Another chapter in less than a month? Will wonders never cease? :-)

Thank you for sticking with me.

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.

CHAPTER 12: Faith

Surprisingly, Bella didn't protest when Edward carried up to his third floor apartment. She headed straight for the shower. He wished he could help her wash her hair, knowing that raising her arms above her head would be painful. Instead, he contented himself with laying her favourite pajamas on his new queen-sized bed. When Bella didn't emerge after nearly half an hour, he went to investigate.

"Bella?" He knocked on the bathroom door. "Are you alright?" No response.

"Bella!" he called more loudly. He could smell her salty tears mixed in with the white-tea-scented body wash she always used. Sternly suppressing his rising panic, he turned the door knob.

"Bella, I'm coming in."

"No! I'm...I'll be out soon."

"Bella, the water must be scalding hot!"

"I can't get clean. I want to wash him off me, but I can't." Her voice wobbled.

Clamping down on his fury at both James and himself, Edward wracked his powerful brain for the best way to handle this.

I'm on my way up, Alice's voice sounded in his head. Don't barge in there. She won't react well.

"Bella love? Alice is coming. Please, turn off the water and wrap yourself in a warm towel." He knew his voice sounded far too pleading, but he didn't care.

"M…May I use yours?"

"Of course," he responded, stunned. She knew he'd put out a clean towel for her. He hoped this meant that wrapping herself in his towel made her feel more secure. Or it could just be that yours is bigger, his logical self scoffed.

Alice arrived and took charge of the situation, much to his relief. He knew Bella wasn't comfortable having him help her, but he couldn't merely stand by while she suffered.

An hour later, there were entirely too many people invading his space. Edward was back in his living room, along with Bella, Angela, Ben, Alice, Jasper, Domen and Emmett. His sister Rosalie, who happened to be Emmett's mate, currently hovered outside Carissa's apartment building, making sure that Bella's officemate didn't become James' next target.

Although she was practically falling over with a combination of exhaustion and pain medication, Bella insisted on being part of the day's debriefing. She sat between him and Alice on the sofa, her head drooping on Alice's shoulder. With her bruised ribs, still-healing gash on her forehead, nearly-invisible cut under her chin, and her bandaged left arm…another wave of guilt swept over him. To his delight, she'd foregone her usual pajama top for one of his long-sleeved t-shirts. She looked adorable in it, with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows. As much as Edward wanted to make her go to bed and rest, he knew he couldn't force her. So he focused on getting this meeting over with, and everyone out.

"So Bella had a 'feeling' that something was wrong, and Jasper and Emmett just happened to be on their way with tools? Then Jasper, an expert in explosives, dismantled the bomb and our happy couple was on their way home?"

Edward couldn't blame Ben for being skeptical. It did sound far-fetched, particularly without knowing the entire "gifted vampire" aspect. Like Angela, Ben's thoughts tended to mirror what he said. Now, thanks in part to Ben's love of fantasy gaming, he seemed willing to take Bella's non-human friends in stride.

"What exactly do they want?" Angela asked. "And why?"

Jasper answered. "It seems that James saw Bella and decided in his sick head that she was his. Now he believes that Edward is her boyfriend, and wants him out of the picture so that he can have her."

He really does have something against you, Edward, he continued. I haven't felt such hatred in a long time.

Whoa little brother, you've really got yourself in deep this time! Are you Bella's boyfriend?

"Not now, Emmett," he murmured, too low for the humans to hear.

Angela sensed that Domen and Bella's golden-eyed friends needed to discuss something in private. She soon had Ben shuffling out the door, nodding when Edward mouthed a "thank you" to her.

Just take good care of her, Cullen.

In her mind, he saw his eyes widen. Yeah, I'm on to you, she thought. With a small smile, she was out and up the stairs. Damn, couldn't he keep a secret from anyone any more?

"Okay," Emmett announced, "Now that they're gone, what's really going on?"

Edward looked around the room carefully before responding. There wasn't much seating, so Domen and Emmett sat cross-legged on the floor while Jasper perched on the kitchen counter. Edward reclaimed his spot beside Bella. She watched him with a slight frown, but nether-the-less scooted closer to him. He didn't want her to know how depraved James really was. She'd had enough for one day. With a sigh, he began.

