I've taken some liberties with SM's vampire characteristics at the end of this chapter.
The fear in Edward's eyes is painful to see. Face like ash, he carefully lays me be back on the pillows, like I'm the most fragile thing in the world. Then he stands, pulls both hands through his hair, and locks his fingers on top of his head as he stares down at me. When I cough he winces and groans and that fear in his eyes sharpens to raw panic.
"It's come on so fast," he whispers. "Like my father."
Oh shit. I know what he's thinking. I can see exactly where his mind has gone. He shuts his eyes and bites hard into his lip. "You think it's a cold. Then comes the cough. And the fever." His words are low and murmured. "And then..." He shudders and I know he's not here anymore. He's back in Chicago, a hundred years ago.
"No," I croak and reach out to him. "No. Not like that." I want to say more but even these few words have been an effort, especially when they're followed with another cough that feels like it's ripping me apart from the inside. I have to admit he's right, this isn't the cold I thought it was. It is influenza. The flu. But not his flu. "S'not the same," I mumble.
But he doesn't respond. His eyes stay closed. It's like he's shut down, locked inside his panic.
"This is my fault." He groans again and drops his head into his hands. "My fault. Mine."
I try to interrupt him, but my voice is weak and his fear is strong. Almost as strong as the guilt that blazes across his face now. His eyes are agony as he looks at me.
"My fault." His voice cracks and his breathing hitches. He swallows and rubs his hands over his face and up over his head. "Dear God, what have I done?"
"Edward, stop..." He's motionless, except for the slow clawing of his hands in that tangle of hair. "Please..." I'm cut off by coughs that stab and burn. "Please. Edward I need you."
Those are the words he needed to hear. His eyes snap open. Mine are half closed but I can see clearly enough. I can see the struggle inside him – his past battling with his present. It's there in the twist of his lips and the hard line of his jaw. Suddenly he moves, sinking back onto the bed.
"I'm sorry," he says, but his voice is unsteady and rough. "I'm so sorry. I'm here now. I'm here." He rests his palm on my forehead. "Hundred and four." His Adam's apple drags slowly up and down as he swallows hard. And suddenly he's gone. But before I can even properly register that fact, he's back again, bringing me water. The liquid shakes inside the glass, sliding up and down the sides, as his hand trembles. The sight of it makes me want to cry.
Edward helps me sit up a little. The water feels good against my lips and over my tongue but it hurts to swallow. When I've had a small mouthful I lay back down and Edward takes my hand. His is still shaking. "You have a fever," he says quietly. "A high one. Your heart is fast and you're dehydrated. You need rest and fluids and drugs for the symptoms."
"Is this Dr Cullen talking?" I give him a weak smile. He gives me a weaker one in return. But he squeezes my hand softly.
"You're scared," I whisper.
"I can't lose you." His voice breaks.
"I'm not going anywhere."
Edward leans down and kisses my forehead. "Not without me," he says.
I slip in and out of uneasy sleep. I don't know if it's dreams or reality, but I hear voices. My mom. Carlisle. And Edward.
He talks, though I can't always make out the words. Something about snow. And Christmas. Weddings.
Sometimes he sings.
And sometimes he prays.
I go from cold to hot and back again. I feel trapped in my bed. Trapped in my body. I kick off the blankets and someone pulls them up. Nothing feels right, everything hurts. My muscles ache and my skin stings. When I cough it tears right through me. My chest is heavy. I want to claw my way out of my body and leave it behind.
I want to sleep forever.
There's something cold and damp and rough on my forehead. I try to push it away but it comes back. It makes its way down my face, onto my neck and I shiver.
"Stop," I mutter and try to turn away. "I'm cold." I fumble hopelessly for the covers but they're out of reach.
"Bella..." Edward's agonised voice comes drifting through the haze. "Bella, please..." Then it feels as though he's lifting me in his arms. I open my eyes and meet the fear in his.
"I'm sorry," he says but I'm not sure what he's sorry for. Everything is too fuzzy, I'm only catching every other word. "Too hot...fever...drugs...not fast enough...I need to..."
"Leave me alone," I mumble. "Please. Just sleep." I close my eyes again and reach for the bed. I don't understand why he won't let me sleep. Everything seems so cloudy and disconnected. Not quite real. Like a dream. Edward holds me tighter as I try to escape him.
"Stop it, Bella." His voice is firmer now, almost abrupt, but I ignore it.
"No." I shove at his chest but my arms drop back against me, useless. "Just let me sleep." Why won't he let me sleep? Again I try to squirm out of his arms, but it's like being in a cage. When I start coughing, he groans.
"Bella, I'm sorry, I have to do this." Dark and low, his voice cuts through the haze and really gets my attention this time. "You can sleep when your temperature comes down." When I look at him, Edward has a scarily determined expression on his face. And now he carries me purposefully to the bathroom.
The shower stream is a shock. Cold and sharp, it makes me splutter and gasp and cough more than ever. Our clothes cling to our bodies like a second skin. Edward pushes my wet hair away from my face. He's kept the lights off and the room is dark. I can't see him, but his body is trembling against mine.
The water feels heavy and hard, like it's pushing me down. Like I'm drowning. I twist my head back and forth, trying to get away, but I am surrounded by a solid wall of Edward.
"Let me go! Please." I sob into his neck. "Please. S'cold. I don't like this."
"I know." His voice is anguished and raw and comes through gritted teeth. "Neither do I, but I'm not mucking around anymore. It's this or the hospital."
He sinks onto the floor, cradling me to him. I'm so cold it's almost painful. The water is like knives of ice slicing into my skin. "Please, let me go. It hurts."
