Word Prompt: Ladder

Dialogue Flex: "I'm too tired to think straight."

Using the provided snippet of dialogue, explore what comes to mind, be it a scene, a thought, or something else.

not beta'd, rated M, Twilight and all characters belong to SM.

He touches his beard from the other end of the tub, the way he does when he's lost in thought. His eyes haven't left me, at least the general vicinity of my face, in five…ten…minutes, but he's far away. I can tell. But then he does focus, his eyes on mine, and even after all this time, those eyes have a way of unraveling me deep inside. I'm the first to break the gaze, turning my attention to the slowly cooling bath water.

Slowly straightening my leg, I brush my foot against his thigh. He blinks, his hand coming down on my foot. I can see as what he's thinking coalesces gradually with what he's looking at, how the smallest smile accompanies his gaze as it travels down my breasts to where they are half hidden underwater. Most of the suds have dissipated, leaving the water lukewarm and mostly clear.

"Five years is long enough," he says, hand tightening on my foot. He pulls, sliding me across the smooth porcelain of the tub, and I flounder, grabbing the sides so I don't capsize.

"I think so," I murmur, laughing. "Also, it's cold in here. Let's get out."

He doesn't argue, but instead watches me get up and then out, shivering my way into one of the old blue towels hanging beside the bathtub. I grab one for him, as well, extending it until he sighs and stands up, his body slick and wet. Well, that sight never gets old. He knows I love it, too, smirking as he accepts the towel but does little to cover himself.

Rolling my eyes, I turn before he can see me smile back. It's not like we didn't just spend nearly forty minutes soaking in a tub, and who knows how long before that getting dirty enough to need one.

In the bedroom, I slide into a loose maxi dress and flop onto the bed. My laptop sits where it did before Edward accosted me earlier, tipped over from our excitement, the cursor still blinking as it waits for me to complete my sentence. I'd been emailing Alice, responding to her pleas to come home for Christmas.

Please, Bella. Please. We miss you. And you should be home. Now of all times, you should be home.

She's right; we should be home. To me, though, home just means going back to the United States. If I'm being honest, I no longer see Seattle as my home. Not anymore. Good things happened there, but a lot of difficult things did as well, and I'm not the same person I was when i left.

I chuckle inwardly, a bit self deprecating, at the path of my thoughts. Is anyone the same person they were five years ago? Ten? Everyone changes. There's nothing unique about that. It's like saying "I have eclectic taste in music." Everyone thinks they have eclectic taste. So maybe no one does.

"What're you smiling about?" Edward asks, laughter warming his own voice as he settles down next to me. He eases the screen back, peering at my email.

"Nothing…just, I don't know. Dumb thoughts."

"None of your thoughts is dumb." He says it with a wink, but I suspect he really means it, something that's proved when he adds, "smartest girl i know."

"I try," I whisper. "You make me pretty dumb with this thing, though." I reach into his jeans, which he still hasn't buckled or buttoned.

Biting his lip, he grabs my hand and removes it. "Give me a minute, girl. An hour at least."

"I'll behave," I assure him, leaning in to kiss his chin before turning my attention back to Alice's email. "Anyway, I'm just going to tell her we're coming back."

"No surprises?"

"No." I shake my head. "She's getting a little anxious. It's been…two years? Since I went back."

"Least you've been back," he says softly, rolling on to his back.

And I have been - several times since we moved. At first it was every year, but that slowed down as Edward and I settled into Italian life - our work, our home…and yes, traveling, but to European countries so easy to access that not visiting them would have been a sin and a waste. We'd ridden trains up and down the coasts and through mountain ranges, hitched rides and rented cars and geeked out on tour buses, filling our phones and online photo albums with memories. Through it all I'd never lost touch with Alice and Rose, though, making sure to send letters and postcards, emails and trinkets. We called and Face-timed weekly at the very least, and so I felt close to them and they to me.

But Alice was right; it was time for Edward and I to come home. We had been abroad for half of a decade, and not only had we (and everyone else) changed, but the landscape of our old environment had too. Edward's case was literally history now. He was officially dead, despite being alive, and Jake was officially missing, despite being dead - and it had been this way forever.

Edward kept contact with his father and James, but it was infrequent and rather convoluted. They'd calmed down with their own life of crime, finally leaving behind meth for growing pot in Colorado, but it was better for everyone if they stayed unconnected. I knew Edward missed his family, but he seemed pretty zen about it.

"You're my family," he'd said more than once, usually when I started feeling guilty that he had no one else.