"He initially only wanted Bella for 'a little fun' before he drained her. But when I prevented him from having her, he became obsessed with taking her away from me. His greatest desire is to capture both of us, rape, torture and drain her while I watch helplessly, and finally torture me before burning me alive."

Edward felt the slender woman next to him begin to tremble, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "If he can't have that, then he'd settle for orchestrating me killing her, knowing that it would destroy me as well. The more he can terrorize others, the happier he is."

"Sick bastard," spat Domen, furious.

"Why does he want to hurt you so badly?" asked Bella in a surprisingly firm voice.

Edward turned to the puzzled face raised to his and smiled grimly. "Two reasons. First, he believes that I have something he wants – you – and he can't stand to not get what he wants. Second, there's the thrill of outwitting and killing another vampire, especially a 'freak' like me."

"I'm not letting you, or anyone else, die for me, Edward. It's not…"

She halted when she heard his soft growl. Oh no, Bella, he thought, we are not going through this again.

Fortunately, Domen responded first. "Don't even go there, Sis. We've stuck together through your crazy family, my insanities, Manoj's broken heart, Carissa's psycho ex-boyfriend, deaths of loved ones, robberies, car accidents…you name it. I, for one, am not abandoning you now, and neither is anyone else here."

Edward mentally fist-bumped the Croatian vampire-hunter. Perhaps he's not so bad after all.

I think I like this guy, even if he was born to slaughter us, thought Emmett approvingly. How did she end up with so many of us around anyway? Any werewolf friends I don't know about yet?

"Don't even suggest it," Edward murmured.

Jasper and Domen glanced at him curiously, but Edward only gave them a minute shake of his head.

"I suppose we can track down the humans he hired. Any other information we can use?" Jasper asked, going through dozens of possible strategies in his mind. Alice, of course, considered and rejected each one. They made a good team.

Edward rapidly replayed the afternoon in his head, searching for any important detail he may have missed.

"I noticed something." All eyes turned to Bella. "It probably isn't important, but I thought it strange that Victoria didn't participate fully."

"What do you mean?" Jasper questioned, intrigued.

"Well, it's just a feeling I had, but it seemed that she…" Bella paused, searching for the right words. "It was almost as if she was waiting in the background for James to be done with his performance."

"Performance is a good description," Edward commented thoughtfully. "He enjoys the theatrical aspect of it. Now that you say it, I remember hearing Victoria's thoughts. I didn't pay much attention," He flashed a smile down at the lovely chocolate-eyed woman watching him. "I was somewhat occupied with other things."

"She was…bored?" Realization dawned on him. "No, more than that. She was hoping that James got what he wanted, so that she wouldn't have to deal with his anger later. She was afraid of him. That means that she isn't really his mate. He just finds her talent for evasion useful."

"So we've found the weak link," commented Jasper with satisfaction.

"Thanks to Bella," Edward added, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

The group talked for a few more minutes, but Edward could see that Bella had had enough. Leaning down that that his lips were almost touching her ear, he whispered, "Perhaps I'll have an easier job getting you to bed this time."

He winked teasingly when she raised startled eyes to his, and her heart sped up.

"You are in so much trouble, Cullen," Bella hissed back.

"Aaaand…that's our cue to leave, kids," announced Emmett, waggling his eyebrows at Edward. "Things are starting to get hot around here."

Edward shot his brother an icy glare, but it was tiny Alice who literally pushed the huge vampire out the door.

Following up on Domen's threats of body part removal if Edward harmed his little sister in any way, Jasper decided to add his own unique spin to the situation.

"Be honest with her, and don't discount what she feels because she is human. She's just as bound to you as you are to her, whether she's ready to admit it or not. Have faith." He smirked mischievously. "Besides, you could cut the unresolved sexual tension between the two of you with a knife. Alice and I should probably thank you."

Alice was practically bouncing at the door. "Goodnight, Edward and Bella!"

Edward closed the door behind them with a relieved sigh. At last, he and Bella were alone.

Be honest with her, he said. Right. And then she'll panic and run screaming upstairs to Angela and Ben.

