Chapter 55: Ball Lightning

Eddie's been prodding me to get on with this story. I have this week off, so you get another chapter. Not sure how far I'll get before RL intrudes. Let's get on with the show!

Our music:

"Lust for Life," by Lana del Rey featuring The Weeknd

o~o~0~o~o

I wanna hide the truth
I wanna shelter you
But with the beast inside
There's nowhere we can hide

~Demons by Imagine Dragons

o~o~0~o~o

Mount Assiniboine National Park, British Columbia…

Sunday, April 25th, 2004:

"What's changed between you?" Carlisle demanded tersely from two hundred miles away.

"What do you mean?" I leaned back against a fragrant spruce that seemed to reach all the way to Heaven. "Nothing's changed. Bella and I are fine."

"That response is out of character."

I rolled my eyes. "I don't know what you mean."

"Yes you do. Normally, you'd be beating yourself up over this."

"What can I say? Everyone tells me I'm too hard on myself. Bella and I are evolving. I wanted her. She bit me. I returned her affection. Cut me some slack."

"That sounds like the addict talking."

"Carlisle! I can't consummate while she's human. I must get through the next year somehow." Possibly longer. To be honest, I didn't realize I'd bitten her, but I never forgot myself or lost focus. "Titch is wrong. I knew when to stop. Bella was fine with it. She was into it, actually."

"So you're planning on doing it again. Making her your cow."

I was stunned. How could he say such a crass thing? And yet, that was the proper term for it.

"Edward?"

"That's none of your business."

Carlisle sighed. "I knew I was speaking to the addict."

"It was mutually enjoyable!"

"Are you aware that eighty percent of cows die within six months?"

"That's … I would never hurt Bella." Seconds ticked away in silence.

"I wasn't going to tell you…" he said hesitantly.

I tensed. "Tell me what?"

"You gave Bella symptoms of a Third Class Hemorrhage."

My jaw dropped. I leaned forward, ready to spring to my feet. "No! You're lying!"

"When have I ever lied to you?"

I tucked my chin. Carlisle rarely overstepped, but if he did, he normally erred on the side of brutal honesty.

"You did. Bella is small. She has perhaps seven pints of blood in her body. I estimate that you took almost three."

I shot upright. "Is she okay?"

"After you left, I gave her a transfusion. She's going to be fine, providing all her blood stays inside her where it belongs. I would estimate that she can't afford to lose any of it for at least three months."

"Oh my God." I started to pace.

"She could have died, Edward."

"Fuck!" I stared up at the light through the trees and cried out. "I never meant to hurt her."

"I know."

I sat down on a fallen tree. "I thought … I didn't hypnotize her, you know? She consented. It was…" Bliss. Absolute carnal bliss. Carnal. Shit.

"Are you certain?"

"Yes. No… I don't know. I was so sure …"

"And that's why I think you weren't in your right mind. You aren't a risk taker."

"Shit." I pressed my palm to my throbbing head. "Is she mad?"

"Bella's always been a little addled, right?" he said dryly.

"No. I mean pissed. Is Bella pissed at me?"

"We're talking about Bella. No, she's not upset with you. She insists you would never hurt her. Which makes her a tad insane, don't you think?"

It dawned on me that my sire was furious. With me. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Being careless."

"I believe you thought you were being very clever."

"Please don't be angry with me. Please?"

"Do you realize what you've done? You almost outed us. Rosalie and I had to clean up the scene before Charlie got home. We were just climbing out the window when he unlocked the front door. We had to clean the wall and windowsill, replace Bella's mattress, pillow and rug, and launder all the bedding. And then I had to explain to Charlie that you'd fallen ill while driving Bella home, and that she was sitting with you at the hospital. Whereas, in reality, it is she who is receiving medical care."

All the air left my lungs. "Where is she?"

"I forbid you to come home."

I almost dropped the phone. "What?"

"Get yourself under control. When your eyes are amber again, you can come back."

"The prom's in just over two weeks!" I resumed pacing. "I have final projects and exams and—"

"And a raging addiction to your Singer."

"It's not like that." I shook my head fiercely. "It's not. I messed up. I get that. But I'm not going to hurt her, Carlisle. Swear to God."

"I thought you didn't believe in God."

