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Survival of the Soul

Summary:
The trauma suffered by Bella for three years has left lasting mental scars. Surrounded by the support and love of the Cullen family, Bella begins to grow and finds out there is more to life than simply surviving. sots banner


Notes:


6. Chapter 6

Rating 5/5   Word Count 5716   Review this Chapter

Survival of the Soul
Chapter 6
By: Lady Saffir
Story Rating: R/NC-17
Chapter Rating: PG/PG-13
DISCLAIMER: I own no rights to the Twilight universe.

Author’s Note – A big thanks to Megami76 for betaing for me. Thanks for catching the blatantly obvious things that I miss. Also, thanks so much to everyone who has read and reviewed. You have no idea how much it means to me to know that others are enjoying this story.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all. For now you are traveling the road between who you think you are and who you can be.” Meg Cabot

“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.”

~~~~~~~~

The next week settled in to a routine for Bella. True to her word, Alice prepared lesson plans, going over the basics of Algebra and setting a list of problems for Bella to work on. English and science were also covered, both being topics that required a student to build upon the previous years’ studies. Every morning Bella woke, had breakfast while Esme sat with her, then settled in at the dining room table to complete her ‘homework’. In the afternoon she would retreat to her bedroom for a few hours, emerging for dinner and the next day’s lesson. Dinner was usually made and eaten with Esme and Alice present, and at times Emmett or Jasper would stop in briefly. By the time she was finished eating, Carlisle would be home. The only two that Bella did not see routinely was Rosalie and Edward. The former took great pains to avoid the human thrust in to her life. The latter shied away from too much interaction with the young woman that smelled entirely too appealing for her own good.

Esme was both pleased and frustrated with the progress Bella was making. She would emerge from her bedroom every morning without prompting, cautiously navigating the stairs. Esme joined her for every meal, chatting about inconsequential things and occasionally eliciting a response from the shy teenager. Bella seemed to be accepting of her and Carlisle’s presence, and Alice’s as well, but the sudden appearance of anyone else caused the teenager to tense and watch the newcomer warily.

Alice was happy with the way things were progressing, though she wished she had the ability to speed up time to arrive at the point where Bella finally saw them as her family. It was frustrating, carefully controlling her actions and words, knowing that in less than a year she would be able to speak freely to her sister. Frustrating, too, was Bella’s wardrobe, or lack thereof. She intended to speak with Esme in a week regarding taking Bella on a shopping trip.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Edward was conflicted. On one hand, he was happy his parents and Alice were happy. Bella continued to blossom slowly under their care, her shoulders less hunched than they had been that first day. Only a week had passed and yet her heartbeat had settled to a more normal rate. He had seen Alice’s visions, witnessed that his favorite sister would have a best friend and that Emmett would finally have the younger sister he had always wanted.
His pain and torture arose from Bella’s scent. It was intoxicating, the lavender and freesia wafting lazily down the hallway to swirl in his room. It wasn’t so bad when he was home for hours at a time and grew accustomed to the dull burn at the back of his throat. The problem came whenever he had to leave for any period of time.
Time spent away from the house, even the few tedious hours at school, was enough to reset his sensitivity to her smell. Because of this, he and Emmett had not been on any extended hunting trips. A stretch of sunny days was fast approaching though, and he knew Emmett was planning on them being gone part of the time.

'Edward, will you walk with me?' Carlisle’s thoughts intruded on Edward’s musings.

Edward moved to head down the stairs, slowing down to pass Bella at a normal human speed on the first flight of stairs. His sudden appearance startled her, however, her feet tangling and causing her balance to tip forward.
Edward was in front of her in a flash, his arms cradling her fragile body as gently as possible while he righted her. It was a thrill and a torture for him, holding Bella in his arms for that too brief period of time. Her scent would cling to his skin, he knew, and drive him mad for hours.

“Be careful,” Edward said, his tone a bit more harsh than he would have liked. The sheer effect she had on him was staggering. Not wanting to see the fear he knew would be on her face, he quickly fled down the remaining stairs, meeting Carlisle at the edge of the house clearing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bella stood, frozen on the steps, as Edward disappeared. His unexpected presence had caused her already pitiful balance to upset, tipping her down the stairs. He had saved her, though, and for that split second that she was in his arms, she wasn’t afraid. He wouldn’t harm her, she knew. He was too much like Carlisle, she remembered Esme saying, the fondness for her son evident in her voice. If Esme saw goodness in him then it was there, Bella thought, even as she instinctively expected punishment for her misstep.

“Bella, is everything alright?” Esme appeared at the bottom of the stairs, fully aware of the incident that had just occurred. Hopefully Carlisle would be able to ferret out whatever was bothering Edward, Esme thought, as she watched Bella carefully traverse the remaining steps.

“I’m fine,” Bella answered automatically, ducking her head and blushing as she rammed one shoulder painfully in to the wall.

Esme held her tongue. She knew it was a futile hope, but all the same she had hoped that Bella would be able to see that she was safe and loved and begin to open up more than she had. Esme had a feeling that Bella only kept the routine of the first day in an effort to appease her, not because she was feeling more at home.

Deciding to speak with Jasper at some point in the night, Esme merely waited for Bella to decide what to have for dinner before moving to help her.

