"Oh, Edward, what did you do?"
"I'm taking a leap of faith."
Wearing only black silk boxers, he was anchored to the bed, his ankles bound by silken ties. His arms were stretched over his head, his wrists locked to handcuffs around the wrought iron bed post. A fine sheen of perspiration covered his skin and his body shook feverishly, as she gaped at him, horrified.
Coming out of her shock induced trance, she ran over to him, not sure what to do, how to act. Tears pricked at her eyelids at the expression of sheer terror on his face. He looked like a little boy lost, scared and abandoned with his wild-eyed gaze and beads of sweat covering his upper lip and forehead.
"How long have you been like this?" she asked in a voice filled with panic.
His brows puckered in thought. He looked confused, disoriented and it was scaring the hell out of her.
"I don't -" He shook his head, dazed. "An hour...I think?"
He trussed himself up like a damn Thanksgiving turkey for an hour? It was only then that she really took stock of the room; saw the soft glow of votive candles spread about the room, heard the dark classical music from the speakers high in the wall...and Dear God, was that a riding crop next to him?
"Why? Why would you do this?" Her voice was close to a shriek, flinging the crop off the bed and to the floor. This isn't want she wanted. Not even close.
"I'm giving you the control,Bella," he said in a shaky voice. "Take it."
How could he think she would even think of taking advantage of him in this state? That she would want to? There was nothing remotely sexually desirable in this. She felt sick just thinking about it.
His breaths were becoming more shallow and his skin seemed to leech of all its color as the seconds ticked by. Bella shook her head violently at his desperate, pleading expression, the tears leaking from her eyes, unchecked. She brought her eyes up to the handcuffs manacled to his wrists and saw the raw, red skin underneath.
"Where are the keys?"
His eyes closed and with a deep breath, he reopened them. She could see the resolve mixed with absolute terror in their green depths.
"I want you to take me. Just like this."
"Stop it!" she screamed in alarm, her eyes wild and darting around to find the keys to the handcuffs. She'd tear the room apart if she had to. "Edward, where are the damn keys?!"
His mouth clamped shut but she saw the brief flicker of his eyes towards the night stand. Scooping them up quickly, she tried to unlock the cuffs with quaking hands.
"Don't," he pleaded, his voice raspy and hoarse. "Please, Bella. If this is the only way-"
"Not like this!" she cried out. "Never, like this," she added in a softer tone when he visibly flinched.
She breathed a sob-filled sigh when she got them unlocked and with one quick movement of her arm, she threw them across the room. The music was next; the sound of it making her ill. With a quick press of the tiny remote, the room was reduced to silence with the exception of their harsh breaths intertwining. Bella worked on the binds around his ankles next, Her fingers fumbling with the tight knots desperate to get them off of him.
As soon as they were off, Edward felt his stomach roll in nauseous waves. He jumped off the bed, stumbling into the dark master bath. With a slam of his knees on the tiled floor, he hunched over the toilet and wretched violently, his shoulders shaking under the force of his heaves as they traveled through his body.
Bella knelt behind him and wrapped her arms around him. Pressing her cheek against his back as he vomited, she whispered words meant to soothe. She stroked his sides, feeling the tensing muscles underneath her fingertips.
"Leave, Bella," he rasped and yanked a few sheets of toilet paper off the roll to wipe at his mouth. "I don't want you to see me like this."
"I'm not going anywhere. Not when you're like this."
She eased him back so he was resting against the wall. He looked worse than before; his face sallow and drawn, his eyes; lifeless, red-rimmed and bloodshot, his body still shaking.
"Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with me?"
Soothing a lock of hair from his brow, she said softly, "You're having an anxiety attack."
"Is that was this is?" He gripped his chest, feeling the painful constrictions. "Fuck! It hurts."
"I know. It'll pass soon. Let me just get you some water, okay?"
"You've had these before?"
"Yeah," she admitted, focusing on her task of getting him water from the sink. "I used to get them all the time - with Sam," she said, handing him the small cup knelt down beside him again.
Her revelation made him wince. Is that what would eventually happen with them? He'd end up causing her to feel the way he felt now? No wonder, his actions had her so freaked out. Jesus Christ!
"What was all that about, Edward?"
He dragged his gaze to meet hers. Even with tears streaking her face, she was still so beautiful. And her tears were for him. He owed her no less than an honest answer.
He sighed in defeat. "I thought if I gave up control, you would see...you would finally understand that I need you more than I need it. And I tried, Bella. I tried so fucking hard but all I felt...all I saw while waiting for you, was him. His voice was in my head, telling me what a little shit I was, how I was a good for nothing little prick, how he was going to make me squirm and I-"
"Shh, it's okay. We're going to be okay." She pushed his sweat slicked hair from his face.
"Oh you silly, silly man," she choked out a sob and gave a warbled smile through her tears. "Just because I don't want you using sex to control me, doesn't mean I want to control you in that way."
No, and he should've known that. He did know that. But somewhere in his befuddled brain, trying desperately to make amends and change for her, he forgot that - forgot who she was. She wasn't like him. And he would thank God everyday for that.
