a/n: So if you're still reading this, you're fantabulous, and I'm your h00r 4 life. As you may know, this story is the first attempt I've ever made to write (beside poetry), and I've had my first taste of writer's block. Hope you like.

Thanks to Viola Cornuta for making my words better and Windycitywonder for pre-reading and general fuckawesomeness. Operation more WIN, less FAIL accomplished something.

disclaimer: These characters aren't mine. The plot and the dog are.


I sat.

And sat.

The line where light met shadow crept slowly across my wall.

Eventually I remembered something from the whirlwind of a late morning I had and dug my hand into my pocket, fishing for my phone. My fingers fumbled and stuttered on the buttons as I scrolled through my contact list. I spent a panicked minute looking for a last name I wasn't sure I remembered.



No Swan.

She hadn't put her number in my phone.

My shoulders slumped in sadness. I wasn't surprised, just disappointed. I continued scrolling through my meager contact list one person at a time. I hadn't spoken to most of these people in at least six months. I contemplated deleting them all. Jasper's name, filed under Whitlock at the end of the list, reminded me there were some people I cared to know. Some people who cared to know me. My address book scrolled around to the beginning, and after the one name filed under A, there it was.

The most beautiful name. Ever.


Just Bella.

She must've thought I might have forgotten her last name.

Silly, beautiful, amazing girl. She was written on my soul whether I wanted her there or not. My subconscious had already memorized everything about her.

I could draw her skin in a map of freckles or write her eyes in haiku.

I composed her breaths across my skin into chords of warmth and grace and sweet.

And her.

I felt another unfamiliar swell in my chest, and I moved to push the button. I wanted to call her. I had a vision of a hot phone pressed to my ear, radiating against my cheek, as I joked, wooed, teased. She laughed, sighed, giggled. I heard her smile through the phone, and my whole body flushed hotter than my heated ear and cheek.

My skin was resting against the button, and reality smacked me across the face, unkindly.

I was not funny nor smooth nor sweet. I did not woo. I did awkward silences and painful stammers. She would not be amused, she would be disenchanted. Which I knew would happen anyway, but I didn't want to hurl myself head first into her letdown.

I couldn't not call her. After the elevator, I wanted . . . constant contact.

I wanted to feel myself wrapped in her warm slickness, and if that wasn't possible, I wanted to touch her soft ivory skin.

If not that, then near enough to taste her breath in the air.

And if nothing else, I wanted her voice.

I could call and stick to questions, so she would talk to me.

The light in my apartment shifted to darker and deeper shades of gray, and I sat, finger just pressed to the button. Occasionally, the screen on my phone would time out. I religiously pushed a button every time to return it to life. When I finally realized how late it was, I bolted upright from the bench.

Skittering tingles pulsed down my legs; I'd been still for too long.

I gave her name one last glance and set the phone on the piano.

I would call her.

I would.

First I had to clean the kitchen and maybe the bathroom, and there was definitely some laundry I needed to do.

And then, then I would call Bella.

I moved quickly around the room, choosing good music for cleaning and changing my clothes.

Near dawn, after hours of frantic cleaning, even by my standards, and possible brain damage from unventilated, small spaces filled with harsh chemicals, I'd collapsed onto my couch.

I heard the rattle against the top of the piano before my brain was fully awake. My eyelids were sticky and gritty at the same time, so I kept them closed. The pillow under my face didn't feel right as I rubbed my cheek into the fabric. I stretched my body out, amused I was on my stomach; I always woke up on my back. As my limbs stretched out, I felt around and realized I was on my couch.

I must have been delirious last night . . . this morning, whatever.

I recalled what had woken me in the first place and stiffly shifted my body off the cushions. Staggering robotically towards my piano, I worked to open my eyes. The phone was where I'd left it, and I looked at the screen curiously.

For the first time in longer than I could remember, the idea of someone calling me wasn't partnered with dread. I knew it wasn't likely Bella had my number, but what if she did? The now familiar swell pushed against my ribs and insinuated itself in my stomach. My shoulders dropped as I saw the name on the screen, marking my missed call. Sighing, I redialed.

"Edward?" His voice sounded pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, I usually avoided him as if he were a bubonic rat.

"Hey man. You called?" I couldn't help the smile smeared across my face, and I was sure he heard it too.

"Uh . . . yeah . . . um, I was calling to check on you, but I don't really know what to say now," he stammered. Obviously, he'd been caught off guard by my chipper tone.