And so now there's really nothing to keep us from going back to the States. On paper we have new identities - Isabella and Tony Cullen - even though we're still Bella and Edward to each other - so travel should be okay…although the thought of it does gives me the worst anxiety ever. I can't help it. Living in Cinque Terre is like living in a bubble, a fairy tale, and now we're going back to the real world.

"Yeah. I miss it, I guess." I glance over at him.

"I do too. Certain things…" He deflates, flattening his palms on the bedspread. "I'll miss this place, though. It's been…" He smirks, looking at me, and I just know he's thinking naughty thoughts. "Very educational."

"Yeah," I say stupidly, now thinking those same thoughts, because it has. It really has. A five year honeymoon is what it's been.

"Never thought I'd end up in a place like this, stomping grapes and making wine like some fucker in those foreign movies you love…"

"Not really foreign when we're living where some of them take place." I pull his ear, knowing he loves to rile me up by pretending to be gruffer and less cultured than he really is. Edward might be a badass ex-con, but he's also one of the most intelligent and well-read individuals I've ever met. He simply chooses not to flaunt his intellect.

"We're ex-pats, no matter how you look at it, la mia bella." He grins, pleased with both his questionable Italian and his wit, and rolls on to his side. Reaching for me, he hikes the material of my dress all the way up so his fingertips graze my tummy. "But I'm glad. Best wine I've ever had."

"Best bread, too." I hum, thinking about grabbing some for dinner.

"Best cheese."

"Best coffee."

"Best chocolate," he says reverently.

"That… might have been Amsterdam, actually."

"Naw, Amsterdam had the best w-"

"Shh." I press my hand over his mouth and close my eyes, laughing silently. "What happens there stays there."

He licks my hand, so I smear it on his chest - Edward's allergic to shirts - and he gentles me on to my back, scooting down so he can kiss my stomach. "You know what Italy makes best though?"

My stomach flutters…for a number of reasons. "What?"


The day we leave Italy, flying out of Rome after one last long weekend gorging ourselves on foreign bests, the sky is a heavy, gloomy grey, the air so un-seasonally humid that actual rain would be redundant.

"You sure that's our flight?" I yawn, overcome with sleepiness. I've managed so far to escape nausea this trimester, but perpetual exhaustion is another story. It's gotten worse the farther along I've come, and I find myself yearning for naps more and more.

"Yeah, come on," chuckles Edward, nudging me away from the nearest chocolate display in the airport. "They've announced it twice. In English and Italian."

"I'm too tired to think straight," I say, yawning yet again. I reach for one of our bags, but he moves it deftly away, giving me the side eye.

"You just said you were tired."

"Edward, please let me carry something."

"You're carrying someone; that's enough."

I make a face at his chivalry, equal parts frustrated and enchanted by it. "One bag."

"You have one bag," he says, jerking his chin at my purse.

"I'm not an invalid," I whisper, tiptoeing to kiss his stubble.

"You proved that this morning, girl." His eyes narrow just enough to be suggestive, gaze dropping to my mouth just in case I wasn't sure.

Sex, sex, sex. These days my life is long paragraphs of naps punctuated by frequent exclamation points of sex.

And snacks. I look longingly back at the chocolate display, sad that besides Nutella (and not even Italian Nutella), I'll no longer have access to such deliciousness.

We queue up with the rest of the passengers boarding our flight, falling quiet, lost in thought. This is a big deal, going home. Most of things we've amassed while overseas - and there wasn't much of it, surprisingly - has already arrived at Alice and Jasper's. The plan is to spend a couple of weeks revisiting old friends and haunts before heading to Northern California, where we've chosen to live. It's enough like the Seattle area to feel familiar, but different enough, and far away enough, to be able to breathe.

The lines moves briskly, until it's our turn. Edward goes first, still rocking that swagger I love - some things don't change - turning and waiting for me as soon as he's through the gate.

"Good morning, Mrs. Cullen," says the (predictably) gorgeous flight attendant with the (predictably) husky, heavily accented voice as he takes my ticket. Man, I'm going to miss Italy. "Thank you, and welcome aboard!"

I doze most of the way to London, where we trade British Airways for American Airlines and head for Seattle. Edward and I spend most of that flight sharing snacks and whispering over our phones, looking at photos of the past couple of years.

