A/N: Thank you for your patience! Let's get on with it.
Santiago sat across from him, staring with a strange look on his face. Edward's skin crawled, and he squirmed in his seat. He huffed and set down his beer. "Would you stop looking at me like that? Laugh at me if you're going to laugh at me, but don't look at me like that. It's making me feel like you finally realized you lost your chance with me."
"Hah." Santiago shook his head. "Like I want a piece of that pie." He jabbed a finger in Edward's direction. "This whole story between you and this woman? This is soap opera. She's going to end up being your sister; I can feel it. Your father had some torrid affair, and both his children got his brilliant, surgeon's mind."
Edward rolled his eyes. "She's not my sister."
"Well, at least you have that going for you."
A few beats passed in silence between them before Edward chuckled. "What's so funny?" Santiago asked.
"I'm just laughing at myself. I'm actually waiting for you to tell me I'm being an idiot. Or selfish. Or entitled. Or pushy."
"You're all of those things."
Edward arched an eyebrow. "But?"
Santiago leaned back in his chair, considering Edward over a long pull from his beer. "But, this thing is has lasted well over a decade. It's driving me so crazy that it's not even funny anymore. You have to do something."
"This is what I've been trying to say, and I get told I think I know what's best for everyone."
There it was. That was what made Santiago laugh at him. His friend grinned wide as he chuckled and shook his head. "You really don't get it, do you? Edward, you and this woman had the exact same problem. She, being an adult more than capable of taking care of herself, decided she was going to simply live with the unbearable agony of being in love with you. You, however, are the kind of kid who always picked at your scabs. I'll give you credit for leaving her alone after her husband died on your table, but the second she was within reach, you were on her like a tick on a dog. Now, the scab's been ripped open, and blood is gushing everywhere, so of course you have to deal with it."
Edward grimaced. "Thank you for that beautiful image."
Santiago looked way too amused with himself. "There's nothing beautiful about this, my man. Your Bella was right about a lot of things. People rhapsodize about the glory of love and all that and conveniently forget about the ugly. When you give someone that kind of importance in your life, a little ugliness is inevitable. A lot of ugliness shouldn't be as unexpected as it is. Love ain't as magical as fiction would lead us to believe. This whole thing going on between the two of you, because you're head-over-heels in love with each other, isn't pretty."
His expression softened, and he looked contemplative. "You're a pushy asshole. There's no two ways about that. But she's no innocent princess, and you're right about one thing, Eddo. She never has told you no. She's never told you to your face to fuck off, even if her actions seem to speak louder than her words. You dragged her off the edge of a cliff, but now that you're in a free fall…" He shrugged. "Maybe you can get to the pretty stuff. Maybe this is the last thing Bella wanted—to be in love—but all of us have been dragged down roads we didn't intend to travel, and good things happen because we were forced down that road."
He shook his head, waving his hand around. "This is getting too navel-gazey for me. Bottom line? The Beatles were full of shit, my friend. Love isn't all you need. But, at this point, it at least warrants a conversation."
Edward was just as much of a scientist as Bella. He liked rationality and order. He liked the fact that, most of the time, the human body worked exactly as it was programmed to do.
But Edward was also fond of a quote by Douglas Adams. "...a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting."
He couldn't ignore the presence of mysticism in his life. Like any doctor, he'd had his share of patients with stories he couldn't quite explain.
And love. The one thing about love people seemed to agree on was that it couldn't be helped. Love was blind. Love wasn't a choice. People fell in love with the wrong person all the time. Criminals. Abusers. Hell, even Hitler had found someone to marry him.
Edward was in love with Bella. To him, it was the most obvious thing in the world to want to see that through, wherever it ended. A chance. All he wanted was a chance. And maybe that was stupid, given the circumstances. But it wasn't as though he had anything to lose. On the contrary, if he didn't settle this thing between them, he was pretty sure he was going to lose his mind.
He supposed, at his core, he was a romantic. He believed in fate and soul mates.
