Disclaimer: The Twilight world is the property of Stephenie Meyer. I'm just borrowing for a bit…
Note: This story is set toward the end of 'New Moon' shortly after Bella, Edward, and Alice return from Italy.
Curled up with Bella on my couch, I could almost forget the agony of our separation. The worst moments—the longest in my existence—were those in which I believed I had lost her forever. But she was here with me now, nestled in the cradle of my legs, her back resting against my stone chest. My hands sat gently upon her hips as I idly read over her shoulder. She held a book, but she had not turned the page in some time. My own eyes had moved over the text six times; it was now ingrained in my mind indelibly.
I lifted one hand to brush my fingers over her soft hair. The fragrance still captivated me, but I missed the fullness and glossiness her tresses once had. The effects of my absence left a tightness in my chest. While Bella's skin remained wonderfully soft, I could feel the prominence of her bones beneath the fingers splayed over her hip. She had lost weight during those months when I was gone. I had wanted desperately to protect her; instead, I had nearly destroyed her.
I could not remake the past, though. The best I could do was to take care of Bella now. Since our return from Italy eight days ago, I had done all I could to ensure that she ate properly and rested soundly each night. Nightmares disrupted her sleep with disturbing frequency, but a few whispered words in her ear and a heart-felt caress upon her beautiful cheek seemed to soothe her so that she could return to restful slumber. Even so, I wished she could sleep deeply for a full eight or nine hours. Perhaps that would finally banish the faint darkness beneath her eyes and restore the rosiness to her pallid cheeks.
I had discussed my concerns with Carlisle. He felt that Bella's physical condition was improving but reminded me that her restoration to full health would take some time, as well continued vigilance upon my part. I knew that he felt partially responsible for her condition, too, and he wished to help her if he could. He had provided some vitamin supplements that I gave her with her meals, and he had agreed to prescribe a mild sleep aid if her nightmares did not diminish soon.
Perhaps the greatest kindness he had shown her, however, was the gift of time with me. Carlisle understood that my presence—my gentle yet sincere affection, my voice, my touch—were the best tonic of all for Bella. So he had arranged for her to spend the weekend at our home, sending my siblings away and taking Esme on a trip to their island in Brazil. Bella's father believed that she was here with Alice, catching up on her schoolwork, while I was away visiting relatives in Alaska. Esme had assisted us by phoning Charlie from the airport this afternoon to assure him that the girls were already hard at work, and that she would ensure that their academic endeavors continued.
While neither of my parents particularly enjoyed prevarication, both felt a need to atone for their part in the entire family's leaving Bella. Like Carlisle, Esme understood that what Bella needed the most was me.
Daylight had faded completely now. I glanced at the clock to see that it was after seven. Bella needed to eat soon. Esme had prepared a hearty chicken stew that I planned to serve this evening. She and I had stocked the kitchen with a variety of food and drink to carry Bella through the entire weekend.
I kissed Bella's temple softly. "It's time for dinner, love," I said.
She lifted her head, rotating it slowly. "Okay," she replied. She reached up to rub at her neck.
"Is your neck stiff?" I asked. I should have thought to wrap a blanket around her. The coolness of my skin and rigidity of my posture had caused some muscle tension for her, I feared.
"I think I just need to stretch," she said, swinging her legs over the edge of the couch.
She pushed herself to her feet, swaying slightly. Immediately I was behind her, steadying her with hands at her elbow and hip. Her heart sped up, and she took two quick breaths. Her rapid blinking told me that she was experiencing some vertigo.
"Are you feeling light-headed?" I asked, my voice soft yet concerned.
"I must have gotten up too fast," she responded. "I'm fine now."
I inhaled slowly, tasting her scent carefully. I did not detect any difficulties with her glucose levels, but it was best to err on the side of caution and see that she ate as soon as possible.
Keeping one arm around her waist, I led her downstairs to the kitchen. I heated the stew while she sipped a glass of apple juice. She smiled as she watched me at the stove. Her cheeks were rosy now, that familiar blush I loved creeping over her fair skin.
"I wish you'd let me do that," she said. "You really don't need to wait on me."
"I don't need to," I replied with a crooked grin, "but I want to."
I darted over to place a soft kiss upon her cheek, then I returned to the stove. Bella continued to watch me, her expression content. We had quickly found our emotional footing again once we returned to Forks. I felt grateful for that. She forgave me so easily; her heart was inexplicably open to me. I did not deserve her clemency, but I was grateful for it.
Bella's cheeks paled when I set the bowl of stew before her. She told me that it looked good, but after the first small spoonful she paused, sipping some more juice.
"Does it taste all right?" I asked. Esme had followed the instructions very diligently, but it was possible that the recipe was flawed.
"It's good," Bella said, giving me a half-hearted smile. "I just don't feel very hungry right now."
