AN: More flufftastic-ness with a huge helping of Edward-angst. Thank you, Eowyn77!
Again, SM owns all!
"I guess I should explain myself."
I jumped slightly at the closeness of Edward's soft voice. He was sitting stiff on the bed next to me, watching me warily.
"That would certainly help." My eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. He looked so...unsettled.
He dropped his gaze and started fidgeting with his hands. Edward nervous? About a box and some hair? I bit my lip to keep from smiling. This I had to hear.
"Did someone just get caught with his hand in the cookie jar?" I was enjoying the taunting. Emmett was definitely becoming a bad influence.
"You're the one who was caught red-handed," he replied, looking pointedly up at me from beneath his dark lashes and nodding once towards the box.
My blush betrayed my guilt.
"So what, then? You stole candy from a baby?" I countered, deflecting.
He rolled his eyes and bowed his head again. "I did commit theft, yes. But no sweets or infants were involved in the crime."
"Well, if that's the case, I highly doubt that whatever you did warrants you being this nervous."
"It's not so much nerves as it is..."
"Yes?" I prompted, scooting towards him, lifting his face until he looked at me again. When he did, the reason for his reluctance betrayed itself immediately. "You're embarrassed about this, aren't you?" I grinned wickedly. "Should I blush for you now?"
"Only if you would prefer replaying that movie scene over getting an explanation," he hinted, raising one eyebrow, daring me.
It was worth a try, and I matched his expression. "Only if you think you can live up to it." This time, my fingertips traced his devastatingly alluring lips and started maneuvering downwards.
His cool grip caught my wandering hand and held it firmly in place on his chest. His bluff revealed, he frowned slightly. "Be good," he murmured in light reprimand.
I snorted in frustration. To use one of his preferred images for me, that was like throwing a heroin addict in a room full of his favorite brand and then restraining him in a chair that sat inches away from an open package.
While mentally I took satisfaction in knowing he could only put me off for two more days, my body was still—again—protesting at the proverbial road block. Besides, he was doing my job again. "Fine," I snapped. "Let me hear your damned excuse."
"Fine," he echoed, much more in control, but slightly ashamed. "I stole it from your bathroom one night."
I waited for him to continue. The pause lengthened. It seemed my usually articulate husband-to-be was still tongue-tied with embarrassment. "You know, if you want me to behave myself, you should really work on your elaboration skills. And that is a threat that I won't be afraid to make good on."
He continued immediately. "It was a while ago, a couple of months before you knew that I was watching you sleep. On this particular night, you were very restless, and you had kicked all your covers off. As adorable as you were laying there completely tangled in your sheets, you started to shiver from the exposure, so I walked over to tuck your blanket tighter. Even then I hated not seeing every inch of you, but my...disappointment was secondary to your health. If you had caught cold, what would I have done? I couldn't suddenly appear at your home during the day to nurse you back to health—that would have risked revealing too much.
"I was overindulgent that night and stayed closer to you to look at your face. You were so beautiful. It was then that I noticed your hair was a couple of inches shorter than it had been at school." He wistfully reached over and began curling a wayward strand around his finger. "Naturally, curiosity always gets the better of me when it comes to you," he smiled at me, "and I went to your bathroom to investigate. There in the trash was the answer to the mystery: you had given yourself a haircut that evening and deposited the clippings in the bin. However, you had missed a small section on the countertop..."
He released the strand he was playing with and delicately lifted the lock of hair from the music box. "The opportunity was too great to pass up, and so...here we are. It still faintly smells like your shampoo, though now..." He dropped the beribboned section back into its cushioned container, and before I could breathe again, his arms were embracing me tightly as he buried his face in my hair. He inhaled deeply a couple of times and pulled back, and I became lost in a sea of bright, liquid topaz. "Now, I don't have to settle for a lesser substitute."
My breath was hitching at irregular intervals as his sweet scent swirled around me. "You know that you could have just asked me. Even then, I couldn't say no to you."
"Silly Bella." Edward shook his head slowly from side to side and kissed my forehead. "You were definitely off-limits at the time. Well," he amended, "mostly off-limits. Hands-off, at the least."
