chapter forty-oneMature

Chapter Forty-One
Word Count: 3,340

Images like a stuttering film reel played against the backdrop of terror that froze his thoughts into silence. Skin; her skin. Red silk sheets and sheens of sweat reflecting the brilliant warm light of sunrise. Fragments of light reflected off their skin, prisms of color exploding around them in a show of heart-breaking magnitude. The sensation that seemed to be building in his throat was not a scream, it wasn't panic or fear. James retched into the toilet bowl, stomach acid and swallowed venom spewing from his nose as he felt his lunch erupt from his mouth in a slimy, chunky mess.

Smooth tendrils of her chocolate brown hair fell around her bare shoulders, shielding the gentle glimmer of her skin where it landed; he watched as the curl twisted and wrapped around her breast, framing her body in one of the most naturally beautiful ways he'd ever seen.

And he wasn't there; he wasn't supposed to be seeing this.

Let me be hallucinating, he prayed to no one in particular, anyone who would listen. Let me be imaging this. Don't let it be true, whatever happens; do not let this be true.

Her fingers tangled in chunks of bronze hair, pale hands grasped her thin waist and he could see the soft indents of the fingers pressing into her skin.

The refracted light was everywhere, filling the gaps between their bodies with tiny bursts of brightness and color. James felt his breakfast come up through his throat and spurt from his mouth. This couldn't possibly get any worse. His head was starting to hurt with the pressure of his attempts to shut out the visions.

Her lips shone with a layer of moisture, her teeth pinched her bottom lip gently. She threw her head back, her hair fanning out with the sudden motion before falling gracefully around her other shoulder.

The snapshot images freeze-framed in time in his head; one, then the next, then the next. Bella's skin, his hair, their mouths; searing pain tore through James' veins. The images paled, becoming a watermark against the sight of reality; never really going away, just fading into the background. He could see his hands shaking through the locks of brown hair that clouded his sight.

A pitiful whimper escaped him as he tried to disconnect himself from the images. His gift was a live news feed directly into his consciousness; it was unthinkably painful attempting to sever the tie. A splitting headache tore through his skull, shards of hot splintered needles puncturing his brain.

Knowledge didn't work that way, and he was left with fragments of half-sentences and misarranged vowels. He couldn't piece together a reason for her actions; and was left with nothing but images and the whispers of feelings that came with them. She certainly hadn't been uninterested in what was going on, if the images were correct she was the one on top. She'd taken care with him, taken long stretches of time. Both of their lips were swollen and pink, sheens of sweat glistened on their skin.

But Bella wasn't ready for this; she'd gone off to be alone. Why would this be happening?

What was he doing to her? How could he be manipulating her?

It had been ten days since he'd thought about her and learned of her intentions to come home. It had been four days since her departure date and she certainly wasn't on a plane.

The burn of a bitter realization shot through his bones like a jolt of electricity.

Maybe Bella went there to meet up with him, not to be alone.

James became incensed. His vision blurred and his throat was suddenly very hoarse; there was a ringing in his ears like a high-pitched shrill. Distantly, he felt the impact of the side of his arm colliding with the shower door as he swung his arms back in a bestial roar; he could feel the caving of the glass as it fell against his arm and cascaded to the floor.

She could have fucking told him. She could have told him why she wanted to go. She could have told him why she'd decided to stay.

But she didn't tell him, and she probably wouldn't if she wasn't forced to. She would probably go on with her life there until she got bored and then she'd come back to him.

And he would take her back because that was simply how much of a tool he was. He realized he had never used to be like this; he raged to himself, I've never been so fucking pussy-whipped in my life.

A shadow of the feelings attached to the stream of images began to seep into his skin. Like an infection, he could feel it crawling deeper into his muscles.

Whatever had led them to be in that bed, Bella had gone willingly. There wasn't an ounce of regret in all of her responses to the situation.

Things just go so much worse.

*

Edward rolled over onto his other side to check the alarm clock on the bedside table. They had been lying in bed for around five minutes, Bella resting in the welcome shelter of Edward's arms; but it was inching toward ten-thirty AM and neither of them knew how long he would have control for. Edward moved to get up and, in doing so, offered an easy kiss to her forehead. He wandered around the room in search of their clothing, finding nearly all of it at the foot of the bed. He set her clothes at her feet before he began tugging his own on. Bella watched him move, unsure of how she was supposed to feel. On one hand, she'd just had brilliant sex with a beautiful man she cared about. On the other hand, she'd just had sex with a beautiful man she cared about, who was not James.

She didn't regret what they'd just done; how could she? They had been destined to do it since they first met, that was for certain, but there was something terribly wrong about them being forced to. She supposed there was no stopping fate; what it wanted, it got. At least she hadn't cheated on James, she thought, things could have been more unsettling. She couldn't help but sigh to herself; the only reason their actions didn't classify as cheating was because of James. In an effort to be encouraging, he had told her that he would consider them on a break; he'd said he didn't want to hold her back from being her own woman. Part of her said 'so you went ahead and fucked your ex just because you could.' Edward had just slid his arms into his button-up shirt only to realize it was missing some of its buttons. At her sighing, he looked up at her and when she met his gaze, his eyes were sad.