He and Bella eyed each other uncertainly for a moment.

"So what…" they began simultaneously. They both laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Bella had been kidnapped and survived two vampire assaults today, and now both of them were behaving like nervous teenagers.

"Would you like anything to eat or drink, Bella? Tea?"

Bella stood, swaying slightly on her feet. "No, thanks. I would really just like to lie down. I'm so tired." Then a thought occurred to her.

"Why are you still here?"

He smiled wryly, trying to ignore the jolt of disappointment that shot to his stomach. "You don't want me here?"

"Of course I do! Besides, it's your apartment. I meant, aren't you supposed to be at the hospital now? It's past ten o'clock."

Ah, that's all it is. "I called in sick." The irony of it all. "One of my colleagues is taking over my rounds tonight."

Now he stood directly in front of Bella, looking down into her warm dark eyes. For a moment she looked dazed, dazzled perhaps. Well, he was dazzled too.

Bella shook her head as if to clear it. She bit her lower lip anxiously. "I really should go to bed, but I also want to talk with you. Would it be okay if we…if you lie down next to me?"

Hell yeah! His inner teenager rejoiced.

He smiled and swept a hand in front of him. "Lead the way."

Edward helped Bella into the newly-made bed and carefully tucked the sheet and blanket around her. Bella patted the space next to her and he lay down on top of the blanket, facing her with his head propped up on his hand.

"You know," she began with a hesitant smile, as if uncertain how he'd react, "In spite of the whole James thing, I'm actually glad that I almost crashed into you."

Edward laughed. "Well, that wasn't quite what I was expecting you to say!"

Bella grinned in response. "You only think I say surprising things because I'm the only person whose mind you can't read. I'm really quite predictable. You're just losing your ability to process other cues, Cullen!"

Was she right? Yes, he supposed she was. He really did rely too heavily on his telephathic abilities. Huh.

"OK, fine," he grinned back. "So, Miss Predictable, what's on your mind?"

The teasing light faded from her eyes. "I'd like to suspend the bet for a while so that we can talk freely. OK?"

Hmmm, this must be serious. "Alright, but perhaps we should save heavy conversations for the morning, after you've rested. And not under the influence of painfillers."

"No, I want to talk about this now."

Edward nodded, waiting for Bella to continue.

Remember, Edward – honesty. Great, now Alice was giving advice as well. Can't a guy have a little privacy around here?

"What did you mean when you said that James orchestrated you killing me, knowing it would destroy you too?"

Why can't we just start with an easy question, wondered Edward ruefully, such as "what is the meaning of life?"

Studying his love's troubled face, he reluctantly explained, "James knew where I was hunting and told his human goons to grab you and take you to Victoria. He thought that in full hunting mode I would catch the scent of your blood…the blood of my singer…and be unable to resist." Edward ducked his head in shame. "He was right."

"Edward, please look at me."

He obeyed. Truthfully, he had no choice. He would do anything for her, especially if she said "please."

"You didn't kill me. Somehow I was able to get through to you, and once I did you stopped. You have amazing control, Edward. You probably would have stopped even if I hadn't been able to lower my shield."

Edward seriously doubted that.

"Actually, that's not what I'm asking. I meant why did he think he would destroy you too? I get that you might carry the guilt for the rest of your existence, just like you do for those other people you killed when you left Carlisle's family for a while. But 'destroy?' Isn't that a bit much? Is it because he thinks you're my..." She reddened, obviously searching for less graphic word than 'lover,' the one James used.

"Boyfriend?" he supplied helpfully.

"Something like that."

Honesty, he reminded himself.

"Bella, James is a very talented tracker, and part of that skill involves understanding his victim. In addition, he has an even more heightened sense of smell than the average vampire. He can smell me on you, and can also determine if we've been having sex and if I've been drinking from you."

Bella's blush deepened, but her intent gaze didn't waver. Damn, now was not the time for Little Eddie to make his…its…presence known.

He took a deep, unnecessary breath to calm himself. Big mistake. That made her scent even more potent.

"He knows how protective I am of you," he continued, hoping that Bella didn't notice the strain in his voice. "Even more protective than Alice or Jasper. You have no idea how fragile you are, Bella. If I let anything happen to you…if you died, especially by my own hand, then I would want James to kill me too. It's my greatest fear, not being able to protect you from myself."

