A/N Twilight is not mine. Torn is :)
A big, heart-felt THANK YOU to all of you. Thanks to everybody who is still helping me with this story. This chapter wasn't beta'ed, so any mistakes are mine.
It takes an eternity - or just a few minutes - for my heart to finally slow down. And all the time, Edward is holding me, his arms around me so strong as if they are holding my body together.
And maybe he is, because I feel like if he lets me go, I will disintegrate and disappear forever. His embrace is anchoring me to the here and now, even though I can't stop myself from gazing over his shoulder, peering into the trees for any sign of a dark-haired, dark-skinned man.
Edward leans back to catch my gaze, forcing me to stop my searching.
"Nobody is here," he says. His hand comes up to touch my cheek, and involuntarily, I flinch away. He keeps touching me until I can relax under his touch, until the numbness disappears and I can feel the warmth of his fingertips against my skin.
His hold is anchoring me, keeping me in the here and now and making me aware of gravity, of the warm air around me, of the sounds that reach my ears.
I sigh for the exhaustion that seems to have settled in my bone marrow the day I was born. Everything is such a struggle - from feeling somewhat safe in my new surroundings to accepting being touched.
I just don't want to be afraid anymore.
"Then don't be," Edward says, and I realize I must have spoken out loud.
"Don't be," he says again.
"I can't turn it off," I protest, a bit peeved by what he implies.
"I know," he says easily. "But you can conquer it."
"How?" I ask, sounding slightly more annoyed than I am. I'm tired of having these conversations over and over again. They never change anything.
Edward shrugs, and his nonchalant behavior makes me check. He's up to something, but I'll be damned if I know what.
He looks at me with something akin to mischief sparkling in his eyes, and then he leans in. At first I think he's going to kiss my mouth, but he moves his head to the side a little, dodging me.
I feel the silken touch of his hair against my cheek first, and then his lips brush against my jawline. I sit frozen as he peppers kisses in a trail towards my neck, stopping at the collar of my top.
He takes my hands in his and squeezes them, as if to reassure me.
And I start to understand the kind of fear he was telling me to conquer.
"Don't be afraid," he whispers against my throat. "There's no need to be."
I want to ask him what he is going to do, but words elude me when I feel his lips against my throat again. There's something in his kisses that rocks me to my core, and it's not just the soft intimacy of the affection. It's the way he seems to be tentative as well, seeking my permission to keep going in the way he approaches me.
He is only touching my neck and my hands, but I can feel it all through my body. Underneath the wild anxiety I feel, a strange buzz is setting over me, and it's not altogether unpleasant.
I'm not entirely stupid - I know it's my body rousing, but I clamp down the unfamiliar feeling, afraid to have it develop and make me want more.
After what feels like an eternity, he nuzzles the hollow under my ear and pulls back to look at me. He waits a moment, as if he knows I need some time to collect myself. Then he grins. "Don't be afraid," he says as if what he just did was no big deal at all.
And I know that in these past few moments, I wasn't.
I can't help but grin back at him. "It's still not easy," I say quietly, but the anxiety that races through my veins is of the good kind, even though it's still annoying to be so riled up.
He nuzzles the tip of my nose with his, and then kisses my mouth softly. "I know," he says. "But you know what? It's new for me, too. We can discover it together."
I want to protest, but he places a gentle finger on my mouth to silence me.
"And you can set the pace," he adds.
But how am I supposed to take the lead if touching him out of my own volition is still such a struggle?
"Stop worrying," he says, as if he can guess what I'm thinking. "Stay in the here and now. You liked what I did, yes?"
My blush answers before I can nod.
"Good," he says quietly. "So I can do it again."
He brushes my hair out of the way so he can kiss me again, and I look up at the gathering clouds in the sky, wondering briefly how far I've come that I can enjoy this - to some extent at least.
My muscles stay locked in place even as I tilt my head a little to give Edward more space to move. He touches my arm, then lifts his head to look at me.
"You're so tense," he observes. He thinks a moment, then inclines his head. "Lie down."
I frown at him, unsure.
"Lie down," he says again. "On your stomach."
"What are you going to do," I say rather than ask, sudden panic making my voice tight.
He rolls his eyes. "Nothing you don't want to. Lie down," he repeats.
