Disclaimer: All elements of the Twilight books are the intellectual property of Stephanie Meyer. This derivative work is intended for entertainment only and is not intended for profit. I only wish to play with her characters and in her world...

Chapter One: From Italy to the USA

After helping Bella into the window seat, I placed her battered school backpack in the small compartment over our heads while Alice slid her Coach carry-on next to it. I gently closed the compartment door before moving in from the crowded aisle as tired tourists filed past us, toting their carry-on bags. Sliding into the aisle seat, I gazed once again into the beautiful eyes that I had never thought to see alight with life again.

Bella gave me a tight smile, the same smile I had seen pass over her features only a few times since we left Volterra hours ago.

There was something very wrong with that smile that haunted me, mitigating the joy that had exploded within me in that shadowed alley when I realized that I held a living, breathing Bella in my arms, the joy that had been renewed when our safety became a reality as Alice guided the stolen sedan past the Volterra limits.

Thankful for the wide first class seats that Alice had insisted upon, working her Alice-magic in obtaining them with much sweet talking and several generous bribes, I lifted the dividing arm between my and Bella's seats, placing my arm around Bella's too-thin shoulders and pulling her against my chest. Now she could sleep at last.

Ignoring Alice's frantic whispers to Jasper on her cell from the seat behind me, I sighed as I again noted the changes in Bella's appearance: the deep purple circles under her eyes that denoted far more loss of sleep than could occur during her travels to Italy and back, the drawn paleness of her face, the dull lankness of her once-shiny hair, the loss of fifteen pounds of weight, the unconscious shifting of her body as if she were in pain, and, most concerning of all, the tug-of-war behind those beautiful brown eyes. Gazing into her eyes once again as I cupped her thin face in my palm, I saw her love for me war with uncertainty, hurt, anxiety, and, worrying me the most, fear.

What was Bella afraid of now?

We had walked away from Volterra alive, all three of us, which was no small miracle. I now held her in my arms, allowing all the gratitude and love I felt for her shine from my black eyes into her brown ones. But the battle behind her eyes continued...

Breaking our gaze for just a second, Bella reached up to press the attendant alert button next to the reading light above our heads. I nodded in agreement, planning to ask for pillows and a blanket for Bella. Her drooping eyes and slow movements revealed her sheer exhaustion, and I couldn't wait to hold her while she slept, a simple act that I had missed horribly over these past months and, over the last twenty-four hours, had never thought to be blessed to experience again.

She had accepted my caresses in Volterra, during the car ride to Florence, and through the airport, but she had not returned them.

I kept telling myself that she was exhausted.

That she was in shock.

That she was still reeling emotionally from our narrow escape.

But I felt her weak resistance even now that we were comfortably seated, in her stiff refusal to melt into my arms as she had always done. While she slept, however, I could hold her as closely as I wanted to...

The attendant approached, her professional smile firmly in place. I caught in her thoughts the observation that Bella must be ill. Cancer, she decided, noting her thinness and he sunken, empurpled eyes.

"How may I assist you," she asked, her eyes fixed on me rather than Bella. I ignored her rather lascivious thoughts as Bella addressed her.

"May I have a Coke, please? And please leave the can," Bella asked the attendant.

I frowned at down Bella, knowing how caffeine affected her system and how badly she needed to sleep. "Bella," I remonstrated gently.

She looked at me, her eyes strangely blank in her pale face. I had never seen her look so unwell...or so inhumanly lovely. "I don't want to sleep," Bella said in a strangely flat voice. "If I close my eyes now, I'll see things I don't want to see. I'll have nightmares."

I sighed. Her excuse was legitimate, I'm sure, but I was equally certain that Bella was not telling me the entire truth.

We settled into our seats for the flight, and I hoped that, despite the caffeine, Bella would sleep. But she waged a war against her exhaustion, against her frail humanity, as she drank soda continually.

But, thankfully, Bella let me hold her throughout the flight from Florence to Atlanta. I couldn't help it—my fingers constantly reassured me of her actual physical presence as I touched her too-prominent cheekbones, her pale forehead, the almost-transparent lavender hues of her eyelids, the welcome weight of her hair over my arm.

I kissed her almost as continually as I touched her, pressing my lips to her hollowed face, her pert nose, her white forehead, her adorable ears. From time to time I lifted her hand to my lips, kissing her fingertips and the oh-so-welcome throb of life in her wrist.