~~~~~~

Carlisle glided through the wet undergrowth at Edward’s side, knowing it to be futile to attempt to marshal his thoughts before speaking with his son but unable to stop. The stress on Edward’s face every day after school was worrying Esme. Something about Bella, Carlisle assumed.

“Yes,” Edward agreed.

What exactly is the problem?

Edward hesitated, knowing what he said would upset Esme when she found out.

“It’s her smell,” he started, shoving his hands in to his pockets and staring at the undergrowth. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. I’m afraid,” Edward admitted. “She’s already been hurt and abused. I don’t want to do anything that will set back her recovery.”

Carlisle stopped, putting a hand on his son’s shoulder to halt his progress. He studied Edward’s face, wishing he could take the other man’s pain away.

“It’s the thought that counts,” Edward replied, half-heartedly smiling. “I’ll be fine. It’s actually tolerable the more I’m around Bella.”

“You lose your…immunity, for lack of a better word, when you go to school,” Carlisle stated.

“Yes. I’m about to fake an injury and require home schooling.”

Carlisle felt ridiculous for even thinking what he was about to suggest.

Edward groaned, reading the thought before his father could speak. “I am not carrying something of hers around with me,” he muttered. “That seems a little too close to what a stalker would do.”

“It was merely a thought,” Carlisle said. “I can’t think of anything else that would help.”

Both men ran a frustrated hand through their hair, grinning when they saw the other.

“Which one of us taught the other that habit?” Carlisle wondered.

Edward shrugged, the humor falling from his eyes. “Don’t worry about me,” he said, going back to their conversation. “Just focus on helping Bella.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Esme closed her phone, staring off in to the distance. Her face showed her frustration. She was in the middle of restoring a turn of the century home for a client in Seattle, a man who tended to panic and need re-assuring for every little set back and snag. He had called, practically hyperventilating, stammering out that a permit was being blocked. She had to come to Seattle immediately to meet with the inspector and clear this misunderstanding up. She had tried to reason with him, promise to make all the necessary phone calls. She had even told him one of her daughters’ was home ill; surely he understood?

It was a good thing he didn’t have children, Esme mused. He hadn’t understood at all why she would need to stay home with a teenager. Surely her daughter would survive for a few hours on her own, he had stated, clarifying he expected to see her by early afternoon.

“I’ll keep an eye on her and Emmett,” Edward stated, appearing in the doorway of her office.

Esme turned in her seat, smiling at her oldest. “I imagine she’ll hole up in her room the entire time.”

“Probably.”

Esme sighed, standing and moving towards the hallway. “I don’t know how to tell her that I’ll be gone,” she confessed. “I’m afraid this will harm her recovery.”