"I can't." And now Edward's sobbing too.
It feels like hours that we're under there, but Edward tells me it's only fifty-seven seconds.
"Just enough to put a real dent in the temperature," he says, and his voice is calmer now as he turns the water off and wraps me in a towel. Beads of water run down his face and drip from his hair as he sits me on a chair in the corner of the bathroom. Dry clothes hang from the hook behind the door. He'd planned this, obviously.
He rests his damp hand against my cheek. "I'd say you're hovering a little above a hundred and one now."
Edward helps me get dried and dressed, then he disappears after making sure I'm comfortable in the chair. In the few seconds that he's gone, I realise that the shower does seem to have helped. I still feel awful, and more exhausted than ever, but I'm not cold anymore. Or hot. My skin feels like it's my own again and my mind isn't quite so groggy. Although my body still aches and my head pounds. And still all I want to do is sleep.
"I'm sorry about the shower," Edward whispers as he lifts me into his arms. He's changed clothes but his hair is still damp. A drop of water falls onto my arm as he slides me into the bed.
"You changed the sheets?"
He nods, and somewhere through the slowly lifting haze, a random thought arrives.
"Have you ever made a bed before?"
"No, never. How do you feel?"
"Are you still angry with me about the shower?"
Surprisingly, Edward smiles and kisses my forehead. He almost seems relieved. "Good," he says and holds out a glass of water and a tablet. "Anger means you can fight this."
But the fight goes out of me quickly because as soon as I've had my medicine and my head has hit the pillow, I give myself over to sleep. The deep, sweet, easy sleep I've been craving. At last.
It's daylight when I wake. My eyelids are like lead and it's an effort to open them. When I swallow my throat still burns, but even so, I feel a bit better. I turn my head on the pillow and see Edward sitting cross-legged on the floor, close by my bed. He comes slowly into focus as I blink. Hair more tousled than usual, face drawn. He stares into my eyes and this morning he truly looks like someone who hasn't slept for a hundred years. Soft sunlight is falling through a chink in the curtains, dancing rainbows on his wrist and the backs of his hands.
"Your hands are sparkling."
He glances down and wriggles his fingers, sending prisms of light bouncing around the room. Then he takes my hand between both of his. He closes his eyes and kisses my knuckles. "Knock, knock," he whispers and I'm so surprised that I don't even think about asking what he means, but automatically say, "Who's there?"
He opens his eyes.
The smile starts stretching slowly across my face, and I watch a similar smile dawn, like sunrise, over Edward's.
"Moo," he whispers softly. When I giggle he gives a relieved groan, climbs carefully onto the bed and pulls me into his arms.
"Thank God," he murmurs into my hair. "I thought I'd never see you smile again." He kisses my temple. "How are you feeling?"
"Wrung out," I say and follow it up with a cough.
He touches my cheek. "An even hundred," he murmurs.
"It's better." He hands me the glass of water and a tablet and helps me to sit. "But you still have a little way to go."
Swallowing the tablet is like swallowing broken glass. I wince and grimace and then flop back on the pillows. Edward replaces the glass on the nightstand before curling up beside me. He strokes his fingers softly over my arm.
"How long have I been out of it?" I sniff and he hands me the box of tissues.
"A while," he says. "It's Sunday morning."
Sunday. So I left Charlie's just two days ago. It feels so much longer. "Was my Mom here?" I ask, though I know she wouldn't have been. "I thought I heard her."
"No." Edward shakes his head. "You were dreaming. You called for her once, something about fish sticks." A smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. "I'd ask you what that was about but you probably don't remember."
"No." I touch his cheek, feeling his skin beneath my fingers as I trace his jaw. When I run my fingers through his hair his body almost seems to sigh, and he sags deeper into the mattress. He stares up at me through his lashes as I scratch my nails over his scalp. "Your mother's words about things coming full circle, they kept coming back to me," he says.
For a moment I don't understand, but then realisation dawns. Oh, Edward. "You thought I was going to follow your human path and..." I just stop myself from saying "die".
"For a while there, I was worried."
"Just a while?"
He shrugs. "A while. The past thirty seven hours. It's all the same."
"Edward," I whisper and lift his hand. I'm about to kiss his knuckles, when I'm struck with a horrible thought. "I wasn't...was I? Going to, um..."
"No," he shakes his head. "No, it was just me overreacting." He gives me a sheepish smile and I ruffle his hair. "Carlisle assured me you'd be fine."
"Carlisle was here?"
"He brought drugs."
"I think I remember his voice. Oh! And you gave me a cold shower!"
"Your temperature wasn't coming down fast enough. I had to do something."
"You were shaking, I could feel it while you held me. But you don't get cold."
"Scared," he says simply. "It was the shower or hospital. For a while I didn't know if I was making the right decision by keeping you here."
He looks away, out the window, and again I know where his mind has gone. Hospital would have seemed like the end. It was for his parents. And almost for him.
"You made the right decision," I say. "But lots of people do go to the hospital with flu. And lots of people come home again."
"I know." He smiles slowly.
"And, if it came down to it, you would have changed me," I squeeze his hand.
"It's not how I'd want it to be," he says. "Not forced." He turns back to me. "When the time comes I want it to be because you're ready. But yes, if it came down to it, I would have changed you in a heartbeat. Yours not mine." He smiles wryly and his little joke surprises me. I smile back. Then his smile shifts to a frown and he slowly reaches for my neck, gently touching the tips of his fingers to my throat. I see him swallow as he feels the throb of my blood at the place where he will one day make his mark. His fingers rest there, massaging gently in time with my pulse, just as I open my mouth and yawn. Edward rolls his eyes and smiles.