"But I'm not anymore," I whispered, placing his cool palm against my heated cheek. "In all the time that has passed, you still could have asked, especially since you seem to like the smell. I'd give it to you in a heartbeat."
"I know, love." He smiled sadly as some of the brightness left his gaze. "Despite the fact that your scent sings for me—that every part of you sings for me, I've kept this as a reminder of how little I deserve you."
"Gah!" I huffed dramatically. We'd had this discussion many, many times before. Old arguments defensively rose in my throat, but he placed a finger over my lips to silence me.
My eyes must have been throwing questions at him because his brow furrowed as if he were debating with himself to continue. The need to explain won, though I could tell by the hard line of his mouth that the decision was costing him. Suddenly I wasn't sure if I wanted to hear his explanation any more.
"As I already alluded to, until the day in the meadow, I dared not touch you again after the morning I stopped Tyler's van from crushing you. Partly, it was because I didn't know if I could control myself around you yet, but mostly it was because to do so seemed a desecration of your innocence. Taking a bit of your hair—something that was already discarded—therefore put you in neither one of those dangers and afforded me a secret satisfaction. I had a part of you that I could touch and not hurt or break. I finally felt the ache of wanting to be close to you lessening in intensity, even if only very slightly. I was just beginning to understand how strong your hold was on me."
A glint flashed in his eyes. "Then..." he took a ragged breath, "the day I left you in the forest, the day I betrayed every ounce of your trust in me..."
His marble frame shuddered slightly. I could not have spoken a word even if my life depended on it, and I laid there in his arms in stunned silence. This conversation had taken a dangerous turn. As a rule, we typically didn't talk about that day—or the six months that followed.
Instinctively, my own mind jerked back to that dark time. Though I no longer felt the gaping hole in my chest, I still had muscle memory, almost a reflex, that made part of me sting with the resurrected past. The urge to hold myself together had also long vanished, but my fingers twitched briefly. Edward was too occupied with his own memories to notice.
"I made you that asinine promise to never come back, and to make your life so that you would forget me eventually. Well, you know now that I was selfish enough to leave various mementos behind under your floorboards like a coward. But, I made sure to never make the same promises to myself. I made sure to remember you," he said, now staring intently again at the music box and my hair.
He laughed hard once, bitterly. "I welcomed the pain; it was my acutely just penance. I thought that I would never see you again alive, that I was strong enough to satisfy my need for you with pale memories and dead tokens of remembrance. All those months, every day, I would hold that small part of you in my hands and remember what it meant to really live. Holding your heartbreakingly angelic face inches from mine, seeing you anticipate my kiss, rejoicing when you whispered that you loved me...and I turned my back on it all."
I followed Edward's line of sight to the box that was clutched tightly in my grasp. Oddly enough, it gave me some relief to know that he had clung to proof that he hadn't imagined me, either; like I had done with his voice. And we both had been willing to accept the stinging consequences of that need for validation.
"The night after I brought you back from Italy," he continued," I knew I had no right to be so close to you again. You were in my arms, as if nothing had happened in the last six months to expose me as the basest of all creatures. Miracle of miracles, unfathomably you still wanted me.
"And now, even though it appears you've forgiven me of the damning mistakes I've made up until this point, arrogantly committed in efforts to save you, I find myself staring at approaching errors that will result from my not being able to resist you or the way I feel about you. I am still just as pathetically weak."
Cool hands began stroking my hair again. I felt as frozen as they were icy.
"So you see now, love, how much I don't deserve you. Not then, and even less so now."
His fingertips moved to my chin, persuading me to meet his stare. My head tilted back, but I couldn't lift my eyes.
I just didn't understand. My angel still couldn't comprehend. Not one ounce of resentment tainted the way I loved him, the way I desperately craved him and all that he was until I felt I would implode from the sheer force of it. My heart ached to reassure him; his pain was unbearable. How could I ever love him enough to make him whole again? Why did loving me have to hurt him so much when I was so happy?
