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. . . . .

Emmett dropped off Zeus at three in the morning on his way back into town, and my poor boy went straight to his bed, looking exhausted. I, on the other hand, had already given up on trying to sleep for the night. I spent two hours scrubbing my apartment from top to bottom before having a shower and getting dressed.

I was smiling the entire time, knowing now that Edward was partial to my library look. I opted for a black pencil skirt, but it wasn't one I ever would have worn to work. It was tight, and the slit going up the side went a little higher than what I deemed appropriate for Bree's style. I paired it with a lacy, red silk camisole and a pretty white blouse, tucked neatly into my skirt. I even straightened my hair, though it was a huge pain in the ass, because I knew Edward loved it when I wore it down.

I missed him, and debated driving over to see him and pick him up, but I knew it was too early. And I didn't want to scare him off so early in our relationship by letting him know how crazy I was about him. I always missed him.

It was only a bit after eight, and I decided on some biscuits for breakfast, though I didn't have much of an appetite. I was too tense. I was going to have five people in my apartment today; Alice and Jasper would be finding out where I lived. I focused my restless energy on making my dough. After getting them in the oven, I started taking out all of the vegetables that I needed to prep.

Then, my doorbell rang, almost making me scream. I turned to my monitor though, my smile splitting my face when I saw Edward smiling through my screen.

This day could not get any better. It was barely nine in the morning. I ran to my door, hastily undoing all of the locks and smiling up at him brightly. The way he smiled at me though, the way his face lit up every time he saw me, had my heart racing.

"Hey beautiful," he said in a low voice, stepping right in and setting a box of bottles of wine down on the floor before wrapping his arms around me. I couldn't resist touching him, placing my hands against his hard chest as he leaned in and kissed me. That kiss shot through my entire body, curling my toes, and I leaned into him, wanting more.

"Hmm, good morning," I whispered as he leaned away.

"I hope I didn't come too early?"

Huh, I thought it would be clearly written on my face how pathetically ecstatic I was that he was here now. "No, I was debating driving over and waking you up so I could see you sooner." I took a minute to take him in, from his dark designer jeans to his white button down, grinning as I trailed my fingers down his adorable tie. It was a bright shade of orange that had a colourful turkey made out of different pieces of silk. It was so cheesy, I loved it. "Cute."

He let out a small laugh, giving me a curious smile before leaning in to kiss the top of my head. My timer beeped, and I quickly ran over to my oven to take out my tray, sighing in relief. They were perfect, and now I had someone to feed them to. I heard Edward groan behind me though, and turned around worriedly. His face was almost pained.

"What's wrong?"

"What are you wearing?"

I grinned, my face heating a little from the way he was looking at me alone. "I thought you said you liked this look?" I teased, giving him a little spin to show it off.

"I knew it. You are trying to kill me." I rolled my eyes at his dramatics, putting my tray down and taking off my gloves.

"Have you eaten yet?" I asked him, going for some plates. He gave me a sheepish smile.

"Erm, no."

"Well, I have fresh biscuits and fruit salad," I offered, putting down another plate for him, and grabbing my fruit salad out of the fridge with some jams and butter, and told him to help himself. The way his face lit up…

God, I loved him so much. The words still frightened me, but I knew now, beyond a doubt, that I did. I loved every single thing about him, from his temper to the way his eyes lit up when he looked at me. It was nice… having someone to take care of in a way. That lonely feeling that had followed me for most of my life was nowhere to be found when I was with him.

And I hated that he probably had no idea how unhealthily crazy I was about him. I wished I had the guts to tell him, to show him, but I just… didn't know how to do it. I wanted to say the words, more than anything, but I couldn't find the courage to spit it out.

I needed a drink. It was a holiday though, and that made morning drinking acceptable in my books. I turned to my fridge with shaking hands, pulling out a bottle of champagne and some orange juice.

"Mamosa?" I offered him, surprised at how steady my voice sounded. His voice was teasing when he answered.

"Isn't it a little early?

I was happy he didn't see me wince. Actually, I was happy that he couldn't seem to tell how tense I was in general, that it didn't leak into my voice as I spoke. "Mmm, it's a holiday, and a few drinks makes playing in the kitchen even more fun." I grabbed my apron out of a drawer, slipping it on so I wouldn't get anything on my clothes. It was a really pretty apron; Rose had gotten it for me last Christmas. It reminded me a bit of one of those French-maid costumes, with its black and white silk and frilly white lace. And the strap looked like a pearl necklace, really complimenting the entire look. I was pulling my hair up into a clip when Edward made a weird noise, dropping his fork. I looked up at him, and his entire body looked tensed.

His voice was tight when he spoke, not looking at me. "Yeah, a drink sounds good."

He was upset about something, but I couldn't tell what exactly. I doubted it was the liquor, because he seemed pretty earnest when he said he wanted one. But Edward never pushed me when I didn't want to talk about things, and I tried to give him the same courtesy. I just tried to stifle down my anxiety as I offered him a smile then reached to get some glasses.