"Always the wrong reaction," he says.
I sleep a little more, and when I wake again Edward brings me more tablets, and some soup for lunch.
"It's from a tin," he says apologetically. "But it's something. And it should be easy on your throat. How are you feeling now?"
"Better. Not so achy. My head still feels heavy, but I think I might be over the worst of it."
"Your temperature is normal now. Your heart rate is good. How's the appetite?"
"Truthfully, I'm not that hungry." But I take a slow mouthful of soup. It's warm and soothing on my throat, but... "I can't taste it."
Edward nods. "The flu can dull your sense of taste and smell. It's usually temporary." He encourages me to take another mouthful. "But you still need to eat."
Edward grins and settles himself, cross-legged, on the end of the bed. He seems so much more relaxed now. And relieved. Though there's still a wariness in his eyes. "Acute symptoms usually last between two and three days, so your throat should start to ease soon. Muscle aches and runny nose, too. The cough might hang around. They often do. We need to get you out of bed and moving around soon so your muscles..."
I hold up my hand and he stops.
"You sound like a doctor."
"I am a doctor."
"When it suits you."
He smirks. "And today it suits me." Reaching out, he gently feels beneath my jaw. "Your glands are going down too."
I sip quietly at my soup as Edward watches me but after a couple more mouthfuls I've really had enough and push the tray away. If I expect him to argue, I'm disappointed. He just takes the tray and sets it on the dresser, nudging my phone out of the way as he does so. And it's the sight of my phone that reminds me...
"Joham! You didn't tell me your news. What happened?"
Edward smiles and comes back to the bed. "You weren't really in any state to hear my news," he says. "And I wasn't in any state to tell you."
He sits beside me and sighs. "Bella, if I said that it's complicated and now isn't the time, would you accept that?" He gently pushes some hair away from my face. "I'll tell you in a day or two, when you're stronger."
"You're kidding me, aren't you? You think I can wait for a day or two now you've..." The rest of my sentence is cut off by a coughing fit. Edward quickly brings me fresh water and between coughs I empty the glass. When I flop back on the pillows I feel weak and drained and realise maybe he has a point. I don't need "complicated" right now.
"Just tell me, is everything okay? The news isn't bad news? It won't change things between us?"
"Not bad news, just unexpected." He smiles and leans in close, kissing my forehead. "And nothing has to change."
"Okay." I snuggle against him, savouring the feel of him, the feel of his hard chest beneath my cheek, his arms pulling me close. His hand making slow, comforting strokes along my back. He really is the best medicine. "Edward?"
"What did you mean yesterday, when you said it was your fault? You weren't thinking this had something to do with your influenza?"
"No," he sighs, and I feel his lips in my hair. "It had to do with the fact that you sat in those freezing, damp woods, holding my icy body while I fell apart in your arms."
"No," I say. "You're wrong. You can't catch a cold from being cold. And I had customers coughing and sneezing in the store last week, so..."
"True." His fingers make gentle strokes along my arm. "But if you've already been exposed to a flu, being cold doesn't help. Your body puts all its energy into trying to keep warm instead of fighting the virus." He sighs. "That's why I said it was my fault."
"It's not your fault."
He shrugs. "Right now I'm just focused on getting you well. But I was, at least, a contributing factor in you getting sick."
I lift my head and look at him. "You are unbelievable."
"I know." He kisses my nose and I realise I'm not going to change his mind on this. Not right now, anyway. At least he's focusing on me getting better, and not being sick, which I guess is something positive. So maybe I should focus on that. "Would you like a shower?" he asks.
"A warm one this time?"
It's just on dusk when all the Cullens come to visit, bearing gifts. My small apartment is suddenly full of flowers, chocolates and vampires. I sit on the living room sofa in my comfy sweats and feel better for being warmly showered and out of bed. Except for the coughing and the ever-present box of tissues, I could almost feel normal again. Almost. And the company of Edward's family is definitely good medicine, if a little overwhelming. Edward hasn't told them about our Christmas Eve wedding plans yet, and for that I'm glad. I don't think I could handle the excitement right now.
"You look much better than I was expecting," Alice says.
"Alice!" Esme chides, and pats my hand. "You look fine, Bella." She gives me a warm smile.
"She looks pale." Emmett grins at me. "She could almost be one of us."
Rosalie shoots him a dark look. "Leave her alone. The girl's been sick, what do you expect."
"You are looking much better," Carlisle smiles. He's sitting in my rocking chair; like that first night he came here and told me Edward didn't know who I was. It seems so long ago now. Edward stands behind him.
"I feel much better. Guess I had a good nurse. Or doctor." I smile at Edward and he winks back. "And I want to thank you Carlisle. Edward said you brought medicine and checked on me."
"It wasn't a problem," he says. "How does your chest feel?"
I take an experimental breath. "Still heavy, but not like before." And of course now I start coughing. Alice thumps me on the back. Esme calls for water.
"She's alright," Edward says quickly. "Thumping her won't help, Alice." He disappears into the bedroom.
Alice stops immediately and I take the glass Esme holds out. There's silence now as everyone watches me put the glass to my lips. It's like feeding time at the zoo. Surprisingly, it's Rosalie who seems to understand my discomfort. She comments to Jasper about one of my history books on the shelf and a conversation about the Civil War begins. Alice joins in. This small gesture almost makes me cry. Rosalie hates history.
The others seem to get the idea. Esme decides to cook soup. "It won't be ready for tonight," she says. "But we'll stock you up for the next few days." She moves into the kitchen and Carlisle goes too. As they look in cupboards, Emmett asks them if there's anything I need from the store.