"I'm okay, I guess." As soon as I started to reply, I realized why I was so happy. I quickly redirected by asking him about his new girlfriend. "So, how's Alice?" He couldn't resist talking about her.

"She's good . . ." He paused. "Have you seen Bella lately?" His voice pitched up suspiciously, and my gut started a threatening swirl.

"Well . . . I, uh, yeah. I saw her yesterday." I gripped my hair nervously with my free hand. "Why?"

"Oh, no reason. Have you talked to her since?" His voice was now trapped in an unnaturally high register.

I groaned despondently. "Oh my God. She told you?" The words were almost a whisper, but I heard them as if I were listening at a wooden door with a glass tumbler. Muffled and distant.

A nervous chuckle hiccuped through the phone at me, and then Jasper fell too silent for too long.

"Seriously, Jas?!"

"Look, Edward, don't be mad. Bella didn't exactly tell us . . . Alice has some sort of witchy voodoo magical powers, and she just knows this sort of shit. She took one look at Bella and just blurted it out." He had entirely too much pride warming his voice as I processed the utter embarrassment which infused me at the thought of Bella, Alice and Jasper discussing my lack of sexual prowess over coffee.

Well, Bella would be drinking tea. Probably Earl Gray. I could remember the citrusy smell of Bergamot blending with her scent. Summer and waterfalls and sunshine.

And light.

"Edward?" I was swimming in a memory of her breath and skin dissolving truths into my flesh. My soul. My heart.


"I'm here Jas. Sorry, I'm here." I let a gust of air flow out of my chest across the receiver, hoping it would be amplified for him. I wanted to turn my confusion into an audible sound. I wanted it to resonate and echo around me like the somatic thrum of a giant bell ringing through my muscles, my bones.

I wanted her. I wanted her so badly I ached. I knew now I couldn't ignore the pull I felt towards her, but I still wasn't sure what I could do about it.

The last six months hadn't changed. I hadn't changed.

But things, things had changed.

"I . . . I don't know what to do." My voice was desperate and needy and begging. I needed someone to tell me. Tell me what happened next. Tell me because I didn't know where to begin.

"Well, man, you should probably start by calling her. You do have her number don't you?" Jasper, as always, took me seriously when others would have laughed or mocked. Probably both.

"Yeah. Yeah, she put it in my phone under Bella." I didn't know why I felt the need to mention that. I was a child in my own head. Random phrases I'd heard linking together without thought. This time Jasper did laugh lightly.

"Her last name is Swan. That must be driving you nuts." His breath was airy with his chuckles, but it wasn't hurtful. The sound was optimistic and infusing. I huffed at him anyway. It was to be expected.

"I know her last name. Thank you," I snapped without anger. He was right, and I was predictable. After a moment of silence on my part and breath hitched with humor on his, I conceded some of the amusement in my quirky predictability and laughed with him.

"Really though, Edward, you need to call her. It was pretty brave of her not to push you for something. Soon you're gonna have to give her something back. She's not as carefree and confident as she seems." I could hear the genuine concern in Jasper's tone, and in a moment of self-effacing insight so unlike me, I realized he had a gift for compassion, empathy. He could accept a person as-is, know their weaknesses and worries, and love them for it. In that moment I understood my best friend.

I didn't, however, understand what he wanted me to do.

"I know I should call her. I just don't know what happens after she answers the phone. Even if she doesn't answer . . . ." My whole body shuddered at the thought. "What if I have to leave a message? Oh my God!"

"Dude. Calm down," Jasper interrupted. "Just start out by getting to know her. I don't know, ask her questions."

I scoffed. "You think I haven't thought of that? All I've ever done is ask her questions. I don't know what else to do."

"Have you tried telling her about yourself? Why not try that?" He chuckled lightly again.

The suggestion alone added a new nauseating swish to my gut; the room tilted. " I don't know if I can. I sort of feel like I'm going to pass out." I choked through a strangling constriction in my throat.

"I'll be there in a few. Take a shower, and try to calm the fuck down." With that, he hung up.