But I won't be able to see you, my mind whispers forlornly. Still, I do as he asks and I turn to my belly, leaning my head on my folded arms.
"Any chance I can get you to take off that blouse?" he asks, but I can hear in his voice he isn't harboring any hope.
I shake my head, and from the corner of my eye I can see him nod once.
"Okay," he says. He gets up on his knees so suddenly I push myself up in alarm.
"No, lie down," he says. "I'm just going to kneel over you."
My heart is hammering as I feel him move behind me. I feel trapped, and it's all I can do to keep lying down and not try to buckle him off me.
But he doesn't settle his weight on me. In fact, I can barely feel him on top of me at all, and I crane my neck to look over my shoulder, to make sure he's actually there.
He leans forward to kiss my cheek before he sits back up, waiting for my fight-or-flight instinct to settle.
"Just so we're clear, I can touch your back, right?"
I try to say 'yeah', but no sound comes out of my mouth Edward must have understood though, because before I realize what is happening, his warm hands slide under my blouse and top, touching the skin of my lower back.
My breath escapes in a rush and my hands curl into fists, and Edward pauses his movements for a moment to let me adjust.
His hands are warm on my back, his palms soft. Even though I can feel exactly where his hands are and where they aren't, it still feels like my entire back is covered with his touch. It's overwhelming and awesome and scary… and nice.
Then his hands start to move, digging into my tense muscles with gentle care.
This feels good.
I watch him from the corner of my eye as he works on my back. I can faintly feel his weight just below my rear, but he's not leaning down and I don't feel as trapped as I feared I would.
Regardless, it's hard to let go of the tension I feel, the fight or flight reaction that keeps me on edge. I wait for his hands to start wandering, or to make any sudden move, or to start hurting, but nothing happens and my mind gets in a tangle as it can't make any sense of this situation any longer.
"Just relax," Edward says quietly behind me. "Doesn't it feel good?"
I nod, knowing he will see it.
"Good," he says. "It's supposed to, you know."
I'm too tense to attempt closing my eyes, but my vision gets hazy as I focus on what I'm feeling. As he kneads the muscles alongside my spine, I am wondering if he would like it if I returned the effort.
"Stop thinking," he says. "I can practically hear your mind work from here."
I smile faintly, but don't say anything. But as Edward continues his massage, my brain gradually starts to slow down, along with my breathing. Edward gives some nasty knots in my lower back careful extra attention, and even though it's not exactly pleasant when he digs into the hard muscle, the overall feeling of relaxation that settles over me is peaceful.
He never strays from my lower back, never makes an unexpected movement, and I find I am starting to count on that - that he won't surprise me with unexpected movements or touches. He works so hard to make it good for me.
To make me trust him.
I don't know how much time has passed when he stops. The sun is gone, and the all too familiar clouds cover the sky above us again.
Edward places his hands next to my shoulders and leans forward, nuzzling me once more. "Good?" he asks quietly.
"Yeah, good," I reply, feeling deliciously rosy.
"Can I in any way tempt you to turn around?"
I'm fully awake again in an instant. "What? What for?"
"Because I want to cuddle," he replies like it's the most normal thing in the world.
"Stop thinking," he whispers in my ear. "If it's too much you just say the word and we'll stop."
Everything inside me screams that this is not a good idea. That I should follow my instinct and end this, now. That even if it isn't a trap of some sort, it cannot possibly be good for me if I turn around and he is above me.
But I'm so tired of being afraid, and maybe I should try to conquer it, like Edward said. So when he leans back to give me space, I turn to my back so I can see his face, being careful to keep my legs low so as to not inadvertently hurt him where it counts.
Edward smiles and places his hands next to my shoulders again, coming forward.
And in an instant, I'm thrown back in time. It's no longer Edward above me, but Stefan, and any second his hands are going to come around my throat, cutting off my air.
I gasp for breath even as my hands come up to push at Edward's chest. I can't speak, I'm as mute as I was when I was still with Stefan and there is nothing I can do to stop it, nothing...
Just like that, the shadow over me is gone, and when I struggle to sit up, there is no resistance at all.
And it's not me who is speaking. It's Edward.
