Disclaimer: SM owns it all.
This is just a short O/S I've wanted to write for a while. It is unbetaed, so any mistakes you find are mine alone.
It is a ghost story. This is your tissue warning.
The stream behind Isabella Swan's house froze in the winter. She loved the way it crack-crack-crackled under her feet when she stepped on it lightly, hesitantly. At six years old, she wasn't heavy enough to cause any real danger to herself as long as she didn't venture too far onto the ice.
But Isabella's favorite thing about the winter in rural, northern Connecticut was the snow. It formed great, frosty swaths, blanketing the countryside and making everything glisten like finely crushed pearl. Isabella loved to tramp through the pristine white, the deep drifts sometimes reaching her knees or even higher. She loved how quiet things became during a storm. Even the trees stilled, stoically accepting the load onto their barren branches.
Her father owned a small sheep farm, but Isabella didn't comprehend how poor they were. Everything she wanted, she received. As the only child, neighbors might have said she was spoiled. But Isabella never wanted much—for her, the simplest doll at Christmas sufficed.
It was on one of those cold, January days after a fresh snowfall that Isabella found herself near the creek she loved, cautiously skirting the banks in her tall, warm boots.
A light wind brushed against her face, sweeping her hair from her cheek, and she shivered. It was a very cold day, indeed, to be playing in the woods.
Isabella rounded a corner, her breath puffing steam into the frigid air. Her eyes widened.
There, about five feet away on the other side of the creek, stood a skinny, red-haired boy. His eyes focused on her, dark but seemingly kind. He smiled crookedly, an expression that lit up his angelic face. Isabella had never seen someone so perfect.
"Hello," the boy said.
Isabella's eyes grew larger. She'd never seen a boy in the woods behind her house, and this boy was certainly extraordinary.
"Hello," she replied shyly, her face flushing though she had no reason to be embarrassed. Who was this boy? Where had he come from? Isabella didn't know, and so she stood mute and crimson.
"I'm Edward," the boy said, casually kicking his boot through the snow. Isabella noticed his clothes were very peculiar. The cloth of his breeches seemed fashioned out of deerskin, rather than any textile she recognized.
"Hello," she said again, a little more loudly. "I'm Isabella."
"You do?" Her brow furrowed in confusion as she watched the boy leap lithely over the frozen stream. He landed on the snow near her, the impact barely causing an indentation in the soft powder.
"Yes," he confirmed, taking a step toward her. As he became more proximal, she noticed with some alarm that he seemed almost transparent when the sunlight filtering through the trees hit him at a certain angle. Isabella shivered and stepped backwards, her instincts warning her of danger.
The boy seemed to notice her fear and frowned, stopping his advancement.
"I will not hurt you," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I . . . simply wanted . . . a friend."
"A friend?" Isabella asked, the words barely audible. "But I don't know you. Who are you?"
"I'm Edward. I live . . . I live in these woods."
"Alone? Don't you have a mother or a father?" Isabella's question seemed perplexing to Edward. His beautiful face fell, shimmering lightly. Instantly, Isabella felt chagrined. She'd wounded this boy, who seemed so alone . . . but dangerous, a voice within her warned. Very dangerous.
But even as young as she was, Isabella's compassion won out her fear.
She stepped towards the boy, holding out her hand.
"All right, Edward," she said, trying to establish control of her voice. "I'll be your friend."
"You will?" The strange, beautiful boy seemed to grow brighter for a moment before he held out his own hand. When she grasped it, she was shocked by its coldness.
"I've been waiting for you, Isabella," he said knowingly.
"You have? For how long?"
The boy released her hand and shoved his back into his pockets. He considered her for a moment with a cautious, but hopeful stare. "For a long time."
Isabella decided not to tell her parents about her new friend.
Edward never forbade it, but he'd warned her they might not understand why he had no parents and no home. And anyhow, Isabella's parents, Charlie and Renee, weren't the most imaginative sort of people. And so Edward became Isabella's most cherished and carefully guarded secret.
She wanted to take him home with her and often asked him to come and live in her room. She'd care for him, bring him delicious things to eat and toys to play with. Her parents would never know.
Edward considered the proposition wistfully, but always declined. His place was in the forest, he said. He preferred the silence and the freedom to live amongst the trees, near their stream. But Isabella started to wonder.
Most days, once she finished doing her reading or learning maths, she sought out Edward. He always appeared when she called; sometimes, she could have sworn he materialized out of thin air.
They played. Kick the Can. Hide and Seek. Edward always let Isabella get a head start, biding his time to seek her out even though she knew he always knew where she was. Sometimes she suspected he let her win on purpose.
After that first day, he never let her touch him. But before long, Edward was Isabella's best friend. When she didn't see him, she longed for him. When she was with him, she hoped she'd never have to leave. Of course she did leave. She had to return to her parents in the evening while Edward remained in the woods. Always beautiful. Always alone.
