Chapter Forty: The Vow

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Here's the next chapter---and it's pretty serious and angst-y. We might need some Emmett & Jasper-fun really soon after this one....

Chapter Forty: The Vow

Shocked by her weeping, I released Bella's chin to pinch the bridge of my nose between my fingers. What have I done? How have I hurt her...again?

She sniffled, wiping her nose on the inside sleeve of her shirt, her eyes still trained on the flowing river at our feet as we remained seated side-by-side on a large rock jutting over the banks of the tumbling white-tipped water.

Refusing to look at me still, Bella sighed, a sound that would have been drowned out by the roar of the river if not for my vampiric hearing. Anxiety continued to course through me as I scanned her face, searching her usually expressive countenance for a clue to her state of mind, but her lovely face was abnormally blank...almost coldly indifferent.

I stopped breathing. What was going on in that silent mind of hers? What was she thinking? What was she deciding? My entire body froze in place, anxiety morphing into fear so unsettling and deep that my mind became as statue-like as my body.

My eyes still fixed on her, I finally choked words through my lips as I pleaded, “What it is, Bella? Please, please tell me, love?”

Her eyes remained fixed straight ahead, unmoving, almost as if she were not seeing the beauty of the flowing river before her. “I'm scared, Edward,” she whispered through pale, barely-moving lips.

She was frightened? What the...? Bella was the bravest human I knew—braver even than many of our kind. Nothing seemed to scare her: not James' pursuit of her this spring, not the illness that almost took her from me mere weeks ago. She might be frightened for others' safety and well-being, but she was never concerned about her own.

For her sake, I calmed the questions tumbling at supersonic speed through my mind, drawing her slim body closer to me as I started to breathe again. Fear I can deal with. Quieting her fears was something I could do for her; it was part of taking care of her, cherishing her, loving her.

“What are you afraid of?” I questioned softly, confident that I could defend her, protect her, care for her. Nothing could separate us again. She had nothing to fear; if I could convince her of that fact, all will be well. Her blank face will soften; she will allow me to console her, and whatever this fear was that drove a wedge between us would dissipate and disappear. We will return to being two people desperately in love, taking back the joy that should be ours if not for this fear of hers.

At long last, she turned toward me, her beautiful brown eyes finally meeting mine. But her usually warm, loving gaze was absent. Her normally melting-chocolate-brown eyes were cold, almost icy in their detachment. Fear stilled my lungs once again as she drew a shallow breath to answer my query.

“I am afraid being separated from you—of death separating us...forever,” she whispered in a voice barely audible above the roar of the rushing water.

Part of me wanted to laugh—she was afraid of death now? After the icy accident in the parking lot, after the run-in with the gang of men in Port Angeles, after being pursued and trapped, injured and nearly killed by James, after her recent, dangerous illness—after all of this, death frightened her?

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