Charmed. (Bella's Point of View of "In Limbo")

It was my birthday, and I sat on my bed, contemplating my chances of being able to get through the day without being reminded of that by anyone else. I was sad and reflective, holding my new sketchbooks and missing Jacob when I saw something in the edge of my peripheral vision. There was someone standing in my doorway; for a second I thought it was Alice. I looked up, preparing to greet her.

"Bella?"

It wasn't Alice. The velvety, dulcet tone of Edward's voice floated through the room.

"Edward." My own voice came out breathy and thin, as it usually did when I found myself face to face with him.

"Are you all right?"

"Me? Oh, yeah, I'm fine."

"May I enter?"

"Yes, of course."

He walked in and gently closed the door behind him.

"I'd actually expected to see you sooner." I sat up.

"I've been trying very, very hard to give you a requisite amount of space while your friend was visiting. It has required an amount of patience that prior to now I would have thought unattainable, I promise you. Alas, I am not here looking looking to be lauded for my efforts. I came here to talk about you."

He walked over to me and lifted the back of my hand to his lips. Slowly, he pressed them to my hand as if it were the most delicate hand in the universe.

It lit something inside of me.

Oh, God, please let him do that again. Just ... everywhere else, instead of my hand. Hell, anywhere else will do.

Deaf to my silent pleas, he continued to speak.

"I apologize for the hyacinths, by the way. I have to admit that I'm trying to ignore the irony of your response, lest my feelings get hurt."

Every day of the past week and a half I returned to my room to find hundreds of flowers. Each day's delivery was a full replacement for the previous day's, and always a different combination of blooms, selected in order to convey a specific message. The entire floor of my dorm smelled like a floral shop, since I insisted that Alice give the previous day's flowers to a resident of her choice. His plan had gotten my attention, and I thought it was sweet—until the hyacinths. Alice had told me that purple hyacinths supposedly symbolized a request for forgiveness; they were a floral apology. My response to them was to sneeze for two hours, non-stop, closely accompanied by a runny nose and eyelids that had swollen completely shut. I had no idea how she had got rid of them all so quickly and completely. I only remembered looking up and seeing that they were gone.

I smiled. "Nothing personal, I assure you. I figured out most of them, but what were the tiny pink and white ones from Friday?"

"Alyssum. They are a symbol of 'worth beyond beauty.' Did you like them?"

He appeared next to me, and just as my senses began to recover from not seeing his movement, he sat on the carpet beside my bed, his shoulder even with where my hand rested on the mattress. I leaned back onto my pillows, trying to appear nonchalant. I focused on maintaining my willpower so that I might refrain from touching him. The efforts were beginning to consume all of my concentration, but then I pictured that day in the woods; I concentrated on the physical sensation that accompanied my heartbreak. I thought about potentially going through that again, and the process helped me find my pride. No matter how noble his reasons for leaving were, I had no intention of making myself feel like a doormat.

"I did. They were ... quaint. Tell me, is there a theme to the new master plan you've got going on?"

"Well, our first pairing resulted from a somewhat desultory mix of near-death experiences for you coupled with my oscillating desire to either love you or kill you. I figured this time around, having resolutely decided upon the love option rather than the alternative, I would go the old-fashioned route and go through the motions of courting you in a more traditional sense."

"Ahh, so that's the plan. What's next on the list?"

"Well, since you mention it, I'm sure you remember that your birthday is today."

My face fell.

"I assumed that would be your response."

I had forgotten to get rid of the evidence of Jacob's birthday gift, but I suppose it made no difference.

"Why is it that everyone's so good at remembering my birthday when I'm pretty good at completely forgetting about it?"

"Will you ever give up at trying to convince people they should stop doing things to show they care about you?"

I opened my mouth to answer, but closed it again. When he put it that way it seemed just about any reply I could come up with would sound bratty. I tried to think about what Jacob had said to me a few days ago, and tried to be gracious.

"Besides," he said, "it looks like I am late for the gift-giving already. That hardly seems fair."