I set the phone down and took his advice. My muscles were stiff, rigid from sleeping anxiously. The steam helped me slow my hysterical breathing, the hot water dissolving tense ache into a residual soreness. My skin burned with a flush; heat which paled in comparison to Bella's skin on mine, my skin in her. Belatedly, I regretted washing her from me, scalding away a memory I couldn't stand to lose. The lingering scents of summer and sweetness dissolved in the soapy water circling my drain while I was enveloped in the wistfully familiar smell of sandalwood. I finally turned the water off when my fingers puckered. After the water was only a drippy reminder, I watched the drops slowly roll down the tile. Still drops started to slide slowly, merge with others, gain momentum. Eventually they were all running recklessly together, recklessly down.

When a cold shiver raised the hair on my arms, I reached for a towel to wipe away the wet. I quickly pulled on jeans and a t-shirt and padded lazily down the hall on bare feet.

I wasn't surprised to see Jasper lounging on the couch, but I was surprised I wasn't bothered this time by his misuse of the key I'd given him. He tilted his head to me, smirking.

"Well don't you look fresh and pretty? Go put on some shoes; we're leaving." It wasn't a question; I was beyond argument. A full, comfortable feeling settled low in my stomach, stilling the flip-flops which had been nearly constant since the day before. Having a friend there, not being alone, was more relieving than I would have guessed. I was so desperate to keep the calm stability in my gut, so desperate to have my friend in that moment, I would do whatever he asked. I needed answers and I hoped, prayed Jasper could help me find them.

When I met him at the door, he clapped my shoulder with a bolstering hand, and his cheerful grin was contagious.

"Where are we going?" I asked through my smile. "Somewhere we can talk for a minute, I hope. I really need some advice."

"I gave you advice, Edward." He smiled infuriatingly. Not ready to start an argument or turn away company I so needed, I let his annoying easiness slide.

"Okay, then where are we going?"

"Don't worry about it. Just this once can you come along for the ride?"

I thought about it. Really thought about it. I wasn't sure if I could. I knew his question wasn't rhetorical as much as I knew he wasn't sure what I'd say. I thought about turning around and flopping on the couch. I thought about three hours from now when I would sit staring at my phone again, still too afraid, too unsure to dial her name. Bella, just Bella.

I thought about it.

The thought of being alone again, not having the new comfort I found in my friendship, not knowing how to progress anything with her . . .

The memory of dizzying loneliness, nauseating uncertainty propelled me blindly into whatever he had planned.

We stepped into the elevator.

I twitched and fidgeted.

We got into Jasper's car.

I huffed and sighed.

I shoved my fingers into my hair, twisted, pulled.

Jasper gave me a sidelong glance under a raised eyebrow.

"We're going to get something to eat. Calm down." His words were innocuous, neutral, but his sly smirk was a contradiction.

I alternated sucking in tight gasps of air, holding them deep until my chest burned, and pulling at my hair in handfuls. I could feel Jasper's glances, his grin; it only made me more uneasy.

If I'd taken a moment, a second, to consider Jasper's new favorite restaurant of late, I would have entered a full blown panic attack immediately. As it was, I felt uncommonly calm when we parked in front of The Garlic Clove. He turned slowly to face me, looking prepared to protect his face in the event of my attack.

"Maybe talking to her in person will be easier?" He shrugged.

"I highly doubt it. Maybe she's not here." I let my hopes inflate to the size of my cowardice until I saw the guilty gleam in Jasper's eye. "Of course she's here. Of course you would know that. And of course this is intentional. Thanks. You know, the underside of this bus is quite spacious. Maybe you can share it with me sometime soon." I scowled juvenilely.

"Oh stop it. You needed a shove. You always need a shove, and I'll not have you blowing that lovable girl off with not even a word because you lack bravery." He shoved my arm solidly, bumping me into the car door, to emphasize his feelings about the matter.

"So now I'm a coward?" I asked through narrowed eyes.

"You know you are."

"And you're just going to decide what's best for me?"

"You know I will, but only until you stop fighting what you want."

I couldn't argue with him, couldn't deny how much I wanted her. He knew it. Jasper always knew when it came to me.

We went inside and were seated quickly. Alice sauntered over to our table with nervous glances for me and eyes which spoke volumes for Jas. She immediately sat on his lap, tousling his hair.

"Well, hello darlin'," I could tell it was going to be thick tonight, but then I noticed Alice's frown.

"Jasper, dear," she started patiently, "I know you are, in fact, Southern, but I also know you don't drop those 'g's quite as much when I'm not around. You don't have to make an effort to speak around me. If I want the cowboy, I'll pull him out of you . . . most likely, in the bedroom." She winked at me, and I was sure I was tomato red or puce green, nausea warring with embarrassment. "Oh, and honey, if you aren't going to call me Sweetness, then Alice will do just fine."