As I was pouring, Zeus must have gotten caught up on his sleep. He trotted lazily into the kitchen, and plopped down on the floor by my feet, rolling onto his back and trying to look all fucking cute. It worked. I knelt down to rub his belly with a smile, his tongue lolling out of his mouth with the dog-equivalent of a smile. He was going to be a pain in the butt once I started cooking. When I got out a bag of his treats he sprang to his feet instantly, sprinting out of the kitchen when I tossed it. He grabbed it and carried it away with a wagging tail, curling up under the coffee table and gnawing on it loudly. I washed my hands, then went and sat next to Edward with our drinks before grabbing a biscuit. I felt Edward watching me as I spread an unhealthy amount of raspberry jam over it, and it was impossible not to smile when he looked at me like that.

He seemed in a good mood, but I felt a little guilty because I was going to have a lot of work to do this morning. "Are you sure you're not going to get bored, stuck here with me all day?" I asked nervously.

"Completely sure, I've been looking forward to it," he said easily, in a low voice. He lifted his hand to my face, and I didn't even flinch when he brushed a loose strand of hair behind my ear, his fingers lingering. "What's your schedule like for the day?"

I took a long sip of my drink to steady my nerves, trying to remember my to-do list. "First the pies, then potatoes, beans, carrots, deviled eggs, salad, I need to bring the turkey down at six so it can be carved then reheated, gravy, then heating everything…" I still needed to set up the table as well. I loved planning big dinners like this, but I'd never had something, or someone, who I'd rather be holding than puttering around all morning. At least I'd have him with me to keep me company while working.

"What can I do to help?" His smooth voice interrupted my thoughts. I was a little shocked, because we both knew he had no skills in the kitchen. Emmett wouldn't offer to help me in the kitchen. Ever. But Edward was just smiling at me hopefully, looking like he really wanted to help.

I smiled mischievously. "How good are you with a peeler?"

He looked at me in confusion, making me laugh. We finished our breakfast first, with a few drinks, before washing up. I showed him how to use my peeler, its not like it was a hard concept, before sitting him down with a bag of potatoes, apples, carrots and a turnip.

I got started with cutting up breads for my stuffing, making deviled eggs, and then a fruit and cheese platter. Once Edward was done with the potatoes I started those, then started on the apple and pumpkin pies. Edward mastered the peeler in no time, and sat there with a content smile as we listened to music and worked in peaceful silence. It went amazingly quickly with his help, I don't know if he realized how much work he saved me, but I was grateful.

When everything was prepped and in its designated dishes, he helped me wash dishes, and then helped me drag out my big, never-been-used table, and helped me decorate it. I ended up back in the kitchen, saw that it was almost noon, and looked around with my hands on my hips.

I had nothing left to do. We were done. I was expecting to have been working until about four, but he'd made everything go by in the blink of an eye. I turned to him with a bright smile.

"Thanks, that took like no time at all."

"So you're done?" He asked excitedly, stepping closer to me.

"Yup, nothing has to be turned on until five, and- hey!" I almost screamed when he quickly scooped me up in his arms. The flashback was instant and overwhelming, Victor lifting me up, carrying me out of my dad's house. My breath caught in my throat, and I couldn't breathe, and instinctually tried to wriggle out of his strong hold.

But then we weren't moving, and we were just on my couch. Edward's strong, protective, yet gentle arms were wrapped around me as he kept me in his lap. Then his lips were on mine, gentle and comforting.

In a second, the panic was gone, because I felt safer here in Edward's arms than I ever had anywhere else in the world. He didn't seem to have noticed my almost-meltdown, for which I was grateful, and I tried to calm my breathing. I couldn't loosen my grip as my hands clutched tightly onto his shirt though, my heartbeat was pounding away in my ears. I melted against him as his lips moved tentatively against mine.

I wrapped my arms around his neck, holding myself closer to him and smiling against his lips. He made me feel so safe. Even as he laid me back on the couch, hovering over me, I knew that Edward would never hurt me. He loved me too much, even if he hadn't said it I knew, and it was a thrilling sensation. His fingers combed through my hair, then traveled lightly down my ribs, my waist, and along the curve of my hip. His hand moved down my thigh though, and when I felt his fingertips on my bare skin I don't know why I panicked. Maybe it was just shock, but when I felt his skin on mine my entire body tensed, and my breath caught in my throat.

Edward didn't give me a second to feel guilty, or panic further. His hand went back to my face, tracing along my jaw, holding me closer and tighter. I relaxed again quickly as his lips grew more gentle against mine, moving along my jaw, and down my neck with little, soft kisses. He shifted, kissing my hair, before he laid back along the couch, pulling my back against his chest and holding me tightly against him. Then his nose trailed lightly up my neck, and an embarrassing giggle escaped my lips as he breathed into my ear.

"You smell like an apple pie," he breathed in a low voice, his lips lingering on my neck and his arms tightening around me. His firm grip didn't scare me, I liked it and just wanted him to hold me tighter. A soft sigh escaped my lips as I leaned into him, letting my body relax completely. I loved the sensation of having so much of his body pressed up against mine. He shifted to grab the remote before lying back again, turning on the TV and finding the parade.

"Can we just stay here like this? Just for a little while?" He asked quietly, melting my heart as he spoke my mind.