But something in her eyes—a wariness that was very nearly distrust—kept me from kissing her where I desired most: her lips. Although thinner and nearly colorless with exhaustion and stress, her mouth was set in a stubborn line that was not anger; it seemed more closely related to fear.

What did she have to fear now?

We didn't speak. She felt so fragile in my arms that I was quite afraid that she would disappear if I blinked; perhaps her unspoken fear came from the same source: fear that I, too, would disappear.

I gloried in her tentative touches as she traced my features, too: her tiny, delicate fingers warm against my face and throat. Burying her hands in my hair from time to time as if to pull me closer to her for a kiss, Bella inexplicably stopped herself every time.

I stopped breathing each time she paused in pulling me to her, hoping that she would kiss me as I so yearned for her to do, yet I was unwilling to take a step for which she was not ready. I didn't understand why she was holding me at arm's length, both literally and figuratively; I felt confused and frustrated beneath my overwhelming sense of thankfulness that my Bella was alive and safe in my arms.

An hour into the flight, Bella sighed, fidgeted a little, then sighed again. She pulled herself up to a sitting position from the half-reclining one we had enjoyed since the pilot had turned off seat belt light.

I looked at her, confused and concerned, and Bella blushed, color suffusing her face for the first time today. How I had missed her blushes...

"Um, I need to use the facilities," she murmured, embarrassed.

I stood, helping her out of the window seat and into the aisle. She gave me another one of her tight smiles, but her eyes were filled with fear.

"Stay here," she pleaded. "Don't go anywhere."

"Of course not," I reassured her, understanding better now. Bella was afraid that if she took her eyes off of me-as she would be forced to do in using the toilet-I would disappear. I couldn't blame her; I would feel the same way if using the facilities was necessary for me. "I'll be right here, love."

"Okay," she agreed quietly, turning away from me to walk back toward the facilities between our quiet first-class section and the teeming regular cabin.

As soon as she slipped into the tiny toilet area, I sank weakly into my seat. Alice slid into Bella's seat beside me, giving me a warm hug. "Just be patient, Edward. All will be well later on; I see you in her room, kissing her passionately, after she's had a chance to sleep. It will all work out perfectly."

My sister gave me one more quick squeeze around the waist, then rose to her feet just as Bella lurched down the aisle toward us, unbalanced by some slight turbulence. I, too, rose from my seat to assist her as Alice slipped back into her seat behind us.

The airliner flew through a pocket of rougher air, and Bella stumbled into my arms as she returned to her seat. I wrapped my arms around her, adjusting quickly for her weight to keep her upright and safe.

Once Bella regained her balance, she moved out of my arms and slipped past me into her window seat. Bereft, my arms empty, I hid my disappointment behind a cool mask, Alice throwing me a sympathetic glance before I reseated myself next to Bella.

This was difficult...so difficult. I knew that Bella deserved an apology—and more than that: apologies, explanations, pleading, begging—I was willing to do anything and everything to earn Bella's trust and love once again. I watched her surreptitiously as she huddled against the window, staring into the darkness with blank, tired eyes.

Then I saw a tear trickle down her thin cheek.

I felt a tug on my arm, and I turned to see Alice at my elbow. "Let me," she said in a voice too quiet for Bella to hear.

Obediently I slid from my seat, allowing my sister to take my place. I stood in the aisle like an idiot, barely noticing the attendants trying to edge past me as they served the other passengers, watching Alice place her hand on Bella's thin shoulder. Bella didn't move until Alice called her name, then she looked at my sister as though she were a ghost, her eyes wide with disbelief and shock. A strangled sob escaped her, and Alice pulled Bella into her arms. I just stood there, mesmerized, until Alice's low hiss alerted me, and I seated myself in Alice's deserted row.

Alice held Bella gently and consolingly as my girl's tiny body shook with the force of her sobs, and a faint keening sound slipped through her clenched jaws. Horrified at Bella's obvious suffering, I was on my feet before my mind caught up with my body, bumping my head against the low baggage compartment and undoubtedly cracking the thick plastic above the passenger seats in my panic.