Bella swallowed nervously, her eyes never leaving his face.

"Why?" she asked quietly.

It was now or never. "Because I'm in love with you."

He couldn't bring himself to look at her, to see the alarm or pity in her eyes, so, coward that he was, he flipped on his back and stared unseeingly at the ceiling.

"You're probably horrified. I mean, who wants to hear that an undead, blood-drinking monster has fallen in l...?"

Bella scooted closer to him, pressing her warmth against his side and lifting her head to look into his face. "I do."

She does? "You do?" Happiness blossomed in his chest.

She nodded shyly, her beautiful eyes still hesitant. "I don't know how love is for vampires. I mean, I'm human, and Alice told me that vampires are easily distracted, so…"

The uncertainty in her voice just about slew him. She was doubting herself again, and he hated it.

"Are you trying to suggest that you're some sort of short-term fling for me?" he demanded, appalled.

Bella pulled away, refusing to meet his eyes. "I don't know what I am for you," she admitted. "You say that you're in love with me, but I can't count on that lasting. The love between Alice and Jasper is intense and forever, but I'm human. I'm like a lower species or something. Heck, I'm dinner!"

Her warm little hand rested on his chest, and he knew she could feel his silent growl. He gently tilted her chin up so that she had to look at him. "Bella," he told her deliberately, "you are not a temporary thing for me. Unlike humans, vampires very rarely change. When we fall in love, it is permanent."

He heard her breath hitch. Had he frightened her? Was it too much? Now was the hard part – letting her know that she could still walk away. Part of him hoped she would, for her sake.

"I'm not expecting anything. You've had a difficult life, and at the moment I may look like a fair option. But soon you'll graduate and begin a new phase of your life, and someone better for you will come along. Someone human, who can offer you so much more than I can."

Bella's eyes narrowed. "And what exactly are you offering?"

Good question. Realistically, he was offering whatever she would be willing to take.

"Whatever you need. Friendship, love, passion, for the short term, long term, or anywhere in between." He smiled crookedly up at her. "I'll even throw in coffee every morning."

She grinned back. "OK, deal." Then her face became serious again. "It's all happening so fast, Edward. Obviously I'm attracted to you. I mean, what normal woman wouldn't be? You're kind, intelligent, gorgeous, sexy..."

She thought he was sexy? His inner teenager did a victory dance, and Edward couldn't prevent his happy smirk. Seeing it, Bella playfully smacked his chest.

"Ow!" he joked, capturing her hand and holding it lightly over his heart.

They were quiet for a while, just savoring the presence of each other. Bella spoke again in a soft, dreamy voice.

"I feel this strange bond with you, as if there's some mystical rope between the two of us that draws me to you." She covered her eyes with the hand that was on his chest. "Oh God, I'm starting to sound like my mother."

"Would it make you feel better if I told you I felt it too?"

"Maybe? Only if you meant it."

"I mean it."

The woman next to him shifted to her side, wincing at the pain in her ribs. They lay facing each other, Edward's head once again propped up on his hand.

"I feel so…free…when you're around, Edward, as if I can finally breathe. And when you walk away, it feels like a piece of me goes with you. And then there's this funny tingle." She lifted her hand and lightly brushed his bare arm with her fingertips before lacing her delicate fingers with his.

Edward sucked in his breath sharply. Yes, he felt that as well. That fantastic spark shot straight up his arm. Bella hadn't touched him that way before, and he wasn't prepared for the extremely pleasant warmth that travelled through his entire body. He closed his eyes, relishing it.

"Edward?" Bella's voice was tinged with alarm. "Are you alright? Did I hurt you?"

His lids drifted open and he smiled at her. "It feels wonderful." He was rewarded with a shy smile in return.

"So, love, where so we stand?"

"Honestly? I'm scared."