I can't look at him. I need to force the vivid memories to the back of my mind, but my brain seems intent on playing them over and over again. It's like I can't breathe even now, as if the memory alone is squeezing my throat shut. I gasp for breath, feeling as if there is not enough air around me to breathe in.
"Take it easy," Edward murmurs. His voice sounds far away. "Breathe through your hands. You're hyperventilating."
I ignore his advise and force myself to hold my breath until my lungs are burning but at least my heart seems to have calmed somewhat. When I let go of the air I've been holding, I'm still out of breath, but the panic is less.
"Is there anything I can do?" Edward asks, leaning forward to catch my gaze.
"Home," I whisper. "Please take me home."
We don't speak during the short ride home, and as soon as Edward has parked inside the garage, I'm out of the car and on my way to my bedroom.
Wisp is there, and she meows in her kitten-like way when she sees me. I check to see if she still has enough water and then lie down on the floor at the far side of the bed, hiding from view. My kitten, curious as ever, climbs on top of me immediately, eager to explore this new 'thing.'
I can feel the feathery weight of her paws on my back, and it reminds me of Edward's massage. Reliving the scene, I lift up Wisp and turn to my back before I place her on my chest. Her weight is so slight - of course I wouldn't be alarmed by that. Having Edward hover on top of me like he did earlier however turned out to be a major trigger.
A sigh escapes me, and I chew on my lip as I think back to what happened. Wisp explores my stomach, pouncing on an invisible prey. Her movements aren't very graceful yet, and a slight smile tugs at my lips as I see her lose her balance when she jumps.
I wish I could be as innocent as the little cat.
But I'm not, and I will always carry the memories of what happened with me. Yet, now I'm away from the place where I was so afraid, it seems as if the memory is less clear also. It's hard to explain to myself how I could have been so scared not an hour ago.
I guess that's the thing with triggers. They catch you off guard and ruin all your fun quite effectively, and when it's all over you wonder what the heck happened at all, anyway.
My mood plummets, sucking me towards the dark hole that's tugging at the edge of my every thought, luring me in. And it's so tempting to let myself slide, to disappear in the nothingness that calls my name.
It's just that I'm scared that when I do, I'll disappear and I'll never be able to come back out again.
Wisp's ears prick up as my bedroom door opens without a knock, and I know it must be Edward coming to check on me.
Without a word, he walks into the room and lies down on the rug next to me, stretching out a hand gingerly to pet Wisp behind her ears. Wisp however seems to have other plans, and she attacks Edward's hand with both paws, opening her tiny mouth to try and sink her teeth into the base of his thumb. Edward lets the kitten have her way. She's so small still, she can't possibly do any harm.
"I'm sorry," he says again.
I shrug his apology away. I would like to tell him that it doesn't matter, but I'm suddenly overwhelmingly tired, and my head feels too heavy to lift, my tongue too thick to move.
"Do you want to go lie on the bed?" he asks tentatively.
Again I shrug. I guess my freak out earlier is starting to take its toll. Somewhere in the back of my mind though I feel bad that I can't give him any attention, because I do like that he seeks me out every single time.
"All right, up you go," he says as he gets up and takes my hands, pulling me into a sitting position easily.
Thankfully, no panic ensues when he helps me get on the bed and wraps his arm around me so I am curled up against his side.
He flips on the television and starts going through the channels, until he settles on a music channel. Raemonn's Supergirl fills the room, and the irony of the song leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
I'm no Supergirl by any stretch of imagination. Unless it would be Superbad at any interaction with Edward.
Or life, in general.
My harsh sigh triggers a softer one from Edward.
"What is it?" he asks, and it's his slightly annoyed tone that sets me off even more.
He sighs again, quietly now. "Of course."
I can't explain how I feel right now, how my thoughts are in a tangle, how I'm wanting to disappear yet am afraid to let it happen. How I liked how I felt with him in the meadow, yet am scared to feel like that, to feel anything at all. How I'm sick and tired of being afraid, pissed at my past, and exhausted from life.
I can't explain it all. I wouldn't know where to start.
"You wouldn't understand," I whisper, not for his ears to hear.
He hears it.
In a flash he's on his side, propped up on one arm and hovering half above me.
"No, I wouldn't," he says, his eyes betraying the calm he is forcing into his voice. "Because you sure as hell don't try to explain it."