"I don't ever want to move," I admitted in another whisper, wrapping my arms around his muscular ones, hugging onto them to ensure he couldn't escape. He didn't try though, I felt him relax as well, his breath in my hair.

He was so warm. And he was big, but I had no fear of rolling off of my couch with the way he held onto me. I could feel his warm breath in my hair and against my neck, and could feel the faint pulse of his heart against my back. Every inch of my body was flush with his.

I paid no attention to the TV, just closing my eyes and savouring the feeling of him. I wondered if this is what it would be like sleeping with him, if I asked him to stay. If he would hold me like this in my bed. I wasn't worried about him… trying something. He didn't make us have some awkward conversation about it, but I knew Edward wasn't going to pressure me into trying something I wasn't ready for. He read me pretty easily, and whenever I got uncomfortable he always backed off immediately.

The idea of not having to say good bye to him at the end of the night, of having him hold me as I slept, and waking up to have him right there with me, lulled me into a deep, peaceful sleep.

. . .

The familiar jostling of the van brought me into awareness. I tried to shut it out, knowing it wasn't real. This was a dream. I wasn't in a van. I wasn't really tied up.

The sweat felt so real though, as did the bruising from the hard floor, and the tape pulling at my arms uncomfortably. I couldn't seem to fight back the panic, I couldn't calm down.

I couldn't breathe around the tape.

I wanted Edward.

Wake up wake up wake up…

The door was thrown open, and there Victor was, leering at me hungrily. He grabbed onto my ankle, pulling me closer to him, and a sob caught against the tape as I tried to scream out a "No!" I screamed and screamed but not a noise could make it out. I thrashed to get out of his hold.

But then I heard it, somewhere in the back of my mind. A gentle shushing noise in a low, smooth voice. I could feel gentle fingers combing through my hair, soft, warm lips on my cheek, and it melted away the fear, the feeling of Victor's touch.

"You're safe Bella. I'm right here," I swear I heard. I could see nothing though, just blackness. It wasn't scary though, it was calming. It felt safe.

"Edward?" I tried to call, hearing my own voice this time. The tape was gone, I could breathe.

"I'm right here," I heard again, and though I couldn't see him, I believed him, and felt myself relax.

"Thank you," I said gratefully to the blackness, letting it take me again without fear.

. . .

I woke up groggily, and a little disoriented. I was on my couch, the TV was on, but I was in an iron vice made of warm, muscular arms that were holding me against a large, firm body.

Edward was snoring softly against my hair, and I couldn't help a sleepy smile. I very carefully turned in his arms so I could look at him.

God, he was so handsome. I greedily drank in his features, taking advantage of the opportunity of him being asleep and being able to stare at him uninterrupted.

I remembered my dream, and wondered if he had talked me down from the conscious world. I tried to block out the memory, to concentrate just on Edward, but it was hard now that I was awake. I just had this feeling, that I was running out of time. That something bad was about to happen.

I couldn't let anything happen to Edward. A few months ago, I would have been more worried about Emmett and Rose, but now… I knew Edward was the one in the most danger. That he was who needed the most protection. If Victor had to choose between Edward and Emmett who to use against me, for some reason I knew he would use Edward; if he had any idea about how I felt about him. I don't know why, but I did.

I reigned in my panic, holding it in carefully and trying not to let it leak out as I watched the peaceful, sleeping face of the man I loved. His messy hair had fallen in his face, and after brushing it back I couldn't stop myself from combing my fingers through it.

Hell, his hair was softer than mine. I needed to find out what sort of conditioner he used. I traced down the strong tendons of his neck, my fingers lingering around his collar. He shivered, before his eyes popped open quickly. I grinned up at him apologetically. I would have been happy to let him sleep for a while longer, just to stare at him and calm my thoughts.

Those dangerously green eyes, looking into mine just made the fear worse though. I couldn't lose those. I wouldn't.

"Hey," I whispered, and he gave me a large, lopsided, sleepy smile.

"Hey, how was your nap?" He asked in a gravelly voice.

I stomped down the automatic panic that came with the memory of my dream, I didn't want to ruin this moment. "Best nap I've ever had," I told him truthfully, thinking only about how comfortable and safe I felt in his arms. He smiled, trailing his fingertips along my jaw.

I couldn't lose this. Him.

Zeus came over, dropping his snout on my shoulder and letting out a deep huff. Wanting attention. He was due for a bathroom break though, and I was desperate to have a minute alone to calm my nerves. His tail was thumping on the floor, and I smiled at him before assuring him I'd take him outside.

I gave Edward a quick kiss, unable to resist, before getting up, straightening out my clothes, and taking my boy upstairs quickly.

The air was cool and crisp, and I pulled it in greedily when I got upstairs. The pain was overwhelming, and I couldn't fight the panic any longer, letting it have me for a few minutes. I sat on the bench, wrapping my arms around myself tightly and trying to get a hold of my emotions.

Zeus, my amazing baby boy, he came over and leaned against me, most likely sensing my mood as he always could. I hugged onto him tightly, and his warm, thick fur and heavy heartbeat, and his eternal loyalty and love for me, began to calm me. I sat there with him as long as I dared, until I could breathe normally again, and then forced myself to go back downstairs before Edward came investigating.