I tried my very hardest, knowing Jasper had intentionally brought me here, not to laugh. I failed miserably. Jasper developed a sheepish grin and murmured something into her ear. The comfortable cuteness was reaching toxic levels and demonstrating for me all of the ways I failed with Bella. Even the effort I'd put forth was backward, convoluted, and I could only imagine how confused I'd left her. I felt horrible. I stood abruptly, scraping my chair across the floor, and headed for the restroom.

"Edward, what do you want to eat?" Alice asked as I escaped. "The usual?" I nodded to her without turning to face her though I had only been here once and had no idea what the usual might be.

I closed my eyes as I stumbled down the empty hall toward what would normally be my biggest fear but now offered a safe haven. A public restroom. I collided with her scent before my body slammed into hers, but I had no time to stop myself. I didn't want to either.

God she was warm.

A little too late for necessity, my hands groped forward to avoid knocking her backward. I waited for a reaction from her, surprise or an exclamation, but nothing. My palms burned with suffusing heat, tingling in throbs and waves, a sensation I was half positive I'd created psychosomatically. A shiver danced down my spine, cold where I had once been comfortable, her heat showing my body what it could be. Should be.

Hesitantly, I cracked my eyes open to realize she was watching me, patiently.

"Edward." As usual, she said it with intention, and her lips began to turn up into a smile before she hastily rearranged her features into a serious mask. I felt my brows knit with confusion. What had I done to her that she was uncomfortable smiling at me? Why did I have to do everything wrong?

With trembling fingers I reached out, brushing the tips down her cheek, ghosting my thumb over her taut bottom lip. Her face relaxed under my skin, and my chest cracked with unfamiliar fullness as it seemed to do only for her. My touch softened her lip, inspired her eyelids to slip closed as she tipped her cheek toward my hand.

A giddy sound chortled out of my throat before I could mask it, suppress it. I squeezed my eyes tight, embarrassment flooding superfluous heat through my limbs, my face, my fingers. A low giggle swirled out and around me, tickling my ears with a sound to match the delicious scent permeating the air surrounding her.

"Edward?" She whispered it as if she would interrupt my thoughts.

I opened my eyes abruptly, finding hers and searching for something . . . anything. I had no idea what I was doing here besides humiliating myself. I watched her for a moment longer, frustration building tightly inside the pit of my stomach, behind my vision.

"Fuck me," I whispered, palming my face, hiding my eyes. "Let's talk."

Her eyebrows quirked with curiosity but also a hint of challenge.

"Sorry, what I meant was, can we talk?" This was going to be a disaster of epic proportions. I couldn't even talk to her about talking without screwing it up.

"Sure, come on." The answer was all smiles and twinkles and warm brown and flushed pink, and for a moment, I thought maybe I could do this. Do whatever would keep the glow on her face.

She was a few steps ahead of me, and I rushed to catch up, surely failing to join the coming conversation would not maintain the glow, the smiles. We passed through a door into an office featuring not quite enough space for the small couch which faced the desk. I walked directly into her as she turned to close the door behind me. Her effervescent giggle filled the space around me again and the intensity of her smiles, her flush, her warmth, her scent, her sound in this small enclosure was overwhelming. I was glad I hadn't eaten yet when my nerves began to conspire with the fullness in my chest.

"Do you typically collide with everything?" Her hands gripped my elbows firmly and she walked me backward. "I mean, I do. Collide with everything." My calves stopped at the couch, and I moved to sit as the pressure of her hands told me that was what she wanted. "We could be dangerous if we share that problem . . . I mean, if we're together, we could be hazardous . . ." She trailed off, her eyes piercing the floor. "Not that I'm assuming we're, I mean, not that we'll be . . ." I was tempted to let her struggle; she was beautiful. All nerves and flush and teeth cutting into lip.

"Shhh." I grabbed her hand, tugging her to the cushion beside me. Her hand tucked further into mine, and I kept it. "Bella, I think we need to talk about . . . this." The word was extremely inadequate.

"Yes. We do." Her tone was tight, and my gut clenched, bracing for what might come, what she had to say. "I don't know where to start though." She smiled with apology and reassurance.