Unspoken thoughts whirled through Edward’s mind, causing him to take his mother’s hand in reassurance. “We’ll make sure she’s fine . She’ll most likely take a nap while you’re gone, or work on her homework. She’ll be fine. Carlisle is only fifteen minutes away if we need him.”

~~~~
The light tap of heels on the wood floor alerted Bella that something was up. Esme never wore shoes in the house. What was going on? Was she leaving?

Bella’s fears were confirmed when Esme rounded the corner in to the dining room, her purse thrown over one shoulder, jacket tucked under her arm. She couldn’t see the worry clouding Esme’s features, her own eyes blurring as fear took over.

“Bella, I’m sorry,” Esme murmured, moving to her daughter’s side.

“Whe…where are you going?” Bella whispered, her head automatically bowing, her hands clasped together tightly in her lap.

“I have to go to Seattle to clear some business up,” Esme stated, kneeling next to Bella’s chair. “My client is insisting I meet him at the work site. Bella, I’m sorry. I tried to do this over the phone but I can’t. Do you…would you like to come with me?” the offer was spoken quickly, making Bella glance up sharply.

Go with her? Go with Esme to Seattle? She was going on a business trip. Surely her client would be upset if she tagged along though, even if she stayed in the car. But to go…to see the city, to see other humans, humans moving about their normal lives, no idea that things like vampires existed…the thought was more than tempting.

But what if she embarrassed Esme, caused her to lose business because she was unprofessional enough to bring someone along in an emergency? What would everyone else say if that happened?

Bella shook her head no, biting her lip. Esme had spent more time with her than she should have, she knew. It wasn’t right for her to be a distraction to Esme while she was working.

“I’m fine,” Bella whispered, closing her algebra book. “Is it okay if I go to my room?”

Esme nodded, standing back helplessly while Bella gathered her school supplies in to an orderly pile before scooping them up into her arms. The fear was stamped clearly on her features, her hands trembling ever so slightly.

Should she point out that Edward and Emmett would be home if Bella needed anything, Esme wondered. Or was it better to simply act as if Bella would be home alone? Watching as Bella moved to the doorway, Esme thought it would probably be best to not mention the two men that would be in the house with her. Bella still tended to panic if a male entered the room unexpectedly.

“I’ll stop and bring something home for dinner,” Esme offered. “How does Italian sound?”

The only response she received was a short nod as Bella hurried up the stairs to her room.

~~~~~

Emmett listened to Esme’s phone conversation, a smile on his face. They were on the second of a three day stretch of sunny days. Alice and Rosalie had flown to New York to attend a fashion show yesterday, while Jasper planned to attend a series of lectures at Cornell. That left only himself and Edward, in addition to Carlisle, Esme and Bella. Edward had been so terse with everyone lately that Emmett had hesitated to ask his brother to accompany him on a hunting trip.

Bella had reacted to the news that two of the three females in the house would be gone for several days by holing up in her room except to eat, and the one time Esme had convinced her to watch a movie with her and Carlisle. Emmett had been hoping to spend some time with his sister, to show her that not all vampires were to be mistrusted.

Alice had pulled him aside before she left, frowning before she spoke. “I know you’re going to try to spend time with Bella. Just be yourself,” she counseled, bouncing up to place a kiss on his cheek.

Remembering that, Emmett hid a smile as Esme came in to the living room, her frustration evident.

“Gotta go to Seattle for a bit, huh?” he asked, looking up casually from the TV.

“Yes. My client is absolutely panicking so I need to meet with him,” Esme said. She frowned, looking at his overly relaxed pose critically. “You will behave while I’m gone.”

“Don’t you trust me, mom?”

“I know that grin, Emmett McCarty Cullen. And I want your word that you won’t harass Bella. If she doesn’t want to be around you then leave her alone.”

“Scout’s honor,” Emmett promised, raising his hand and smiling his most innocent smile.

~~~~~

Bella was starving. It was one in the afternoon; three hours since Esme had left, promising to return by dinnertime. She knew Edward was in his room, the stereo audible as some female singer crooned along to the soft jazz tune. That left only Emmett, the large vampire that honestly frightened Bella. Intellectually, she knew that the size of the vampire was irrelevant but was unable to keep her fear from spiking whenever he came into the room. Her stomach growled loudly, demanding to be fed.
~~~~

