(A/N): So sorry this is late. I meant to post it a couple days ago, but I ended up tweaking the order of some scenes between this and the next chapter, so it took a bit more finagling. I’m still hoping to keep as closely to a weekly schedule as possible, but failing that, I hope not to go beyond two weeks again. To get this up tonight I’ve decided not to edit, so please be forgiving of any blunders you see. At least I’m pretty sure I caught the big ones!
Thanks again for your patience, and please do let me know your thoughts!
“Oh, the things you see
Makes ignorance bliss for you and me, yeah,
When arrogance does publicity,
It’s a merry go round and around and around”
Poets of the Fall – “Sorry go ‘Round”
Chapter 8: Dreaming Past
A bright light was burning through her eyelids, piercing through her dreams and pulling Bella back into the land of consciousness far sooner than she should be. Her head was pounding, but thankfully her stomach was pretty settled.
An annoying buzz droned on the nightstand by her and without opening her eyes, Bella stirred out Damon’s grip just far enough to slap her hand down on the vibrating object. Groaning lightly, she tried to silent the annoying thing, but it buzzed again in her hand making her headache pound as she suffered through her first hangover.
“Ugh, shut up,” she hissed, and without thinking, she answered what she now knew to be a cell phone.
“What? What do you want?” she snapped waspishly.
“Um, hello?” a male voice came through uncertainly.
“Yes, hello, what do you want?”
The guy coughed. “I’m sorry, but who are you?”
Bella frowned, her headache getting worse. “You called me buddy, maybe you should tell me who you are.”
“My name is Stefan. I’m looking for my brother Damon?” he trailed off in question.
Oh crap, she jolted awake in an instant, her hangover receding as awareness dawned and several realizations converged upon her at once.
First, she’d just answered Damon’s phone, no doubt accepting a call from the person he’d been avoiding yesterday. He was going to be justifiably pissed.
Second, she was clad only in one of Damon’s dress shirts. Damon had obviously changed her and saw her pretty close to naked.
And third, which was more of a question really, Damon had a brother…?
Oh God, oh shit, oh no, why did I do this… her mind was stuttering, unable to focus on any one coherent thought.
“Hello? Are you still there?”
Stupid, stupid Bella!
“Yes,” she snapped out of her haze. “Yes, yes I’m here.”
“I said I’m looking for my brother Damon,” he reiterated, a hint of impatience tinting the words.
“Yes, I heard,” she said.
There was a small pause.
“Well?” Stefan asked. “Is he there?”
Bella bit her lip and looked next to her. Damon was out cold, looking far more peaceful than she’d ever seen him. Peaceful, yes, but still far from innocent. He was once again naked from the waist up, but this time he was lying on his stomach and Bella was treated to the expanse view of his muscular back. He had a couple freckles on his shoulder blades, and for some reason that made Bella smile. She’d never imagined someone as tough as Damon could have freckles, but they looked strangely perfect like little ports of call begging for her fingers to trace over.
His arm was still draped across her waist and Bella stared at it, mildly entranced by the way his fingers clutched at her hip even in his deep sleep. Like he never wanted to let her go.
Shaking her head, she pushed away those dangerous thoughts and cleared her throat quietly to answer Stefan. “He’s a bit indisposed at the moment.”
She heard him huff impatiently and for some strange reason she imagined he was pinching the bridge of his nose much like Edward always had when he was annoyed. “Listen, I’ve been trying to reach him and it’s important that I talk to him.”
Her eyes narrowed. She didn’t appreciate his tone. It sounded like he was talking to a child, and Bella refused to be condescended to. Not ever again.
“Then I’ll tell him you called and he will call you back when it’s convenient for him,” she said softly, just the barest hint of bite under the words.
“I don’t have time to wait. Please, just get him.”
“I’m sorry, but he’s sleeping and I won’t wake him,” she insisted, feeling strangely protective of Damon. It was very clear that he’d been avoiding Stefan yesterday. She had no clue as to why, nor did she care. What was between them was exactly that and it was none of her business. All she knew was that Damon didn’t want to talk to Stefan, so she certainly wasn’t going to force him to.
“Look, I don’t know who you are-” Stefan began, but Bella felt her spine stiffen and an uncharacteristic sense of strength gave her the fortitude to cut him off, saying, “No, you don’t know who I am. All you need to know is that I’ll tell Damon you called and he’ll call you back when he’s damn good and ready, and not a moment before. Goodbye.”
Then she hung up on him.
Staring at the phone in her hand, Bella’s pulse thudded painfully from adrenaline. It felt like she’d just run a marathon and it made her a little sad that something as small as speaking up for herself, for Damon, was giving her this feeling of mild shock. She should be able to stand up for herself without feeling like she was on the verge of a panic attack.
