Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: This story was written as a Christmas present for my lovely beta erikasbuddy. Merry Christmas, Greta!
Quick note: I did a lot of Google research on living with blindness, but I'm sure I still got things wrong. Please just know I tried my best.
The Beauty Within
I need to lose to make it right
I'll confront the stars tonight
I will babble, I will bite
You will never know how much you shine
~ "40 Miles From the Sun" - Bush
http://www . youtube . com/watch?v=Ji7h8RZJre0
"Mom, I really don't understand why all the fuss. It's just a Christmas party."
I'd dressed myself for many years, and, while I loved spending time with my mother, I couldn't understand her sudden interest in my tie. I could feel her loosen, straighten, and tighten it, then perform the cycle all over again.
"Edward," she said in the quiet, sweet voice she used when proud of me, "I just want you to look your best for Jasper's party."
I clasped her hands, which had once again found the knot of my tie. "It's fine, Mom. I'm not sure why Jasper is so insistent on my going. I'm not really an employee."
"You're as much as an employee as anyone else." She kissed me lightly on the cheek.
Trying to smooth down my unruly hair, I buttoned my jacket. "I just did some simple usability testing. I don't know why he does it. Most software companies don't even bother."
"You know exactly why he does it."
And I did. I worked as a consultant to software companies, helping to test their applications for usability for the blind. My brother Jasper, having watched me struggle with my blindness since I was young, was determined that his company would do things differently. Each time his company readied a new version of their software, he called me in to lead their usability testing. Tonight was his company's Christmas party, and he wanted me to attend. It was important to him, so it was important to me.
I looked at the dark blur that was my mother, and I could hear my father's heavy footsteps come into the room and stop behind her.
"Esme," he said, "leave the boy be. He looks handsome, just like he always does." I could hear the broad smile in his voice. "Jasper and Alice will be here soon, and you don't want Edward to be late."
"You're right, Carlisle. He is a handsome devil." She laughed her tiny laugh, which made me smile. "He'll be beating back the ladies tonight."
I blushed. There was only one lady's attention I wanted, and she was sure to be there with some suitor or other. "Yeah, I'll beat them back with my cane."
My father's heavy clap on my shoulder was reassuring. "That's the spirit, son."
The doorbell chimed, signaling my ride had arrived. Extending my cane and tapping it along my path, I walked carefully from my bedroom, around the couch, and to the front door. Opening the door, I smelled Jasper's cologne and heard the gentle jingle of the charm bracelet his wife Alice wore everywhere she went. Jasper had given it to her their first Christmas together.
"Edward!" Alice cried, wrapping her small arms around my neck and pulling me close. "You look so handsome. And you wore the tie I bought you." She kissed my cheek and then rubbed off the traces of her lipstick. "Such a sweet gesture."
"Sorry, little brother." Jasper's voice was closer than I expected, and I was sure he was pulling Alice away from me again. "I keep telling her to warn you before jumping all over you."
Feeling Alice's embrace loosen then disappear, I smirked. "It's okay. I automatically brace myself for it now." I reached out and found Alice's face, cupping her cheek to feel the frown I knew was there. "Don't worry, Al. I like it when you attack me. It keeps me on my toes."
Alice's cheek swelled under my hand as she smiled. "Let me make it up to you by taking you to this swanky party I heard about."
My mother called out from the living room behind me. "You kids have fun tonight. And, Jasper, don't let Edward drink too much. You know the boy can't hold his liquor."
I rolled my eyes. "Ha, ha, very funny. Will you two lock up when you leave?"
"If it's okay," my father said sheepishly, "we thought we'd hang out here until you got home. So we can hear all about how your evening went."
When they showed up at my apartment under the pretense of helping me get ready, I thought it was a little odd. Now, I was sure they were up to something. "Sure, Dad, whatever you want. I won't be out too late."
Jasper put my hand on his shoulder. "Sure, the driver will bring you home any time you want. Let's get a move on, though, or I'm going to be late to my own party."
At night, my limited eyesight picked up very few blobs or small glimmers of light. My apartment was on the first floor to make it easier for me to navigate on my own, but, since I was heading to an unknown vehicle an unknown distance away, I folded my cane, slid it in my jacket pocket, and allowed Jasper to lead me. Normally, I would click my cane along the pavement, having memorized each turn toward the bus stop in front of my apartment complex. While it was an adjustment at first, both for me and my family, I enjoyed the autonomy of living on my own, even if it was lonely sometimes.