There were so many things I needed to tell her, to say. So many swirls of thoughts I'd visited and revisited and worried. I opened my mouth to speak. Nothing came out. I didn't know where to start either. So I went with what was comfortable, what I'd done before.

"What do you want with me Bella?" I wasn't sure how she would comprehend my question. I hoped her response would help me understand what to address next.

"I'm not quite sure, honestly." Frustration clouded her eyes, and I was caught off guard as disappointment twisted my face. I hadn't realized how much I needed her to want me. Want me as I wanted her, with abandon and absurdity. Her face softened, her hand squeezing my fingers gently. "Right now, I want you Edward. I just don't know what to ask for. I feel as if you are so familiar yet completely alien to me. I feel like I will ask for things I shouldn't want yet, like I will skip important steps."

"I can't deny how much I want you, want to be with you, but I was serious when I told you I wasn't good for you and . . . and I guess I don't know how to reconcile that for myself." It was the truth. I felt split down the middle, my need for her and my need to give her better than me at war.

Her eyes hardened minutely. She studied my face. I waited. She bit her lip again. Her thoughts painted her features in twitches and quirks. I waited.

"Would you be able to tell me why you don't think you are good for me?" Her words were timid, her eyes pleading. She had no expectations. She waited. I thought about what I could tell her. She waited. Her permissiveness motivated me to speak.

"I told you yesterday. I watched you." I looked past her eyes, disgusted by my omissions.

"I sat outside your door," She blurted hastily.

"What?" How could she even think stopping in my hall at some point was similar to what I'd been doing? "I don't think you understand. I watched you . . . a lot. I sort of know your schedule . . ." I trailed into a barely audible whisper, the words catching my breath in fearful anticipation.

"I don't care about that. I would have been disappointed if I hadn't seen you every time I walked Jake." She blushed fast and red, and I imagined how hot the skin of her cheeks would feel under my lips.

"You don't understand," I growled quietly back, speaking to my palms as my face rested in my hands, my elbows on my knees.

"Then, explain it."

Squinting, my tongue froze, stuck in my mouth. The uneasy silence, for once in my life, was painful. The memories of her words and laugh mocked me with their comfort.

"Edward." I jumped at her sharpness. "Please look at me."

Breathing her in, I allowed my eyes to settle on hers. Golden brown painted with questions and clouded with exasperation. I drew in another slow, deep breath, attempting to steal confidence from the emptiness of invisible particles. The scents of summer and citrus and sunlight filled my chest to cracking with her, and though I felt no more confident, I knew I needed to keep this feeling, savor it tucked inside my chest. Anything she wanted from me, I would give if it awarded me with her presence.

"I watched you . . . and I think about you. Often." Her mouth opened to dismiss my words, but I squeezed her hand, begging for a moment to continue. A moment to hang myself with the truth of my depravity. She deserved better than me, and the only way she would believe me was through my honest disclosure. I wanted her to hate me for it, be disgusted, stop knocking on my door. I wanted her to want me anyway, tell me it didn't matter, never mattered. I sucked in a drowning breath and willed myself not to pass out. "When I think about you, when I imagine you, it's your body too."

"Okay, well, I think you're really attractive too, and I think about you often." she grew impossibly rosier. She struggled for a serious expression, but a smirk tickled the corner of her lips.

"Bella, I'm serious. I imagined you doing things . . . with me."

"What sorts of things?" She whispered hesitantly, nervously. And here it was. I would have to spill out my feeble pride at her feet, but she would see. She would see my flaws, my defects, all the horrible gaping fissures where other men were smooth, easy.

"I've im-imagined your hands, your mouth on me . . . I've imagined my fingers on . . . in you," I tapered off in a tiny whisper.

"Why is that wrong?"

My drifting gaze shot back to hers, shocked.

"Why is that wrong, Edward?" she asked again.

"I did things." This was my line, my limit. I couldn't explain to her what those thoughts did to my body. My skin recoiled from the mere idea of describing what my hands did in her proxy.

My stomach threatened to revolt, just as repulsed as I was with myself. No overbearing morality kept me from doing the things I'd done, but now I was too much of a coward to admit it to her. For her.

Her soft, curious eyes watched me patiently, and I felt the heat of my shame ignite. Uncomfortable flames glutted my limbs, my chest. And I burned. And burned. I burned until the sting of my guilt numbed along with every other nerve, and she had to know.