I blanched at the mention.

"Jake left a few days ago, and he wanted me to open my gift in front of him. It was unexpected."

"Ah-ha." I noticed his nose wrinkle.

"So is that my gift?" There was a CD lying on his lap. I figured if I was going to try to enjoy this whole birthday gift thing, I would try to speed up the process, if at all possible.

He smiled. "No, this is just how I've been spending the majority of my time since I haven't been able to monopolize yours, and it's not like I really need to study for my standard freshman-level classes. I've been in the Music department's practice rooms a lot. Very peaceful. It seems that now that my muse is close by, I've found a lot of inspiration to compose again. I've brought you some of the fruits of my labor. I don't consider it worthy enough to be one of your birthday gifts, but I wanted you to have it, regardless."

He got up to place it on my desk next to my mini-stereo, but I stopped him.

"Wait—I'll take it."

He placed the disc case in my outstretched hand but his hand lingered on mine for a few precious seconds before he released his touch.

Damnit. I could hear my heart start to race. This overreacting crap has gotta stop.

"You'll let me know if you like it?" he asked.

He was close now, about to sit on the side of my bed, and I was held captive by the myriad of medical equipment designed to keep me immobile. His scent wafted towards me and for a minute I could not think. My whole body tensed as three years of neglected sex drive fired up again and rendered me senseless.

"Bella?"

I was sure my eyes looked crazed when I opened them, as I was trying to pull myself out of my trance.

"Oh, yes, of course. Of course I will. I'm sure i'll love it."

By the time I replied he seemed to have drifted off, lost in his own thoughts. He spoke softly, and his cadence told me he was reciting verse.

"While rain, with eve in partnership,

descended darkly, drip, drip, drip,

beyond the last lone lamp I passed

walking slowly, whispering sadly,

two linked loiterers, wan, downcast:

some heavy thought constrained each face,

and blinded them to time and place."

I wanted to know the fate of the couple in the poem, but I sensed he wasn't going to continue. His eyes lifted to meet mine but he did not speak. He only stood, his eyes gazing into my own.

"Sorry about that," he said.

He tried to smile at me, but his expression was too haunted to give me the impression that he had successfully shaken off whatever mood had come over him. I was afraid to ask him what exactly he was thinking about. The last time I saw him this morose was when he was contemplating leaving me. This realization promptly ended my rapturous daydreaming, but once again my instincts overruled my restraint; my hand shot out to reach for him. When I touched his arm it seemed to finally get his full attention.

"What's wrong?"

My heart was beating quickly, my chest was heaving, and my eyes were wide with momentary panic. My overreaction prompted Edward's own; he began to shift me this way and that, trying to discover the source of my pain. My god, we were a mess.

"No, no, I'm okay! I just... something in your expression scared me."

That was a poor choice of words on my part.

"That's something you never have to worry about, ever, I swear to you—I won't lose control of my thirst around you—"

"No, Edward, it wasn't that."

His eyes were soft; his expression reflected confusion.

"I don't like it when you get sullen like that. It..." I struggled not to tell the truth and expose my chinks in my ego armor. "It makes me think you're about to leave."

He sat beside me now, his arms snaked around me. "Bella, I'm not leaving you again, I'm not leaving you ever. I'm only awaiting your word, and when I finally get it you'll be lucky to get a breath of air without me being under your nose, I promise you."

I tried to calm myself without relaxing into his embrace, but the effort was useless.

"Here, let me support you for a while."

He removed my neck and back braces so that I could recline into his arms and he could hold me tighter. Once I settled he kissed my shoulder. I felt myself drifting off into my my own little oblivion as he began a languid procession of kisses around my clavicle. He swept my hair aside to reveal the back of my neck, close to gaining access to one of the places that would unlock the chrysalis of my inhibitions. There wasn't much I could do; my thoughts had coalesced into an amorphous space, and in my consciousness there was nothing but Edward. I was at least several seconds into my serenity when I felt him tense. I heard a susurrous sound in my ear; it was his voice.

"Bella, what ... is this?"