I settled into the plush leather seat of the limousine and listened to Jasper and Alice chat excitedly about the party. They made a special effort to find a venue that presented minimal obstructions to me: few steps, uncluttered floor plan, and open grounds should I want to get away for a few minutes. At times, it felt as if they planned this party just for me. I appreciated their trouble, but it didn't alleviate all my nervousness going into a strange, new environment. The last thing I wanted to be was the boss's poor blind brother, tied to the table all night.
Listening to water sloshing under the limo tires, I reclined back in the seat. It had rained earlier in the evening, but now the air was calm and clear. There was a full moon tonight, and I looked forward to seeing the dimly glowing blob in the sky from the grounds at the museum. I could remember what the moon looked like, round and luminescent. I also remembered the younger faces of my parents and Jasper, although my touch let me know they had all changed a bit since then. I often wondered what Alice looked like, and I tried to imagine the spiky black hair everyone described. Most of all, I wondered what a certain software tester looked like. I hadn't even touched her. My only impressions of her were based on her voice, lush and friendly, and her scent, strawberries and honeysuckle.
As the limo came to a stop, I remembered the one thing I needed tonight. "Damn it! I forgot my sunglasses!"
"Calm down, Ray Charles," Jasper teased. "You don't need those."
Alice's hand, tiny and warm, rested on my arm. "He's right, you know. You don't want to cover up those beautiful emerald eyes."
Emerald. I remembered that color. "It's just that people will talk to me not realizing otherwise."
Jasper tugged my hand, letting me know it was time to exit the limo. "Everyone here knows you or is with someone who knows you. Don't worry about it."
Again, I extended my cane, placed my hand on Jasper's shoulder, and allowed him to lead me into the party. With each step, the music and laughter grew louder, and I could distinctly hear the tinkling of crystal and china. Jasper had obviously pulled out all the stops. Familiar voices greeted me as we walked into what must have been the main ballroom. The echoing sounds indicated a large room with high ceilings. The environment was much brighter, and several blurs spoke to me and shook my hand. We continued to walk until Jasper took my hand from his shoulder and placed it on a chair. I folded my cane and placed back in my pocket.
"Here we are," Jasper said. "We have assigned seating tonight, and this is yours."
I pulled out my chair and, quickly feeling for the seat, sat down. "Assigned seats? What is this, third grade?"
"Very funny," Alice chirped. "This way people will mingle more."
I suddenly became very nervous. "Where are you going to sit, Alice?"
"Don't worry, Edward. Jasper and I will be right here with you."
"That's right, as soon as we go around the room and say hello to everyone." Jasper tapped me on the shoulder. "Wanna come with us?"
Drumming my fingers against the table, I shook my head. "No, I don't think so. I'll just wait for you here."
Jasper and Alice let me know they'd be back in a few minutes and walked away, leaving me alone at the table, likely until dinner started. The music wasn't half bad, and eventually a waiter offered me a glass of wine. The wine smelled very familiar, and I realized it was Alice's favorite. Jasper must have had a better year than he'd let on, and I made a mental note to ask him for an increased rate next time he called me in to consult.
Chuckling to myself and taking another sip, I was suddenly overcome by her distinctive, sweet scent. I could feel more than hear her walk up next to me, and I looked toward the blur I believed to be her and smiled. "Hi, Bella."
She laughed, a rich, lilting laugh that was just as robust as her voice. "How do you always know it's me?"
"If I told you that, you'd only change so you could sneak up on me." I listened for more footsteps or some Neanderthal mouth-breathing next to her, but she seemed to be alone.
"You're probably right. A girl always wants to have the element of surprise." Her voice was teasing, almost flirtatious.
Putting down my wine glass, I nervously ran my hands through my hair. It was one time it would have really paid to be able to see how bad it was. "We have assigned seats, if you can believe that. Alice seems to think we'll all mingle better that way."
"I know," she said, pulling the chair next to me away from the table. "This is my seat."
My heart fell into my stomach. Didn't Jasper look at his evil wife's seating charts? He knew how I felt about Bella, and he wouldn't have tortured me like this. Would he?
The hazy blur with the beautiful voice and luscious scent was now sitting next to me. I realized I would just have to endure it until Jasper and Alice came back to the table and were able entertain her. "So," I began, hesitant but dying to know, "where's your date?"