"You need to eat something, love," I reminded her gently. "It's important to have some food in your stomach when you take your vitamins. It improves absorbency of the nutrients and prevents stomach upset." I had given her a vitamin tablet just prior to the stew.
She nodded; I had explained this before. "I'll have a little more."
She fished out a small piece of potato then two carrots, chewing each slowly and drinking more juice with each swallow. Then she set down her spoon and leaned back in her chair.
"Darling," I said, "that's not enough."
"I'm sorry, Edward." Her voice was soft, her tone apologetic. "Could I just have some more juice?"
I dashed to the refrigerator to refill her glass. When I returned to her, she was rubbing a hand over her forehead.
"Do you have a headache?" I asked.
She sighed then admitted, "Just a little one."
I realized that I should have turned on a brighter light as she was reading. She must have struggled to make out the words in the dimness… I set down the glass and moved behind her to massage her temples and brow gently. My thumbs slid down to the base of her skull, pressing lightly to alleviate some of the stiffness I felt in the muscles.
After a few minutes, Bella told me that she felt better. She was still reticent to eat but said she would try again later. She asked if I would play for her. I could deny her nothing, so I took her hand and led her to the couch. She settled back with a small smile, and I moved to the new piano. I played softly, delicately, hoping that the music would soothe the remaining tension from her head and neck.
She appeared content, her eyes half-closed as the music continued. I played for nearly an hour then moved back to her side, sitting beside her and pulling her into my arms.
"Mmm, that was nice," she said, resting her head against my chest.
"Are you feeling better?"
I felt a small movement of her head that I took as a nod. I kissed her crown.
"Good," I murmured. "I'm going to heat up a little more stew… unless you'd like to try something else? I can make you a grilled cheese sandwich if you prefer."
"No, the stew will be fine."
"I'll be right back." I stood and hurried to the kitchen. Within a few minutes I had a small bowl of steaming stew in my hands.
I brought it to her in the living room, thinking she might be more comfortable on the couch. She managed several spoonfuls before setting aside the bowl. She remained pale, however, and there was a tightness around her eyes that I had come to recognize as indicative of pain.
"Your headache hasn't gone away," I commented tenderly, smoothing my thumb over her cheek.
"It's really not that bad," she replied, attempting a smile.
"Would you like some Tylenol?"
She shook her head. "Maybe just a hot shower."
"That's a good idea."
I helped her to her feet then kissed her cheek, watching as she made her way up the stairs. She remained in the shower for some time, finally emerging from the bathroom and saying my name.
I was up the stairs in an instant. Bella sat on the couch, blotting her hair with a towel. She wore a periwinkle tank top and flannel pajama pants. Her small feet were bare, her toes still pink from the hot water.
"If you don't mind," she said, looking up, "I think I'll just go on to bed."
I had planned to make up the couch for her. She insisted it would be perfectly comfortable for three nights. But now I had my doubts. I wanted her to sleep well, and I knew that the couch would not provide the soft support of a bed.
"Could you get a pillow and blanket?" she asked.
I shook my head and gave her a slightly cryptic smile. "Actually, no."
She appeared confused, setting the towel in her lap. Before she could question me, I had scooped her up into my arms and begun carrying her down the hall. She felt so warm against my cold skin. The shower had left her heated; it was marvelous.
In a few seconds I had reached my destination. I opened the door and strode to the large bed in the center of Carlisle and Esme's room.
"This seems to be the most comfortable bed in the house," I explained. "Esme got a new mattress just a few days ago, and it's an excellent quality."
The couples in my family went through mattresses with some frequency, and I knew this one had not yet been used. That was the primary reason I had chosen Carlisle's and Esme's room. The fact that my mother always made up their bed with the softest, most sumptuous linens also appealed to me. Bella would rest in absolute comfort here.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly take their room!" Bella protested as I set her on the bed.
"They won't mind at all. As a matter of fact, Esme told me that I should offer it to you instead of making you sleep on my couch."
"But I like your couch!"
I chuckled. "And I like having you on it. But I want you to sleep well tonight, love, and the couch is too hard. You'll only be sore in the morning if you spend the night on it."
Bella ran her hand over the silky soft duvet. "Are you sure they won't mind?"
I folded back the covers and fluffed one of the pillows. Bella yawned then blushed at her body's response to the lovely bed. I smiled encouragingly as she crawled between the sheets. She sank back, her head cradled in the pillow. I did not inform her that each pillow cost more than the entire set of linens on her own bed…
"Comfortable?" I asked with a wry grin.
"Very," she admitted, but her expression tightened. "Are you going to stay with me?"
"Of course," I replied, stretching out beside her. I flicked off the bedside light then let her settle against me, wrapping one arm around her blanket-clad shoulder. I kissed her warm cheek and whispered, "Sweet dreams, love."
To be continued...