No no no nonononononono do NOT stop now.

"What's what?" I squeaked.

He stroked the spot at the base of my neck where he had just lifted my hair.

"That."

Oh, fuck.

"That's my ... tattoo."

"You ... have ... a tattoo." He said it as if he were trying to both believe that it was there at all and simultaneously reconcile that with what he knew of me.

"A lot of things happened while you were away."

"I can see that. Is that ... a wolf?"

Double fuck.

My tattoo was not large, perhaps the size of a large watch face, but it was the content that I suspected bothered him. The design was also based off of the wolf pack's arm tattoo, just like the pattern on the sketchbooks Jacob had given me. It was different in that mine featured a wolf standing in front of a genderless human. Something told me that Edward was not pleased.

"Yeah, there are a few of us who know about the wolves, and we all have the same tat. It's a symbol for those of us who are under the protection of the pack."

"What made you decide to get it done?"

"I got it the day after they killed Laurent. It helped reinforce the feeling that I wasn't alone; I was protected. When I was afraid, it helped me remember that I would be safe as long as they were around."

"I see."

That was all he said for a while. The atmosphere in the room had darkened considerably. His hands tightened ever so slightly against my arm. I gave him another minute to find regain his composure.

"Does it upset you, Edward?"

I asked more out of curiosity than any concern for his feelings.

"What upsets me is that there was ever a need for it at all. I never imagined the number of ways I would could end up paying for my folly."

There was nothing I could say to that. He kissed me right on the surface of the tattoo and hugged me gently. It was a gesture of sweetness; my chance of being seduced had evaporated into the early evening air.

"I'd like to finish this discussion about your birthday while I have you in a good, generous mood," he said.

I sighed. If I weren't fully convinced I wasn't going to be kissed back into thrall at this point, now there was no question.

"Okay then, what are you proposing?"

"Well, I promised Esme I would try for a small gathering at the house—"

"No way in hell."

"I figured as much. Then how about I bring their gifts in here, and you can open them in the comfort of your own room, just you and I."

"Alright, that sounds reasonable."

"One more thing. Back to that old-school courtship I mentioned earlier? I'd like to take you out on a date. You know, dinner followed by some activity deemed to be mutually enjoyable. If you don't have plans for mid-semester break, I think that would work out well. There's an orchestra playing a 'From Russia With Love' theme. Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' will be featured, so I thought it might be fun to go."

I smiled. He knew 'Pictures' was one of my favorites.

"I guess we never have really been out on a real date, huh? I suppose I'm up for the challenge, but one thing does confuse me—you don't eat dinner at the same places I do. I'll be eating alone the whole time while you watch, in the middle of a restaurant no less. It's kinda awkward."

"Don't worry, I'll be sure to make suitable arrangements." A mischievous grin spread across his face.

I began to try to imagine a night out with Edward when I realized that a night at the orchestra meant a modicum of dressing up was in order. I remembered what Edward's beloved sister said to me in the hospital room that day.

Damnit, I should know to never bet against Alice.

I felt myself being raised slightly so he could leave the bed. I tried not to sigh in response to the mild ache I felt at his sudden absence. I also tried not to hate myself for feeling anything at all. As much as I craved ambivalence, that emotion would not be available to me.

Edward returned from the suite's hallway with a large stack of sparkly and strikingly colored boxes covered in tags, ribbon, and bows. As much as receiving gifts had always made me uncomfortable, the pile was impressive and I couldn't help my piquing curiosity.

"Jeez, what's that big one?"

"I don't know, actually. I don't know what half these things are. Some of them I found at the front door with a note attached instructing me to deliver these to you along with the rest of the haul. I suspect it's because someone's trying to hide something from me."

I thought he was joking, but he looked uneasy as he said it. It was hard for me to imagine half his family successfully hiding anything from him.

He placed the box that most caught my interest beside the bed, just within my reach.

"This one is from Rose, and although she would never say it herself, Alice assured me that Rose wants you to know that she actually picked these out herself, on her own."