"Oh, I didn't bring a date. It's just little old me." She giggled. "Where's your date?"
I rolled my eyes. "My date is somewhere with his wife, probably schmoozing with the sales team."
"You two make a cute couple." She giggled again. She was really going to have to stop that, because I was starting to get the wrong idea.
I decided to take the conversation in a different direction, because this one was driving me a little mad. "How is the newest round of testing going? Jasper says there are a couple of patches in the pipeline."
Her silverware clanged against each other; it sounded as if she was rearranging them. "It's going pretty well. Not as well as it does when you're there."
My mouth hung open in shock for a millisecond before I wisely closed it. I might be blind, but I'm not blind. This woman, who I'd silently admired for months while we tested software, was flirting. With me.
"Bella, so glad to see you!" Jasper had snuck up on me while I was still in shock. I wasn't sure whether to be irritated or grateful as he and Alice sat at the table with us.
Dinner service began with the clattering of plates and the scraping of silverware against china. When a waiter placed a plate in front of me, Alice leaned over and whispered its contents in my ear. Salmon at 6 o'clock, au gratin potatoes at 2, and green beans at 10: all foods I could eat without needing a knife to cut them, without having to touch my food with anything other than my fork. At that moment, I again realized why Jasper loved Alice so.
Once the conversation resumed, I decided I was grateful for Jasper and Alice being there. Bella seemed to relax, laughing more without flirting less. A few times, she lightly touched my arm as she addressed me. It was the first time we'd ever made physical contact, and my ears flushed hot each time she did it. Her hand was so tiny, her touch so loving. I inwardly groaned, knowing that whatever happened between us now would not be easy, and that was all my fault.
The dessert plates were cleared, and we sat in silence as the band began to play a slow song. Her hand was on my arm again, and I could hear her chair creak as she leaned toward me. "Edward, would you dance with me?"
Me, dancing? No, I knew that was a bad idea. "Thanks for asking Bella, but I'm not really a dancer. Maybe one of the other guys..."
"I don't want to dance with any of the other guys." Her voice was suddenly shy and meek. "I want to dance with you."
Summoning all the courage I could muster and swallowing hard, I moved my chair away from the table and stood, extending my hand toward her. "Lead the way."
Bella took my hand, and I tugged it slightly to help her up out of her seat. I expected her to lead me by my hand or maybe even place my hand on her shoulder as she'd probably seen Jasper do a time or two. What I didn't expect was what she did.
She pulled my arm around her and placed my hand on her waist.
"Is this okay?" She didn't even try to hide teasing tone of her voice.
I nodded a little too enthusiastically. "Y-yes, this is fine."
A tiny gasp and the tinkle of a charm bracelet let me know that Alice and probably Jasper were watching the entire exchange. My face was blazing in embarrassment, and I knew I'd never hear the end of it.
Usually, if someone wanted to guide me, they would offer their elbow. With my parents, Jasper, and Alice, I preferred just a light touch on their shoulder. It was awkward trying to navigate the floor with only my hand at Bella's waist. Like this, however, I could feel the beginning of the swell of her hip with my pinky, and I wasn't about to give that up.
Finally, Bella stopped, and, as she turned to face me, my hand brushed around her waist until it rested at the opposite side. I brought my free hand up to the small of her back and pulled her to me, her arms coming up to encircle my neck. I kept a respectable distance as we gently swayed, but I still felt her warm breath on my neck as she whispered to me.
"Can I tell you a secret?" Her muscles were tense underneath my fingers.
My hand, having a mind of its own, rubbed small, soothing circles on her back. "Sure, Bella, you can tell me anything."
"I asked Alice to seat me next to you." Judging from the absence of warmth, she was holding her breath.
"Really?" No, my voice didn't break like a pre-pubescent undergoing a voice change, not at all.
Her arms tightened around my neck, and she pressed herself against me. The soft curves of her body molded to me, and I tried to calm my breathing as my hand moved from her waist to brush up and down her side. I felt the heat of her released breath, and the tiniest whimper escaped her lips. Unable to stop myself, I leaned down and found her cheek with the tip of my nose, brushing it across and inhaling her tart scent. She shivered in response.
The beautiful, slow song ended and a cacophony of dance music started. We didn't move a muscle.
