A/N: Here we go, my friends, on another journey. Based on the Tidbit requested by Shahula. Everyone and their mother requested more of Coward and Nerdella, so here we go. Many thanks for the brilliant title goes to Love Potions Brewer.
It was hecka early.
Bella preferred to think of the time from four to five-thirty in the morning as a paradox. She typically refused to acknowledge they existed unless she hadn't been to bed yet. They were definitely not numbers she liked to see on her alarm. Ever.
She tightened her sweater around her, warding against the chill of the morning as she stumbled blearily down the street. She dug through her pocket and dragged out her phone. It took her a minute to concentrate. She only had to wake up enough to do a quick tidbit. Checking her image on the screen, she adjusted her glasses, brushed her hair out of her eyes, and flicked the record button.
"Do you see this?" Bella pointed her phone's camera at the sky before she turned it back to face her. "This is dark enough to be considered still nighttime. Why, Bella? Why are you awake, ready-and I use that term very loosely-to face a full day before the sun has bothered to amble its ass up into the sky? Because I'm a nerd.
"Not only am I a nerd, I'm a mega-nerd. My nerdom conflicts with my fervent desire to be curled into a cat-like shape on my comfortable bed with my fuck-awesome, memory foam mattress, under my Marauder's Map comforter with my furry, also-warm baby puppy curled up all sweet beside me." She sighed, glancing at the camera with an expression of deep woe. "My being a nerd means I'm on much more familiar, though never friendly, terms with four and five in the morning than I ever wanted to be. But why, Bella? What does your enjoyment of and fascination with nerd culture have to do with how early you get up? Aren't you, as a nerd, more likely to sleep in because you were out so late at midnight premieres or binge-watching The X-Files on a whim?
"No. For one simple word: conventions. It's convention time again. I'm super excited," she deadpanned. "No. For realsies. I am." She came to a stop on the sidewalk, yawning. "You know by now what it takes to activate the Bella-bot." She turned her phone so it faced the shop she was outside of, making a ta-dah trumpeting noise. She turned the phone back to her. "Time to tithe to the Starbucks gods. I'll be back when restorative coffee has made me human again."
She switched off the video, shoved her phone in her pocket, and allowed her mind to go back onto auto-pilot. She'd used up her allotment of brain power until the more reasonable hour of eight a.m., and that was pushing it.
Fucking conventions. And fuck the people who still thought nerds lived in their Mom's basement, woke up at one in the afternoon, and stumbled to their couch to play video games. This was the antithesis of lazy.
Once she had arrived at her first of what promised to be many lines of the day, Bella took her heavy bag off, setting it on the floor. She opened the pack and rummaged, making sure she had all she needed-laptop, signable merch, chargers, portable chargers, Kindle, signal booster for her phone, mobile hotspot-for the umpteenth time. As a professional nerd, she was prepared for anything convention day would throw at her. No cosplay this time around, so at least she didn't have to think about that.
Now, her one and only goal was coffee. Not a foo-foo la-la drink that had a drop of espresso in it that masqueraded as coffee in Starbucks. Coffee. Venti with two pumps hazelnut.
"Real coffee," Bella muttered under her breath and nodded. She could add the cream and sugar herself.
"Did you say something?"
Bella jumped, startled by the disembodied voice closer to her than random background conversation allowed. She craned her head.
Oh. No. Not a disembodied voice. The voice was very much embodied. It was a nice body. At least, it was a nice chest. Guy chest. Muscular. The kind of curves that felt good under her hands. She looked up.
"Whoa," she said.
What? It was early. And his eyes were green. Jade and alive. As she blinked up at him, his lips tugged up at one corner, drawing her attention there. Full lips. A bit chapped, but-
He cleared his throat. Bella blinked and looked back up at his eyes. "What?" she said. Her brain was just not working yet.
Right. Staring wasn't socially acceptable behavior. She knew that.
Fuck you. Anything short of murder and molestation is socially acceptable behavior at five in the morning, when I've already been up an hour.
She blinked at Mr. Nice Eyes again. "What?"
He chuckled. "You need coffee."
She looked around, double-checking that she hadn't wandered somewhere she wasn't supposed to be. "I heard they sell that here."
"You might be on to something."
As the guy spoke, he scratched his neck, tugging at the collar of his shirt.
Bella gasped. "No way. Is that a Star Wars tattoo?"
She froze, mortified. There was so much wrong with that simple sentence. First of all, she knew damn well most if not all of the people in Starbucks at this ungodly hour of the not-quite-morning were probably going to the convention. Of course it was a Star Wars tattoo. It wasn't as though there was going to be a lack of nerdy tattoos around.
