Chapter Two: Sleeping

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 Chapter Two: Sleeping

 Bella sighed in her sleep and drew herself closer to me as we lay on her narrow bed. Her face, washed clean of the layers of makeup that Alice had subjected her to, glowed in the faint moonlight of this starry night. Despite how beautiful Bella had looked tonight, I preferred her face without makeup: she simply didn't need it. Women spent hundreds of dollars to have a clear, translucent complexion like hers. Her hair, though, retained its unusual curliness, courtesy of Alice again, but the heavy scent of the hairspray tickled my nose and kept her hair from falling naturally down her back as it did every night. Her hair didn't smell like hers at all, and I didn't care for it.

As Bella shifted slightly in my arms as she slept, I held her all the more closely. These nights spent with Bella seemed like a colossal waste of time to my brothers who much preferred to have my company tracking animals across the mountains and refereeing their frequent wrestling matches. But I was content here in Bella's small room, holding her ... protecting her. The few times I did leave her at night to hunt I worried about her so much that Emmett declared that I was no fun anymore and even Jasper looked peeved. Only after slipping back into her window and gathering her to me did the anxiety quiet, and only then I could breathe easier.

But even laying here, listening to the steady beat of her heart-the most profound sound in my world now-and her slow, quiet breathing, I couldn't completely relax. I could never relax around Bella-she was simply too fragile. Too many dangers lurked about her for me to ever feel completely at ease, even when I was with her. And sometimes especially when I WAS with her. Her scent, though long familiar, still burned deep in my throat, and when the breeze from her open window wafted her scent to me, the venom still filled my mouth, causing my stomach to lurch emptily. I wanted her-in more ways than one. So I could not be absolutely at rest around Bella because I knew. I knew what she would never admit: I was a danger to her.

Living out her human life alongside her seemed like the only right way now. There was no way that I would change her-no way I would damn her soul to an eternity of hell-in order to keep her "safe." She might be "safe" in one way-immortal, nearly indestructible, but with her terrible bad luck, should she die after becoming immortal, there would be no hope. None at all. I knew there was no hope of heaven for me-if was simply the truth, part of the definition of "vampire." But I refused to damn her, too. Her soul was too pure, too precious, too lovely, to risk just so I could be with her always.

And, yes, Bella's immortality would solve another problem, one not so pressing as her safety but one that both of us felt more and more as we spent time together: the fulfillment of our physical attraction. I had to constantly reign in my less pure desires for Bella. Even holding her night after night was hard for me when I wanted so much more. Morally I knew that I wanted to put a ring on her finger and say vows before a minister before we took our physical relationship to that level. And besides, it simply wasn't safe for her to remain human when we fulfill our physical attraction, and I certainly wasn't going to change her simply for that reason, no matter how much she undermined my self-control...which she somehow seemed to think was endless and perfect.

Each night here-with Bella in my arms, with her talking in her sleep about how much she loves me, with my desire for the best for her warring with my desires for both her body and for her blood raging in me-these nights were not peaceful. Yet, strangely, they were. I felt like a different person with Bella to love and protect-being with her felt so right in my heart, even if my logic and reason told me to protect her from all danger...and that included myself. For more than one reason.

"Edward," Bella whispered in her sleep.

I held her closer, my cheek against the top of her head, my arms wrapped around her, her body curled against mine. Her whispering my name brought a now-familiar warmth to my heart-to this heart that had not beat for eighty years but which somehow glowed in my chest every time she spoke my name.

She moaned softly, the sound sending a frisson of heat down my ice-cold back. How could my stone body melt? Her very voice seemed to bring heat to my cold face, almost as if I could blush as she so often does. Sometimes it amazes me how human she makes me feel without even trying.

"I love you, Edward." She nestled her head against my chest, her arm reaching up to wrap around my neck. I held my breath as she moved, willing myself to remain still, to not gather her even closer and kiss her full lips again ... and again.

Her hand brushed my cheek, cupping against my face, and she scooted herself upward, still sleeping. I caught her hand from my face and, grasping it gently, held it in mine against my chest. I sighed this time, both moved by the unconscious proofs of her love while straining for control. Bella did not make it easy, in any way ... even while she slept.

She seemed to settle into a deeper sleep. Her breathing, which had picked up as she had moved and spoke, slowed again, as did her heartbeat. The corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly, as if she were smiling in her sleep. She looked so content, so relaxed, so deeply asleep, and yet while she slept so, she was never unconscious of the fact that I was with her, that she slept in my icy arms.

With my free hand I pulled her quilt more firmly around her, creating a fragile boundary between our bodies, both to protect her from the cold despite the warm early-June night and to help me regain my self-control. But as I finished tucking the quilt around her body, my free hand drifted to her face, barely touching her with the gentlest of gentle pressures as I traced the straight line of her small nose, dotted with a few freckles that she hated but I adored, her eyebrows so dark against her pale skin, her thick lashes, her high cheekbones, the curve of her lips....

Abruptly I stopped and wrapped my arm around Bella, sighing to myself yet again as I willed my ragged breathing to slow, to normalize. Self-control was so difficult to master, especially with the way I felt about Bella. I had never been able to express to her how deeply, completely, absolutely I loved her-I'm not sure I can even express the depth of my love for her to myself. Putting aside the strong physical attraction I felt, the warmth and power of her touch over me, the thirst that her blood engendered, I simply cannot imagine life without her.

Bella has changed me so completely, so absolutely-I hardly recognized myself in some ways. I had been so arrogant, so sure of my life...or existence, or whatever kind of "living" this is. I was so certain that I was complete in and of myself; I loved my family and desired their company, but all that I knew of myself transformed once I met Bella. I had to face my weaknesses, my cowardice, my arrogance head-on, and Bella changed me so completely, bringing joy, fear, trepidation, uncertainty, and even chaos into my life, making me into a better man, a better person. I was now completed in her-the best that I can possibly be. Life was far more complex, but so much richer, so much brighter, so much more intense.

Loving Bella changed me so completely-it was as if my life had turned from black and white to technicolor.

Bella's breathing deepened, slowing even more, and I settled into the pillows for the night, her head resting against my neck as she slept well. I shoved away my worries and thoughts-and was content indeed.  

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