"Edward?" Bella asked, her voice breathy.
"Yes?" I replied, almost choking.
"Would you like to go to the museum garden with me? Get away from all this noise?"
My heart, which had been pounding previously, completely stopped. "Um, yeah, that would be great. But," I continued timidly, "I'll need to hold on to your arm this time, if that's okay." While touching her waist had been the highlight of my life at that point, I knew I'd never make such a long walk unscathed that way.
Bella's arms and body pulled away from me, and the loss of contact left me cold. My frown had just begun its downturn when she grabbed my left hand, placing it on her right crooked arm. Oh, she'd Googled that, I was sure, and I smiled as I pulled my cane from my pocket and extended it.
"Are you ready?" she cooed.
"Walk away. I will follow."
She giggled. Surely she knew the effect that giggle had on me. "Did you just quote U2 to me?"
If I didn't think I was already falling for her, her knowledge of early 80s U2 would have clinched it. "Maybe."
She tugged my arm and began to walk. Her pace was steady, and we walked comfortably through the room. I felt the cool air and heard the door open. The concrete turned to grass under my feet, and I was thankful there were no stairs. As we walked a little further, I detected a sweet floral scent, and I realized it wasn't the garden. It was Bella, carried on the breeze.
"There's a bench here," she said as she slowed. "Sit with me?"
I nodded, and she walked us to the bench. Once my cane made contact, I felt for the seat and sat down. Bella sat to my left and took my hand. I looked up toward the sky and could make out the faintest white blur. "Is that the full moon?" I asked, pointing toward it.
She squeezed my hand. "Yes, and it's beautiful tonight. The sky is so clear, and the moon seems unusually big and bright. And the stars, they're sparkling."
I sighed. This beautiful woman was describing the moon to me, and I wanted to hear her describe everything always. "When I heard the rain this afternoon, I was hoping it would clear out in time to see the moon."
"How much of it can you see?" Her voice wasn't wary. It was compassionate and interested.
"Just a blur. It's white, though, so I hoped it was the moon." I shrugged. "But it could have just as well been a street lamp or a flood light."
"How did it happen?" Now she was sheepish. I didn't like sheepish Bella, and I wanted her to feel comfortable again.
"When I was ten, they found a tumor, an optic nerve glioma. It was in the optic chiasm, which is where the optic nerves from your eyes meet. Of course, I had to have the worse case the doctors had seen in years, and the only option left was surgery. When they removed the tumor, it damaged my eyesight in both eyes." In the thousand times I'd probably told this story, I'd never wanted to share it more...or wished more than I didn't need to. "I remember a lot of things from then: colors, the faces of my family, the moon. I try to imagine what people and things look like based on what I remember from my childhood. I'm still not sure I've got Alice's hair quite right," I said, laughing.
She squeezed my hand again. "How much of me can you see?"
"I see everything that's important."
If I thought her giggle was torturous, her gasp was my undoing. "Um...uh...I mean, my face and everything. How much can you see?"
I frowned. "Nothing. I mean, I see a dark blur, but there aren't any details."
"You're not missing anything." Her voice practically shrugged.
"I think I'm probably missing quite a lot." I knew the next thing I said would sound like a bad blind guy's pickup line, but I wanted to touch her. God, how I wanted to touch her. "Would you mind if I touched your face?"
"You don't normally do that." She was on to me.
"No, I don't."
She took the hand she was holding and placed it against her cheek. Her skin was slightly chilled from the night air, but there was so much heat underneath. I rubbed the pad of my thumb along her cheekbone and up toward her closed eye. Her lashes were thick and long, and they fluttered against my finger. She was sighing.
"What color are your eyes?" I whispered.
"Brown," she said in a breathy voice.
"Oh, you can do better than that," I teased.
"My dad says they're like big cups of hot chocolate."
"Tasty." I felt a blush spread across my face when I realized what I'd said.
I brought my other hand up and found her nose with the tip of my index finger. It was small and curved, like the rest of her seemed to be. I leaned over and briefly brushed my nose against hers, and, this time, I was the one sighing. Sitting up, my finger resumed it's travels, grazing her lips before tracing their outline. They were delicate, pillowy, and...quivering?
"Are you okay? I can stop..."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "Please don't."