"I know Edward won't want to leave her to go shopping," he says.
"She needs fruit," Edward says, coming back into the living room. He has a blanket over his arm and my fluffy grey socks in his hand. "The temperature is falling outside," he says quietly to me. "It'll get cold in here soon. You might want this." He drops the blanket on the arm of the sofa and crouches down to slide the socks onto my feet. He smiles when I wriggle my toes. Then he turns to Emmett. "More tissues. And some chest balm."
"Got it," Emmett nods and flashes me a smile. He disappears out the door but returns a second later. "What sort of chest balm? Like sports rub, or that eucalyptus stuff? Do you want the tissues with that aloe vera in them? They're supposed to be gentle on noses."
"Why don't you go with him," I say to Edward. "I'll be fine." His eyes search mine for a moment. They're growing darker, his eyes. He was supposed to hunt while I was in Forks, but I guess me going missing in my truck put a stop to that. "Actually, why don't you go out for dinner?" He gives me a quizzical look. "You must be thirsty." He licks his lips. It's instinctive, a reflex action, I don't think he's even aware he's done it, but it tells me how thirsty he is.
"That's a good idea," Alice chirps up. "Jasper could go too. A boys' night out!"
"Alice..." Edward shakes his head.
"It is a good idea," I say, grabbing a tissue and blowing my nose. "You should go." Edward looks unsure, but I squeeze his hand. "You can bring me fruit and chest balm afterwards."
"Come on." Jasper claps his brother on the back. "She's in good hands here."
"The best," Carlisle smiles and I laugh, but it brings on more coughs. This time Alice resists the urge to thump my back. Instead she hands me the water glass.
"See?" she says to Edward as I drink. "Everything's fine."
"He's been so worried," Alice tells me once Edward and his brothers leave. She curls up beside me on the sofa, feet tucked beneath her, and takes my hand. It feels so long since we've talked and it's good to see her. I move closer and rest my head on her shoulder. At least she can't catch anything from me. "We all were, of course. But Edward was..." she shakes her head. No more words are necessary.
"It's understandable," Carlisle says quietly. His sleeves are rolled up and he's slicing an onion with a surgeon's skill. "Considering his history." A shadow clouds his face and a knot forms in my stomach.
"Um, I've never really asked him about it. I always thought…I didn't think it would be something he'd want to talk about."
"I think if he was to discuss it with anyone, it would be you." Carlisle gives me a smile and scoops his onion slices into the pan that Esme is stirring. Alice says something about painting my fingernails but I don't really hear. My mind is on Edward, and his influenza. He's never really said anything. But it's part of him. Part of his story. Maybe he would want to talk about it. I used to be too wrapped up in our bubble to think much about his past, but things are different now. I'm different now. So is Edward. I realise, suddenly, that this is something I want to ask him. And maybe this is something Edward wants to talk about, if he's given the chance. I look again at Carlisle, laughing with Esme as they debate how much salt the soup needs. He looks my way and maybe he can see the decision on my face, because he gives me another soft smile, and the subtlest nod of his head. Then he asks me how much salt I would recommend for the soup.
Rosalie takes some magazines from her bag and sets them in my lap.
"A bit of light reading," she says, stiffly. "I've finished with them. I thought you might like them. While you're recovering."
The magazines are not my usual reading matter – fashion and lifestyle and cars – but this new, unexpected gesture is so much more than Winter holiday resorts and the latest auto accessories. I stare at her and she shrugs. "You make my brother happy," she says brusquely and gets up to look at my bookshelves again while I stammer a thank you.
"Would you like me to do your hair?" Alice asks. My hand immediately goes to my head. Even though I ran the brush over it this afternoon I'm sure that wasn't enough to make up for two days of neglect. "Actually, that might be..." But I'm interrupted by Alice giggling.
"Nope, scrap that," she says. "I can see someone else has already had that idea."
"You've had a vision?"
She holds up her thumb and finger, just half an inch apart. "Small one. Just a flash." She sighs. "It's about all I get of Edward anymore. I wish I knew why." She frowns. "He lost all direction when he lost his memory and his gift..."
"And your visions are based on people having direction," I say. "Making decisions."
Alice nods. "Although he's been making decisions since he met you again. Some of them I see, like the ice skating." She gives me a sheepish smile then sighs. "I think he prefers it this way, though."
"It'll be interesting to see if things change now that he has his gift and his memories back," says Esme.
I look around at the Cullens. "It must be strange now he can read minds again."
"We're out of practice," Alice giggles. "But I think it's strange for him too."
"It was awkward when he came home on Friday," Rosalie adds.
"We were happy for him," says Esme pointedly, throwing a glance in Rose's direction. "And very relieved."
"That might be true," Rosalie sighs. "But you can't deny it was awkward at first." She turns to me. "Usually his filter is faultless, but he's out of practice too. He was responding out loud to our thoughts and he never does that unless he's trying to be deliberately annoying. Which was often." She rolls her eyes and I start to laugh, but of course it turns into a cough. Alice comes to the rescue with the water.
"It was confusing," she says, smiling and rubbing my back. "Because, of course, no-one else could hear what he was hearing, so what he was saying didn't make sense. We sounded like a bad comedy skit."
The analogy makes me smile as I hand her back the empty glass. "Yeah, I can imagine." Over Thanksgiving he'd only had Charlie and me to deal with close up. Six lightning fast vampire minds coming at him would have been something very different.
"He seems to be adjusting well, though." Carlisle keeps chopping as he speaks. "And it was only a matter of minutes before he got himself together."