Emmett looked upwards, smiling to himself. He knew he had only to wait for Bella’s stomach to overrule her brain. When she came downstairs he planned to wait until she was finished eating before asking her to go outside with him.

~~~

Bella crept down the staircase, her heart in her throat. The TV was playing in the living room, the wall hiding her front sight as she slipped in to the kitchen. She had to pause a moment to slow her breathing, her eyes sweeping around the room, making sure nothing was out of place.

When no one appeared demanding to know what she was doing, Bella moved to the refrigerator, pulling out a package of cheese and some mustard. She quickly assembled her sandwich, practically inhaling it as she stood by the sink, looking out the window to the brightly lit yard.

Emmett watched from the doorway as Bella ate, the wistful expression on her face as she stared out the window betraying her. She hadn’t been out of the house that he knew of, and hoped that she would agree to going outside with him.

“Esme will kill you if you frighten her,” Edward stated, his voice so soft only another vampire could have heard.

“Not planning on it,” Emmett replied glibly, stepping back in to the living room as Bella finished her lunch. He waited till she was almost to the stairs before calling out to her. “Bella, could I talk to you for a minute?”

Bella’s heartbeat doubled, her breathing picking up, causing her voice to crack as she replied, “Okay.”

Her fearful expression as she rounded the corner in to the room made Emmett’s heart break. He couldn’t stand to see anyone beaten and downtrodden. Anger flared again at the vampires that had caused the pain and misery Bella was experiencing. Emmett clenched his hands subtly, aching to wrap around James neck and rip his head off.

“Yes?”

Emmett forced his face to relax in to an easy smile. “Hey! I was wondering if you’d want to go outside with me, head down to the river and do a bit of fishing.”

“Fishing?”

“Sure. It’s a great way to relax and let the mind wander,” Emmett responded. “And now that someone in the house eats I won’t have to throw them back. So wadda ya say?”

Outside? He wanted her to go outside with him? Bella was torn, wanting to accept, to feel the warmth of the sunshine on her skin. But to go outside…and to go outside with Emmett. Would he take it as an invitation to do whatever he wanted with her? No, she couldn’t chance it. Besides…

Bella shook her head, her eyes fearful as she took in Emmett’s frown. She hurried to explain her denial.

“I can’t,” she whispered, looking down.

“Why not? You allergic to sunlight or something?” Emmett joked, frowning when Bella merely shook her head and remained mute.

“You don’t want to go outside with me, is that it? I was just seeing if you wanted to go with me. If you’d rather just sit out on the porch that’s fine too,” Emmett pressed, getting frustrated with Bella’s silence. He caught her swift look to the back wall, the longing in her eyes belying her desire.

“Bella, do you want to go outside or not?”

Bella chewed on her lower lip, trying to calm her breathing. Why was he pushing her? Was he trying to get her in trouble? Was he hoping that she would disobey and Carlisle would kick her out? Hoping that if she explained that she knew she wasn’t go leave the house he would back off, she hurried to speak.

“I can’t,” she began, swallowing when he narrowed his gaze.

“And why not?”

“Because…because he didn’t say I could.”

What? What did she mean?

“Of course you can go outside, Bella,” Emmett attempted to reason with her, not understanding why she was growing more agitated.

“No! I can’t, I wasn’t told that was okay,” Bella mumbled. “Carlisle told me where I could go in the house. He didn’t say I could go outside so I can’t.”

Understanding did not bring any peace to Emmett. He was on his feet in a flash, halting his flight to Bella’s side when he saw her frightened face. She truly thought that Carlisle would punish her for something like that? She didn’t understand that Carlisle was all about the self choice then.

“Bella,” Emmett began, “Carlisle won’t mind if you go outside.”

Bella stubbornly shook her head no.

“Why don’t we call him, see what he has to say,” Emmett reasoned, pulling out a cell phone and punching in his father’s office number before Bella could disagree. The call was rerouted to the department’s secretary, signaling Carlisle wasn’t in his office.

“Department of Surgery, Anna speaking. How may I help you?”

“Anna, this is Emmett Cullen. Is my dad around?”

“He’s still in the OR, Emmett,” Anna stated apologetically. “They had a late start. He should be out within the hour though. Shall I have him call you when he gets in?”

“Yeah, please. Put ASAP on it,” Emmett instructed, saying goodbye before hanging up. He ran a hand through his hair, eyeing Bella as she huddled on the couch. He could always just pick her up and take her outside….

“Don’t you dare, Emmett,” Edward said, still in his room. “Esme and Carlisle will kill you if you do anything to set back her progress.”

“There’s no reason the kid can’t go outside,” Emmett argued, speaking too softly for Bella to hear.

“We know that, but Bella seems to believe she can’t. You’ll throw her in to a panic attack,” Edward reasoned. “Just wait for Carlisle to call back so that Bella can hear from him herself.”

“Fine.” Emmett sulked in his chair, only half paying attention to the TV. He watched Bella from the corner of his eye, her fidgets and nervous movements testifying to her desire to escape. Remembering that Carlisle always wore a pager at work, Emmett moved to the computer, quickly accessing the software that would allow him to text his father.