Winter passed into spring, spring to summer, and then fall. Isabella's seventh birthday crept up on her and, though she had almost forgotten about it, Edward knew.
"This is for you," he said, holding out his fisted hand. For a second, she thought he would hold hers, and reached out in anticipation. Instead, he released his grasp just above her open hand, dropping a small, delicate gold ring onto her palm.
Isabella clasped the band between her fingers, her eyes squinting as she attempted to read the inlayed inscription.
"E. C. and C. C. 1900." She looked back at Edward inquisitively. "Who are they?"
"My parents," he said. "Esme and Carlisle Cullen."
Isabella's face grew solemn as her child's mind processed the information. I900. That was over thirty years ago.
"Are they . . .?"
"They're gone," Edward replied in a soft voice.
The word hung coldly in the early fall air, echoing in the leaves as they rustled.
"Edward . . ."
The boy's eyes lifted, traveling from the object in her clasped fingers to her face. Pain. Fear.
"Don't ask me. Please."
His figure began to shimmer brightly, gaining that otherworldly quality that both frightened and intrigued her. She reached out to touch his arm and her fingers sought purchase, but sank, startlingly, straight through.
"I didn't want you to know," he said sorrowfully, stepping away.
"That I'm dead, too."
He wouldn't come to her.
Though she pled, begged, and cried, he didn't come.
Isabella felt an emptiness establish itself deep inside in her chest . . . it grew and grew and couldn't be filled, not even when her parents bought her a pony on her eighth birthday. Not even when she started going to school—a real school two villages away.
She always thought of Edward.
And school was horrible. The mean girls, Jessica and Lauren, teased her. They called her "sheep girl," ridiculed her parents for farming when most of the community had moved on to other, non-agricultural pursuits. Her only friend was Angela, and she lived at the convent and couldn't come over to play on weekends. Isabella, now called Bella by her less vituperative classmates, felt alone.
One day, after a particularly challenging afternoon of deflecting her classmate's barbs, Bella found herself alone near her stream. Even though Edward never came anymore, she thought of it as his stream, too. But perhaps he hadn't been real at all. Her memory of him had begun to fade.
Winter had come again, and so had the cold. Isabella sat on a rock near the icy bank and wrapped her arms around herself for warmth.
She cried quietly for a while, burying her face in her knees until . . . she felt something. A presence. Something even colder than the ice gripped her shoulder.
"Edward," she gasped, her head lifting to behold, yes, the boy from the woods. Her friend had returned.
"Bella." His face was sorrowful. "I'm sorry."
"You LEFT me," she shrieked, shrugging away from him. His figure grew bright, then dimmed as he regarded her. Bella could have sworn he was seven years old when she'd last seen him, but now he looked to be around her age. Surely ghosts didn't grow older. Then again, she'd never known another ghost.
Her tears began to dry on her face.
"I never should have gone. It was a mistake."
"Why did you?" she demanded, placing her hands on her hips.
"I was afraid."
"You." His eyes became bright. "Afraid of losing you once you knew what I was."
Isabella sniffed, wiping the residual tears on the sleeve of her jacket. "You're Edward."
Edward chuckled, his body growing more corporeal. "I am. But I . . . I thought you'd hate me."
"I don't hate you," Isabella confessed begrudgingly. Her anger at his abandonment hadn't yet abated, but here he was, her Edward. All she had ever wanted.
"You don't?" He smiled crookedly, daring to hope.
"I'm so sorry. I'll never leave you again."
Edward was nothing if not true to his word. He remained with her always, a loved presence by her side even when people looked at her askance, thinking she spoke to herself in whispers.
Bella grew, and so did Edward. He seemed to mirror her, taking on her age with each passing year. She never inquired about it. Some part of her feared he'd leave if she asked too many pressing questions. Even if she'd wanted to leave him behind, he'd never have gone. Or so she hoped. Bella never wished to relive those terrible months when he was away from her, no matter what the consequences.
She had a troublesome feeling Edward thought he wasn't good for her. But he was. He never laughed at her or judged her. They talked for hours about everything and nothing at all. And sometimes she caught Edward looking at her like she was the spirit, about to disappear at a moment's notice.
The night of her sixteenth birthday, she realized she loved him.
Edward and Bella sat on the roof of her parents' house late in the night. He never came inside, but sometimes she coaxed him away from the woods and the stream onto her roof to be near her as she slept.
"How old were you when you died?" she asked quietly, nestling into the crook of his arm. Though it took great stamina and presence of mind, he could make himself embodied for her, if only for a few minutes at a time.
"I was seventeen when the fever hit," Edward replied, his jaw clenching. "Just about to turn eighteen. I wanted to enlist in the army, but . . . the influenza took my parents. Then it took me."