It was easier to keep a smile on my face after some fresh air. Zeus didn't buy it though, he was glue to my heels, trying to trip me with every step, and even when I went to the washroom he dropped in front of it with a thump, whining. He didn't like it when I closed doors between us but I didn't like it when he watched me pee, so it was a moot point. After I came out I checked the clock before taking out the fruit and cheese trays and setting them on the table by my sectional, grinning when Edward pulled me back down next to him. Zeus sat down with us, glaring at the cheese longingly, his tail thumping loudly against the floor, making both of us laugh. I grabbed a little cube of cheddar cheese, making my boy's face light up excitedly.

"Go long Zeus!" I called, tossing it, and he bolted after it and caught it. I don't think he even chewed, and stood up on his hind legs, pawing at the air adorably. My boy knew how to work a crowd, especially when it came to cheese. I grinned at Edward, picking up a carrot this time, and tossed it.

I almost felt bad for tricking him, laughing when he spat out the carrot and growled at it. We both laughed, Edward's arm wrapping around my waist and tugging me closer. But my door was knocked on, and we both looked over at my monitor.

It was weird, seeing so many people outside of my door. But I took a steadying breath, got up, and went over to undo all of my locks.

Alice almost tackled me when she flew in.

"Oh my God! I can't believe I finally know where you live! I see why you had the wedding here, are you close with the owner?" She asked curiously, her words mixing together with her speed and making me laugh.

"Hello to you too Alice, Happy Thanksgiving," I said in amusement, giving everyone one hugs and taking their coats. She grinned sheepishly. "And yes, you could say that. I own the building," I told her uneasily, making both her and Jasper's eyes go wide. I gave him an apologetic smile, and he waved me off, reassuring me with his easily smile.

"Wow, this place is gorgeous," Alice exclaimed, as she started snooping through my shit. I forced myself to stay calm, to not get freaked out, but I'd never had this many people here before. Ever. Even Zeus got a little worked up, and was running around looking for belly rubs from anyone who would give them. Rose helped me make drinks, putting a calming hand on my shoulder and giving me a reassuring smile.

"Are you okay?" She asked quietly, and I nodded.

"It's just… hard to get used to," I admitted, fidgeting. I jumped slightly when I felt a large, warm hand on my waist, and felt my nervous energy dissipate as he pulled me against him, kissing the side of my head.

"You okay, gorgeous? She's fucking nosy, I can't get her to reign it in though," he breathed by my ear, making me shiver. I turned in his arms with a smile.

"No, it's fine, really," I said in a tiny voice, my face heating under his adoring smile. He cupped one of my cheeks in his warm hand, and leaned into me, placing a sweet, lingering kiss on my lips that I felt all the way down to my toes.

My face was glowing red no doubt when I caught Rose watching us with a shit-eating grin. She said nothing, and Edward didn't leave my side for another second, helping us with the drinks and bringing them over, and I started heating up my ovens. Edward pulled me down next to him on the couch, keeping me tucked into his side, my eyes following his sister as she continued to look around.

She froze by my bed.

"Bella?" She asked in a strained voice, and I froze. I was sure I hadn't left any guns out, but she sounded panicked.

"Yes?"

"Where's your closet?" She asked worriedly.

I bit my lip to restrain my grin, leaning in closer to Edward, whose hold tightened in response.

"I don't have one," I said in amusement, watching the colour drain from her face.

"What?!"

"I don't need one. My clothes fit on my rack and in my dresser." I was lying. I did technically have a closet, I used the one in the spare bedroom that I had set up as a laundry room in the other half of the apartment. I didn't want to disclose that information though, it was a hidden escape route. It was supposed to be a secret.

I was a horrible person for wanting to laugh at her distress, but really, this girl had issues when it came to clothing. If I'd allowed it I'm sure she would have re-designed my entire wardrobe. But that wasn't happening. I could dress myself just fine, and had no desire to be her doll. I liked my clothes.

And Edward liked my clothes. He was chuckling under his breath and rolling his eyes as Jasper pulled Alice over to the couch, calming her down by whispering things into her ear. She was being ridiculous. And as soon as she was good, Jasper went back to inspecting my book collection. I knew he was nervous, I could see it in the stiffness of his shoulders and the slight shake in his hands. He'd gotten the doctor's blessing a couple days ago though, and her ring was currently sitting on my kitchen counter, disguised as a party-cracker. I don't see why he was nervous, I knew without a doubt that she'd say yes.

As we settled in, and Edward kept me grounded, I began to relax. This wasn't bad, not at all. It was nice, having all of my friends together in my home. They were safe here, and there weren't any words to describe how calming that fact was for me.

When my timer went off, I sent Emmett up to grab my turkey for me, and Rose came to help me get things ready. We cut up the turkey, got it into an oven-proof dish, and put it into the oven with everything else. We picked the carcass and cleaned as everything heated up, then transferred them all into safe dishes before bringing everything over to the table.

Edward was grinning at me as he pulled out my chair for me, and I fought back my face's automatic reaction of heating under his gaze. My brother would never let me live that one down. I smiled, watching as everyone hungrily filled their plates, and the most peaceful feeling settled over me.