"Was Joham there too, when Edward arrived home?" I know Edward said he'd tell me about the visit and his 'news' later, but I can just ask this, can't I?
Carlisle looks up. "No. Edward and I went to meet with Joham separately. I'm sure he'll fill you in on all that if he hasn't already." He gives me a quick smile and goes back to dissecting a carrot, and my curiosity is piqued even more. A separate meeting. Away from the family. It's obvious Carlisle won't say anymore and I remind myself that Edward said the news wasn't bad.
Esme brings me a sandwich and some fruit. "Eat what you can," she says, and smoothes her hand over my hair. I still can't taste properly but it feels good to eat some solid food. Even though I have to stop every few bites to cough. And by the time I'm finished, I'm yawning hard.
"Do you want to go to bed?" Alice asks.
"No," I mumble, leaning into her. "I'll just rest my eyes."
When I wake I'm in my bed. It's dark, but I can see Edward sitting on the window sill in a puddle of moonlight, knees hugged to his chest, looking out at the street.
When I sniff, he turns to me, a soft smile on his lips. He starts singing quietly, a song I don't recognise, and I fall asleep again.
The sun is bright outside the living room window and I'm feeling human again for the first time in days. The cough still lingers, but my nose isn't so runny and my head feels clearer. The aches are gone and I've been out to the mailbox twice today. Just for exercise.
Curled up on the sofa, I'm supposed to be reading Rosalie's magazines, but I'm really looking at Edward. He's sitting sideways in the armchair, legs dangling over the arm, while he studies a psychology text.
"You're staring at me," he says, and a smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth. Then his gaze moves slowly from the pages, and meets mine. His eyes are warm butterscotch after last night's hunt with his brothers.
"I'm just enjoying the view."
He rolls his eyes, but the smirk turns into a smile as he looks back at his book.
"Miss Swan, are you flirting with me?"
"And if I am?"
"You'll get a reputation."
"Only with you."
He looks up again, a quick, wicked glance over the top of his book. "Better be only with me," he says. When I laugh he grins and goes back to reading. "My mother warned me about women like you," he murmurs.
The rare mention of his mother surprises me.
"Oh? What did she say? Beware Bella Swan?"
"Something like that," he chuckles.
"What was she like?" I ask.
A flicker of surprise shows in his features. Then he smiles again, a warm smile. "She was my mother," he says quietly. He focuses back on the book, his eyes running over the page. "I have a photo somewhere. I'll show you sometime, if you like."
"I'd like that."
He nods. "How are you feeling now?" he asks. The quick subject change is not lost on me.
"Okay. A bit drained, but a lot better than I was. With all the good care I've had, I'm guessing this flu wasn't as bad as it could have been." He nods again, but doesn't look up from his book. I put down the magazine. I don't know if this is the right time, but I don't really know when the right time to ask about his own illness, but I don't know when the right time will be.
"Edward, I've never asked you about…we've never talked about what it was like for you when you were sick."
If he wasn't a vampire with heightened hearing I could almost think he hasn't heard me. His pose doesn't move. He doesn't speak. But a moment later, he closes the book. "What would you like to know?" He looks up. His face is smooth, impassive. So is his voice.
"I don't know. I just…I guess I want you to know if you ever want to talk about it, I'll listen."
He studies me for a moment then drops the book over the side of the chair, onto the floor.
"I don't really remember being sick at all. Most of what I know is what Carlisle has told me."
He cocks his head. "Why do you want to know?"
"It's part of your story," I say. "And we've never..." I trail off, wondering if maybe I shouldn't have asked.
"It came on quickly," Edward says very matter-of-factly. "And it progressed even faster. Two days from the first symptoms to the pneumonia and then Carlisle changing me."
Two days? I had no idea. "That's fast."
"It was, but for lots of people it was only a matter of hours."
He nods. "The virus was extremely virulent and once it took hold..." he shrugs. "Someone could develop symptoms in the morning and be dead by evening. But like I said, I don't really remember being sick. There's not a lot I can tell you."
His voice is so casual. Almost off-hand. Like he's discussing a medical text.
"I didn't realise..."
"Why should you? It was a long time ago." He smiles and looks out the window. "The clouds are coming in," he says, and it's clear the subject is closed. "This afternoon we could take a walk, if you feel up to it. Just down to the corner and back."
I shouldn't have asked. He obviously doesn't want to talk about it. I pick up my magazine again but I can't concentrate. My eyes keep wandering to Edward, still sitting sideways in the chair. Still staring out the window.
His expensive designer jeans have an expensive designer slash in the knee and he starts picking at it, pulling at the frayed threads. It's an unusual thing for him to do. Edward doesn't fidget.
"I never said goodbye to my father," he says quietly, surprising me. He keeps his eyes trained on his knee as I put the magazine down again. "He woke up with a cold and my mother wouldn't let me see him. When I came home from school, there were men wearing white surgical masks, carrying a covered stretcher down the front steps while my mother stood sobbing in the doorway. He'd already died."
"Oh my god..." My hand flies to my mouth and I mumble Edward's name through my fingers.
"There wasn't a lot of time to grieve because my symptoms developed a couple of hours later." The hole in his jeans is getting bigger. "She called for the doctor and the men in the masks came again. I didn't see my mother after that. Carlisle told me later that she'd been ill too. I was too sick to realise. She'd gone to hospital in the same ambulance as me, and I'd had no idea. She lasted another day, dying a few hours before I did. Or, before I would have died." He shakes his head and shudders, so slightly most people wouldn't see, but I do. "I know she begged Carlisle to do whatever he could to save me. He told me that later." He swallows. "I never got to say goodbye to her, either."