Secondly, and much worse, was the fact that Bella had yanked down the collar of this total stranger's shirt to expose his ink. Her sleep-addled brain had been two seconds too slow to remind her that wasn't acceptable behavior
"Sorry," she said, giggling nervously as she drew her hand back as if scalded. Then she groaned, realizing for the first time the guy's shirt was dark blue and adorned familiar buttons and markings. He was a cop. "I'm sorry, sir. I mean officer. I mean sir." She tapped on his nameplate. "Officer Cullen." Realizing she was still tapping, she tucked her hands under her arms and squinted at him. "This is how people get thrown in jail for assaulting an officer, isn't it?"
He raised both eyebrows, his lips twitching, but he didn't answer. Bella, cheeks flaming, forced herself to turn around to face front. "Okay. Shutting up now."
She heard a rustle and swore she could feel the heat of a body close to hers. "It is, in fact, a Star Wars tattoo," he said, his voice, soft and rumbling near her ear, sending a delightful shiver down her spine.
Bella twisted around and was struck again. Good lord, he did have a nice face. His eyes seemed darker now, dancing-teasing, way more awake than she was. His smile hinted at mischief. She licked her lips.
Remembering suddenly they weren't the only two people on the planet, Bella stumbled forward. She tried to remember what the hell she was doing. Christ, she needed coffee.
Oh, right. Coffee.
"Venti coffee. Two pumps hazelnut," she said by rote.
"Room for cream?"
"No." They always left too much room for cream if she let them. Bella needed all the coffee she could get.
The barista scanned her app for payment, and Bella stepped off to the side. "Crap," she said under her breath, realizing she hadn't been prepared after all. She noted Officer Bedroom Eyes watching her with bemusement as he stepped up to give his order. "I need to tip her better than the app lets me," she explained though no one had asked. She finally got a hold of her wallet. "They deserve bookoo bucks for having to put up with people's neurotic coffee orders this early in the morning. People are bastards."
He arched an eyebrow, his eyes on her even as he gave his order to the barista. "Trente passion tea with three pumps classic syrup, sub apple juice instead of water."
Bella's cheeks flamed. She pressed her lips together-she wouldn't have known what to say after putting her foot that far in her mouth even if she was wide awake-shoved a five dollar bill in the barista's tip jar, grabbed the coffee she proffered, and hurried off to the side.
She tried to concentrate on preparing her coffee, lamenting once again about why the hell she had to be up so early. Why couldn't they sell convention seating like concert tickets? She would rather pay an exorbitant fee for a better seat than suffer indignities like this because she had to be up at the ass crack of dawn.
A shape leaned up against the wall, facing Bella. It was the cop, waiting for his horrible order.
Yeah, she didn't care how hot he was. That order would have made her want to punch him in the face if she was a barista. That was why she tipped them so well, though. The girl had taken it like a champ.
The cop was also looking at her. She could feel his eyes on her and couldn't help but look up. His grin now was crooked, and that gave her pleasant tinglies. "I have others, you know."
She cocked her head, pushing her glasses up her nose. "What?"
"Tattoos." He pushed off the wall, closing the scant distance between them under the guise of making room for another man. "I have others."
Bella stirred her coffee, trying to process. She cast a furtive glance up at the cop. "You know, if I ask you where the other ones are, and you arrest me for harassment, that'd be entrapment."
He laughed. "Can't get anything past you."
"I'm clever that way," she said, snapping the lid of her coffee back on.
He ducked his head, again speaking into her ear so she felt his voice like a vibration against her skin. "I'd tell you, but they're in third date kind of places." He pulled back, his eyes on hers.
Her heart skipped a beat. It took a considerable amount of willpower to school her features. "Popular theory suggests to secure a third date, you first have to secure a first date."
First, first? What the fuck, Bella.
He turned briefly to the counter to collect his drink from the barista and turned back, grinning at Bella. "Are you free tonight?"
It was distinctly possible she wasn't-the convention was rarely over when the doors closed for the day-but at that point, she didn't care. "I think I can arrange that." She ducked down, opening the front pocket of her bag and taking out a set of Sharpies.
The cop chuckled. "You're prepared."
She tilted her head so she could eye him from behind her glasses. "They're for autographs. You know there are famous people right over there, right?" She gestured in the vague direction of the convention center.
He leaned in, his fingertips brushing her side as he spoke. "Can I have your autograph?"
Fuck, her nipples were hard. She had to swallow down a whimper. Her eyes still on him, she reached out and grabbed his drink, glad it was icy to the touch. She broke his stare long enough to scrawl Jedi Bella Swan on his cup, and then her number.
"May the Force be with you," she said, handing his cup back.
And then she got the hell out of Dodge.
Once outside, when the cold air cooled her overheated skin and she could think as clearly as was possible at five fifteen in the morning, she dug her phone out of her pocket. She had a text message from a number she didn't recognize.
Padawan Officer Edward Cullen, by the way. Nice to meet you, Bella Swan.
Bella gave a little squeak and quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard her. She flipped her camera on and pressed record. "Guys, I've found something much better than coffee to wake you up in the morning."
A/N: Many thanks to JessyPt, Songster, barburella, MoH, and Packy for making my docs a wonderful, colorful place.
Well, what are we thinking, kiddos?