I was used to the four of us on holidays; Em, Rose, Jasper and myself. And even though we'd been in even numbers, even when Jasper had been single as well, I'd always felt like a third wheel. Like I didn't really fit in properly with our little family. I never had.

But now, with Edward here… I'd never felt this… not alone. It was an amazing, fulfilling sensation, feeling like things were finally as they should be. Like I truly belonged to something. I didn't feel like the black, dysfunctional sheep anymore.

I felt all happy and floaty as everyone talked over mouthfuls of food, and it was more from being happy than drunk I think. Though I'm pretty sure that I was drunk now. The room was spinning as I got up, clearing the table with Rose before we got dessert ready. We set out clean plates, and I gave Jasper an encouraging nod as I set down the heaviest party-cracker on his plate, then started cutting pies.

Everyone cracked their foil tubes excitedly, and I was probably grinning like an idiot as Edward put my blue paper crown on me. I took out my phone though, and started recording Alice as she put hers on, trying to focus. I didn't tell Jasper that I was going to record it, but I thought it would be something cool to give them on their wedding or something in the future. He was pale and nervous as he watched her put on her own crown, his voice shaking when he spoke.

"I always break mine wrong, open it for me?" He asked nervously.

Edward tensed beside me, and I knew then that he knew exactly what was about to happen. Maybe I should have felt bad about not giving him a heads-up, but I'd told Jasper I'd keep his secret, and I always kept my word.

"Sure!" She took the cracker, twisting it open with a large crack, and the little white ring box fell into her lap. She laughed, handing it over to him without a clue. "You got a big one," she said, and started unfolding his crown to put onto his head. She seemed to notice his odd mood then, and her hands clapped over to her mouth when he opened the box to her, then dropped down on one knee.

I couldn't stop grinning.

"Alice Mary-Anne Cullen, from the first moment I met you I knew you were the one. Since that moment, not a single thought has gone through my mind that didn't include you. You're everything I've ever wanted or will ever need. I love you more than anything in the world. Would you please do me the honour of becoming my wife?"

"Yes!" She shouted immediately, tackling him with a kiss that had Edward looking away uncomfortably. She had tears running down her cheeks as he slid the ring onto her finger, then pulled her right into his lap to hold her tightly.

"To Alice and Jasper!" I said a little loudly, possibly slurring my words a bit as I held up my glass, and everyone joined in.

My boyfriend had very good, yet expensive taste when it came to wine. And though he'd brought a damn case of it I didn't think there would be any leftovers. Everyone joined in though, laughing, and I finished off my glass.

"To Bella," Jasper said, catching me by surprise with his calm, happy voice and smile. I looked at him in confusion.

"I'll second that," by brother said with a laugh, holding up his glass. "To the best fucking matchmaker I've ever met!"

"If it wasn't for you, neither of us would have met the women of our dreams," Jasper finished, raising his glass. Everyone else complied, and I felt my face burn in embarrassment. I guess I had set both of them up with their wives though, and couldn't restrain a proud smile.

"Are you fucking blushing? I don't think I've seen you blush since you were like five years old!" Emmett choked, interrupting my happy moment. I scowled, and didn't hesitate in jumping to my feet and punching in him in the arm to shut him up.

My eyes flickered over to Edward, who was watching me with an amused, loving smile. He said nothing though, thankfully. He was the only person I blushed around, and he made me do it much more often than I wanted to admit.

Everyone was laughing as we ate our desert, and then men chivalrously offered to do the clean-up. I argued half-heartedly, but let Edward lead me back to the couch easily, not wanting him to take his hands off of me.

All I wanted to do was kiss him, and I never wanted to stop. Before he could leave, I tugged on the hem of his shirt, pouting pathetically. He just grinned, leaning down and giving me a deep kiss that left me breathless before reluctantly walking away.

I looked up to find Rose and Alice watching me in amusement, and I scowled uncomfortably before facing the TV.

Rose gave me a fresh glass of wine, making me smile, and then they converged on me.

"Oh, my God, you guys are adorable," Rose giggled, and I huffed.

"Seriously, I've never seen my brother like this. He's crazy about you, and it's so cute!"

"Hey, Alice, can I see your ring-"

"Don't even bother," she interrupted, not falling for my diversion tactic. "How are you guys doing? You seem really serious."

"Umm… good," I said, not wanting to really give details. It felt too personal, and the fact that my two girlfriends consisted of his sister and cousin, one of which didn't know much of my past, I didn't want to get into it. "Really good."

Alice was bouncing in her seat. "Have you guys… you know…"

I froze, all of the blood draining from my face as my heart stopped, my breath catching in my throat.

Rose jumped in for me, thankfully, and I almost cried in relief. I tried not think of that, let alone did I want to have a discussion with his sister about it. Edward didn't push me, and I knew it was selfish, but I was happy with things the way they were now.

"Don't answer that Bella, I don't want to know any details about my cousin's personal affairs," she said with a mock scowl, but gave me a reassuring wink. "We should play a game when the guys finish! Where are your board games again?" She asked, knowing well where they were. I took the escape rope she'd handed me though, the room spinning when I jumped to my feet. She looped her arm through mine, and Alice followed while we went over to our shelves.