The phone came to life in her hand again and she jumped like a skittish kitten, her cheeks flaming in embarrassment even though no one had seen her. Looking down, she saw Stefan’s name flash on the screen and she frowned.
“What a jerk,” she muttered, still angry at his generally haughty tone, so much like Edward’s.
A muffled snort sounded and Bella jumped, looking down at Damon. He was still burrowed into his pillow, eyes closed and looking for all the world like he was peacefully sleeping.
“Turn it off and come back to bed, mina,” he said without moving.
All she could do was sit and stare at him, her mind already conjuring up scenarios of him yelling at her and leaving, abandoning her. The phone went silent only to start buzzing again and this time she didn’t startle.
He cracked an eye open and fixed her with a mild glare. “Turn it off, Isabella.”
Biting her lip nervously, Bella powered off the phone and set it carefully back on the end table.
“Now come back down here.”
Slowly, she scooted back under the covers, very conscious of the fact that Damon’s shirt was starting to ride up a little around her waist. When she was lying down completely, he pulled her closer into him with the hand that had never left her hip, nuzzling her hair and breathing deeply.
“Now go back to bed,” he said.
Resisting the urge to bite her lip again – the poor thing was starting to get swollen with all of the abuse she was putting it through – Bella gave a trembling sigh and tried to will herself to relax. If Damon wasn’t going to say anything about her answering the phone, she certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.
But her mind was running like a hamster on a wheel. She had a strong urge to apologize to Damon for invading his privacy, albeit accidentally, but she still had an intense sense of guilt for answering his phone. More than guilt, however, Bella was insanely curious.
Damon had a brother.
For some reason, that seemed incredibly odd to her. She wondered if Stefan was his brother in the sense that Edward, Jasper and Emmett had been brothers – not related by blood, but bound by time and commonality. But no, Bella thought. It didn’t seem like there was much love lost between the two and she couldn’t imagine that they’d willingly call themselves brothers, not with the lengths Damon went to ignore him and not by the obvious annoyance in Stefan’s tone when he referenced Damon. Their irritation with each other was reminiscent of many true siblings, something she did not think was born out of a close friendship, but a true familial obligation.
Twisting slightly, Bella remained uncomfortable in Damon’s embrace, completely unable to turn off her mind.
What did Stefan want? It was obvious he didn’t seem to much like Damon, or maybe it had been Bella he didn’t like, but he’d been calling for who knew how long. Was Damon avoiding something back home? He’d told her that they were heading there eventually, but had also said they’d take the scenic route. There was definitely no rush for him to get home to his brother and whatever was waiting for them.
She remembered what he said about everyone having baggage and that pretty soon she’d be forced to face his. Although she’d never pry, she couldn’t help but wonder if Stefan was a part of that baggage. What was Damon really leading her into by taking her with him?
Not that it matter, she told herself firmly. Damon was her friend. To be honest, it was hard for her to remember if she’d had a friend like him before, one that was completely true. She’d not had many friends in Phoenix other than her mom and when she moved to Forks her whole life was almost immediately dedicated to Edward and his family. There was Angela, probably the closest thing she’d had to a friend amongst the other students at Forks High, but Bella had kept her at arms length. Many times she’d wished to confide in the girl, but that had been impossible.
Then there’d been Jacob and Alice. Bella had thought they were her friend, but their friendship had not withstood the test of life. They’d given up on her, grown bored, relatively quickly.
But Damon supported her. He made her laugh and have fun even while she was technically on the run for her life. He protected her with a ferocity that made Edward look like a puppy, and Bella decided she would do the same for him. If he wanted to avoid the storm waiting for him at home, then Bella would let him drag her all over the place to kill some time. And she certainly wouldn’t give in to Stefan’s annoying demands that she get Damon to talk to him. He could just wait.
“Go to sleep, mina,” Damon grumbled.
Sighing, Bella said, “I can’t sleep now. I’m really sorry about answering your phone, Damon, I didn’t mean to-”
Damon put his hand over her mouth. “Too early,” he groaned. “Shut up and sleep.”
Bella rolled her eyes. It was just past eight in the morning, but she supposed she got his point. They must have been sleeping for an hour or two before Stefan’s wake up call.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me.”
She glared at him. He hadn’t even opened his eyes to catch her doing that. He just knew her that well.
“Stop glaring at me. Go to sleep.”
Bella pulled his hand down. “Damon, please, I really am sorry.”
The huff he gave when he finally opened his eyes was drenched in annoyance. “If you don’t shut up and let me sleep I’ll give you something to be sorry about, mina.”
“I’m being serious, Damon.”
He lifted a brow and looked at her pointedly. “So am I.”