Oh. Edward tried to disengage his fingers, but she gripped his hand a little tighter. "I understand. Entering into any kind of a relationship with a vampire, especially one who is in love with you, must be terrifying…"

"I'm not frightened of you, Edward," she interrupted. "I know you won't harm me, no matter what. There is so much happening now, so quickly. Only a few days ago I was a normal, boring grad student with a couple of vampire friends. Now I've been in a wreck, and there are two psychotic, hungry vampires after me and the 'good' vampire doctor who saved my life. On top of that, I've managed to fall…"

She paused with a mock glare when he stifled a chuckle and muttered "literally."

"Sorry." Bad timing, Cullen.

"I've managed to fall for the handsome too-amazing-for-the-likes-of-me vampire doctor. I feel like I've been hit by the wall of a hurricane, and it's all I can do to stand upright and not be blown away. The past few months have been a psychological rollercoaster for me, and I'm not sure that I'm ready to emotionally commit to anyone right now. Most of all, I'm scared that I won't be what you need."

Fortunately, Edward followed her mixed metaphors with ease. "I won't leave unless you tell me to," he promised. "Never doubt that you're enough for me. On the contrary. I worry that you'll soon be tired of having a freaky undead boyfriend and long for a nice, normal human."

He watched her lovely expressive face. Even though he couldn't read her mind, he had a pretty good idea of her thoughts. Finally she arrived at a decision.

"Can we try it and see how it goes?" she asked hesitantly.

Relief flooded through him. He truly worried that she would turn him down. Lifting their still-entwined hands to his lips, he gently kissed her knuckles.

"Thank you," he whispered, delighting in her little shiver of pleasure.

"Kiss me again?"

Thank God. He'd been wanting to feel her lips on his for the better part of the last hour, but he'd chastised himself for being so selfish.

Edward intended for this to be a quick, chaste goodnight kiss, but it seemed the Bella and Little Edward had other plans. Bella was soon lying half on top of him, her leg nestled between his, and he was lost in her warmth, her scent, and the feel of her soft body on his.

He emerged abruptly from his blissful heaven when Bella pulled away slightly, her body quivering. Had he hurt her somehow? His rapidly rising panic fled when he saw the laughter in her somewhat dazed chocolate eyes. She was…giggling?

"So much for my kissing expertise," he commented dryly. This made Bella giggle even more. Clearly the combination of pain meds and exhaustion had kicked in.

"No," the love of his existence responded breathlessly, barely managing to talk between sniggers. "You're a grrrrreat kisser. It's just that I can feel your…" Her hand moved in the general direction of his stomach, making its way toward his thigh.

Oh shit. "Yes, well…um…" Oh, come on Cullen, man up. No pun intended. "You do tend to have that effect on me." At least she thinks it's funny. If she weren't half out of it she'd probably be horrified.

"I do?" Her voice dropped playfully. "Good."

He groaned. "Bella, you need to sleep." Edward carefully untangled himself from her, but as he swung his legs to the floor a small hand grasped the back of his shirt. Looking over his shoulder at her, he saw that all laughter was gone from her tired eyes, replaced with anxiety.

"Would you stay with me? Please?"

"Of course. I'll be right outside the bedroom door."

Uh-oh, she was biting her lower lip again. "I mean in this bed. I don't want us to…um…do anything. It's just that…"

Ah, now I get it. Just as her presence grounds me, mine calms her.

"You want me to lie next to you while you sleep?" Bella nodded. How could he say "no" to that?

He smiled. Wordlessly, he tucked the blanket around his hazy mate and laid down facing her.

She sighed contentedly, her eyelids already closed. "Thank you, Edward."

"Any time," he responded, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.

Bella fell asleep almost immediately. Her faith constantly amazed him. What other human would trust a vampire so completely? A line from Peter Pan popped into his head. "All you need is faith and trust…and a little bit of pixie dust." Well, he thought wryly, we certainly have the boy who'll never age. And the pixie too.

Edward inhaled his Bella's calming freesia scent, barely noticing the burn in his throat. He smiled to himself, observing how the moonlight filtering through the gauzy curtains that Alice insisted on putting up turned her mahogany tresses silver. Gently he reached over and stroked them. Bella's skin appeared alabaster, almost like his own. For just a while he allowed himself the luxury of imagining eternity with this lovely woman at his side.

So Edward FINALLY got the ILY right. Do you think Bella was ready to hear it?