"I'm warning you."

Bella blinked once, thoroughly confused, before quirking her elegant little eyebrow at him. "Warning me about –" She was interrupted by a rather unpleasant knocking on the door. She could feel the vibrations of it through the entire house. Her eyes shot to the bedroom door, wide open, and she stared at the part of the front door she could see from the bed. Suddenly, she was very grateful that the front of the house didn't have any windows. She looked back at Edward, holding her breath in a moment of panic, and his eyes never changed.

"Just be prepared, all right? He's off his handle." Edward pressed a gentle kiss to her hairline and walked out of the door.

Bella scrambled on the silk sheets of the bed, grasping at the first thing she could pull on herself to cover up. Her limbs moved slower in her panic, she could feel the pressure of the air moving across her skin as if she were swimming in deep water; each movement felt like slow-motion, like she was in a dream. She pulled the red sheet off the bed as she stumbled for her footing, and wrapped it quickly around herself as she bolted from the room. The problem with being slowed down by panic, even though your movements are still faster than human, when you're a vampire is simple: there are always other vampires around that aren't in slow motion, and if your goal had been to beat them to something you were bound to fail. Even if they weren't using their super-speed.

She skidded to a halt halfway across the living room as Edward met her gaze. Something in his eyes changed, something hardened and he straightened his shoulders as he pulled the door open. Edward and James faced off for a long moment, both of them straight-backed with their chins up and their eyes narrowed. There was something beautiful about the moment; a thing that went beyond their ethereal beauty and power. They both radiated pride, it tainted the air with a sickly sweet aroma and Bella held her breath. She could smell pheromones miles away, being in the same room as what was pushing off of those two men was nearly smothering. James was of even height to Edward, but he was thicker and more solid where Edward's frame was sinewy and lean. James had always been the perfect combination of Emmett and Edward; he had the lean waist and smaller bone structure of Edward, but his chest was larger than Edward's, more muscular. Though James could never compare to Emmett's massive proportions, Bella had always thought James' body type was the better of the two.

Bella almost wished she could hear her heartbeat again; at least it was a giveaway when she was teetering on the edge of consciousness.

Without warning, James growled and flew at Edward; they twisted as they both shot through the air and when they collided with the wall it nearly caved in around them. There was a loud silence in Bella's head as they grappled with each other; James swung and Edward ducked, narrowly missing the blow.

"Get off him, James!" Bella moved toward them, the soft whisper of silk on hardwood floors tearing James' eyes away from Edward long enough for Edward to shove him forcefully into the open front door. James' spine hit hard and Bella screamed at the noisy crunch of the impact. She moved toward James and he opened his eyes, when their eyes locked she froze where she stood; her entire body felt paralyzed by what she saw prowling around behind the promising green of his eyes.

"Cullen, I will rip your throat out if you come any closer." It wasn't so much a statement of fact as a threat; one James could certainly carry out, but it wasn't meant to unnerve him. It was meant to terrify him. There was a cryptic way he was speaking, something dank and monstrous in his voice. She wondered if James had snapped.

He towered over her, his emerald eyes ablaze like a comet in the night sky. He hadn't shaved and his scruff was dark around his jaw, his hair was shaggy over his face and seemed to be just a little bit too long. She wanted to reach up and brush it from his forehead, to feel the soft strands glide between her fingers. Her breath caught in her throat when she looked at him, she could feel her entire body responding to his presence. Her knees quivered beneath her weight but she stood her ground. She crossed her arms over her chest. He stepped closer, their bodies a hair's-breadth apart and she tilted her head back to meet the terrifying look in his eyes. She stood her ground firmly, planting her feet supportively beneath her and straightening her back. She clung to the sheet for dear life.

James stepped forward, Bella stepped back. Forward again, back again; they did this until Bella had no where else to step, her back pressed against the cool white wall. She felt his name vibrate through her lips, a quiet murmur only he would hear. A flicker of sorrow passed through his eyes but he didn't back down. "This won't change things." She wasn't sure why she said it, it was as if her subconscious had tapped into her voice and was pupating it around until it was finished. James stared into her, she had the odd sensation that someone was caressing her soul.

He cringed and stepped back from her, shoving his hands into his pants and letting his gaze rest on the floor in silence. Bella stepped closer to him, uncertain of the meaning behind his stance. "James, it's not the way it appears." She hated that phrase, she'd always thought it was the worst thing to say in such a situation; couldn't the innocent come up with a more convincing start?

Yeah, she supposed, the innocent probably could.

She watched James take a few steadying breaths, the rise and fall of his chest making her want to step closer; the desire to fall against him was overwhelming. How she'd missed him. Her heart twisted in its ribcage, stretching and pulling on its own restrictions as she fought to keep herself where she stood. Part of her reacted to James in a way that Edward could never encourage in her; there was a part of her that desperately needed James. He lifted his eyes to her and she felt like she was burning at the stake; there was so much fury in his stare, so much pain and vehemence.