Frustration welled and without even thinking, Bella smacked him on the shoulder. “Stop it, Damon. I’m trying to apologize here. I won’t be able to sleep unless I know you’re not mad at me or going to leave me.”
Before she could feel guilty for having hit him – not that it hurt him, she conceded – there was a flurry of movement and Damon was suddenly hovering over her, his hands on either side of her head as his body lightly skimmed hers. She was uncomfortably aware of his legs now tangled amongst hers and the soft caress of the silky fabric of his sleep pants against her bare thighs.
“Sheath your claws, kitten,” he murmured. His voice was deeper than usual, still gruff from sleep but sounding rich like velvet.
“Damon,” she said. But instead of the firm scolding tone she’d meant to use, her voice came out in a warbling whisper that was shockingly seductive.
“Yes mina,” his voice was even deeper than before, if possible, causing Bella to shiver.
Being so close he easily noticed her reaction and Damon smirked.
Wanting to give as good as she got, Bella asked in a slightly steadier tone, “Where’s the rest of my pajamas? Couldn’t you find me any pants?”
A slow smiled curled Damon’s lips and he said, “I’m wearing them, mina. I thought you’d be uncomfortable if I slept nude. You’re welcome.”
She was beyond mortified when a not-so-small part of her mind cried out at not being able to see his ass again, because the smug bastard was right, it was a glorious ass. Still, an equally large part pointed out how it was strangely sweet – and sensual – that she was wearing the top that matched his bottoms right now. It was beyond intimate for someone like Bella who had only ever kissed before, but it also felt sort of romantic.
“You’re – you’re not mad at me, are you?” she asked, bringing them back to the original focus of their conversation to distract herself from dangerous thoughts.
Damon tsk’d lightly, dipping his head down to breathe into her ear, “Do I look mad, mina?”
You look sexy, she thought, but remained quiet.
Running his nose along her neck, Bella could hear him inhaling deeply, enjoying whatever it was he smelled there.
“So,” he muttered. “You won’t be able to sleep without knowing whether or not I’m mad at you, mina? You think I would leave you?”
Bella held herself completely still, afraid that if she moved it would be to press herself into Damon’s lithe body. She wasn’t really certain what he was trying to accomplish here, but she found herself not even remotely caring. After months of shutting people out, and months before that of being held at arms length by someone who professed to love her, Bella found it almost liberating to experience this sort of closeness.
“I – I just need-”
“I know what you need,” he cut her off, breathing the words against her neck, each one dripping with innuendo.
Bella shivered again.
Pulling up to look down at her, Damon pinned her with a serious expression. “You need reassurance,” he said abruptly, the deep seductive tone pulling back some as he spoke. “Because you’ve never had it properly before.”
She blinked up at him owlishly. Once again, Damon had dropped another deep insight into a seemingly playful and innocent conversation that was designed to make her reflect on her past and realize something she probably should’ve already known.
And once again, he was right.
From her parents, to her meager friends, and most certainly including the Cullens, no one had ever really tried to reassure her before. There’d been classic platitudes from her parents, staples that every child heard like ‘everything will be alright’ and ‘don’t worry, there is no monster in the closet.’ But Renee had the flighty personality of a hummingbird and was unable to focus long enough to truly get to the root of Bella’s problems in order to assuage her fears, and Charlie, well, the man was simply incapable of expressing his emotions.
As much as she’d thought of Alice as her best friend at one time, they’d never really had a substantial conversation. All Alice talked about was makeovers, clothes, and other such nonsense that had Bella zoning out for most of their talks.
At first thought, she would have given Edward the benefit of the doubt here, but that was hard to do when considering all he ever seemed to do once they got together (and before then as well) was find reasons on why he should leave. He’d warned her off constantly, even when she woke up in the hospital after being attacked by James. All she’d needed from him at that moment was his support, his comfort. She needed to hear that he loved her and would be with her. Instead, he’d almost immediately started talking about how he was no good for her, how she needed to leave him.
It was a hard pill for Bella to swallow, but the truth was, Edward Cullen had not abandoned her in the woods a couple months ago. He had actually left her, little by little, the day he professed his love for her. Whether it was because he was uncertain of his affections for her or simply not confident in expressing and accepting their love, Edward had decided at the start of their relationship that they were doomed. And like any other self-fulfilling prophecy, he’d made sure they were doomed at every point.
“I,” she began, only to stop as her throat tightened with the tears she valiantly fought against.
“Sh-h, mina,” Damon whispered, bringing a hand down to cup her cheek, his thumb light sweeping the corner of her eye where a rebellious tear trailed. “In time you’ll understand.”
Understand what, she wanted to ask, but all she could say was, “I shouldn’t have answered your phone.”
