Watching Bella sleep was both a wonderful and terrifying experience. It was during this time that her deepest desires – and fears – surfaced in such an uncensored way that it was the closest I believed I would ever come to being inside that strange, beautiful head of hers. It was one of the things I had missed most while I was gone. I held still as she silently adjusted herself around me, bringing her arm across my chest. I nuzzled my nose into the crook of her neck and allowed myself to take one very deep breath. Before I could enjoy her scent as I normally would, I detected her blood closer than it should be to her skin. It only took me one more breath to realize the smell was coming from her wrist. I snuck my thumb in under her sleeve to take a look at what Bella had done this time. What I saw was not what I expected. Cuts up and down her arm, as high as I could feel and more from what I could smell. I shut my eyes and wondered what to do. Feeling like there was no other choice, I opted to wake her - find out what had happened. My first theory – that she had marked her skin like this intentionally – could not be true, and she had to correct me before I drove myself crazy. I continued to rub some of the raw skin as I whispered her name and kissed her cheek softly.
"Bella?" She opened her eyes slowly and immediately sensed my misgivings.
"Why don't you tell me?" I asked quietly, reaching down to uncover her scarred arm. I could feel her eyes on my face.
"Please don't," she begged when she realized what I was about to do. I looked up and met her stare.
"How did this happen, love?" I tried to sound diplomatic as I asked her, but she still refused to answer. It was frustrating at times like this that I couldn't read her mind. I smelled salt mixed with the now evident copper in the air and cursed myself for not realizing that she had begun crying. I used my free hand to catch a falling tear and leaned my forehead against hers. "Please talk to me."
"I don't want to," she cried, pleading with me to let it go.
"Why not?" It came out sounding harsher than I had intended.
"Because." I didn't dignify this with a response. Instead, I began rolling up the sleeves, showing myself visual evidence what I had only felt and smelled was there. They went slightly higher than I realized and as much as I willed them to stop, they continued to appear as I raised the sleeve up higher. It was the same story on her other arm.
I tried to keep my expression calm, but I knew she could tell how upset I was. It was proving difficult to find words at this point in time.
She began to cry again and this time I didn't try to stop the tears. Instead I leaned my forehead against hers and whispered her name.
"Bella. My sweet, sweet Bella."
"I'm sorry." Her voice cracked as the words came out.
"Tell me. Bella… why would you do this to yourself?"
"You were gone." The floodgates opened and she began to cry harder. I pulled her close to me and couldn't stop my own dry sobs from erupting. This is what I had done to her with my leaving – this is what I had to show for my stupid mistake.
"No," my voice shook as I begged her to tell me it wasn't true. "NO. Bella…"
"I'm sorry," she said again. What on Earth was she apologizing for?
"I'm sorry," I corrected her. How dare she apologize to me under these circumstances? "Please, Bella. Forgive me. I never meant… I never intended for you… Oh Bella," I dropped my dry eyes to her neck and continued to cry. I felt her arms around me and that only made me shake harder. I was sick with myself. Sick for leaving her in the first place and hurting her as I did. And now for letting her comfort me when it was my fault things were so abhorrent in the first place. I immediately forced myself to calm down. I turned around in her embrace and took one of her hands in mine. I rolled up the sleeve as high as it would go, kissing each scar as I did so.
"Please, Bella… tell me this is it," I begged her. "Tell me there aren't more." She discontinued our eye contact and I squeezed mine shut. There were more. What had I done? "Where else?" I whispered firmly. She stayed silent. I did it my way instead and took another deep breath in, focusing on exactly where the delicious scent of her blood was coming from. It wasn't difficult to figure it out. I brought my hands to the top of her drawstring pajama bottoms. A part of me thought that it would be inappropriate for me to remove her clothing in such a situation. A bigger part of me refused to allow her to hide this secret any more. Unsure how to go about it, I gently tugged at the sides, my knuckles gently grazing her hips. I was surprised when she lifted herself up, allowing me to easier remove the garment. I kept my eyes on her and her breath quickened. I knew she was nervous. I, too, was nervous, for I had never been this close to Bella while she was unclothed. I wasn't sure what she expected I would do. Slowly, I broke the eye contact and focused my sight on her naked legs. They were more beautiful than I could have ever imagined – or seen in Alice's mind. My fingers softly traced her darkest wounds before I went down and kissed them each like I had the ones on her arms. I could smell her body's instinctive reaction to my touch, no matter how nonsexual the situation was. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to enjoy her full scent before closing my eyes and moving up to be level with her.