My other hand still cupping her cheek, I moved my hand from her lips to stroke the crown of her head. As I caressed the back of her head, I found her hair was piled in a bun. Without asking, I began hunting for the securing pins, pulling them out as I found them. Finally, the bun fell apart, and her hair fell over my hand. I placed the pins I'd collected in my jacket pocket, and I returned to her hair, running my fingers through the silky waves until they cascaded down her back.
"What color?" I asked. "And please don't say brown."
She laughed. "To quote my dad again, it's dark chestnut, which is a fancy way of saying dark brown."
"I think your dad is my second favorite person right now." My fingers tightened around the hair at the nape of her neck, and I began to whisper. "I need you to stay very still. Can you do that for me?"
I knew this would be less awkward, less fumbling if I just asked her to do it. But I wanted it to be me making the decision, me coming to her, me making a final declaration after a night filled with her silently declaring how she felt about me.
Moving from her cheek, my hand fanned its fingers along her jaw, and my fingertips brushed a path to the corner of her mouth. Following my arm's path to my destination, I leaned toward her and tentatively moved my mouth until it finally found hers. Once my lips were home, my hand fell to her back, pulling her toward me.
I placed a chaste yet electrified kiss on her mouth but didn't pull away. "You can move now," I whispered.
Her hands eased over my chest until she found the lapels of my jacket, and, grasping them, she pulled me even closer. We kissed again, and the energy surged between us. Our lips moved together, and, when she sucked my bottom lip between hers, I moaned against her. Slipping my tongue between my lips, I gingerly nudged her with its tip, wordlessly asking her for more. The simple gesture seemed to melt her in my arms, and she parted her lips.
I tilted her head and explored her, tasted her. She was so much more delectable than I'd imagined. Her lips and tongue moved in perfect time with mine. I'd never been so lost so quickly. No, I'd never been this lost period.
After what could have been minutes or hours, we parted, and I rested my forehead against hers.
"Wow," she said breathlessly.
"Wow is right." I tried to even out my breathing, but it was hopeless. "I've wanted to do that for so long."
She released my lapel and cupped my cheek with her newly-freed hand. "Why didn't you? I wanted you to."
I ignored the question. "God, you are so beautiful."
She sighed. "No, you're the beautiful one."
Kissing her gently, I muttered against her lips. "You will never know how much you shine."
"Will you sing it to me?"
We were quiet for a moment before she spoke. "Why did you never kiss me before?"
Damn, she didn't forget. "This will be hard, you know." I bowed my head, thinking of the few sighted women I'd dated. Maybe I was a bad judge of people, but none of them handled my challenges well.
Her hand stroked my cheek. "Nothing easy is worth having."
I turned my face toward her hand and kissed her palm. "Would you like to come home with me...to talk?" I blushed again. "It's not as cheeky as it sounds. My parents are there."
"I know," she whispered.
Rolling my eyes, I huffed in mock irritation. "Damn it, they were in on it, too! I knew it! Seems like the only person not in on it was your dad."
She burst out in a lusty laugh. "Don't be so sure. I called him to make sure my eye and hair color descriptions were, um, descriptive enough. For a cop, his ease with it is a little unnerving."
Wrapping my arm around her waist, I drew her close to my side, and we relaxed back onto the bench. "Sounds like someone's been busy Googling 'how to seduce blind guys.'"
"I had to do something. You were taking forever."
She lay her head on my shoulder, and we sat staring at the moon. I held her close, and she played with my tie, loosening the death knot my mother made. To say I was content was an understatement. I was jubilant, enraptured, euphoric...and apparently a thesaurus as well.
"Should we go inside and find Alice and Jasper?" I could tell she didn't really want to move from our spot.
"No, let them find us. I'm perfectly happy right here." I nuzzled the top of her head. "Can I kiss you again?"
"Yes, and, for the record, you don't have to ask again, ever." She giggled that damn giggle again.
Titling her head up, I gave her a fleeting kiss. "Well, just for the record, that giggle of yours drives me mad."
Meeting her lips with mine, I was lost again, and I could tell I wasn't the only one. As we kissed and talked and kissed again, I knew I was never letting this girl go.
A/N: The U2 song that Edward quotes is "I Will Follow" from their Boy album, which was released in 1980.
http://www . youtube . com/watch?v=ltIoOBV-iUs
I've already promised Greta that this Edward and Bella will be back for a Valentine's Day one-shot, which will likely have a different rating. If you want to know when that story is posted, please create an author alert for me.