He might as well have slapped me. The intensity of his fury travelled hundreds of miles through the phone, incinerating my heart as if he'd tossed me in a crematorium.

"Do you … hate me now?" My knees quivered while I waited for him to cut me loose.

"Of course I don't hate you!" he shouted. "But that doesn't mean I'm not bloody furious. If you were here, I'd put you over my fucking knee!"

"I'm sorry."

"I'd like to give Bella a good wallop, too. But she can't help not understanding what we are. Bella's the kind of girl who finds a tame wolf in the woods, gives it a pat and is surprised when it bites her arm off!"

"I know."

"Which makes you responsible for setting the limits."

"I understand."

"You had damn-well better! The girl has no sense of self-preservation at all. I think she'd let you kill her just so that she wouldn't have to hurt your feelings by rejecting you."

I hung my head. "Do you really think so?"

"I know so! She keeps telling me that you were in control and she liked it."

My cock flexed. I was hauled unceremoniously out of my inappropriate train of thought by Carlisle's teeth-rattling verbal shake.

"Don't you dare!"

"What," I protested weakly.

"I know what you're thinking! She's a naïve little girl, Edward. I won't have you corrupting her. I left Esme for ten years to keep her safe. I'll encase you in concrete up to your neck for the next two years if I get so much as a hint that you're going to hurt Bella!"

I sucked in an offended breath and went off on him. "Aren't you the one who said he'd change her immediately if that's what I wanted?"

"Is that what you want? Because I almost had to do it last night, your preferences be damned. And that was after the transfusion. I'll do it right now if you give me the go-ahead, but she'll never smell of lavender and freesia again. She'll smell of some nameless blood donor. And me. She'll smell of me forever. Not you!"

"Stop!"

"Make up your goddamn mind!"

I threw out my arms. "She wants another year! She doesn't want to change yet!"

"Of course not. She's fickle. She's not old enough yet to know her own mind!"

"Upon that we agree!"

Each of us took a deep breath.

"Then what are you going to do about it?" Carlisle growled quietly.

"I don't know." My voice cracked. "I don't know what to do."

"Don't come back until you do." The line went dead.

"Dad?" I redialed. Nothing happened. My phone had no service. "Shit!" I sat down on the earth in shock, seconds away from a panic attack. A short time later, Emmett came to me, a large brown bear thrown over his shoulders.

"Hey, Bro. Soup's on."

"My phone isn't getting a signal." I held up the offending object.

Emmett set down the bear and scratched the back of his head. "Um, yeah, about that …"

I cocked my head to the side. "What?"

Em cleared his throat. "Well, um, Carlisle is plenty mad." I waited, and butterflies began to disrupt my insides. "He says he doesn't want any verbal exchanges happening that might do any of your relationships damage."

"What are you saying?" I couldn't feel my legs.

"Carlisle is afraid that you, or he, or Bella, might say something rash that will never be forgotten. So he's temporarily cut off your phone. And your bank cards." Consider yourself in rehab.

"You… all of you …" My head spun. "You aren't going to let me talk to Bella."

"Bella's not being rational. And neither are you."

I shot to my feet. "I'm a hundred-and-three fucking years old!"

"She's not." He got up close to me and looked me firmly in the eye. It's the only time that I can ever remember Emmett dominating me.

"We all love her, Eddie."

The lump in my throat would have choked me to death if I'd been human.

"We love you ten times more. Now let us nurse the pair of you back to sobriety, okay?"

I managed a nod.

He smiled kindly. "Good man. Now, how'd you like to order Bella some flowers?"

I peeked up at him and nodded, my chest expanding. For the next twenty minutes, he helped me peruse blossoms online, and then he called in the order.

Mixed white and red roses … I'm sincerely sorry. I love you.

Bachelor's button … I care about your feelings and I hope you'll forgive me.

Blue and violet hyacinths … I profoundly regret what I did.

White tulips … I'm sorry.

"Let me know when they've been received, would you, please?" Em asked the florist.

When he ended the call, he dragged the bear over to where we were sitting. "Drink up before it gets cold."

I really wasn't thirsty, but I knew that the more I fed, the sooner my eyes would go back to amber. After experiencing Bella, though, the bear tasted like crap.

