hate. Laughing and crying. Following him or turning away.
It was, without a doubt, the most intensely beautiful, frightening thing she had ever experienced, and as she pushed away from the desk and rose unsteadily, she had no idea of what to do next. Follow, or turn away. She stood, holding the chair for support.
"Well, there you have it," he muttered, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes.
"I don't understand" He heard her whisper. "What does this mean?"
He rummaged in his bedside drawer and unearthed a packet of peppermints to take the sudden bitter taste from his mouth. He rolled one against his tongue, refusing to look at her. He picked at his fingernail and tucked his knee up tighter against his chest, the headboard creaking in protest.
"It means whatever you want it to mean," he said flatly, his eyes acid green.
Defensiveness was radiating from him. He was barricading himself in, and his eyes were narrowed and cynical as he stared at his hands.
"But what does it mean to you? What do I mean to you? Please, Edward," she begged him softly. She put her knee on the edge of the mattress, and crawled towards him, her dress hindering her. If not for the tears on her cheeks, the action might have seemed sexy.
She knelt in front of him, pressing herself against his knee, pinning him in place, shaking and gasping.
"Can't we discuss this another time?" He implored, trying to make it a reasonable sounding request, and slid his gaze away again, crunching the peppermint loudly, feigning nonchalance as he inwardly panicked.
Please, cell phone, ring, anything, save me, he thought desperately. Rose, knock on the door. Rose, go into labour. Please go into labour right now, for fucks sake. I cannot be having this conversation.
"I'm really hung over." He let out a deep sigh.
An instant of pure rage blindsided her, and she slapped her palms on the headboard either side of his face, making him flinch almost imperceptibly. She had known this truth would not come easily. Nothing about Edward came easily. She had asked, and now she would demand.
"We're talking about this now. We're not leaving the room until we understand each other." She unwittingly echoed what he had said to her earlier when they approached the beach.
"Do you remember what you told me last night?" The tremor in her arms gave her away as she continued to hold him hostage.
He smirked sarcastically and she seethed in frustration, a little coiled snake.
He gave her a knowing, infuriating look as he tilted his face to catch her narrowed eyes, more black than brown.
"Are you annoyed that I won't kiss you again?" He deliberately blew hot mint against her lips. "You could put us both out of our misery right now, you know."
He leaned his forehead against her, eavesdropping on her thoughts, his lips so close to hers. Her mind was so chaotic he had to pull back from her, unable to bear it.
Her pupils darkened dangerously at the provocation, but he could see his attempts to distract her had failed. He tried again.
"Well, I must say, it's nice to see you mad instead of crying for once," he tossed cruelly at her. "It's just a little bit sexier than the constant waterworks."
Her expression wavered, and for a split second she was unsure, confused. But she recovered and blinked hard, continuing her struggle.
"Edward, last night you said that you can only hear me." Her voice cut through him.
He looked as though she had slapped him. "What?" That wasn't what he was expecting. Frantically, he conducted a lightening fast audit of his memory of last night, coming up blank.
In fact, finding no mental records beyond the point when they got to his bedroom.
"Edward," Bella slowly, deliberately wrapping her hand around the pulse in his throat to stop him as he turned his face away.
Can you only hear me? Can you hear what I'm asking you?
He stubbornly bit his lip like a small boy.
Tell me the truth. Tell me now. Or I swear I'll leave this house and I will marry that man.
"Yes, it's true," he said in a rush, unprepared for the relief that flooded him. "I have only ever heard you."
She sagged against him, her forehead on the wooden headboard, her strength partially drained.
"Why did you never tell me?" She managed to say aloud.
"How could I possibly have told you that?" he said, his temper pricking at him with a pitchfork. "Can you imagine what the result of that would have been?"
She blinked at his tone, her mouth dropping open.
The result? You would have been honest with me for our whole lives. There would have been no secrets. I could maybe have understood this strange thing that is between us. I could have been yours all this—
Edward took her limp hand from his throat and pushed her back so that he could see her face.
"It wasn't that simple…" he began, capturing her wrist in his hand, absently marvelling how small she was; his fingers overlapped.
You let me believe I was one of many, instead of the only one.
"But I couldn't tell you after a while- the lie became too big…"
You've been lying to me our whole lives.
"Look at it from my perspective. I'm a freak. But only with one person; only with you. That gave you way too much-" he broke off, choking on the word.
"Too much what?" She said. "What is this word you can't say? What more can't you tell me? Say it. Out loud."
"Power." His voice was clipped, and she saw his fingers clench the sheets out the corner of her eye.
"Are you saying I have some sort of power over you? That's rich. You're the one snooping into my head whenever you feel like it." She regretted her harsh tone and choice of words as he blinked sharply.
He slid his leg down from his chest slowly along the mattress, between her knees, causing her to rise up, catching hold of his shoulders as she wobbled. He turned his palms up to her, his eyes mistrustful.
"That's what I'm saying." He might as well have his ribcage gaping open again. This was the more excruciating moment.
Edward tilted his head, looking at the face he knew better than his own and tried to decipher her eyes.
He had a collection of her every expression, but he'd never seen this one before.
Like she was..... trying to recognize him?
"So, now you know what you've got, what are you going to do with it?" He said finally, raising his hands to lift back the brown-black tangles from her damp cheeks, holding his breath as she slowly closed her eyes as he touched her, opened them and breathed deep as he dropped his hands.
A decision had been reached, that much was clear.
He prayed she was merciful.
He prayed she wouldn't force him to crawl.
A/N: I know, I know. Evil to leave it there.
bookbag has written us a boarding school outtake, please find it in my favourites!
I'm often asked how often I update- and the answer is, as soon as I can! Each chapter gets a bit trickier to write, so it's hard to say. But be assured that I work on it every day.
Reviewers get to decide what to do with it.