Armor

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Three weeks later

Edward spent the last ten minutes since Bella had returned from her doctor visit, pacing. After he made sure her fake health records would hold up, she'd agreed to see one. However, in the last few days, he usually answered anything she asked in a variety of grunts and growls. It had nothing to do with her seeing a doctor, but something else. She had accused him of being a Neanderthal the last time and stalked off to work on a new series Gianna was displaying on her behalf in a few months.

"Enough is enough, Edward!" Bella huffed, her arms flailing around. "You've been such an asshole for days. Just talk to me."

"I don't have to take this shit," he said, his voice deeper than usual. Considering he rarely used it in days, she wasn't surprised. He stalked toward his wallet and keys on the kitchen counter, heading toward the front door of the house.

"Oh, so you're going to run." She threw her hands up and slid on along the wood flooring with her sock-covered feet, beating him to the door. "You need to stop fucking avoiding me or running, Edward, right now. Something has to give, because I feel like I'm walking on eggshells. I can't stand seeing you like this. It's driving me crazy."

Refusing to take the bait that would start another argument, he grabbed her by the hips to lift her and set her aside. That did it. She came at him with her words the moment he put his hand on the doorknob.

"Go ahead and go. I'm going to the memorial with your parents."

Edward turned toward her, rage building up to a point of no return. She had figured out what had him so on edge. Of course, she did. She stood up to him, hands on her hips, lips pursed to a thin line. Her chest heaved with every breath she took. It was a tiny bit of fear in her eyes that finally did him in, sending him to his knees.

"Fuck, don't be afraid of me," he said, wrapping his arms around her hips. He rested his forehead on her stomach, trying to get his breathing under control. It wasn't until her fingers ran through his hair that he relaxed a little. "I know I've been an asshole. I'm afraid of facing their families."

"I'm not afraid of you, Edward. The only thing I fear is you leaving. I understand your fear, though." Her fingers continued to soothe him in a way that only she could. He started seeing a therapist again, but the two sessions so far had been either horrible or a complete waste of time when he remained stoic and silent. He would continue going, despite how much he hated it. "I'll do anything I can to make it easier."

She had asked on a few occasions about what he was going to do since his parents had given the letter and invitation from his fellow soldier's sister, urging him to attend. Each time she brought it up, he found a way to distract her. It wasn't healthy and she put it a stop to it. If he refused to discuss it, she changed the subject and reminded him to talk to his therapist about it; something his parents urged him to start up again.

"Come with me."

"Are you sure?"

He rose to his feet and wrapped his arms around her. "Yes, please. I need you with me."

.

.

.

Bella had arranged for the hotel and flights to Chicago, letting Esme know their plans. His parents had left the day before, insisting on joining their son.

Their flight was the next morning, and the memorial would be the following day. Edward had remained subdued since he'd asked her to come. She understood and tried her best to be there for him. For the past two days, as they awaited for their departure, he worked alongside Jacob on her house. They had left for Edward's cabin earlier, because he needed a few things from there. They returned with a duffel bag packed with his clothes and a garment bag that held his dress blues inside.

"Bye, Jake." She kept a smile on her face as Jacob grabbed his tools before leaving for the day. He'd return to work on the house while they were in Chicago.

Edward dropped his things on the couch and held out his hand for her. From his rigid stance, she knew he needed something from her. "Are you sure?" she asked the second they stepped into master bathroom. He only nodded and sat on the stool near the sink.

"As a solider, dressed in my uniform, I'm expected to dress according to regulation. That means it must go." He looked up at her, cupping her cheek. "You really don't mind it?"

She shrugged and blushed a little, offering him a small smile and arranging the things she needed. When he had asked for her help days earlier, she had agreed without question. However, she worried how he'd feel or act once she, in essence, removed his armor.

He sat down and took a deep breath before closing his eyes. Her approach was slow, not wanting to scare him, but he seemed more aware than she thought, his hands immediately settling on her hips when she stood in front of him. On the first pass with the trimmer, his lashes fluttered closed for a few moments, but opened to meet her gaze.

"Keep going." His voice was rough and deep, his eyes closing again. One of his fingers teased her hip, but she kept on the task. Slowly, more and more of his skin along his throat and jaw came into view. She purposely left the side of the scar for last, knowing it could be a trigger for him. His hands tightened around her hips as she passed the trimmer gently over it. Tears fell from her eyes, watching his jaw clench slightly as he swallowed hard. "I'm okay." Suddenly, his eyes met her again, having felt her tears land on his thighs and arms. "I'm okay, Bella."

"I know."

He said nothing more, watching as she put the trimmer aside and grabbed the shaving cream and razor. Her hands shook, but he grabbed them to stop her. "I really am okay, Bella."

She nodded, undeterred and waited for his hands to fall away from her wrists. She focused once again and allowed the tears to fall. His thumb grazed her hip in a soothing gesture that warmed her heart, but didn't try to stop her from crying. On the final swipe of the blade, she noticed the lone tear on his cheek. She wiped it away along with any remaining shaving cream and tossed the washcloth away.

Every tear that fell from her eyes seem to spear Edward through the heart, while also warming it. Fuck, if it didn't confuse him. He didn't dare ask why she cried, and he had a feeling he already knew. Since they talked about what they wanted, she'd been more open and free with her affection for him.

"Are you okay?" she asked, holding his face in her hands. He nodded and tried to smile, but it quickly turned into a grimace. As a prisoner, his captors had crudely stitched the gash, and the scar along one side of his jaw healed a little too tight. He felt it stretch when he smiled, more so now that it was clean-shaven. Her finger slowly skimmed over the tight skin and bent to press her lips to it, whispering, "I love you."

"Bella. God, I don't deserve you," he groaned, wrapping his arms around her waist and settling his cheek on her chest.

"That's where you're wrong." He looked up at her for a moment, trying to say something, but she stopped him. "Only if you're ready and not because I said it."

Edward swallowed hard, because the words were right on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he nodded and rested his forehead on her stomach. "Thank you." He felt her nod as her fingers ran through her hair. "We might as well keep going." She whimpered, causing him to chuckle a little, because she did love to pull his hair. "It'll grow back." For several minutes, she worked to give him a standard military haircut. He planned to pay a visit to the families that lost loved ones; he wanted to do it as a solider, with dignity and respect.

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