My jaw dropped before I could stop myself. The thought of Rose spending any effort on me whatsoever was nothing short of shocking, and I wasn't sure what to think of it. Back in high school I directed copious amounts of patience towards tolerating Rosalie's loathing. When I look back on it now, I wish that I'd instead told her sanctimonious ass exactly where she could shove her attitude. Since the Cullen's reappearance I'd been preparing myself for having to deal with her, and subsequently decided Rose might get the reaction she'd long deserved if she'd gotten cross with me again, but the opportunity had not presented itself by then, and if she had really put effort into getting me a gift, perhaps something had changed. Maybe many things had changed.

How unaware might I be?

I felt lost for a moment. Oh, how the landscape of my relationship with the Cullens had changed. I didn't know how to navigate, and I felt less in-control. It disturbed me.

I started for the package but instinct kicked in and warned me that any contact with paper should require absolute exactitude on my part.

Edward's voice interrupted my laborious gift-opening efforts. "Bella, I will not hurt you, I can guarantee you this. It is just you and me, so you can open these without worry."

I lifted my head to his gaze, and saw his face riddled with the standard Edward-guilt-angst I had so long ago come to expect. At some point, I'd even re-titled it "Eguangst." I tried to ignore it and focus on pretending to open the gift with reckless abandon.

"Yes!" Damn if this didn't mean I might have to be kind when I finally saw Rose again. It was a box of replacement climbing gear, and most of it was better quality than what I'd lost in the first place.

From the peanut gallery came Edward's reply. "I suppose you'll have to go through it and make sure it's what you need. I'd bet she purchased whatever the salesman threw at her."

I was barely listening at that point, instead fully engaged in rifling through the box to take full inventory of my new toys. I was a second away from laying out my new rope when Edward piped in again.

"Yes, well, moving on ... this one is from Alice ... and technically from myself, I suppose."

He tossed me a small padded pouch, effectively snapping me away from my box of goodies.

It only took a moment to realize what it was.

"They're ... my photos. The ones that ... disappeared."

I clutched them close, then sat patiently through the flashes of anger that followed. I didn't want to feel so strongly about them. They were just photos. I wanted to keep a clear head, and they reminded me of all the hurt. I asked myself the same question I'd wondered a million other times: Why couldn't I just stop caring?

"You're being kind. They're the ones that were stolen from you, and I offer my sincerest apologies. I will always be ashamed for having done that to you."

I couldn't speak. For now I would set it all aside and keep moving. If I was going to react strongly, I wanted to do so alone. I would not share my tears with him. I couldn't be intimate in that way; not when he was the reason for them.

"This one—" He placed a bed on the box. It was a fast action, and I sensed it was to distract me from my obvious discomfort. "—is from Jasper and Emmett. I don't have a clue what it is, so good luck."

It would work for the time being.

"Awesomesauce!" It was first word that came to mind in situations like this, when I was genuinely happy to see the contents of a gift. It was gear for riding my bike, and again, it was far better quality than what I'd been using prior. After rooting through it and settling myself, I noticed Edward stare at me for a prolonged moment. I knew it was his way of taking stock of my mood.

This means you're about to piss me off in some way, aren't you?

He reached out for me and spread my fingers, palms faced upwards, then placed a small, white, velvet box into my outstretched hands. It was definitely a ring box. I stilled.

This absolutely cannot be what it looks like, so get it together, Swan.

I didn't definitively snap out of it until I heard his voice again. "This is from Carlisle and Esme."

Oh.

Relief. Disappointment. Confusion. It wasn't as if I would have said yes had it been a proposal, and it certainly would have told me that Edward had not been paying attention to anything I'd said over the past few weeks, but it would have made a definite statement about his intentions. It would have answered many of my questions.

I opened the box to find a stunning example of diamond and platinum craftsmanship that my amateur-metalsmith friend, Callie, would have been thoroughly impressed by. I, myself couldn't deny being impressed. A signet ring, I knew enough about the features I was looking at to know that this wasn't one's typical Jostens class ring but a hand-molded work of art. I soon noticed my name was also intricately hand etched into the inside of the band.