An hour and a half later, the florist called Emmett back. "Miss Swan was thrilled with the flowers, and would like to know where to deliver an arrangement to Mr. Edward Cullen." My heart soared.

"Um," Emmett's gaze flickered over to me. "Edward is in British Columbia right now and is not expected to return for a couple of weeks. Miss Swan might want to hold off on that delivery, although I'm sure he'd appreciate it later. Can you deliver that message?"

"Will do."

"Thanks very much."

"No problem."

I curled up on the ground while Em relished the remaining blood in the bear. "Why won't Carlisle let me call to say I'm sorry?"

Em licked his lips. "Carlisle knows you're sorry. Bella knows it, too. Carlisle told me to remind you every day that we all love you."

"Why haven't I heard from Titch?"

"She and Jasper are in New York, looking around at colleges."

"Oh."

"Jasper had to get away. Your lusts …"

"He's tempted to go back and … hurt Bella, isn't he?"

"Yes. But he won't. Jasper loves you too much."

I drew up my knees, buried my head in my arms and cried.

o~o~0~o~o

A week passed. Emmett cajoled me without success to go sightseeing with him and enjoy the stunning beauty of the Rocky Mountains and pristine blue lakes. I only rose in order to feed. The rest of the time, I curled up in a ball, wishing to turn back the clock. On the ninth day, Carlisle showed up. He never could stay angry for long. He didn't exactly look happy to see me, though.

My head was completely jammed up with conflicting thoughts. I was so relieved to see him, but angry at the same time. Affection won out. I scampered to him on my knees and bowed my neck.

"Christ aid." He smacked my cheek. "Get up." I was careful not to look him in the eye. He took my face in his hands and inspected my irises. I had trouble holding his gaze. What did he expect from me?

Looks almost normal. "Thank you for standing by Edward, Emmett."

"You're welcome. He's done it enough times for me."

Carlisle dropped his hands and stared down at me. "What's Edward discussed with you?"

"Nothing."

Carlisle canted his head to the side. "Eh?"

Sorry for throwing you under the bus, Bro. "Aside from thanking me and following orders, he's spent most of the week on the ground in fetal position."

"He hasn't confided in you or asked for advice?"

"No."

Carlisle pressed his lips together. I felt like a bug on a pin. "Explain."

I shrugged slightly. "Everything hurts. Being away from Bella is physically painful. I've just been trying to obey you, and endure the separation, and sustain myself by counting the seconds until I can go home."

"That's not good enough."

I snuck a contrite glance at him. He looked unmoved. I swallowed my pride. "I wanted to discuss my thoughts with you, but you wouldn't talk to me."

He shook his head once. "I didn't want to lose my temper with you. I needed a break."

"Are you still mad at me?"

"No. Frustrated. I thought … I expected better of you. I thought you had more of a grip on this. But Rose and Esme feel my expectations of you are too high and that you can't possibly meet them."

My eyes flared and my heart stung. 'I thought better of you.' I stared at the buttons on his old sweater. Carlisle was disappointed in me. I couldn't remember another time when that had happened. Sure, he'd been upset back in 1921 when I'd left him, but he'd been grieved that I was leaving, not disappointed in my behaviour. Even when I'd returned a monster, he hadn't expressed a lack of faith in me. This was a first. I hadn't thought I could be in much more pain, but he proved me wrong.

"Never mind," he said, tucking my head under his chin. "It's not your fault. It's natural to want that kind of intimacy. I just want you to have it with a vampire, not a fragile human girl."

I squeezed my eyes shut. "You don't approve of my relationship with Bella?"

"I didn't say that. Bella is a lovely girl and she belongs with us now. I just think you're moving too fast."

"Yeah. I guess." I played with the top button on his cardigan. Esme had sewn on a new set. That sweater had been part of Carlisle's wardrobe for my entire unlife, and it was a comforting symbol of his authority over me. The ancient wool survived, but needed sprucing up now and then.

"What are you going to do?" he asked gently.

"I don't know. I understand that I mustn't bite her again. She wants me to develop more closeness with her but it's so difficult to control myself."

"Rose and Esme are talking to her about her unrealistic expectations."

That was encouraging. I stepped out of his hug. "Do you think she'll listen?"