"Ahh," he moaned, taking the box from my hands and pulling me closer to him. "I am hurting you all over again. How can you even love me?"
At this, my mind became aware of the strangled way he spoke. Frantically, I unfroze and my eyes jumped to his. The raw pain I saw there nearly destroyed me. Hadn't I promised myself over and over to never be the cause of this look again?
"Edward..." My voice broke with the weight of his sadness. Tears welled behind my lashes as I leveled my face with his to hold it gently with both hands. My mouth brushed his thick hair, his smooth forehead, his temples.
"Bella," he whispered, wiping away the tears that ran down my cheeks. "I—"
"Shh..." I pulled away slightly to make sure he was looking directly at me, that there was no way he could doubt what I was about to say. "I am not crying because you have hurt me, Edward. I'm sad because you still can't seem to grasp how much I love you. Being with you is the greatest happiness I could ever imagine. Times one hundred." My face was hot with the intensity of my feelings. "The greatest gift I can give you is the knowledge that I love you, but apparently, I must be doing something wrong. I want you to hope and trust in yourself as much as I hope and trust in you. So, please, just for this moment, forget the past, forget the future...forget everything. Just listen—just feel what I am telling you. Just let me love you, Edward. Please." There it was, my ultimate weapon against him; but I had no other choice. He hadn't listened to me any other way.
He stared at me for a long moment. Finally, with a shiver, he sighed heavily and closed his anguished eyes.
I began soothing him again, but started with his hands. I let my fingertips follow the lines on his palms and the length of his elegant fingers before I pressed a kiss on each one.
Rarely did I ever try to express myself so uninhibitedly to him, at least not to specifically identify every way I needed him. Hoping that my feelings would come out right, I spoke softly, "Do you know how much I love your touch? How you make me feel so special when you are gentle with me?"
I trailed kisses up his arm. "Do you know how safe I feel when you hold me? Whatever happens, I know that you'll always protect me."
My lips ran butterfly kisses along the line of his jaw. Then they fluttered softly against his ear and down his neck. I had promised to be good, so I brought them back up to flit around the edges of his mouth.
Edward was still motionless against me, but his mouth parted faintly at my nearness. "And do you know," I smiled slightly as I heard the huskiness in my own voice, "that with one kiss, you can make me forget where I am, what my name is? I forget everything but you. I know you don't need to be able to read my mind anymore then."
He shivered and sighed again, this time with pleasure. It was working. The pain was retreating, surrendering its crushing hold on my Edward, bit by bit. He was feeling my love, and my heart burst into a triumphant sprint. I would do this all day if I had to—to fill him, kiss by kiss, with my own joy. Joy that only existed because of him.
My lips finally brushed against his. The emotion was so thick in my throat now that I could barely manage a whisper. "But, most importantly, when you tell me that you love me, it's like you gave me the sun. I feel its warmth—your warmth—radiating to the deepest part of me, into every thought and feeling I have. You are the reason I was created. You are the reason for everything."
I turned my head to move to his jaw again but he dipped with me and pressed his lips tenderly against mine. He traced the contours of my face, so adoringly, so sweetly that my breath caught.
At that, he opened his eyes widely, unguarded. He was looking at me like he had never seen me before, like I was his sunlight.
"I love you, Bella."
"I love you."
He was my dazzling Edward again.
After a few moments, he whispered, "Thank you for today. For the stereo, for listening to me, for...cheering me up." Kissing me softly on the cheek, he touched his forehead to mine. "I swear, Bella, that every second of my existence will be spent trying to be worthy of you and your love."
Cautiously, I studied his expression for a moment. Would the defeated sadness return? But I could only find peace and love across the smooth planes.
When I was confident that he had only spoken out of happiness, I offered, "Well, we do have forever, you know."
He smiled my favorite smile. "And it will never be long enough to show you how much I helplessly, desperately adore you."
"Ditto. I hope you never stop trying."
Scorching ocher melted me to my core.
"Ditto," he murmured, rapturously kissing me as if he'd chosen this very moment to start keeping his promise.
Yes, this was definitely heaven.