He believed there had to be a reason why, as he was roaming downtown on a random street on a random afternoon, he spotted none other than the object of his affection sitting in front of a coffee house alone. He believed there had to be a reason that, when he spotted her, he just happened to be standing next to a flower shop. Someone was trying to tell him something, even if it didn't quite make any sense.
Not giving himself a chance to think too hard, Edward did a quick tour around the florist's. He chose a single stargazer-lily, because it was big and ostentatious but not as cliche as a rose. Guaranteed Bella wasn't the type of woman to be impressed by flowers anyway. He just wanted to catch her off guard.
Flower in hand, Edward crossed the street. Luckily, Bella was engrossed in her reading. She cut a pretty picture, with a pair of dark glasses perched on the tip of her nose, her lips pursed in reaction to whatever she was reading. Not a medical thing, judging by the size of the book. Fiction then.
"Reading something risque in public, Bella?" he asked, dropping into the seat across from her.
She jumped, making a strangled yelping noise as she dropped the book on the table. Her eyes went wide and then narrowed in a look he was intimately familiar with. Just as she opened her mouth, he proffered her the flower. "Just for the record, I'm not stalking you."
Her gaze darted around. Checking that no one had heard him, no doubt. Edward continued while he had the upper hand in the conversation. "I saw you completely by chance and decided to come say hello." He had to give the inside of his cheek a sharp bite to keep from laughing. She was staring at him now like he had grown a second head, which he supposed was a rational reaction. They hadn't really interacted since he'd kissed her—soft and sweet—in his hotel room about five days before. "I come bearing gifts." He shook the lily invitingly. "Well. Gift. Singular."
The look in her eyes had turned cautious. She looked quickly at the lily and back to him as though she was afraid if she took her eyes off him, he'd attack. "You're not stalking me?"
He set the lily down in front of her and folded his arms on the table. "I've never lied to you. I don't see a reason to start now."
"And you had a flower just by chance."
"No." His lip twitched. "When I saw you, I went into that flower shop." He pointed across the way.
"And you bought it for me."
She arched an eyebrow, her expression comically dubious. "Because?"
Edward took a deep breath. Here went nothing. "Because it's the kind of thing a guy does when he wants a woman to say yes to a date."
Silence fell down between them like an anvil. He swore she'd stopped breathing. Hell, he wasn't sure he was breathing. It was all he could do to keep the serene smile on his face.
"You're fucking with me," she said after an age.
He bit the inside of his cheek. Why he found the fury on her face so amusing he had no idea. He knew he couldn't smile. She'd kill him. "I'm not fucking with you. Well. At least not unless the date goes really well."
To his immense satisfaction, Bella turned scarlet. She scowled at him, rubbing the back of her neck. "A date," she muttered under her breath.
And, true to form, she hadn't said no. "I know you understand the concept. You went on more than one date with Benjamin." He worked very hard not to clench his teeth at the name.
Her eyes narrowed again, any remaining shock disappearing. "Benjamin is charming."
"So am I."
She scoffed. Again, Edward had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing. Instead, he tilted his head, locking gazes with her as he leaned forward with his arms on the table. She sucked in a breath, looking a little stunned as he got closer. "Believe me, Bella. On a date, I'm very charming."
She narrowed her eyes, but before she could snap back at him, he sat up straight and continued talking. "I'm in love with you. You think I haven't tried to shake it?" He gave a wry huff, ducking his head. "I can't shake what I feel any more than you can. It hasn't gone away in all these years. It didn't go away even when you had every reason to hate me. It's not what you want. And, you know, it'd be a lot better for my self-esteem if the women I asked out were actually enthusiastic or at least a little intrigued." He gave a faux-dramatic sigh. "If we're both going to go through the torture of being in love with each other, don't you think we should be able to enjoy the perks?"
"What were the perks of going out with Benjamin?"
Her features twisted, but before she could yell at him, he held up his hands. "Sorry. Let me try that again." He'd been doing well, he thought. Regroup, Cullen. "What are the perks of a date? Since I'm the one asking, I get to work my ass off trying to impress you. You look fantastic in a dress."