"Those waffles," Edward practically moans, pointing to shot of us breakfasting in Bruges. I smile, remembering. My hair had been super short then, a sexy chin length bob I'd gotten on a whim. Interestingly, Edward wasn't too fond of that haircut, same way I'd resented the gnarly beard he'd rocked during our longest argument about a year later. I love facial hair, but he'd looked like a dirty lumberjack, and not in the sexy, hipster way. Nowadays he has a face full of gold-red scruff, and my hair falls half way down my back, glossy and dark thanks to the overload of estrogen surging through my body.

"I want waffles now," I say, looking longingly out the window.

"We'll get some," he says absently, scrolling through years' worth of memories. "Remember that guy? At the festival?"

"Who wanted to photograph me as I 'stomped his grapes'?" I ask, wrinkling my nose. "He was gross."

"He was hilarious…"

"You almost killed him."

"Because he broke the golden rule," he drawls, lazing back in his seat.

"Do unto others…?"

"That you look with your eyes, not your hands."

"He was a filthy old man." I snort, laughing a little, and lace my fingers through Edward's.

"Yeah, and you already have one of those." He lets his eyes wander suggestively, and also pointlessly, seeing as I'm wearing long sleeves and a scarf.

"You can't possibly be in the mood."

"I'm always in the mood, girl." He touches my stomach. "This…puts me in the mood."

I'm not showing yet, but I know what he means. The knowledge that I'm carrying his baby seems to get him going. I suspect it's some kind of biological, cave man thing. He's spread his seed. He owns this. Etc.

"I'm glad. Because pretty soon I'm going to look and feel gross and I'll probably get really needy and you'll have to tell me ten times a day how hot I am."

"I will." We kiss. "And I'll mean it."

I see the balloons before I see Alice. There are so many of them I'm surprised she hasn't been carried away - or that airport security hasn't found a reason to confiscate them.

"Hi!" she cries, taking off at a run. Jasper just barely manages to secure the balloons in one hand while grasping little Thomas, whose blond hair is even lighter than his father's, in the other. He's the cutest kid in the universe - so far - and I'm actually surprised they haven't procreated about four more.

"Bella!" she gasps, face flushed with joy as she wraps her arms around me. I hug her back, feeling tears flood my cheeks. Damn. I've missed her, I'm tired, and I swear pregnancy gives the world a gauzy, melodramatic glow.

"Hi Edward," she enunciates in a whisper, giving him a hesitant hug.

He smiles, patting her back. "Hello, Ms. Alice. Finally we meet."

She backs up, full on grinning now, giving him the once over. "Mhm. Well. Edward, my husband Jasper," she says, bringing her boys into the fold.

I bend down, taking in the little boy I've seen grow up through pictures and snatches of video. Alice was right; this is right: it was time to come home.

My mother arrives from Florida a day later, overjoyed that I've come to my senses and returned. For someone so bent on my doing the whole "backpacking across Europe" cliche as a teenager, she's remarkably intent that I don't do it anymore as an adult. She's also really excited we're expecting. I might not be all that close to Renee, but I'd never want to keep her from seeing her grandchild.

She's completely dazzled by Edward, though…and I mean embarrassingly so. I guess he reminds her of someone from way back when, and it doesn't help that he senses it and plays it up, charming and chatting her up.

"My God, Bella," she says, watching him saunter off, a bottle of beer dangling from his fingertips. "I see why you're pregnant. I'm surprised it took this long."

"Birth control, Mom," I say dryly. There's nothing new about her frank lack of a filter.

She winks, patting my knee. "Good for you."

I start to roll my eyes, but she pauses, leaning in. "I mean it. I'm so glad, honey. You were lost there for awhile."

She's right. I was lost at one point, for quite some time, until Edward showed up. I wish I could tell her everything; she's crazy and loving enough not to judge, but I can't and I won't. It's enough that she gets to know him, and that we've managed to come home.

We spend the holidays with the Whitlock family and my mother, frequented by Rose and Emmett. It's good to be home, among the sights and smells and sounds Seattle has to offer, and while Edward chooses to relax at home, the girls and I make the most of my visit.

Two days before New Year's, Edward catches me in the hallway and pulls me into the guest room we've been living in. "Hey."

"Hey." I stare up at him, trying to read his face. He's seems happy most of the time, considering that these are really my friends, but sometimes I wonder if he's sad for his own family. His friends. "You okay?"

"Yeah. But…" He lets go of me and sits down on the bed, roughing his hands through his hair. "I think it's time, Bella. To go."

"Did something happen?"

"No." He smiles a little, shaking his head, and I see all I need to know in those eyes. He's a private person, and he misses having space. I can't say I blame him; for years it's been just us two.