I want to climb into his lap and hold him, but I don't. Right now I think he just needs to talk. And he needs me to listen.
"The memories are very hazy," he says. "It's like looking at someone else's dream, not even my own, the images are so unclear, but it's odd, the little things I do remember..." He stops and swallows again. "They shaved me." He touches his hand to his chin. "I was 17, there wasn't much to shave but they did it anyway. And the nurse's trolley had a squeaky wheel."
"Shaved you? Why did they bother with that, if you were so sick?" It seems so ridiculous.
"Hygiene," Edward says wryly. "Hospital rules." He strokes his chin. "Sometimes I wish they'd left me with a couple of days' stubble. I might have been able to pass for older, then." He shrugs. "Apart from the shaving brush and the squeaky wheel, my memories are about how it felt."
I assume he means the burn of the fever. No way am I prepared for what he says next.
"It was...I was so sad."
My heart stutters and I give a strangled gasp. My eyes fill and I have to bite hard into my lip. Edward's long fingers still pick at the hole in his jeans. He keeps his gaze down. "Everything from those days is a blur, but there was a moment..." He pauses, closing his eyes. "I don't know whether it was day or night, day one or day two, but there was one brief, blinding moment of clarity, when I knew my family was all gone, and I was alone, and probably wouldn't survive. The sadness was..." He shakes his head. His fingers still. "That's my last human memory. My last human feeling. That sadness."
This time I don't stop myself. I'm off the sofa and into his lap, hugging him with everything I have. His arms curl around me, his body curves into mine, so close I can't tell where I end and he begins. I feel him rest his cheek on my head.
"Ssh," he whispers.
"I...had...no idea," I sob.
"Because I never told you," he says. "I've never told anyone."
"I don't want you to be sad."
"I'm not anymore."
I pull back and look up into Edward's face. Touch his cheek. "I love you."
"I love you too," he says, smiling, eyes shining. Then he spoils the moment by handing me the tissue box. "Now blow."
We sit, very quiet and still, for a long time. I try to process what Edward's just told me. So there are no memories of a kindly Dr Cullen telling him everything will be alright, that he could save him. Just the crushing sadness of losing everything. I wonder now if that sadness came with him into this life. When I think about it, how he was in the beginning, I'm pretty sure it did.
I watch him as he looks out the window. There's the hint of a smile on his lips. A calmness in the lines of his face. When he looks down at me, there's contentment in his eyes.
"You're staring," he says.
"I'm still enjoying the view."
"Ah, Miss Swan..." he lifts my hand and kisses it. "You're flirting again."
Edward's foot nudges mine beneath the wide study table. The Library is busy but we have this corner to ourselves.
"How are you feeling?" he asks.
"Okay." I cough a little. Outside a misty rain is falling lightly. It's been like this for most of the day. Edward looks from me to the window.
"You should have stayed home. Four days ago you were barely conscious."
"I've already missed Monday and Tuesday. I'll get too far behind."
Besides, I've been nursed so well and so carefully, I feel surprisingly good, and almost back to normal. Four days of sleeping, soup, back rubs and being waited on hand and foot will do that for you.
"I won't let you fall behind," Edward says very matter-of-factly.
"Oh?" I fold my arms and give him a doubtful stare across the table. "How? What would you do?"
"Tutor you. Private lessons." He rocks back on his chair.
"Mm, I know all about your private lessons."
He smirks. "That's not what I meant."
"Oh? Pity. I thought maybe you could tutor me when we got home."
Edward rolls his eyes. "You really are feeling better, aren't you?"
"I am. But how are you feeling?" I tap my temple. This morning as we'd walked across the campus his hand had been tense around mine, but now, after two lectures, he seems more relaxed.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't take a bit of getting used to." He leans his chair back further, balancing it on two legs. "Already I'm missing the peace, but the grass is always greener, isn't it?"
"Do you wish you could go back..."
"No," he says quickly, and comes forward again, leaning across the table and lowering his voice. "There's a different sort of peace, a security, in knowing exactly what people are thinking." He darts a quick glance to his right where a girl is studying the book stacks.
"What's she thinking?" I ask, leaning across the table too. Edward shakes his head. A look of resigned boredom crosses his features. "Oh, come on," I say. "Tell me."
He sighs heavily. "She thinks I have a perfect smile. With perfect teeth." He chuckles quietly, darkly. "She really doesn't want to know, does she?"
I cover my mouth, giggling and surprised, as Edward's lip curls back and he flashes those perfect teeth in a brief, menacing smile. "You know, you haven't really changed that much at all, now that I think about it."
Edward's surprised now too, by the look on his face. "I don't understand."
"Well," I begin and lower my voice, "the other day, you made that joke when you pressed your fingers over my jugular. And that vampire smile just now. I was thinking how you've changed, because you always used to keep that part of you hidden from me as much as you could. But now I'm thinking about the school cafeteria."
"Oh." Understanding floods his face. "The hunting conversation."
"Uh huh. About your hunting weapons."
He flashes the smile again and I laugh. "But from memory, Bella, you weren't laughing that day."
"Well, I was still getting used to...things. But then, when I went to your house that first time, and we were in your room..."
"And I tackled you..."
"And I squealed and Alice came up and said she thought you were having me for lunch. And would you share."
He chuckles softly. "And I said no, I didn't have enough to share."
I reach out my hand and he takes it. He strokes his thumb softly over my wrist, over the veins that show through my skin.
"All those discussions about how dangerous you were. Warnings. That whole display in the meadow." I roll my eyes. "You were so much more open about what you were."
"But then, after James, and prom...you were different..." I pause, not sure how to explain. "It was like...anything vampirish got locked away. I hadn't really thought about it until now."