"Now you're telling me how I have to dress?" She crossed her arms over her chest, but her look wasn't as severe as it could have been.
He flashed her a disarming grin. "Wear old jeans. You'll look fantastic regardless."
Her cheeks tinged pink, and he took it as a good sign that she didn't immediately argue. "I know romance isn't your thing, Bella, but it's not exactly torture. Let me take you out. I'll show you a good time. Something fun." He tilted his head. "I'll treat you like a queen, if you'll let me. With respect, regardless. This would be a real first date. I won't assume anything. I know I've been, ah… handsy."
She scoffed. "Handsy? Is that what you're calling it?" Again, her words weren't furious. She seemed, if anything, wary. Vulnerable. But her body language wasn't closed. Her hands were up on the table, cradling a cup of coffee. She was more than capable of getting up and storming away, but she hadn't.
He pressed his lips together, considering his words carefully. "You said this thing between us makes you tired. I get that. It's intense. Different than anything I've felt for another person, and I've rarely handled that in anything approaching the right way." He ducked his head, catching her gaze again. "I'm sorry. For grabbing you. For chasing you." He grimaced. Saying those words out loud really did sound horrible. "For kissing you when I knew damn well it wasn't what you wanted. I'm not offering you excuses. What I'm saying is that if you do consider what I'm asking, I'm not going to push you. I can be a gentleman."
She studied him, searching his eyes. "You really want this. After everything." It wasn't a question.
He smiled and folded his hands on the table, close to her but not touching—a moment of almost-intimacy. "My father always taught me to do the best I could with the hand I was dealt." He pretended to sigh, looking her over with mock-gravity. "Even if it's a terrible hand."
She laughed. It was a choked sound, but her eyes sparked as she shook her head. "You're awful."
"I'm an arrogant ass. You're a vicious, though brilliant harpy. We already know these things about each other, and that's a perk too. We can only go up from here." He flashed his largest grin and waggled his eyebrows.
Then, he put on a more serious face. "We make as much sense as we don't make any sense. It's like a fifty-fifty split. All the things you said about how hard it would be to find someone compatible with you? I am. We're in the same profession, at the same level, so you won't make more money than me. I'm more than familiar with the work you do, so I can't hold that against you. I admire the hell out of you, Bella. Believe it or not, I always have.
"You said that love is a distraction, and it's destructive. And it makes you do crazy things. You're right, but we've been dealing with all of that already, without the—"
"Perks?" she offered, a tiny smile playing at the edge of her mouth.
"It makes sense. Tell me it doesn't."
She bit her bottom lip to cover the smile that was threatening to grow wider and stared at him, shaking her head. "You're trying to logic me into a relationship."
"Into a date. Just a date." He reached a single finger out, tapping her knuckle twice before pulling back. "Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a date with me would be tantamount to ritual torture."
"There you go again. Full of self-importance as usual." She was clearly teasing this time. "A date with you is maybe slight torture. A little bit of torture."
"Just the tip?"
She rolled her eyes so hard he was surprised they didn't fall out of her head. But then, she took a deep breath. Her eyes were on the table, focused on the tiny space between their fingers. She laughed without humor. "This is fucking surreal."
"A little," he agreed.
She took another deep breath and her eyes flicked up to his. "Okay," she said, more timid than he'd ever heard her.
His heartbeat picked up speed, and he felt a giddy rush like he was some fucking school boy. "Yeah?"
"I was looking for alternatives to murdering you anyway. Though you might just be making it easier for me."
"A date where my survival isn't guaranteed? Sounds like fun."
She shook her head, but she smiled. "Get out of my face, Cullen, before I come to my senses."
He stood up. She tilted her head up, her eyes still on him, and he had the overwhelming urge to kiss her. Just a little kiss. Innocent and slow.
Instead, he started moving. He risked a glance back when he was halfway down the block, just in time to see her lift the lily to her nose. He let himself grin like a fool as he walked away with a new jaunt in his step.
What a weird life.
A/N: Will this work? O.o