~~~~

Carlisle was supervising one of the residents in suturing the wound close when his pager went off. One of the nurses unhooked the pager from his waist, reading the message aloud.

“Want to take B outside, need permission. Em.”

Carlisle could sense the interest in the operating room staff. It was his usual staff and they were aware of his ‘foster children’ but he had no desire to announce that they had adopted Bella at this moment. He simply murmured his thanks and went back to advising the best technique for sutures.

The pager went off again five minutes later, the message once more from Emmett.

“Sew faster. Nobody bleeding but getting antsy. Em.”

Carlisle rolled his eyes as snickers sounded throughout the room.

“You need to step out a minute, Carlisle?”

“No. Emmett can wait a few more minutes,” Carlisle responded. “We’re almost finished anyway.”
The patient was being wheeled out to recovery when the pager went off a third time. The staff was actively laughing as Carlisle growled, pulling off his operating gown and gloves. Striding out into the hallway he pulled out his cell phone, punching the number to Emmett’s cell with a bit more force than necessary.
~~~~

“Finally!” Emmett crowed when his phone rang. Snatching it up from the coffee table, he checked the caller ID before answering. “Man, how many stitches did you have to give the guy?” he asked, not catching Bella’s wince at his flippant tone.

Bella curled in to an even tighter ball as she watched Emmett pace the living room while he talked to Carlisle. His tone was hardly respectful as he blew off what she assumed was Carlisle’s chastisement for bothering him at work. She hoped Carlisle wouldn’t be too upset with her when he found out why Emmett was calling. She wouldn’t get in trouble for being honest, would she?

~~~

“Carlisle, how could you do that, man?” Emmett asked, not giving his father a chance to reply. “Why did you have to be so specific?”

Carlisle strode through the hospital corridors, absently nodding hello to fellow staff members. “What are you talking about, Emmett? And why are you bothering Bella? I recall Esme and me-“

“I wasn’t bothering her. I asked her if she wanted to go outside with me, and even though it’s obvious she wants to, she won’t. And do you know why she won’t?”

Carlisle sighed. “I’ll bite. Why won’t she?”

“Because you didn’t tell her she could!” Emmett exploded, his voice loud enough that the person passing Carlisle gave him an odd look.

“What? What are you talking about, Emmett? “
~~~~

Bella whimpered to herself as she watched Emmett pace, his free hand gesturing wildly in the air as he yelled at Carlisle. Why was he so upset she wouldn’t go outside without permission? Wasn’t he happy that she could follow directions? She had thought she was doing so well, showing the family that she tried not to be a bother and do what she was told. She ate every meal downstairs, didn’t she, and finished the homework Alice gave her every day. What else could she do?

“You gave us the talk about how we should act around Bella and to be considerate, and we have. Why didn’t you make it clear to her that she isn’t a prisoner anymore, Carlisle? I don’t think she understands she’s free to come and go just like the rest of us. I told her I’d kick anyone’s ass that upset her and that includes family.”

Bella gasped, the noise distracting Emmett from his rant. His eyes gentled as he looked over to her, lowering his voice to a normal level. “A verbal ass-kicking only, Bella,” he promised, stopping to take in her posture. Her knees were pulled to her chest, her arms wrapped around her legs, her chin resting on her knees. Her eyes were wide and fearful, taking in his every move.

Too late, Emmett recalled Bella’s reaction to aggression and violence, even implied violence. He sat down at the other end of the sofa, offering a smile to his little sister. “Here, talk to Carlisle,” he said, handing the phone over.

Bella took the phone gingerly, afraid that Carlisle would yell at her. “He-hello?”
~~~~