Nodding, I rest my hand on his thigh. "We can spend New Year's Eve in our new place."

The next day, we pack our somewhat modest assortment of stuff and leave, promising we'll see everyone soon. My mother left a couple of days ago, so it's just Alice, Jasper and Thomas.

"I can help decorate the baby's room," Alice offers, eyes sparkling. I think she's the only human I know whose eyes actually, literally, legit sparkle. "If you want."

As if I'd crush her dreams and say no. "I do want. Start brainstorming."

"Oh, I already have a Pinterest board started."

"Of course you do," I laugh. "All right. Love you! We gotta go."

U-Haul trucks are neither sexy nor speedy, but there's something exhilarating about hitting the open road and heading toward new adventures in new places. Seems to be what Edward and I do best.

We discuss practical things as we rumble down the road: Edward behaving himself, me teaching eventually. Kindergarten, I've decided. Thomas was so precious. This after Baby Cullen is born, of course. Way after. I want to spend time at home for awhile.

"Or just stay home for good," suggests Edward.

"What? No. You just want me barefoot and pregnant the kitchen."

"Yeah, sounds good." He nods, squeezing my thigh as I give him a vicious pinch. "I meant homeschool."

"I don't know if I'm cut out for homeschooling."

"I could help."

"With what, chemistry?"

"Ha. Ha." He's grinning though, thoroughly amused.

"So when do we find out?" Edward asks somewhere around Redding, California.

"I kind of wanted to keep it a surprise."

"Fine for you. I'll let them tell me."

"No," I huff. "It's not fair if you know but I don't."

"What's so bad about knowing? How's Alice going to do all that decorating crap she loves so much if she doesn't even know if it's a boy or a girl?"

"Oh, trust me. She wouldn't be so gauche as to decorate in a predictable way anyway."

Edward rolls his eyes. "I'll let them tell me. You can just cover your eyes."

The neighborhood's old school and sweet, the house worn but adorable. Edward eyes it like a starving man with a steak, already plotting what things he's going to fix and paint and re-do. We got it cheap - a friend of a friend of a friend; I don't really want to know - so though we're technically renting, we're free to do as we please.

Santa Rosa is the perfect place to start over. It's on the water, with a dramatic, jagged coastline and nearby forests full of redwoods. It's also one of the many spots in California known for wine, which was kind a coincidence but so appropriate for us that maybe it's just fate.

"There's a ladder and drill set back there," Edward says, emerging from the shed in the corner of the back yard. "Looks like someone's workshop."

"Nice. You won't have to buy any tools."

"Nope." He kisses the top of my head as he passes on his way to the fridge. "You feeling okay?"


"You should take a nap. I'm heading out in a second."

"But I wanted to go with you," I say, looking longingly at the new pick up truck on the curb. "To get food for dinner."

"Maybe I'll cook."

I eye him dubiously. "What, enchiladas?"

"What's wrong with that?" He settles for a toothpick, popping it into his mouth.

"Nothing." Yawning, I pick my phone up and head toward our messy bedroom. "I think I'll nap."

"Like I said." He follows me in, kissing my neck. "I'll be right back."



I peer at him from the blankets I've burrowed under.

"Love you."

"Love you," I echo, smiling.

When I wake up, it's fallen dark. A cold breeze seeps in through the barely-open windows, ruffling my hair. It's chilly, but it feels good, and I stay in bed for a minute, enjoying our new space. Soon the savory smells of Mexican food start tickling my nose, making my stomach growl. Guess Edward stayed true to his word. Overwhelmed by a surge of sappy love, I ease into the living room.

And stop short.

There, in the living room, crackles a bright and lively fire.

"Wow," I murmur, joining my very satisfied looking husband on the couch.

"Yeah, girl. Didn't see the fireplace when we came in, huh."

"Actually I meant our clothes." Semi-matching in old oversized flannels and slouchy socks, we look like we're sliding back into the lumberjack vibe. If I'm not careful Edward might let that beard go rogue again.

"Smart ass." He reaches up, cupping said ass cheek in his hand.

I move his hand and sit beside him, curling up.

"That shed was full of it."

"Let me guess." I rest my head on his shoulder. "Firewood."

a rather frothy future take, but i have Christmas on my mind... ;) i figured these two had dealt with enough drama during the story. and besides, we all know parenting is for the brave, so they're in for it anyway. muhahaha! love you! merry christmas and happy holidays and happy new year!