"I know, I just didn't know what else to do to prove to you how much I want this."
"That was never what this was about."
His eyes followed her when she stood up and relaxed when he realized she was only going to his medicine cabinet. She pulled out antibiotic ointment and some cotton balls. Gently, she took his hand within hers and tended to the red, inflamed skin on his wrists.
"You must've struggled quite a bit," she said as she inspected the welts.
"I didn't even realize." He leaned his head against the wall. "God, I've really mucked things up with this stunt haven't I?"
"No," she whispered. "You haven't mucked things up at all. You've actually made them pretty clear." He hitched his breath and she sought to reassure him. "It's a good thing I promise. C'mon." She stood up and held her hand out to him. "Let's go to bed."
Bella lead him back into the bedroom, quickly shutting the lamp to dim the evidence left on the floor. She didn't want him to be reminded of it. After tucking him into bed, she undressed and pulled out a t-shirt from his drawer and slipped it on before crawling under the covers with him.
He was still tense, staring up at the dark ceiling, his chest rising and falling still too quickly.
"Now that we're here, I do have one request."
He turned to her, his expression wary.
"I just want to hold you. Can I please just hold you?"
Edward let out a deep breath feeling himself relax a bit more into the covers. He nodded. "I think I would like that."
She curled herself around him, resting her head on his bare chest and stroked his arm in a feather light touch. It wasn't long before his ragged breathing turned into deep, even breaths and she was finally able to close her own eyes.
Edward watched the sleeping woman beside him with one part fascination and two parts adoration. She refused him it was the best thing that could've happened. She took care of him, refused to give strength to the demons chasing him...didn't take advantage of his trust. He took the leap of faith and won. He came out whole if not a bit unscathed.
He'd been wholly prepared to relinquish to her the control he cleaved to but he was completely unprepared for the torment the waiting would bring, tied up as he was. The more the minutes ticked by, the more the memories came until he was drowning in his own panic.
An anxiety attack, Bella had called it. Such an innocuous sounding term. He felt like he was going to die. He never wanted to feel that way again.
"I used to get them all the time - with Sam."
He could barely wrap his head around what she admitted to him in the state he was in but now, in the light of the new day seeping in from under the window blinds, he could feel how devastating that admission was for her to make. He got it now like he never got it before. Though her need to have control was solely centered around her and not controlling others, she needed it just as badly.
When she began to stir within his arms, he dropped a tender kiss on her forehead.
"Mmm, good morning." Her eyes blinked sleepily and she warmed his soul with a shy smile.
"How did you sleep?"
"Shouldn't I be asking you that question? How are you, really?"
He shrugged and pulled her closer, happy she went into his arms so willingly. "I'm okay or at least better than I was."
"I'm relieved. Last night was..." She blew out a breath, unsure of how to describe the living nightmare.
"Not one of my better moments, I admit. I'm sorry."
"Please stop apologizing."
He nodded once and was silent for a few moments. "Would you be agreeable to going to an appointment with me?"
"What type of an appointment?"
"My therapist. I think it's time the two of you met."
Bella had allowed herself to relax somewhat after the debacle of that night a few days ago when Edward scared the hell out of her. He seemed almost fine since; resorting to his normal routine but they had yet to have a discussion about that night or the one preceding it. It was almost as if nothing had happened. Almost.
It wasn't until they stood outside the door of his therapists office that she began to feel nervousness seep back into her. She'd never done this before. She didn't know what to expect or what was expected of her.
"Are you ready?" She felt his hand at the small of her back, anchoring her with its comfort.
"Not really," she admitted. "You?"
"Not really." He took a deep breath before turning the knob on the door.
Sheila, the receptionist, greeted them with a friendly smile and waved them to a seat. "He should be with you in a moment. Would you like some lavender tea?"
"You should have some," Edward whispered to her, taking her hand in his and giving it a squeeze. "It's very calming."
"No thanks. I'm good." Her stomach was flip-flopping too much to even consider putting anything in it. She concentrated instead on the paintings that hung on the walls and the various informational brochures on psychological disorders.
Edward sat silent beside her, leaning back in his chair, foot tapping against the rug in an uneven tattoo. It was unnerving to her that he seemed to be nervous when he had been coming to this man steadily for a few years. Why did he seem so ready to jump out of his own skin? What was he afraid of?
The door to the inner office opened and a dark haired man of middle-age stood there, casually dressed in a chambray shirt and beige dockers. Edward stood up, taking her with him. When he began to walk forward, the therapist stopped them.
"Just Bella for now," Eleazar said and beckoned Bella forward.
She gave Edward a curious look but he looked just as confused.
"It's all right," he assured her after a moment. "Go on."
Bella warily nodded and followed Eleazar into his office. He closed the door behind him and moved to sit down, motioning to the seat across from him.
"Eleazar, please. After all, I expect we're going to get to know each other quite well."
"Okay...Eleazar," she said, offering up a tentative smile.
"You look anxious."