What does this mean? Carlisle? Esme? What are you trying to say to me?

I heard an expression of Eguangst come from my right. "Love? Do you not like it, I can return it to them, they'll understand—"

"No, it's fine. It's beautiful, really. I'm sure I'll get a chance to relay my appreciation, but you'll see them sooner, so thank them for me anyway. It's just ... a bit of a shock is all ... but it really is quite lovely."

I wanted to put it on, wanted to see it on my finger. Wanted to know if it would make me magically and instantly feel a sense of belonging. I didn't. Again, I could not share that with him. I would wait until I was alone. I would process it alone. I had become accustomed to that, and it was simply my way now. It was how I did things.

I closed the box, which rested on my lap. I continued to contemplate what the signet might represent until I heard Edward again.

"There is one more gift from Esme that I was unable to bring with me, unfortunately."

You're already stretching my ability to accept gifts graciously to their rather absolute limits.

"That can't be, Edward, this is already too much!"

What I had not said was that gifts, in my view, were often expressions of love, regardless as to how extravagant or how simple they were. This is why I felt it was always a bad idea to accept a gift from anyone whom you did not truly care for. While a reciprocal gift was not always requested, reciprocal love was. I was not ready to express anything of the sort.

Edward remained silent. I sighed, caving to his patient plea for me to remain "reasonable."

"So what's the deal with this second gift?" It came out sounding a tad petulant, but there was nothing I could do to help it at that point.

"I've been given permission to tell you what it is, but it cannot be brought to you, you'll have to come see it when you're ready."

This does not bode well. "Okay ..."

"Esme thinks that perhaps you'll be willing to come over and spend more time with the family if you have your own space there. She thought that if you could come and go as you pleased without feeling like a guest, per se, maybe you would do so often. Again, there is no intent to pressure you. It is just there should you need it. So you now have your own room at 'The Manor Cullen,' and here's a key to the house. I must say, she's done it up like nothing I've ever seen before. Even if you never use it, I think she got a real kick out of decorating it. She's dedicated most of the last two weeks to it."

He handed over a single, unadorned key.

I had to admit that her plan was sound. It wouldn't work—I wasn't anywhere near ready to willingly throw myself into the lion's den for any prolonged period of time—but it was a logical scheme. I tried to keep my face stoic while I contemplated Esme's somewhat extreme efforts to make me comfortable.

Should I be honored or should I be annoyed?

I understood that she was doing her best to roll out the red carpet, I couldn't help but feel pressured. I no longer responded to that type of pressure—from anyone.

"Well, we're almost done here. You're doing great, Bella. If I had known you'd be this gracious I probably would have brought you more."

Good to know, Mr. Condescension.

I struggled to plaster a wan smile onto my face. It didn't work.

"I'm trying very, very hard, you know. This smile isn't on my face without effort. It really makes me uncomfortable to know that everyone went to such trouble for me."

"Well, if you could hold on to your patience for just a while longer, you only have two more to go."

"Two?"

"Yes, both from me, but the second one is partially a hand-me-down, and the first one doesn't count at all, as you'll see."

He handed me a light blue sack, gathered closed by a drawstring. I carefully pulled the knot apart, reached in with several fingers and pulled the bag open. I pulled out four books, covered in leather softer than velvet, crinkled and creased with wear. I nearly dropped them once I realized what they were.

"These are my journals from the past four years. If you have any desire to read these, I want you to be able to do so. I cannot come up with a better way for you to understand how I've felt about you from the beginning; why I made the decisions that I did. If it is at all possible for you to truly understand how much I love you, hopefully this will help convey that."

I had always known that he kept writings of some kind, but I would never have asked to read them. I couldn't infringe upon his privacy in that way. When I saw the books, however, I suddenly understood how necessary they were. Every word that escaped his lips was met with skepticism, but I would less question his written words. After all, why would he lie when writing only to himself? It seemed patently ridiculous to me.