"What is there to explain?" I ask, so frustrated by my inability to just be normal I forget to be afraid. I don't register his sudden loss of patience, or the reason of his frustration.
He closes his eyes for a second, his lips drawn into a thin line as he thinks. "Nothing, I guess," he says when he looks at me again. I can see the disappointment in his eyes, and I hate that I'm letting him down. Again.
I turn away from him, unable to put my emotions in words.
"Right," he says softly, his voice rough. "Shut me out again. I'd better leave you be."
He gets up off the bed, and it's only when he has almost closed the door behind him that I can find my voice again.
"Can't say I didn't warn you," I say loud enough for him to hear.
The door doesn't close. It opens again, and Edward steps back into the room. His face is tight in anger now, and I watch him with an all too familiar detachment. I don't even sit up to be in a less vulnerable position.
Edward closes the door behind him with a click so soft it's ominous. "You did. Again and again, and I was stupid enough to ignore it, because I believed that underneath your harsh facade there was a girl so entirely loveable it was worth trying to break through those walls."
"I'm not loveable," I mutter, only barely registering what else he is saying.
"You are," he persists, "but you're the only one who doesn't see it. God, I can't imagine the amount of energy it must cost to keep pushing away everybody who wants to get close to you."
"You think I'm doing that on purpose?" I ask, appalled.
Edward shifts his stance. He starts to fold his arms but then he shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Seems like it, yeah," he says. He doesn't look at me.
"Do you really think I have the energy for that? Do you have any idea what it costs me to get through a day at all?"
"You know what?" he says, looking back at me now. His eyes are glittering in anger, and my backbone stiffens in age-old fear. "I don't. Because you sure as hell don't tell me, or anyone of us. You seem well content keeping away from anyone, hiding in your room as if you're too good to spend time with me or anybody else in this house."
"That's not true," I whisper, stunned by his bleak observation. "You know it's not."
"Yeah, I know. So I keep coming to you, knowing it's hard for you to reach out, and I do anything I can think of to make you happy, to see you smile. But it's not enough, is it? Will it ever be enough?"
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. Because I don't know. I don't know if it will ever be enough.
"Would it really hurt you so badly to come to me for a change? You don't have to do anything. Hell, I'd be happy if you just asked me to watch a movie with you, even if it's a boring one."
"I don't know how," I say, my voice breaking. "I don't want to bother you."
"How could you possibly bother me?" he asks, his hands coming up in a helpless gesture. "How can I make it clear to you that I want you to come to me? I don't care if you're happy or sad, but if you want my company, I want to be there for you. Just don't shut me out," he adds, his voice growing rough. "Please stop shutting me out."
I'm still on my bed, but it's like I'm hovering somewhere near the ceiling, taking in the scene below. And with a sudden clarity I see how I will lose Edward if I don't do something, anything, to close the distance between us.
But how can I tell him I am so afraid of losing everything that means something to me? How I have lost everything I ever liked or even loved? How I simply don't know how to reach out, for fear of being a burden, something to ignore and push away?
"Are you even willing to still try and fight?" he asks quietly. "Just tell me. Because as long as you are, I am, too. But I can't fight your demons alone."
"I don't know how anymore," I say even more quietly than he.
"That doesn't matter," he says. "But if at least you're willing, we can find a way. We can make it happen."
"So I can freak out again the moment you want to try something new? How many more panic attacks will it take before you finally decide I'm not worth your while?"
"You are worth my while," Edward replies, his voice rising. "How many more times do I have to tell you that?"
"Because you're losing your patience," I snap, pointing out the obvious. "And I don't know if I can stand to lose you."
In a flash he is sitting on the edge of the bed. "You won't lose me," he says fiercely. "But god damn it, it would make things so much easier if you didn't push me away all the time. Do you even want me close?"
"Yes," I whisper, my voice small. "But I couldn't bear it if I let you in and you would leave."
I've said it. My chest is cracked wide open, emotions I've ignored so carefully for so long rushing to the surface, tightening up my throat as my sobs are trying to find a way out. I swallow compulsively, forcing them back down.
"I can't promise you undying love or whatever," he says after a silence. "But I don't know what I can do anymore to make you believe that I want to be with you. If you keep using people away they're bound to leave you. Do you really not see that's a self fulfilling prophecy?"