Bella took in his words, shivering slightly in the moonlight. She fingered the thin gold ring she wore on a chain around her neck.
"But you aged along with me."
He smiled. "Yes."
"It was fun. And I wanted you to feel safe."
"Why?" she asked again, teasing him now.
"Because I love you," he said simply.
"It's not fair, "she whispered, lightly caressing his cheek. He sighed and leaned into the touch, but the pained look on his face signified he couldn't stay with her for long.
"No, it's not."
Her breath caught in her throat. "Edward, I . . ."
"Don't say it." He gritted the words between his teeth, turning his head away. "Please."
"Why not? You did."
"Because it can never be, Bella," he said, "Don't you see that?"
"It can be," she protested weakly, caught in the grip of self-realization and denial. "I love you. I'll never love anyone else."
Some nights she called out for him in her sleep, unaware of what her body craved. Though she moved and writhed wantonly on the bed, he never came to her.
When they were together, all was perfect. Neither of them spoke aloud what both of them now knew and understood. They could never be.
"Edward," Bella breathed out. She was seventeen, beautiful and ripe for him. Her fingers traveled searchingly over her body, but granted no relief.
Watching her from her window was torture . . . he'd waited so long, wanted only her, and now he couldn't even pleasure her the way a man should please the woman he loved. For Edward, the pain was excruciating. His acute desire sometimes played tricks with his mind. He felt certain he'd combust and go to hell for even considering the possibility . . . that just maybe she could be his.
He imagined taking her for his own. But there was only one way to do that, and the thought was unconscionable. What kind of demon was he?
But every day, she grew more luscious. She sang for him. He watched her, cataloging each breath and swing of her hips to last him an eternity.
A boy came calling: eighteen, dark-haired, confident, and tall. His name was Peter, and he was the most important thing that Edward wasn't. Alive.
Edward's jealousy consumed him. He became snappish and distant with Bella when they were alone, but instantly chagrined when his ill temper upset her. It wasn't her fault. Men flocked to her distant, fragile beauty, her lush hips and full lips. She didn't even know how precious she was.
"There's nothing for you to worry about," she soothed, running her hands through his all-too-tenuous hair.
"There is, Bella. I can't . . . I can't be what you need me to be. You should be with someone else. Someone human."
"Edward Cullen," she scolded, though her eyes remained soft. "You are human. Don't you know that I'm yours?"
Edward kissed her fingers lightly. The sensation felt like the whisper of a breeze. "I'm yours," he replied. "No matter what happens."
"If you think I'm going to marry some man just because he looks at me twice, you're wrong," Bella said firmly. She sat up and crossed her arms over her chest. Edward tried not to be aware of the way her unconfined breasts rose and fell under the thin cotton material of her nightgown. "I make my own decisions. And I'll never decide that."
Edward regarded Bella impassively, though his heart broke. He knew it was only a matter of time before his girl wanted more from life than to rove with an unsettled spirit. And he would let her . . . he would have to let her go.
But she knew him well.
"Would you please stop thinking of every horrible thing? It's the 1940's," she argued. "I don't want to get married and saddled with a bunch of babies. I want to go to college."
"I want that for you." Edward leaned in, kissing her hair near her ear. The movement sent shivers up her spine. She turned her face and caught his lips.
"Oh yeah?" she teased.
"I want everything for you."
Isabella's dreams of college never came true. Instead, the war came, and with it, the deaths of many millions of innocents and noble young men. Instead of pursuing higher learning, Isabella went to work in a factory sewing soles onto leather shoes for the army.
Edward never left her.
"You said you wanted to be a soldier?" She spoke softly as he held her one night, only moments before he would dematerialize under sheer force of the strain.
"Yes," Edward confessed. "But I never got the chance. And it was a foolish thing to wish for, anyway."
"Surely you don't think it's foolish to serve one's country?" Bella turned towards him, the thin strap of her gown falling down her shoulder. Edward tore his eyes away from her soft, white flesh.
"Of course not. I was foolish for imagining it to be glamorous. I thought I'd become a hero . . . my dreams were foolish." He shook his head. "All I know is, though that death might be noble, it's a terrible waste. So many men . . . " Edward trailed off.
"Peter is joining up," Bella offered casually.
Of course he knew. He was always at her side, even while another courted her. If he hadn't already been dead, it would have killed him, Edward thought sourly.
Peter wanted to marry her.
He'd already come to her parents and asked for her hand, but they'd left it up to Isabella. Though they were poor and the match would be beneficial, they wouldn't force her on this, the most important decision of her young life.
"Is that all you have to say?" Bella asked. Her eyes flashed darkly as she regarded Edward's stoic face. His jaw clenched, grew bright, then nearly invisible, as it always did when he was agitated. Finally, after a moment, he settled into himself.