Rounding Alice's seat's current seat, I knelt in front of them, ignoring Alice's glare and her muttered, "Sit down, you idiot!" I took Bella's trembling form into my arms, nudging my sister aside as I seated myself, Bella curled into a fragile ball in my lap, so warm against my cold body. She continued to sob deeply, each cry shaking her thin body until I thought she would shatter with the force of her weeping. Alice slid into the seat on Bella's other side, running her fingers through Bella's lank, tangled locks, cooing softly under her breath in a calming manner.

The first class flight attendant paused at my elbow, but Alice shook her head at her, refusing her polite offer of help before she had a chance to ask. The attendant smiled thinly, then quietly left as Bella continued to cry, her too-thin arms snaking around my neck to hold herself more closely to me as her hot tears soaked through the shirt Alice had just bought for me.

But I was holding her, and her tight grip, crushing the collar of my shirt, showed me how badly she needed me right now. And I relaxed a little for the first time since...since her eighteenth birthday.

Oh, I wasn't stupid. I knew I had major repair work to do on our relationship, but for the first time, I felt a sensation of hope. For some reason, a verse of Scripture came to mind, "And hope does not disappoint."

Thank goodness...

I buried my nose in her hair, relishing her softness, her closeness, her beloved fragrance, her need for me.

After nearly twenty minutes, Bella's sobs quieted, her hands loosening from my shirt collar, and I hoped that, exhausted by her crying jag, she would sleep.

But she pulled herself into a sitting position and with a faint smile, slid out of my arms and back into her window seat, gently nudging Alice aside with an apologetic grimace so that my sister had no choice but to return to her place behind us. As Bella put distance between us again, I shifted myself fully back into my seat, frowning with disapproval as she reached for the call button and ordered another Coke.

Bella seemed bound and determined to remain awake, and there was nothing I could do to stop her. The desire to ask her for a reason seemed pointless; she would only give me the nightmare excuse again, but I knew that it was a merely a cover for her real fear: that if she fell asleep, I would disappear.

Could I reassure her? I imagined doing so, but a sharp poke in the back of my seat from Alice caught my attention. I twisted to peer back between our seats at my sister who shook her head sadly. "Don't try it," she advised in a voice too low for human hearing. "Just let her be for now. You'll work it all out later."

I sighed, turning forward, but unable to keep myself from reaching for Bella's hand and holding it in my cold one. She took it willingly, again giving me her same flat, tired smile that failed to reach her eyes.

Her pain was all my fault, and I despised myself for her inability to sleep peacefully. I had stolen so much from her by leaving her. The evidence was sitting right beside me, sipping on a can of soda in order to keep her drooping eyelids open. Bella was so thin, so pale, so lifeless. The former brightness of her eyes was dimmed not only by exhaustion but also by a deep-seated pain that refused to leave, despite my presence.

What had I done to this beautiful, fragile girl whom I loved more than my own existence, without whom I would not and could not continue living...or existing?

The seat belt light blinked back on, the pilot announcing that we were on descent to Atlanta. I heard Bella sigh quietly, so I turned to her noting that her brow was creased as if she were in pain.

"What is it, Bella?" I asked anxiously.

She sighed again, avoiding my eyes. "Nothing. I'm fine."

I glanced back at Alice, hoping to learn something from my sister that would let me know how serious Bella's discomfort was.

But Alice was grinning widely, and the wink she gave me reassured me completely, so I settled back into my now-upright seat, watching Bella out of the corner of my eye.

Bella shifted uncomfortably in her seat beside me, turning often to look behind her for some reason. Then she wriggled again, sighing as she crossed her legs tightly.

Then I got it, grinning to myself. Alice and I exchanged amused glances as Bella continued to fidget and look longingly at the small airplane lavatory. The sodas she had been drinking all day must have affected her just after the seat belt warning flashed on, and now she was rather stuck.

Poor human...

If everything wasn't so unresolved and strange right now, I would have teased her gently, and she would have smiled beautifully. But she wasn't talking to me freely...or really at all right now, so even gentle teasing was out of the question.

The moment we landed and the seat belt sign flashed off, Bella was out of her seat and scurrying for the bathroom. I didn't dare look at Alice for fear I would burst out laughing, and Bella didn't need to hear our merriment at her discomfort...even if the situation was rather funny.

I've broken this long 10,000+-word one-shot into four shorter chapters for ease of reading. I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for reading, reviewing, following, and favoriting!

Warmly,

Cassandra :) xxxooo