Carlisle breezed into the surgery office’s suite, taking the phone message from Anna with a nod. Closing the door to his office, he settled into the comfortable leather chair. “Let me talk to Bella,” he requested, waiting patiently for the phone to exchange hands. The hesitant hello made him wince in self recrimination.

“Bella, do you want to go outside?” Carlisle asked gently.

Silence stretched out before Bella muttered a soft ‘yes’.

“It’s okay if you want to go outside, Bella. I never meant to give you the impression that you had to stay in the house. You should go outside and enjoy the sunshine while you can,” Carlisle urged.

“O-okay,” Bella agreed.

“May I speak with Emmett again?”
~~~~~

Emmett clearly heard every word of Bella’s conversation with Carlisle and was already reaching for the phone before she had a chance to hand it over. Their hands accidently brushed, Bella flinching back from the contact. She fled in to the kitchen as soon as his attention was diverted to the phone, causing him to sigh.

He spoke to Carlisle for another moment, then hung up and went in search of Bella. She was in the kitchen, hands gripping the marble countertop by the sink as she looked over the wide expanse of yard as it gently sloped down to the river.

“Bells? You okay?”

A short nod was his only answer. Emmett searched for something to say, listening to Edward for once as he vetoed his brother’s thoughts. Emmett finally settled for, “well, I’ll be down by the river if you wanna come out,” before suiting action to words, leaving the door open as an invitation.
~~~~~~

Bella stared sightlessly out the window, her thoughts churning. Carlisle had not sounded upset with her and had in fact encouraged her to do whatever she wanted. She kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the Cullens to go back on their word, or start treating her like a personal servant. It was hard to wrap her mind around the concept of freedom after three long years. To be able to be herself again seemed like such an impossible goal, yet it was one everyone was encouraging her to follow.

Why had Emmett called Carlisle out like that? What was it to him if she did or didn’t leave the house? Why did he care?

Bella swallowed hard, wanting to know the answers to her question. There was only one way to find out though, and it meant asking the big vampire himself. Several times she took a step towards the door, only to halt as fear took control of her limbs. Each tiny step brought her closer to the threshold, the warm spring breeze teasing along her skin. She could see Emmett in the distance, casually perched on a rock by the water, his skin glinting in the sunlight.

She could whisper from here, she knew, and he would still hear her. It was the coward’s way though, and she owed Esme and Carlisle to not be a coward. It wasn’t such a big thing, she tried to convince herself, to go outside and talk to another person that resided in the same house as she. That lie allowed her to reach the doorway, her right hand gripping the frame as her toes edged against the lip of the frame.

It was only right to thank him for clarifying with Carlisle what was acceptable, she reasoned, standing in the doorway.

It was…okay.

Taking a deep breath, Bella passed through the door, pausing on the other side as her bare feet hit the rough wood boards of the deck. The shock had her freezing in place.

She was outside.

The edge of sunlight as it dappled on the stairs was teasing her forward now, tempting her to step out and feel the warmth on her face. The wind whispered its encouragement with every step, tousling her hair playfully. The leaves rustling on the trees sounded like whispers of acceptance.