I met her eyes with mine, exuding all the confidence I didn't have, and I could only imagine the conflict she saw therein. Pleading. Half pleading for her hatred, harsh and final censure. Half pleading for her forgiveness, sweet and gentle absolution.

"Please?" It was a whisper, echoing silently in waves from her mouth, balmy air which tickled and soothed my burning skin, drawing me into her. Selfishly, I slid forward. Barely brushing them at first, I grazed her lips with mine. She leaned into me, and I was lost. In her fresh summer scent underlined with hints of warm tea and bergamot. In the crush of a willing kiss. In soft and pink. In eyes closed peacefully. In sooty lashes. In tiny flutters. I was lost. I let myself be lost. Lost in her.

I let myself because I was selfish. Because I wanted more and more and always more of her. Because she tasted like a happiness I'd never had. I let myself because I might not get to let myself with her again.

Finally, when I knew I'd taken too much, too much for what I had to say, I left my heart in her lap as I leaned away from her. My heart which fell through the hole she made in my chest. The space into which I stole her.

"Bella, for over seven months, I've watched you. I've sought you out just to be near you. To see you, to smell you, feel the warmth from your body. And every time, I went home and touched myself while wishing they were your hands, your mouth on me." Her eyes kept mine. Pretty, innocent eyes shifting by milliseconds with my revelation. I looked for fear. I wanted it because, fuck, if she shouldn't be afraid of someone who said what I'd just said to her.

Her indecipherable features shifted and melded until all I saw was resolution coloring her face, staining her eyes. She looked sick with it, her skin paling. Her chest puffed fuller than it seemed it should with a long loud inhale, and for one moment, I saw the fear I looked for, wanted, dreaded, but then it was gone just as quickly.

"I have something to tell you," she paused as if the words were stuck like peanut butter to the back of her throat, the roof of her mouth. Her eyes begged for understanding, as if she would have anything less from me, as if she deserved anything less, and her cheeks washed with color again. I knew I had done a poor job hiding my curiosity when the corners of her mouth tipped up into a miniscule grin. "I sat outside your door a lot." A barely audible whisper followed, as her flush deepened, "Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday actually."

I felt my mouth drop open in disbelief. My attempts to compose my face and speak at once melded to create a wagging jaw and uncomfortable, strangled vowel sounds. "You . . . you . . . for how long?"

"For over seven months, Edward." She didn't whisper or blush or avert her eyes. Instead, clear, warm, swimming brown punctured some of my doubt. And she smiled.

She smiled.

"I listened to you play." Her smile grew bigger. Impossibly brighter. "It was so beautiful . . ." Then in a whisper of a hint of a breath, "You are so beautiful."

From me, nothing but sounds. Nothing intelligible in any way. There were thoughts forming and racing miles in seconds, but something stalled them before they could stain my tongue, steal out with my breath. So, indecipherable sounds.

She pressed her fingers lightly into my lips to stall my noise.

"Listen, Edward, I don't really know what I want here, with you. To be completely honest, the way I feel, it's . . . overwhelming. It's scary." She paused for a long moment which tensed up inside my chest, squeezing an uneven rhythm out of my heart. "I feel like I don't really know you at all, but I still want everything now. I know that's not likely to turn out well. I just don't know . . . I don't know," she stopped, yet I knew she was no where near done.

I saw uncertainty in the slant of her eyebrows, the wrinkles cleaving the bridge of her nose, teeth cutting into her soft lip, and I saw myself. For once in my life, I was sure I knew what someone else was thinking, sure I shared an emotion, a reaction, with another person.


Not just another person.


I shared something with her.

I was too familiar with that uncertainty. I knew what it felt like to not trust myself. I knew what the confusion of a war between desires and worries could do to a soul. For a tiny moment I was warm and fuzzy and light and more content than I'd ever felt, because I shared something with her. And then . . . then, I wasn't.

I didn't want to share this with her.

Not this.

She couldn't feel the way I did. She couldn't. I wouldn't let her.

"I'll be what ever you want." After moments of strange, familiar silence, I blurted it at her, spat out the words as if they were at risk of being interrupted or never heard. "What I mean is, if you tell me to go away, I'll try my hardest to leave you alone. If you want my friendship, you have it; it's already yours. Whatever you need to not feel overwhelmed or scared . . . I'll try."