"Edward…" Her voice was soft.
"Is that it?" I demanded.
"You promised me you wouldn't do anything reckless," I reminded her, allowing my anger to take over for a split second. Whether the anger was meant to be directed at her, or myself, I was unsure, but she seemed to be at the end of it either way.
"For Charlie's sake." Ouch.
"Does Charlie know?" I wasn't sure of what I wanted her answer to be.
"No. And don't tell him." Her words were harsh, as she had a right to make them.
"It's morbidly ironic," I shared my thoughts as I eyed the dry blood marking her beautiful and otherwise soft skin.
"What is?" She wanted me to look at her. I couldn't yet.
"How easily you bled for me." She had no response and I took a moment to think in the uneasy silence. "Promise me again, Bella. Promise me you won't do anything like this ever again." For me this time.
"Do you mean it this time?" I hated to ask, but I had to be sure. She would not do this to herself even once more.
"I love you, Bella. So much. It kills me to know the pain I've caused you," I spoke quietly as my thumb absent-mindedly stroked the scarred skin on her thigh. "I really feel as though you should tell your father." It was selfish of me to wish this, of course, but I believed she would be more likely to stop the more people she had watching out for her.
"May I inform him of your new habit?" I tried.
"It's not new. I haven't done it since we go back from Italy." I felt slightly better knowing this fact. I couldn't help but question her motives, however.
"Because you no longer felt the urge?" I hoped this was the reason, though I had suspicions that her incentive was more to do with me… and not in the way I would hope. Her silence seemed to confirm my theories. "Or was it because of our recently constant close proximity to each other and my uncanny ability to detect blood?"
"Bella, my love," I whispered in her ear. "I am going nowhere. I am here to stay."
"I want to believe you." It felt as though a thousand werewolves bit into me at once. She didn't trust me, and I forced that upon her.
"Then believe me, I am telling you the truth," I begged her.
"Okay," she wrapped her arms around me. I pretended not to notice that she was using my cool skin to soothe her raw skin.
"You don't mean that."
"I trust you." No you don't.
"Isabella Marie Swan, look me in the eye." She reluctantly fulfilled my request. "I love you too much to ever leave you again. For any reason." Silence. "Not to mention I do value my own sanity somewhat," I added lightly.
"I won't do it again," she promised. "These will heal and it'll be as though they never existed." I watched her wince slightly as she realized which words she chose to use. It seemed to only take her a short moment to hold her ground, however. I was just beginning to realize tonight what I had done to Bella when I left.
"You've changed, my beautiful girl," I said softly, pulling her in closer to me and breathing in her scent. "It's a gift – and a curse I suppose, - a human's ability to change. No longer are you the innocent and naïve girl I left behind. You've grown up quite a bit – despite your one childish antic."
"I never wanted to grow up." Her voice was bitter.
"And I long for the capability to grow old with you every day," I told her honestly.
"Do you wish I was still innocent and naïve?" I touched the most red of her skin and spoke.
"Only of certain things."
"I never meant to hurt you."
"Nor I you." My admission seemed to silence her, though I was unsure why. Had she thought I wanted to hurt her? Surely she knew better than that. "What's on your mind, love? I can almost see the nerve ends buzzing."
"I don't want you to feel like you're here out of obligation." What? What would ever make her believe that?
"Bella. I hope you don't really think that," I sighed, resting my hand on her cheek.
"Sometimes I wonder," she admitted softly. If nothing else could kill me, her believing this blasphemy would.
"Wonder no longer, my Bella. I am here to stay; not because I feel some magnetic pull to take care of you – though I do feel that – but because I love you and I want to be with you always. I hope you feel the same way about me."
"Of course I do," she quickly assured me, leaning into my touch. "I want to be with you forever."
"Every single day of forever," I promised, knowing the implication of my statement. "Now sleep, Bella, love. I'll always be here when you wake up." Always.