The gap between Bella and the edge of the deck and the beginning of the yard slowly closed, each step slow and measured. Her breath was coming in pants, her heart racing in her chest. What would it feel like, to finally have the sun shining down on her, knowing that she could stay out as long as she wanted?
Bella paused at the second to last step. One more and she would be in the sun. She cast a quick look behind her, making sure the door was still open so she could retreat quickly if needed. Reassured, she turned forward, looking to make sure Emmett wasn’t watching. Licking her lips, her mouth dry, Bella took one last deep breath before stepping down onto the lawn.
~~~~~~~~~~

Edward tracked Bella’s progress from upstairs, silently encouraging her with every step. He could hear her heart as it pounded in her chest; smell the adrenaline pouring off of her. She must be terrified, he mused, yet she still continued. He heard her pause at the threshold, her breathing coming in quick pants.

'Where is she now?' Emmett asked

“She’s about to step out on to the deck.”

Edward cheered silently when Bella finally took that last step outside, his grin wide. Esme would be thrilled when she heard.

'She’s going to have a heart attack if she doesn’t calm down'

“This is a momentous step for her, Emmett. “

'I know, I know. Wish she’d hurry up though'

“Perhaps having a human in the house will finally teach you some patience.”

'Ha!'

Edward listened to the shuffle of steps from below, crossing to his window to spy unobtrusively. He wouldn’t see her until she stepped out in to the sun. He found himself silently encouraging her, mentally offering support. The pause between the last step and the next diminished as Bella edged ever closer to her goal. Edward could only imagine the amount of courage this was taking. He could hear Alice in his mind, insisting Bella was stronger than they gave her credit. She truly was, he mused.

He held his breath as she paused on the final step, exhaling heavily when the crown of her head emerged into the sunlight. The shudder that ran through her body caused the sunlight to glint off her hair, pulling red highlights forth.

“She’s in the sun,” he murmured, wishing Esme was here to witness this.

'Finally! When do you think I can turn around?'

“I would wait for her to call out,” Edward suggested, watching as each step Bella took was more confident than the last.
~~~~~~

It felt…wonderful, Bella thought, shivering as the heat of the sun hit her skin. The wind had died down slightly, only the occasional current wrapping around her body playfully. The grass felt soft beneath her feet. Bella dug her toes into the ground, tilting her head back to allow the sunlight to play across her face.

For the first time in years, she felt alive.
~~~~~~

Edward’s breath caught as he stared down at Bella’s upturned face. The smile that broke out on her face was matched by his own. She was beautiful, he realized, watching the sunlight caress her features and highlight the delicate shape of her face. He stared, mesmerized, committing every detail, every freckle to memory. He hoped she wouldn’t open her eyes, wouldn’t see him staring down at her. The smile slipped from his face. She was beautiful, he thought again, and she wanted nothing to do with men. How could he convince her that not all men were beasts?

'Jeez, come on already!'

Emmett’s thoughts broke Edward’s reverie, pulling him from his thoughts.

“She’ll come when she’s ready.”

'Yeah, yeah, I know, be patient.'
~~~~~~~~

Bella pulled her head down, unable to control her smile. She was in the sun, and it felt wonderful. She knew Emmett knew she was out there, yet he seemed inclined to wait for her to approach. It took her several minutes to cross the yard until she stood a dozen feet from Emmett’s rocky perch. Each step thoughtful, Bella waiting to pull in another gasp of air before continuing on.

Finally, unable to make herself go any further she stopped, clearing her throat to try and bring back her voice.
Emmett turned at the sound, his smile wide and welcoming.

“Decided to come outside after all, huh? I knew you’d enjoy it.”

Throat still dry, Bella simply nodded.

“The skin thing doesn’t freak you out?” Emmett waved a vague hand towards his face, where it glimmered brightly.

A shake of the head was his only answer.

“You aren’t going to have a panic attack or anything, are you?” Emmett was suddenly anxious. Bella’s heartbeat was picking up again, her eyes never leaving his face.

Another shake.

“If you’re sure. Wanna come sit up here?”

Emmett could see the longing in Bella’s eyes, the fear of sitting next to a vampire keeping her from making a choice. He decided for her, hopping down, waiting for her to acknowledge the motion before skirting around her to the house.

“Tell you what, I’ll go get a quilt and you can sit up there and soak up some sun. Sound like a plan?” Not waiting for agreement, Emmett turned to the house, only to be brought up short as Bella finally spoke.

“Why?”

“Huh?”

“Why…why are you doing all this?” Bella whispered, her voice cracking on the first word.

Emmett’s smile was wide and sincere. “Because that’s what big brothers do; they look out for their little sisters.”