"Have you ever done this before in any capacity?"
"You mean therapy?" she chuckled nervously and shook her head. "No. This is my first time."
"Not even right after what happened to you?" he asked in disbelief, then lowered his voice and said, "Edward told me what happened."
"Um, no...it was recommended but I just...didn't."
"Can I ask why not?"
"My father was dying and there was so much going on..." She shrugged. "It just didn't seem that important."
"I see. And you're willing to do this now?"
"It's for Edward, so..."
"But not for yourself?" he prompted when she trailed off. "Bella, I want you to know that even though Edward is my patient, I am here for you as well. Anything you want to divulge to me will remain strictly between the two of us."
When she didn't add anything else, Eleazar eased himself from his chair. "Okay then, let's bring Edward in now, shall we? I'm sure we let him stew long enough."
Edward entered Eleazar's office and quickly noted the tension in the room before taking a seat beside Bella. Her body was stiff and her fingers fidgeting in her lap. What exactly did his shrink say to her?
"Edward," he started with a smile. "I have to say, I am pleased to see you here so soon after your last session but I am also curious. What brings you both here today?" His assessing eyes darted back and forth between the two of them.
As if the bastard couldn't guess, Edward thought before he reluctantly recounted the events of the other night, his mangled attempts at a leap of faith and his appalling anxiety attack that made him feel less of a man somehow. He'd even spent a good portion of time attacking his punching bag to exorcise that particular demon.
Eleazar listened attentively but his face revealed shock and concern over Edward's story. "Well, Edward, that wasn't quite what I meant by taking a leap of faith," he started when Edward finished speaking. "In fact, it was rather dangerous. If Bella hadn't been so intuitive in acting as she did, if she actually did take advantage of you in that state even though you said you wanted it, the consequences for your relationship could've been disastrous."
"The anxiety attack certainly felt disastrous," Edward muttered.
"Honestly, I'm not surprised you had one. I would be more concerned if you didn't."
"I hated her seeing me like that. So weak."
"Bella?" Eleazar turned to her. "Did you perceive Edward as weak?"
"No! Of course not."
"What did you feel then?"
"I hated it. I was so frightened...and guilty. To think that it was my fault he was like that..."
"No, Bella, no," Edward denied. "It wasn't."
"No, it wasn't," Eleazar agreed. "But it is very telling that she thinks it is. Bella, I want to ask you something but I want you to address Edward when you give the answer."
"When Edward tries to control you, how does that make you feel?"
Bella turned to Edward, biting her bottom lip. "It scares me. I feel like he..."
"Not me, Bella. Answer to Edward."
"I feel like you need to control me and when you can't or I won't let you, you resort to sexual dominance and I give in and end up hating myself for it. I'm terrified to become what I was and I find myself unconsciously rebelling against you to prevent it. I don't want to lose you but I don't want to lose myself either."
"Now, Edward, how do you feel about what she said? Remember, address Bella, not me."
Edward swallowed hard and gripped her hand, trying to organize his thoughts, his feelings. "I'm sorry. I know I've said that many times but I really am. I just...don't know what else to do to make you listen to me."
"'Make you', that's an interesting word choice, Edward. Can you elaborate why you feel it necessary to 'make' her do anything?"
"Because I'm scared too, damn it! Because any number of things can take you away from me and I just can't lose you again. You say you rebel and I feel it when you do and it makes me want to hold on tighter. I'm so afraid you're going to walk away from me that I cling all the more, using whatever weapon I have in my arsenal to keep you and if that is sex then so be it."
"But you can't do that, Edward. You resort to sex when I do things you don't approve of or there is some imagined threat or if you don't get your way, instead of discussing it with me, like two adults. I feel like I'm constantly walking on eggshells around you, unsure of how to approach things without you going off the rails."
"And that is where I come in," Eleazar interrupted. "I have an exercise for the both of you."
"Yes and I know you're not going to like it, but at this point, I feel it is necessary. For most couples, sex is a way to connect on a deeper level but in many ways, Edward, that is not what you are doing. I would like the two of you to try to abstain from sex until your next joint session."
"What?!" Edward exploded. "What do you mean by no sex?"
"You're allowed to be intimate on some levels but no intercourse and no oral sex. For the sake of your relationship, you're going to have to find other, healthier ways to solve your differences of opinion and let go of your fear. You need boundaries and limits, Edward. This will help you in finding that."
"For how long?"
"I would like to meet with you both separately next week, so..." Eleazar flipped through his appointment book. "The Thursday after next, we'll see where we are and revisit this exercise."
"Two weeks? Isn't that a bit extreme?"
"No, Edward. I think it's just about right."
"Why now?" Bella asked. "Why have you never told him to do this before?"
"I doubt it would've made a difference before, Bella. He has you now. There are cold, hard consequences for his behavior if he allows himself to continue in this vein."
"And if I refuse?" Edward asked and looked at Bella beside him. "If we refuse?"
"That's up to the two of you, of course, but if you are serious about having a lasting and fulfilling relationship, I suggest you listen to the advice you pay me for."