The urge to open the first one now and begin reading was beginning to overwhelm me, and just as I reached out to turn the cover, Edward quickly removed the entire stack from my reach and placed them beside me. He replaced them with a oddly shaped, black, silk box.

"Edward, what else could you possibly give me?"

"This ... is a rather unconventional piece, but I thought it was appropriate considering its symbolism and, well, considering that nothing about either of us is really conventional, I also thought that—well, I'll let you open it first."

I did as requested, but I didn't quite comprehend what I saw. A thin, silver band of coiled metal, a red gem of some type centered at the outermost point of its center curve. It looked expensive. I'm sure I looked peeved, and I didn't even know what it was. I only understood that it was jewelry.

Jewelry? Seriously? Does he not know me at all?

"This is an armlet."

Oh.

"The band is titanium. The crystal is something I inherited from my mother," he said.

I supposed I could spare some extra patience at the fact that he was giving me something that belonged to his mother. I knew that this ... armlet thing must be special to him in some way. Still, I spend much of my time working on dirty, laborious projects. Was this something I would be expected to wear often?

"Edward! This isn't anything incredibly expensive, is it? It's not a ruby or a garnet or anything, right?"

He chuckled. "No, love, it is neither a ruby nor a garnet. I could have had it mounted on anything, but I chose an armlet because it's least likely to get in your way if you decide to wear it while doing anything like climbing or the like, and because it is said that if one wears one of these—" He pointed to the glimmering red stone. "—bound to their left arm, they will be awarded victory, no matter the number of enemies. While it may purely be the stuff of myth, I figured every bit of protection counts when it comes to you. Forgive my arrogance, but I wanted you to have something that might remind you of me. It is a heart, cold and still, but still red, still a heart, and all of it that I possess belongs to you."

I wondered if there would ever be a day when his affections didn't come laced with his somewhat patronizing attempts to protect me, even if such attempts weren't serious. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but swoon a little at what he'd said.

He has such a way with words sometimes. Most times.

Almost all of the time.

Or is that just my infatuation interpreting every word?

I was still determined to be kind and not raise a fuss. Doing so would get this all over with sooner, and I was touched, regardless as to the petty attitude I tried so hard to restrict.I was exhausted from my efforts.

"Thank you ... for both. This is absolutely beautiful, and—" I couldn't wait to sprawl myself across my bed and get lost into the journals. "—I think being able to get in your head for a while ... they'll help me understand."

They better.

"You're always welcome, love." He looked as if a gigantic weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

I thought I would be bothered by Edward's insistence on calling me that, but I realized that something about it was expected. Comfortable. If he didn't refer to me as "love," I would suspect something was wrong. I would be convinced he no longer cared for me. So while some part of me didn't think he deserved to claim such an intimate name for me, I wouldn't dare ask him to refrain.

"Well, I know you've had a long afternoon, and Alice should be returning soon. I should leave you and give you a chance to rest before she talks your ear off about your gifts." I looked at my watch. "It's also a weekday, so I'm sure you probably still have studying to do."

I did. I had plenty of work to do. I also knew there was no chance I would be productive for the rest of the day.

Suddenly, the thought of him leaving threatened to throw me into a panic.

Don't do this to yourself, Swan. Earlier, you were just ... well, admit it, you were horny. This, however, is the emotional crap. The intimacy crap. You're not ready for this. He doesn't deserve it. Don't do this.

I thought more about processing my emotions alone. What if I'm having this reaction because I shouldn't be alone just now? Am I weak for craving the power of touch? Do I deserve self-hatred for wanting comfort, just an hour or two of being at ease?

Only an hour or two. It doesn't make me weak. It makes me human. This isn't for him. It's for me.

"Actually, if you don't have anywhere you need to be, I'd rather you stay. It's ... easier for me."

He climbed back into bed, and the relief came quickly. Abruptly. I was not ready to share anything with him yet but my presence, so I said nothing.

We stayed there, in silence, and he held me until I fell dreamlessly, soundlessly asleep.