"Only God knows. Bella trips along to a unique beat."

I nodded enthusiastically. "She's forever surprising me."

"I know." Carlisle regarded me solemnly. "That's why it behoves you to hold a firm stance against her exuberance."

I couldn't look at him. "What if I can't?"

"You can't afford to fail. Too many lives will be altered irrevocably if you do."

Resolving to be transparent, I met his gaze. "How did you leave Esme?" He didn't seem in the least surprised by my question.

"It hurt, but I found ways to distract myself and fill my time. It's not an option for you, Edward. Esme and I didn't bond when we first met. You know that. You and Bella have already interwoven your very souls. Even short periods of separation lead to gut-wrenching pain for both of you."

Instead of telling him that Bella didn't actually feel pain when we were apart, I wallowed in some bitterness. "Yeah, I know. Life would have been simpler for everyone if I'd stayed in Denali."

"Can't change history. But I don't think you'd have been able to stay away. Bella reciprocated your interest. If Esme had displayed any interest in me, there's no way I could have left her."

"So what am I supposed to do?"

I'm not going to decide for you. "You and Bella need to work that out. Talk to her. Find some way to make this situation tenable. Right now, the pair of you are coursing downhill in a rickety drover's cart and you're going to crash."

"Okay."

"You're maddeningly stubborn with everyone but Bella. You're going to have to learn to say no. She walks all over your carefully laid plans."

My lip quirked up. "But I like it when she's spontaneous."

Carlisle crossed his arms. "Will you like it when she breaks in your arms? Want to learn what it feels like to scatter earth on top of her coffin? Perhaps you'd like an eternity on Earth without her by your side. You can watch me and Esme grieve forever. Or maybe you'd prefer to experience the pain of burning alive and watching yourself turn to ash, knowing that you're causing your family irreparable agony."

Silence stretched between us.

"You've made your point," I conceded. "I just … want everything everybody else has."

"Then I suggest you weigh the costs and benefits of waiting versus claiming your mate."

"I can be patient," I murmured, "so that Bella experiences every desirable opportunity."

"Then you're going to put Bella first and deny yourself, and deny her if necessary, in order to reach your goals?"

I wrapped my arms around myself. "I'll have to, won't I?"

Carlisle wet his lip. "I can tell you from experience that a modicum of self-denial builds anticipation and makes for a blissful eternity."

"That's what I've always believed. And wanted."

"Then you're going to have to mold yourself to that vision, even if it creates temporary conflict with your mate."

"Geez," Em interjected. "I don't understand you two at all. If your woman sashays by and flashes her bazoongas, you have to grab 'em. Carpe diem, you know?"

Carlisle shook his head and shut his eyes. "He'd have failed the marshmallow test every time."

I couldn't repress a grin. "I know, right?"

"Okay, boys, let's go home."

My heart took flight.

o~o~0~o~o

May 4th, 2004:

Cullen House …

Bella reclined against the red cushions of her futon. She was nearly as pale as me. When I stooped to kiss her, she flinched.

"Sorry!" I knelt beside her and kissed the back of her hand. "Are you in pain?"

"No, just weak. I've had a terrible headache the whole time you've been away. Carlisle says that's not unusual with so much blood loss."

"I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."

She shook her head. "You didn't hurt me. You were right. I didn't even feel your teeth go through my skin. Forget about the hypodermic. Someday, when it's time, I want you to use your teeth. It felt amazing."

My gaze darted away. "This is probably a bad time to talk about that."

"I'm sorry. Is my scent giving you trouble?"

Such a loaded question. "Yes."

"I dunno why you put up with me."

I gawped at her. "What?"

She wouldn't meet my gaze. "I'm always stepping over your boundaries. I get us into trouble."

I bit my tongue to stop myself from saying that I generally enjoyed myself whenever she broke through my boundaries, and so it was hardly a negative when she did so. But I knew that would give her carte blanche to push my limits, and that could only lead to heartbreak.

I ran my hand through my hair. "Yeah, um, about that."

"Go on."

"Expressing this is difficult."

"I know you're a dinosaur, but you're my dinosaur. Tell me what's on your mind. I'm not a fragile Victorian socialite with easily-offended sensibilities."