Rose stayed in mother-hen mode, keeping a hand on me and keeping the conversation off of my relationship until Edward came over. He topped off my drink, and though I think he knew I was on edge again he said nothing in front of the others, and just kept me close. It was the best thing he could have done. Rose explained my Apples to Apples game to everyone as we settled in around the table with drinks. I turned it into a drinking game though, and everyone's card that didn't get picked had to drink, the person who didn't get to play drinking twice.

We were all pretty smashed, but it was a lot of fun, staying in the safety of my apartment, and having my big, handsome boyfriend holding me. I was having the time of my life.

We were a few rounds in when Edward surprised me with a random question.

"How did you meet Jasper?" He asked curiously, and Jasper and I grinned at each other.

"We started working at the Historical Society on the same day."

"Yeah, she could have fooled me. I got lost, ended up in her wing, and she showed me around the place like she'd lived there for years."

"Hey, it's not my fault you didn't take the time to do a recce before you started. Amateur," I teased. I had scouted out that place for weeks before I started working there though, doing background checks on all of the employees.

"Hey, my right hook wasn't amateur, you have to admit, I did you proud that day." I rolled my eyes at him, but couldn't deny that he was right.

"I don't think I follow," Alice said, and Jasper looked slightly aggravated, no doubt from the memory of that day. He'd been a little protective of me from the moment we met. I finished for him.

"A few of the workers thought it would be funny to try to corner the new girl and intimidate her. Unfortunately, they did it right in front of Jasper's office. They never even saw him coming before he broke the first guy's nose." I could have handled it on my own, but was holding off, trying to retain my image.

"You let someone punch someone in the face for you? I thought that was one of your like, favourite things in the world?" Edward teased, distracting me with his gorgeous smile.

"Well, we kind of punched him at the same time," I said with a laugh, grinning at Jasper. Edward knew me too well, and didn't look surprised. Just proud. "He was new in the area, so I introduced him to Emmett. We've all been friends ever since."

"How did you meet Rose?" Alice asked curiously. My heart sank, seeing Rose tense. Her secret wasn't mine to give, and I'd protect her as long as she needed me to. If I wasn't ready to talk to Alice about Victor, I didn't blame Rose for not being able to talk about those men.

My voice came out easy as I answered for her. "In one of my self-defence classes.

I think Edward had seen Rose's reaction though, and even though he knew it was a lie, he said nothing of it, getting us started in a new round instead. I relaxed in his arms, and we were all laughing as we slapped cards down on the table.

It was the only thing that could have distracted me, the beep. The ominous sound I was always waiting for and always wished never to hear again.

I tried to ignore it, but when I heard the second alert go off, I was already off of the couch, running to the computer.

Article upon article came up, covering the last, making my screen flash in red with each new window that loaded. My phones started lighting up, one with alerts, and one no doubt from Alec calling me, but I didn't answer.

I saw it all on my screen. She only looked a few years older than me, her brown hair cropped unevenly to shoulder length, her brown eyes vacant of life. She was bruised, bloodied and beaten in a pool of her own blood, wearing nothing but a white, stained blouse.

No no no, it was too soon. He'd never killed two women so close together before. I should have had more time.

But I'd failed again. Another girl had once again died in my place. The sharpie on her arm glowed like a fluorescent sign.

I miss you baby. They don't feel like you. Soon.

It was like he knew what I'd been thinking, what I'd been feeling, and confirmed my worst nightmare.

Soon.

I think Emmett was calling me, but I was already running into my bathroom, slamming the door behind me and dropping to my knees in front of my toilet before I spilled my guts. The acid escaped through my throat and nose, making it impossible to breathe, burning me. I felt Rose and Zeus join me, but thankfully no one else, and she held back my hair back for me as she knelt next no me. Zeus claimed my other side, whimpering.

She kept telling me again and again that it was going to be alright, that everything would be fine. It was a lie though, even if she didn't know it, and I couldn't bring myself to tell her. To tell her that I didn't know if I'd be able to protect them anymore, that I didn't know what to do.

My uselessness turned my fear into a burning anger. Rose tried to calm me down as I started pacing, tugging on my hair angrily. What did I have to do to stop this? Would it ever stop? Even if I died, would he just go on killing girls in my memory for the rest of his life?

Why me? Why did this have to be my fault? Why couldn't he just fucking die already?

Instead of screaming, my fist shot out as I passed my shower, connecting with the wall.

It fucking hurt, but it was an amazing distraction.

So I hit it again.

And again.

I broke the plaster, but didn't stop, and Rose didn't try to stop me. I hit it again and again, concentrating my anger and rage into every hit until there was blood running down my arms, and my knuckles had gone numb from the pain.

Then I slumped to the floor in exhaustion, breathing heavily. Rose came and sat with me, moving my head into her lap and stroking my hair soothingly as I started shaking. Zeus leaned against the both of us, whining quietly in concern.

"I'm sorry," I whispered sometime later.

"You have nothing to be sorry about," she assured me softly.

"I made a bit of a scene on Thanksgiving," I pointed out. "And ruined Jasper and Alice's engagement."