"I don't know how to change it," I say.
"Yes you do," he says immediately. "Of course you do."
"I don't think I can do it." The exhaustion that was tugging at me before is back, making my muscles weak and my bones ache.
Edward scoffs. "I can't believe this. You've survived all hell on earth and got out at the other side, and now you're here, you don't know what to do? Don't be ridiculous, Bella."
His words tick me off and I sit up on my knees, wanting to be more on an even keel with him.
"All my life I've survived by staying away, Edward," I snap. "The only way to get through the days was by keeping my distance and let shit happen to me. If I asked for anything it was used against me. Now you tell me how I am supposed to get over that!"
He takes a deep breath before he speaks. "How about you start realizing that you're safe here, and that nobody in this house has any ulterior motive. They want to be nice to you. I'm sure the concept is strange to you, but you can damn well start trying to accept that for a truth."
"It's not so easy as it seems, mister psychologist," I spit. "But I guess that having grown up in a perfect family with perfect parents in a perfect house with more money than God could ever spend, you wouldn't know that."
He takes in my rant in silence, and seconds tick by before he answers me. "No, I wouldn't," he says. "But I damn well know how depression feels, Bella. And I damn well know how happy I was when you started to open up to me."
I gape at him, unable to find any words for a reply.
"What," he says, his voice flat. "You didn't realize you were helping me, too?"
"I didn't," I whisper after a moment. "I was?"
He tugs at his hair, ruining his do. "God," he breathes, chuckling without humor. "You really didn't?"
I shake my head numbly.
"Why did you think I was spending so much time with you? No, don't answer that," he interrupts himself. "I don't think I want to know."
My shoulders sag. From the corner of my eye, I see Wisp observing us, probably wondering at our raised voices.
"Look," he says, "maybe this sounds really weird, but I am no psychologist, whatever you think. You don't want to call yourself a victim, correct?"
"Correct," I say quietly, my voice nearly gone from the stress of talking.
"You're a survivor," he continues. "You've been through all this shit and now you're here. You've gotten this chance, but you're not seeing the possibilities. Instead you behave like the victim you deny to be, hiding from everything and refusing to actively try and build a life."
His words are so true and they hit me like a slap in my face. I gasp as the full meaning of what he says sinks in.
I've not just been a brat, accepting everything here without giving anything back. I've been exactly what Edward just called me. A helpless victim, perfectly able to take the right steps and make changes, but instead hiding away from all the good things that have been offered me, refusing to accept anything for fear of losing it.
I've not just been a victim.
"I've been a coward," I whisper, devastated by the realization.
"No," Edward says immediately. "Not a coward. But you're still playing by the rules of your old life. And you don't have to anymore. Can you really not see that there is no danger here?"
"I want to," I say on a sob. "I want to, so badly."
He doesn't reach for me to comfort me. But when I look up at him, I can see he has his arms open in invitation. Wordlessly, he is asking me to go to him for comfort.
So, I do.
His arms wrap around me in a now familiar feeling embrace, but for the first time I can really feel the comfort of his warmth seep into my skin, settling into my bones.
And I cry not just for the wasted years of my childhood, but for all the energy I've wasted here with my worries and fears.
"Just don't leave me," I say into his chest. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," he says, leaning his cheek against the crown of my head. "Nobody expects you to change overnight. I think it's perfectly understandable that you're struggling. But you have to at least try, you know?"
A deep sigh escapes me and I hide my face in the crook of his neck.
"You've come so far already," he murmurs, his voice comforting. "See what you've achieved so far. You're eating with us, you're talking and even playing. You accept a hug every now and then," he says, squeezing me a little. "We've spent nights together. Don't withdraw so far. Don't forget the good things. Or did you forget?"
I shake my head as I picture everything he is telling me, knowing he is right.
"I'm going to have this epiphany more often, aren't I," I complain.
Edward chuckles lowly, and I can feel the sound reverberate in his chest as the tension in the room slowly evaporates. "Only a couple dozen times. Maybe more."
I groan, and Edward laughs, lighter now.
"I guess sometimes you need a reminder that you're not in Phoenix anymore."
Of course he is right.
And thank god for that.