"Yeah, no, you're anything but that," I said, rolling my eyes. "Thank God."

"So shoot."

I could see her blood pulse in her neck, she was so pale. I wanted to lick her again. With or without the blood.

Bella crossed her arms over her chest. "Talk." I cleared my throat.

"I … lust for things you cannot begin to imagine."

She rolled her eyes at me. "Yeah, you're a regular Hannibal Lecter."

"Bella, watching those movies is like watching The Food Network. I don't watch slasher films for that reason."

"I know. So we've established that you lust for blood. Yada yada. Get to the point."

I ducked my head. "I can never lose control with you. Again."

A wrinkle appeared between Bella's eyes. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I'm perilously close to losing control with you. To allowing instinct to take over."

Bella's lip tipped up on one side. "You will never hurt me. I trust you."

"I will never hurt you intentionally, but mistakes happen."

She shook her head. "You would never kill me. You're too in tune with your limits. And you're always self-possessed."

"Bella! I nearly lost it with you. I took forty percent of the blood from your body and I didn't even stop to think what that might do to you. Tell me you haven't been in pain this week because of me!"

She licked her lip. "What could have happened isn't important. What did happen is that you remained in control, and gave me the most intimate experience of my life."

I leaped back. "You're tempting me."

"If I could have anything without risk, I'd have to admit I want it again."

I pinched my eyes shut. "You are suicidal."

"I'm not." She fluttered her lashes. "I'm not telling you that so that you take it as permission to ravage my neck. I'm just saying … that what you did was really hot."

"Yeah." I risked a glance at my mate. She looked thoroughly on board for Round Two.

"It was hawt," she repeated.

"Yeah."

Bella sashayed toward me and all I could hear was Emmett telling me that when presented with cleavage, one ought to seize the day. Had I been human, I'd have started to sweat.

"No. Don't tempt me," I managed to groan. "I promised you we'd wait until after high school to be permanently bound. My intention is to honour my promise. I can't … I'm weak right now."

Bella palmed my cheek, then ran her hand all the way down my front. I took a step backward. "Don't!"

After staring into my eyes, she withdrew and wrapped her arms around herself. "You don't … want me?"

I wanted to turn her over my knee, spank her 'til she cried, and then prop her on her knees, cover her mouth and fuck her senseless.

"Aargh!" I fisted my hair and paced. "I want more than you can possibly fathom! I am going to be the death of you!" I shook my finger at her, realized it was disrespectful and wrapped my arms firmly around myself. "And that will be the death of me! And just think what that would do to Charlie! And my entire family will grieve for us forever."

Bella, being Bella, gave me a smouldering look. "What exactly do you want from me, Mr. Cullen?" Did she not hear everything I said?

I clenched my fists and found myself face to face with her. "Don't." She opened her mouth to argue and I saw red. Bella gulped, wide-eyed. Then, she slowly lowered her eyes and sank to her knees.

Control. She was offering me her complete surrender. My entire body yearned to take it. My lust to accept it was repellant.

"You are my mate, not my submissive," I growled. "Your behaviour is … unacceptable. Stand up and act like my equal partner."

Bella stood, but she kept her focus on the floor. I could smell tears.

"I didn't mean to chastise you," I said softly. "I just don't want you to ask me to dominate you."

"Yeah." She sniffed. "But we're not equal partners, are we?"

I did a double take. "Well … technically, not yet. But we will be equally yoked someday. Right?"

"Yeah." She wiped her eyes. "Charlie says I should respect your physical boundaries." Her hair fell in a curtain over her face. "I'm sorry for pushing."

"I wish I could …"

"No." She lay back down on the futon and turned her wan face away. "You have integrity and I shouldn't tempt you to abandon your values. I shouldn't be asking you to give me more than you can when I know that you see yourself as a failure, as less of a man, every time you give in." She lifted red eyes to meet my gaze. "But you should know, that when you do give in, I don't see it as weakness. What I see is sheer power and masculinity. It's breathtakingly beautiful to watch, and it's addictive. Like watching Adonis … sunbathe in the gardens of the women of Sappho."

I blinked. Where does she even get that stuff? "You know, the myths don't even say why women supposedly liked Adonis, besides that he was handsome."