"As long as you're okay, none of that matters in the slightest," she said in a firm voice, holding me tighter.

I didn't say it aloud, but I didn't think I was ever going to be okay. I couldn't keep living with this guilt and pain.

I wanted Edward.

I said up, feeling exhausted as I looked at the door warily.

"I don't want to talk about it," I said in a tiny, pathetic voice, looking up at her pleadingly. I felt like I was about to snap, but I held it down. I didn't want to freak out.

"I'll make sure no one asks any questions, don't worry," she said softly. She slid a pile of fresh, comfy clothes towards me. "Take a shower and I'll help you clean up your hands," she ordered gently. I got up robotically, my entire body trembling in exhaustion. Rose stayed with me in the bathroom, protecting me and not wanting to leave me. After I washed up, the soap and shampoo had stung like a mother fucker, I got dressed, and Rose cleaned up my knuckles before taping them up for me, and took her time combing my wet hair. It was very soothing.

I took a steadying breath before she led me back out. I felt myself shutting down, my movements becoming more robotic. Zeus was leaning into me as we walked, glued to me worriedly. I sat down on the couch, and didn't chastise him when he jumped up to join me, laying across my lap heavily. I didn't want him to leave, I didn't know if I could even take my hands out of his thick fur.

Alice and Jasper were gone, and I tried to block out the guilt. I couldn't handle any more guilt. Rose sat down next to me on one side, and Edward was on the other. He kept his distance, but I felt his eyes on me.

Please don't make me talk about it, I begged silently. I couldn't deal with it yet.

I also didn't want to chase him away though.

My head was spinning, I couldn't think straight, and concentrated on Zeus' warm, thick fur between my fingers.

I saw Edward open his mouth to speak through my peripherals, but Rose's voice came out first.

"Bella's already talked about it, and she doesn't want to talk about it anymore."

The room was tensely silent for a long minute, before Edward stood up. My heart clenched in my chest, wondering if this was the last straw for him. If he'd finally had enough trying to deal with my fucked-up life. I fought back the tears, and the urge to drag him back and never let him leave. I knew I wouldn't stop him though, I would just watch him from afar to make sure he was safe. No matter how much I never wanted to let him leave my apartment again.

But he came back a minute later, setting down a large glass of ice water for me on the table before he sat down next to me. Much closer than he'd been before. He didn't touch me though, and I don't know how I felt about that.

The four of us were quiet, and the others were watching something on the TV. I'm not sure what, I couldn't concentrate. I had more important things to do, like contacting Paul and Alistair to get things in motion before it was too late. And I needed to find out everything I could about that girl. I saw Rose yawn though, and looked at the clock.

It was after midnight. They needed to go home and sleep. They didn't need to stay with me and watch me not sleep all night, which I knew they would try to do.

"You guys can head home," I told them easily. "I'm fine, you don't need to babysit me."

Rose looked like she was going to cry in worry. "Bella, we don't-"

"Rose, I love you, but I can't sit here with you guys giving me sympathetic looks all night. It's driving me crazy."

Edward's voice was firm when he cut in. "I'm not leaving," he informed me, and I almost cried in relief.

Emmett did not like that though, and practically growled at my boyfriend as he jumped to his feet, glaring at him. "You're not fucking staying here."

As a general rule, Edward was a little timid around my brother. Not because Emmett scared him, but because he was my brother and I think he just wanted to stay in his good graces.

I guess when he had a reason though, he wasn't intimidated by Emmett in the slightest. His own voice was angry and sharp as he yelled right back at him. "God damn it Emmett! I'm not fucking your sister!" I looked over at my brother, who was staring at him in surprised disbelief. "Of course I'm not you asshole, how much of a prick do you think I am?"

Yeah, he didn't need my help to stand up to him at all. He looked over at me worriedly, catching my smirk. He was kind of hot when he got all angry and protective. And I had no intentions of asking him to leave. Of letting him leave.

I wasn't saying good-bye to him tonight.

"I know about her past, give me some fucking credit man," he huffed irritably, saying those words like they were nothing at all as he relaxed back against the couch next to me, crossing his arms.

My sweet boy leaned up then, licking Edward's face happily, making Edward smile as he relaxed further. Then he dropped down on my lap again, like a hundred and fifty pound heated blanket.

Emmett's voice was small and apologetic as he looked between the three of us. "Sorry Edward, I…"

"I know Emmett, I get it. Forget about it."

We sat in the silence for a few minutes before Emmett got up with a reluctant sigh, kissing the top of my head in good-bye as he passed me. Rose did the same.

"I already talked to Alec, so don't worry about it. I'll be over tomorrow to check on you," he told me. That was a bit of a relief. One less thing to do.

"Okay. Take some food home with you, my fridge is going to break through the floor."

Edward got up, walking away with them, but I stayed where I was. I just wanted my brother to leave so I could get high. He hated it when I did that stuff around him.

As soon as I heard the door close, I was up and walking over to my clothes rack and grabbed a hoodie to put over the long-sleeved white tee and purple sleep pants I was wearing. It was cold out. I grabbed my favourite one, a soft-as hell grey one that had been Emmett's for a half hour. When I saw him take it out I had stolen it and dubbed it my own. Then I went to my nightstand and grabbed a joint before going to get a bottle of water from the fridge.