"What would you have me say?" he asked.
"No. I want you to say no. Forbid it."
"Yes," she hissed, her face so close to his. "Forbid it."
"You know I . . ."
Her mouth silenced him, capturing his in a probing, searching kiss, deeper than any they'd ever shared before. Edward felt his control slipping, and along with it, his tenuous ability to hold onto his form.
Her hands moved across his chest, down his torso to the place where, had he been alive, his erection would have been full and throbbing with human need.
He was full, and hard, always, for her—but only with the spiritual manifestation of his desire, not from any bodily stimuli.
"Edward," Bella whispered when her hands felt him. He groaned, trying to keep himself together. "Make love to me."
"I can't, Bella . . . "
Edward gritted out her name as he willed his body present: just for tonight, one night. His hands began to move over her, naked now that she'd removed her gown. He touched every place he'd dreamt of, making her moan and cry out when he finally reached that deep, secret space.
"I love you," he whispered, moving against her in the way most likely to grant her release. There would be no climax for him, but it was enough to feel her with the fingers he willed solid, to imagine the taste of her sweet, salty mouth even as he kissed her.
It was heaven and hell wound tightly, a sinewy coil mapping their lives together.
Edward didn't care to estimate how long he stayed with Bella, giving in to both of their needs. All he knew was the pleasure of her kiss and the warmth of her body. When she finally shuddered, pulsing with relief and the ebbing flow of her desire, Edward imagined pressing into her, claiming her once and for all as his own. He groaned, his eyes rolling back in his head as she ran her hands through his hair, pulling him closer.
Here she was, his perfect love: beautiful, flaming, and alive. He could never be with her, and he could never take her life. Even though he'd sworn never to leave her again, the time had come.
He stayed until she'd been claimed by a deep, dreamless sleep.
And with one last kiss, he was gone.
The years that passed were bittersweet for Edward.
He often wished he could move beyond the strange limbo he found himself in, but if God existed, he never heeded Edward's prayer.
Even though Bella thought Edward had left her, he never went far. When being in the house became too painful, he found solace near their stream and imagined Bella as a child, when she was his alone.
After two years of waiting for Edward's return, Bella married Peter. A newly decorated veteran and war hero, Peter was kind and good-natured. He made the perfect husband.
Of course Edward hated him.
Some days Bella went searching in the woods for her best friend, though he never showed himself to her. It would have been too cruel. While it tormented him to see her bed another and bear him children, it would be so much worse to return to her now that she had become a wife and mother.
That was the bitter. The children made life in limbo sweet.
Edward watched them, a boy and a girl, change from infants into echoes of the girl he loved. They grew tall and lively, with straight teeth and strong backs. They loved their father and worshiped their mother, even when she fell into one of her melancholy, distant moods.
He would never forgive himself for that.
When Bella turned forty, she stopped looking for Edward. She even stopped sensing him, as she had when she was younger. Now, Edward could come and go in the house, his presence felt, and tolerated, only by the family cat.
Eventually the children went off to college and then married, leaving Bella and her husband on their own in the gentle fondness of late middle age.
Edward even began to grow somewhat warm toward Peter.
Things settled for a while.
But then they changed.
"Pancreatic cancer," the doctor said. Edward stood in the room, grief and disbelief consuming him as he watched the scene unfold. Peter's lip trembled as he clasped his wife's hand; her eyes widened as she regarded the doctor. Stoic. Bella. No, not his Bella.
"How bad is it?" she asked, her voice hoarse.
"Bad, I'm afraid."
"How long do I have?"
"Okay," she said quietly, stroking Peter's hand. "That's okay."
Her children came and stayed at the house where they'd grown up. The daughter, Alice, was especially stricken. She sat with her mother all day, but when night fell Edward took over watch.
Even though she didn't know he was there, Edward held Bella's hand. He received a pleasant surprise: a glimpse of the ring he'd once given her, still worn on a thin chain around her neck.
He told her of all the wondrous things that lay ahead, even though he had experienced none of them. And she looked at him, or through him, with wide, unseeing eyes as the disease took hold of her body.
She fought quietly, but persistently.
It was a wet, windy March day when Bella let go.
Just a soft suspiration of breath, and her heart stopped. And while Alice grabbed for her mother's hand and shrieked, Edward left her family to grieve. He knew where to look.
He found her near their old haunt, radiant and bewildered as she wandered by the stream in her new form.
"I thought I just might find you here," he whispered.
She whirled around, shimmering and light. And her face became young again, and so did his.
"You were waiting? All this time?" she asked, her voice full of disbelief.
Suddenly he knew why he'd been sent, why he'd never moved on. Edward smiled his crooked smile and held out his hand.
"Of course. For you, I'd wait forever."
A/N: ::sobs:: Okay. I know this is super-emo. Leave me a review anyway!