"Vampirish?" His lips twitch with an almost-smile.
"You know what I mean." I give him a quick glare. "No more flashing teeth. No more hunting stories or scary displays of strength." I stop and frown. "No more jokes about eating me." I twist my hand and clamp my thumb down on top of his. "Gotcha," I whisper. He looks up, puzzled. "Thumb war," I say. "I just beat you."
"Oh." Edward smiles as he watches our hands. His fingers squeeze mine gently.
"It was almost like anything to do with that side of you was off limits."
"You're right," he says, and I see the smile slowly fade. "I was so happy to have you. So glad and grateful that, after what you'd been through, what you'd seen, you still wanted to be with me." He lifts his eyes. "And I wanted to be as human as possible. For you." Suddenly he flips our hands over. His thumb presses down on mine. "Gotcha." He rubs his thumb over mine in a conciliatory way. "I thought if you saw too much vampire in me..."
He nods, still watching our hands. "At first I wanted you to run, so you'd be safe. I didn't trust myself, and that's why I was so open, I think. I wanted you to know what you were getting involved with. But then..." He shrugs. "Then I knew I'd never hurt you. And you did bring out the human in me, I've told you that before...and I wanted to concentrate on that. I wanted you to concentrate on that. Gotcha!"
He chuckles softly and squeezes my hand again. "But you're wrong about me not changing. If I'm more open now it's not because I want to warn you away. It's because I know I can really be myself around you. Gotcha!"
"Hey! You can't do it twice in a row!" My protest brings on some fresh coughs. Edward waits until I'm alright again.
"Why not?" he asks. "What's the point of the contest if we're just taking it in turns?"
"But you just snuck that one in. I was unprepared."
"Gotcha! Ha!" I press down on his thumb.
I twist my hand quickly... "And, gotcha! Again! I win."
Edward scowls, staring at our hands like they've offended him somehow.
"You should be studying," he says, and withdraws his hand gently. "You'll fall behind."
I have a witty "sore loser" retort ready for him, but my phone interrupts me. I frown when I look at the screen.
"Jacob?" Edward asks warily.
I shake my head, not sure if I'm relieved or not. I've been waiting to hear from my best friend since Charlie called yesterday. At least, I think he's still my best friend. My dad was all apologies, letting me know he'd accidentally let slip my engagement news to Sue and Billy and Jake.
"I know you wanted to tell them yourself," he said. "They were pretty shocked. But I'm sure Jake'll come round. If I can, he can. You'll probably get some calls soon."
But so far, all has been silent from La Push. Hoping for messages of congratulations would be too much to expect, I know that. But the silence is unsettling. It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"No, not Jake," I say to Edward. "Renee. Another picture of a wedding dress." I hold up the phone for him to see, and laugh when he wrinkles his nose.
"You'd look ridiculous."
"Like a meringue." I put the phone away.
"Are we still planning for Christmas Eve?" Edward asks and I know what he's getting at. With me being sick we've not talked about the wedding or arranged anything. Charlie and Renee don't know about our Christmas Eve plans. Edward's family knows nothing at all.
"We have time if we're keeping it small and simple."
Edward reaches for my hand again. He smiles. "Just us," he says. "And our families."
I smile back. "We should tell yours."
"Sounds good. But before we do..."
"Oh." Edward drops my hand and sits back in his chair.
"I think I'm well enough now to hear your news. Don't you?"
He swallows hard and glances around. "This really isn't the place."
"Then we'll find the place. We'll go home. Edward, I've been really good. Really patient. I've waited, but now you're making me nervous." It's true. I know he hasn't forgotten, and each of the last few days I've wondered if he'll tell me. I don't want to wonder anymore. "I want to know." I pause and take a breath. "Is it about your memory?"
"No," he says quickly, and gathers up his books. I notice how carefully he slides my bookmark into place.
"Come on," he says. "We're done with classes for the day, and there's a storm coming. We'll get home before the weather hits and I'll tell you there."
He's frowning, his jaw set hard.
"Edward, everything is okay, isn't it?"
"Yes. Everything's okay." He leans across the table and takes my hand again. "But, Bella..."
His thumb clamps down on mine. "Gotcha!"
The thunder rumbles as we pull out of the parking lot. Edward holds my hand on the console. He has soft music on the radio and he's humming along quietly.
At the first intersection the lights are out and the queue of cars waiting to cross is long. Police are directing traffic. There's a detour is in place for those who want to take it, but either way, it'll be a longer trip home.
I sigh heavily, and push back in the leather seat. I don't want to wait any longer for Edward's news.
"Maybe you could tell me now," I say. He stops humming and looks at me, studying me, it seems, and I wait for him to tell me no. Instead he takes a deep breath.
"I wonder what your reaction will be?" he says, surprising me.
"Um, well, why don't you tell me and then we'll both know."
He smiles, but there's a distant sort of look in his eyes and I wonder where his mind has gone.
"You said it's not about your memory."
The traffic inches forward a little and Edward lets go of my hand to change gears. Suddenly he seems nervous. Almost shy, as he threads his fingers through mine again.
"This isn't the setting I'd imagined," he murmurs.
"I'm sure the information doesn't change with the location."
His eyes flicker to my chest where my heart is pounding.
"A lot of it I don't understand," he says. "There are aspects that don't make sense at all. And it's complicated. Risky. It's a lot to consider. Even if we want to consider it, which we mightn't. But the decision, whatever it is, will be all yours."
"Just tell me, Edward."
He gives me a shaky smile. "We can have a family. If we choose to."
The words don't make sense. "We already have families," I say. Edward looks nervous again.