Edward was standing there, watching me with concern in his eyes. I fidgeted nervously under his gaze.

"I'm going up to the roof for a bit… you can come if you want," I offered, not even knowing what I wanted. He agreed to come quickly though, grabbing his jacket and getting the door for me.

When we got to the roof, he sat down with me on the little outdoor couch I had. He was looking up at the sky with a curious expression on his face, and I didn't even think about lighting my joint. His eyes flickered to me immediately when he heard my lighter though.

"You smoke pot?" He asked in disbelief, and my heart sank. Shit.

"Sorry, I can put it out if it bothers you." I could just come back up after he fell asleep.

"No, I don't care," he said easily. "I was just surprised."

I smiled in relief, taking a long drag. I didn't want him to think I was some pothead though, and my voice came out a little defensive. "I have a medical permit for it," I blurted.

"Really? Why?" He asked curiously.

I couldn't help laughing a little, remembering the last doctor I'd had before going into hiding. He would have given me anything I asked for. When I'd asked him to let me try it, we'd both been surprised that it had actually worked. I'd hated all of the mood stabilizers and anti-depressants they had tried to put me on.

"My last doctor said it would help with my 'anger management issues.' It calms me down, helps me sleep sometimes. When they said I could legally smoke pot, I didn't bother to argue. You never know when that will come in handy." He nodded, but eyed my joint, so I offered it to him with a small grin.

He just smiled back, taking it easily. I warned him that it was stronger than your average stuff, laughing a bit as I patted his back when he started coughing.

He made everything so damn easy. He helped me finish it off, gradually moving closer to me until he had my legs across his lap and his jacket half wrapped around me. We went back downstairs when we started getting too cold about twenty minutes later.

After washing my hands and ditching my sweater, my stomach rumbled loudly. It felt hollow after tossing dinner. I veered into the kitchen, searching the fridge for a snack, finding a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Chocolate chip cookie dough. I grabbed two spoons just in case, and sure enough Edward's face lit up when he saw. As soon as I got close enough his arm hooked around my waist, pulling me into his side with my legs across one of his thighs. After pulling a blanket over our laps, he started browsing through the channels.

"Have you watched Drunk History before?" I asked curiously, the title catching my attention. He shook his head, but went back to it before setting down the remote and stealing a spoon.

We finished off that ice cream in no time. Edward kept a secure hold on me, like he was afraid that I'd leave. He was so warm, especially trapped under that blanket with him. Between a once-again filled stomach, the heat, and his comforting proximity, I felt myself starting to get drowsy. I loved the sound of his laugh as it vibrated through his chest.

At one point I must have drifted off, and felt the world moving around me strangely. I was confused, but didn't actually freak out because I knew they were Edward's arms that were around me. Then I was in my bed, and his warmth was gone, and I woke up with a start, grasping onto the hem of his shirt before he got too far away. He stopped, and turned around to look at me again, and I rubbed at my blurry eyes.

"Where are you going?" I managed to mumble in a sleepy voice, my panic starting to wake me up.

It took him a minute to answer, and his voice was hesitant, maybe reluctant, and came out as more of a question than a statement. "The couch?"

I smiled up at him, nervously and hopefully, glad that the room was dark so he couldn't see my burning face. I moved further away, making room for him suggestively, and my pulse was pounding in my ears as I waited.

"Are you sure?" He asked worriedly.

"I trust you," I whispered truthfully, my heart sinking as he watched me thoughtfully. Maybe I'd made him uncomfortable? Maybe he didn't like sleeping in the same bed as someone else, I knew I had never wanted to before now. Before I could panic though, he simply pulled off his shirt, making my heart race for a completely different reason.

Jesus. I had seen his stomach a few times, but it never ceased to amaze me. I really wanted to trace down the hard ripple of muscle there, but I stayed perfectly still as he slid into my bed with me.

I didn't know what to do anymore. I had a man, my boyfriend, in my bed. It only freaked me out a little, but I wasn't sure what I should do next. He seemed to be thinking the same thing, I could see it in his eyes as we merely lay there, watching each other. After a few minutes though, he shifted more onto his back, lifting his arm in invitation, and I didn't hesitate for a second in curling up against him. His arm wrapped securely around me, keeping me close, and I hesitantly rested my head on his chest, trying to repress a giddy smile.

I relaxed instantly. Feeling his warm skin, the faint scent of his cologne, having his strong arm wrapped around me, and hearing his heart beating against his chest, it was impossible not to be relaxed.

I wasn't tired, but I was beyond comfortable.

"Good night, Bella," he said softly, making me smile just for the fact that he wasn't saying this at my door.

"Good night," I whispered back quietly, knowing I wouldn't sleep but never wanting to leave the safe haven I was in at the moment.

. . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for reading! And a big thank-you for all of the supportive reviews on the last chapter, I appreciate how understanding you guys are. And I always love hearing from you guys, so please leave a review!

And please don't hate me, but I'm going to start posting another story soon. Keep an eye out for "Break My Silence." I'll continue updating this story, don't worry, but I still can't give y'all an update schedule. Take care lovelies!