His voice broke through the silence like a bomb, ricocheting off the walls and echoing down the hallways; the power of the roar shook the glass in the windows. "I told you so! I fucking told you!"

Every cell in his body quaked as he yelled, his splitting headache pounded harshly against his skull and he fought the urge to flinch. He scowled at her, furious and hurt and betrayed. His chest felt as if someone had ripped it open, his ribs felt shattered and ragged; his heart could have been on fire for all the agony he was feeling. They'd talked about this, years ago, and he'd told her this would happen. He'd told her she loved Edward more than she would ever love him; she'd argued, saying that Edward was long gone and she had no desire to go through the motions with him again. She'd soothed his paranoia, wrapping herself up in his arms as she sat on his lap and they stared out at the setting sun. She'd cooed softly in his ear, whispering how much she loved him until he finally cracked a smile and kissed her nose.

He'd been right.

He hated when he knew things and chose to believe otherwise; he raged within himself for ever being stupid enough to think she would know what she was talking about. He knew what he was talking about, he always knew; it was a curse as much as it was a gift. And today, it was threatening to kill him.

Bella met his eyes, never flinching or giving way to any sign of regret. He took in a shaky breath, watching the way her expression shifted to conceal her agony at seeing him this way. It didn't matter. She'd made her choice, hadn't she?

He stepped toward her again, continuing the methodical steps until he was right against her once more.

"Do you want him?" His voice was empty, a vessel to export the words from his mind and nothing more. Emotionless.

"James, it's not like that. I –" his hands wrapped around her upper arms and he slammed her into the wall. Particles and chunks from the ceiling rained down around them; the wind was knocked out of her for the shortest instant.

"Don't lie to me!" His voice, though low, oozed anguish. The stoic James was gone for the moment. Now he was fuming, the rage boiling up inside of his veins and spreading through his body.

"Look, James, maybe you should calm down." Edward was speaking softly, meant to be reassuring instead of demanding or confrontational. Something about Edward had matured since she remembered him. If anyone had gotten this close to her with a boiling temper like this those twelve years ago, Edward would have torn them limb from limb.

He did, once.

Silence rang in the small house. James stared down at Bella, their eyes locked as he searched hers for something she wasn't sure would be in there. He wanted to believe he was crazy; he wanted her to tell him it wasn't true. She didn't flinch beneath his stare, though her entire body was beginning to riot against her. Pretty soon she would start shaking uncontrollably. Then she would probably catch fire. When she was terrified, she reverted to flight or fight and it always ended up burst into flame. Though it was a rare occurrence anymore.

He narrowed his eyes and seemed to pulse with anger, impossibly more rage and malice. If she had use of her tear ducts, she would be sobbing silently. She was grateful for the small amount of pride she took from not sobbing.

"You fucked him?" He pulled back, his lips forming a sick snarl as he ripped his eyes from hers. He was in so much pain, she could see it as if it was stenciled over his skin; intricate paths, vines spinning up and around and out, branching off and expanding. Ivy climbing over him, tightening and thickening until it crushed his bones.

"Yes."

The rage was back. She supposed it was better than seeing him in so much pain; angry James was easier to handle when it meant she didn't have to feel the violent ripping in her chest when he looked at her like she was digging his heart out with a spoon.

He turned to her again, his voice nothing more than a raw, guttural howl. "Why?"

"It was necessary."

"Fuck you, it was necessary! You wanted to fuck him!"

She fought a shiver as his words tore through her, ripping at muscle and tearing it from bone until she felt like she was hanging together by damaged ligaments and cartilage. Now she was getting angry; she could feel a growl rising in her throat. A shift in her vision, almost a full change in the white balance of a photo, told her that her eyes were giving her away.

Neither of them was paying enough attention, so when Edward's long fingers curled around the top of James' shoulder, James spun himself around and threw the single hardest punch Bella had ever seen; the impact with Edward's jaw resounded in a sickening, wet snap of bone and splattering of blood. Bella thought she saw a tooth fly from Edward's mouth as red spots hit the wall and front door in a long sweep. She watched the blood slide down the wall, the droplets getting smaller as they went down. A pitiful cry escaped her lips and she shoved passed James to crumple to Edward's side on her knees, lifting his face into her lap and brushing the hair from his eyes. She inspected the damage, careful not to touch the tender area.

Edward looked up at her and shook her off, sitting up and gripping his jaw firmly in his hand. He righted it, a grunt of discomfort escaping his mouth, and waited. He wiped his mouth clean of his blood and spit out what remained in his mouth once his jaw began to stitch itself back together. No missing teeth, it seemed.

Bella was on her feet in an instant; she rushed James and slammed him, hard, against the wall behind him. Parts of the ceiling fell in around them. She growled low in his ear, "I get what your fucking problem is, James, but now is not the fucking time. Just think about it, you fucking asshole."

 

The End

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