"No, I mean a new family. A baby. The stories about Joham are true."
The words still aren't sinking in. Maybe I'm still fuzzy from the flu. Maybe I've not heard right.
Edward makes a soft sound of frustration. "To put it more bluntly, Bella..." He leans in close and whispers in my ear. "I can get you pregnant."
Now I get it. I gasp and pull back, watching the hesitant, wary expression grow on Edward's face.
"I probably shouldn't have put it quite so crudely," he says.
"No, no, crude is fine. I mean...how?"
"The usual way," he says quietly.
The traffic moves again and a nervous silence settles over us as the car moves forward. Then Edward takes my hand again.
"Say something," he whispers. "Please. Anything."
My mind is racing, thoughts tumbling over themselves as I try to process this news. And I say the first thing that comes to mind.
"I love you."
Edward's face dissolves into a dazzling smile. "That's good to know." He lifts my hand to kiss.
"What else can you tell me?" I ask and when Edward speaks his words are slow and measured.
"It's a big decision. A pregnancy would have risks, and it would have to result in your change. But with the right preparation, with the right care...I won't deny you this, Bella. If it's what you want, we can try."
His eyes are so serious, so earnest. I don't know where to start.
"If it's what I want?"
"Um..." I shake my head, trying to clear my thoughts. Could we really do this? "What else...what else do I need to know?"
The traffic picks up a bit and as the car crawls across the intersection Edward tells me all about six month pregnancies, bed rest and diets of blood, and c-sections by knives with special stone-cutter blades.
"I know it sounds gruesome."
"But it's doable. We could have a baby?"
"We have the potential, yes."
The rain comes down harder. There's a flash of lightning. The traffic ahead of us slows again as car tyres send arcs of water into the air.
It's so much to take in. "What about the children?" I ask. "Are they vampire? Human?"
"A mixture," Edward says. "Like a human child they take characteristics from both parents. They develop at a slightly faster rate than an average human child, but not enough to raise suspicions."
"No. But a very long life. The ageing process slows down once they reach maturity. They age roughly one year in every twenty." He shifts gear again as we turn a corner. "But as I said Bella, the decision is all yours. Whatever you want. You don't even have to think about it if you don't want to."
"But, you'd agree to this, if it's what I wanted?"
"Yes." He squeezes my hand. "You don't have to decide now, of course. You don't ever have to think about it again if you don't want to."
"This is why you didn't want to tell me while I was sick?"
"I thought it might be a bit much."
I nod. I think he's right.
I look out the window, watching people drive past with no idea of the life-changing conversation I'm having right now.
"Bella? Are you alright?"
"Yes. Just...thinking." His hand tightens around mine.
"I've given you a lot think about," he says softly.
I just want to absorb this news. Soak it in and savour it. I could give him this. A family.
We arrive at my apartment. We walk upstairs in silence. Edward helps me off with my coat and I go to the bedroom to change into sweats and thick socks. When I come back into the living room he's lying on the sofa and hesitantly opens his arms to me. His face is so unsure but he smiles a little when I lie down alongside him and curl into his body.
"Hungry?" he asks.
He settles me closer. I feel the steady in and out of his breathing. The slow, even, rise and fall of his chest beneath my cheek. The gentle caress of his hand on my back. His feet tangled with mine. I love him. And I realise, as he holds me, that I already know my decision. But I'm not sure about his.
"You've said this will be my decision. Whatever I want."
"You won't deny me a baby, if I want that."
I lift my head and meet his wary gaze. "But what do you want?"
He blinks, almost like he's not understood the question. "I want you to be happy, Bella."
"I know. But I want that for you too. I want you to be happy." I sit up and he shifts so now I'm straddling his hips. His eyes are wide and curious as he looks up at me. "I've been thinking about...everything. Edward, a baby has to be something we both want." I pause to gather my thoughts. "And I'm pretty sure that as a 17 year old human, having children was the furthest thing from your mind, right? You wouldn't have wanted to be a father."
He watches me closely. "Yes. That's true. And you're thinking I'm still 17, so that might still be the way I feel."
I shrug. "You haven't actually said how you feel. You just keep telling me that it's my choice, whatever I want."
"I don't want my feelings to influence your decision, either way."
"But you can't do that. You can't keep yourself out of the decision. This involves both of us. Our baby would be part of us. Do you want this? I want to know what you want."
"What I want?"
Edward sucks in a sharp breath. His eyes wander from my face, down my body, and settle on my stomach. He reaches out, his hand moving under my sweatshirt and resting on the bare flesh of my belly.
"What I want," he whispers.
His fingers caress me softly, slow gentle circles. His touch is so tender, so loving. Tears well in my eyes and I smile as his gaze moves back to my face. He smiles too.
"I want this," he says.
A/N: Thank you for your patience. I know this chapter has been a long time coming, much longer than I'd intended, and I'm sorry
Thank you for your reviews. All your comments and feedback mean a lot to me and I appreciate them so much. I try to respond to them all, if I haven't got you, I'm sorry, but please know I read them all
And thank you Melanie for your super speedy beta skills. And your friendship
Have you read Melanie's work? She's Edward'sEternal on FF and her stories are brilliant.
I have some more news for those readers who are interested in my original work. My first novel, Over the Edge, is available now for pre-order. It's release date is set for 9 May. It's a romantic comedy, set in Australia. For info and updates you can check out my website - .com I have a FaceBook page too – Suzanne Carroll, Writer. And I'm on Twitter as Suzanne_Carroll or Windchymes11.
Thanks again for reading, and reviewing. The next chapter of The Keepsake is already under way