He smiled slightly. “No, you shouldn’t have. I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to me.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
There was something to be said, she thought once again, about a self-confident man. If she’d purposely set out to find someone the complete opposite of Edward, she didn’t think she could have done any better than Damon Salvatore. There was much he kept to himself, much she still didn’t know about the dark haired vampire, but in this instance the devil was not in the details. Certainly she was curious about his past, his brother, and the events that made him who he was, but Bella was already enthralled by the man. She didn’t put much stock into who he’d been in the past, except in the terms that it had made him who he was today.
“I’m tired,” she said suddenly. It was true. Damon made her have revelations that exhausted her.
There was another abrupt movement on Damon’s part and their positions nearly reversed. He was now lying on his back, an arm behind his head, and Bella had naturally fallen into the crook between his shoulder and arm to use as a pillow. He kept one arm around her, pressing her into his side. Despite the many questions she still had, Bella found herself sighing into him, her arm snaking around his waist as she clung to him like he was her teddy bear.
“Sleep now, mina. We’ll talk later.”
His voice came from far away and she was asleep before she could answer.
Everything was how she remembered. The cold sting of the air biting at the tears staining her cheeks, the deceptively peaceful nature of the clearing, and the icy, distant look on his face as Edward stood across from her, telling her he was leaving.
“Bella, I don’t want you to come with me.”
How his words had haunted her. He spoke them slowly, each syllable deliberately enunciated to leave no doubt that he meant each one.
Frowning, Bella waited for the searing pain to hit, for the hole in her chest to gasp and tear her asunder, just as it always did when she heard those words. Instead, however, she was oddly detached as she stood in her nightmare looking at Edward, feeling as though she was looking at a stranger.
I’m dreaming, she suddenly thought. This is just a dream. Another nightmare he’d left me to bear alone.
“You’re not good for me, Bella.”
What had once nearly crippled her with pain now only made her feel uncertain. She wasn’t unaffected by the words dream Edward was saying, but beneath them she heard the tenor of her recent revelations and knew that it was him who hadn’t been good for her.
“It will be as if I’d never existed.”
Despite her new found strength in facing her nightmare, Bella stumbled back at that one. There was a war within her, tearing her apart with the words that Edward dropped like casual bits of thunder and the words she’d never had a chance to say that seemed only barely restrained from bursting at him accusingly.
“I’m not worth it,” she muttered. It was exactly what he’d made her believe. As often as this memory haunted her, not once had she ever spoken back to Edward. It had always been night after night of Bella absorbing his words, each one a fatal blow to her self-esteem leaving invisible bruises that would never fade.
Dream Edward stood unaffected and the fact that he was unmoved by her was beyond infuriating. Didn’t she deserve to have a say, to be heard? In reality, he had railroaded her in this moment, completely bulldozed over her feelings, self-esteem, and her dignity as it they were nothing.
When she would have otherwise collapsed, useless in her ability to articulate her anger and stand up for herself, Bella abruptly felt support and strength. Two invisible arms wrapped around her from behind and a very familiar voice seemed to drift to her on the breeze.
You are worth, mina. You’re worth it.
It was exactly the type of reassurance she needed, the kind she craved.
“I am worth it,” she repeated, letting each word simmer on her tongue as she tried to reinforce them with certainty. “I am worth it.”
Dream Edward frowned and took a step back.
Bella followed his retreat, the invisible arms nudging her encouragingly. “I am worth fighting for and if you had ever truly loved me, you would know that.”
She felt hands rubbing her shoulders and she leaned into them, relishing the silent comfort.
“I am worth it,” she said again, but this time it was to herself, a soothing balm she placed over the sting of Edward’s words.
Her anger turned inwards abruptly as shame filled her. She’d let Edward convince her she wasn’t good. His words and actions meant so much to her that they overrode her own self-esteem and shaped her life.
She’d been foolish, she realized, to have lost herself simply because a man didn’t want her. To have put so much trust in him that she followed blindly, believed wholeheartedly that she was worthless only because he no longer wanted to be with her.
It will be as if I’d never existed, he’d told her.
And in that moment of fury and self-indignation, with the support of her invisible arms, all Bella could think was good. She wasn’t naïve enough to believe his vow, but for the first time, Bella wanted to make his last promise true by the force of her conviction.
Good. She would pretend Edward never existed, then, if that’s what he wanted.
Slowly the scene faded and the dream turned into a more recent memory of drinking, dancing, and laughter.
A smile curled her lips as Edward faded away and she sighed as she felt the arms circle her tighter.
Lips ghosted along her collarbone and Bella smiled.
(A/N): A smidgen shorter than the other chapters, but at least the wait is over! Much excitement to be had, so stay tuned and please review to let me know what you’re thinking! I’m hoping to post a little early to make up for the delay with this chapter, so fingers crossed!