"Like you, he personifies life, death and rebirth. The guy was in love with Aphrodite. She loved him. That's …" Bella nodded. "Extremely romantic."

"He died for it."

"No, he died because someone was jealous of him." Bella grimaced. "He's kind of immortal, though."

I felt my lip tip up. "You'd better not be saying that you'd be okay with me dying if I came back every year as spring flowers."

"Um, no. You are not to be pushing up any daisies, mister."

"I've lost track of the point of this analogy," I admitted.

"The point is, I relish it when you trust me enough to let me see you let down your guard. It makes me love you even more. When you let me see your vampiric qualities, you're making yourself vulnerable to me. And yeah. It's incredibly attractive."

I shook my head sadly. "When you look at me, you're looking at the wrong side of the coin."

"What do you mean?"

"I might be one person, but I have two natures. When I allow you to see my humanity, that's when I feel vulnerable. I'm empowering you by giving you my innermost heart. But when I allow the vampire out of its cage, that's when you are most vulnerable and I am most powerful. I don't like that feeling."

"You are one person. One extraordinary person. You overcome evil every day."

"You like the vampire."

"I love him as much as the human."

"But your understanding of the vampire is an illusion, Bella. You don't really know that side of me at all. You're attracted to Bacchus, and all I've ever wanted to be was Dante."

Bella crinkled up her nose. "No. If you were like Bacchus, you wouldn't love me and you wouldn't be monogamous. I wouldn't like that at all. But I don't want courtly love either. I don't want to be the Beatrice to your Dante. I want all of you, Edward. I want the rough with the sweet. I want something in the middle, which is who you truly are. And I want you to share your true self with me."

"But then I have to show you the monster," I protested.

"Which is when you are making your human self vulnerable."

My jaw dropped. Bella was right. Showing her my negative qualities made me uncomfortable, which indicated I was giving her my trust. I pushed back my hair. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"I'll try. But don't push me. My control is very weak right now. I won't be able to take liberties with you for a while."

"Understood. Are you going to sleep with me?"

"Probably not, but I will stay with you. I might have to sit in the rocker."

Her expression fell. "This is going to be tough."

"No tougher than when I spent time acclimating to your scent."

"But now you've tasted my blood."

"But our bond is mature now. As mature as it can get before we're a fully mated pair."

"How do we become a fully mated pair?" she asked without guile. I pinched between my eyes again, then gave her a loaded look.

"First of all, we'll be married."

The line reappeared between her eyebrows.

"And second, you'll be a Newborn."

"Okay?"

"We'll be somewhere isolated. Like northern Alaska."

"And then?"

"Then, nature will take its course. You'll be lucky if I let you up for breath within the first ten years."

Bella continued to look confused and then her expression cleared. "You're saying we'll be fully bonded when we've had sex. And that our first time is apt to take ten years."

I lifted a shoulder. "Give or take."

"Why don't all vampire couplings result in bonded pairs, then?"

"If the pair hasn't bonded before, they won't bond subsequently."

"Why not?"

"I dunno. It's chemical. A fully bonded pair has a special connection. For instance, Alice can always find Jasper no matter where on the planet he is, and Esme always knows when Carlisle's lost a patient."

"What about Rose and Em?"

"Yeah, pretty much. Rose knows when Em has fed. If Alice isn't around, Esme asks Rose when the males are going to be home."

"Wait. Why do you usually hunt in same sex groups?"

"Uh, we don't … necessarily. Often, pairs go off by themselves. And once in a while, we'll all go together. But males need to feed more often than females, and we like company, and there's safety in numbers."

Bella nodded. "So the connection between mates is psychic?"

"Yeah, and emotional, and physical. You know how intense the pain can get whenever we're separated. It's like that, only even more visceral."

"You know I don't feel physical pain when we're apart," she murmured. "Only emotional."

"It's because you're human."

She peeked at me. "Is it wrong of me to be a little bit afraid of that kind of intense connection?"

"You're talking to the guy who ran away to Alaska on the day we met."

"Are you still afraid?"

"Sometimes. But not of being mated to you, of losing you."

"That is scary."

I brushed the backs of my fingers over her cheek. "We'll get through it."

"How do you know?"

"I have hope."