Pride surged through me as a brilliant smile reformed on her face, and I had never seen someone who belonged to a smile more than she did. With her upturned mouth and sparkling, slightly squinted eyes came the delicious rosy flush of embarrassment, happiness, energy.

"Thanks," she smirked at me innocently, seductively. "Maybe we can spend some time trying to get to know each other?" It was a question, like you'd ask if I hadn't just said I was yours, like she didn't understand how completely she owned me.

I'd been split in half, right down the middle, because of her. I'd wanted so desperately and denied. Or at least tried to. I had been of two minds. I couldn't trust myself. And somewhere tiny and small and dark and hopefully fleeting, she felt the same as I did. In a small way, I already knew her heart; in a small way, I finally knew my own.

And she didn't want me to go away. She wanted to know me. I stared at her in disbelieving adoration for wanting me in any form. I stared at her in amused exasperation for needing to question my proffered friendship.

Then I realized, mostly, I was just staring at her.

"Of course we can, Bella. Like friends, right?"

"Or actual friends, even." She smiled innocuously at me, and I chuckled. "You should laugh more often. It suits you, and I don't know if I've ever heard you laugh."

Despite the absolute, dismal verity in her words, despite myself, I laughed harder.

"I'll work on that just for you. I can't make any promises," my cheeks twitched with masked mirth, "But I'll try. Now, about this friend business, can we, maybe, get a coffee tomorrow?"

"If I say yes, you're going to think I don't have any friends," she teased.

"You have friends?"

"Are you actually teasing me, Mr. Cullen?" I fought back a quiet growl which threatened to break from my chest. If we were going to be friends, I'd have to work on those reactions. Or she would have to stop calling me Mr. Cullen, if nothing else.

Her soft, playful eyes seemed to twinkle knowingly for a moment, and then she said, "Yes."

I had an appointment with her.

I had a friend meeting with her.

A friend date . . . .

Fuck it.

I had a date with Bella Swan.


I sat on the overly large couch in the small space of the office for I don't even know how long after Edward and I said goodbye. He had finally reached a point, through all of his idiosyncrasies, of compromise. I felt as if, just maybe, he wouldn't feel the urge to run away from me anymore, even if he didn't move forward, I could work with stasis. I could figure out all of the unfamiliar and frightening and delicious and strange feelings he ignited in me. I could try to stop being scared. I didn't want to be. Not of him.

A pleasant burn kindled in my cheeks, for once not associated with a rush of blood and racing heartbeat. My face was tightened with a smile I hadn't worn for too long. The muscles begrudged the faded familiarity, but I appreciated the slight pain even more than the smile. An ache to remind me just how much Edward affected me deep down in a dark, primordial place whether I wanted him to or not. Affected my happiness. But also so I wouldn't forget the bittersweet twinge; smiling never hurt before. The darkness and confusion and self doubt were not without fees; I had to work for that free happiness, had to work like I wanted it, hold it to keep it. I needed to remember this so much; not just for me, for Edward.

Cheeks and jaws still aflame, I exited the office with a small swirl. A light, tinkling laugh chased down the hall towards me, and my eyes cut quickly to discover my observer. Attempting a scowl, I squinted towards the giggler, but the rest of my face remained painted with fiery grin. Alice.

Her eyebrow, the left always, drew up her forehead, very slowly and with much control. The smirk on her face was a perfect accessory to complete the preternatural expression she wore. Not flowing and ethereal and fairy godmother-like; more impish and meddling and elf-like. Her arms were crossed, and her shoulder pressed into the wall where she leaned.

"What?" I attempted a snarl and achieved a curious hiccup-snort-bark.

"They're gone." It was sing-song-y. She was singing.

"Okay, thanks for the update."

Walking as casually as possible, I moved to head back out to the dining room floor. Surprisingly, she watched me with shock as I passed her, but she let me pass her. Amazing. I felt her pivot to follow me immediately and picked up my pace.

"Heyyy! Bella, no fair! I'm not being pushy," she pitched up an octave higher than her usual, which was very high.

"And I appreciate that very much."

"But if I'm not pushy, you have to share! That's how it works . . ." muttering towards the end, Alice pushed. I stifled a laugh for a second, and then it tumbled out to highlight that grin I'd been sporting. I laughed for a long time, longer than necessary, but it felt amazing. After I calmed my giggling and breathing and, if I'm being honest, snorting, I leaned towards Alice's tiny, animated face.

"We're having coffee tomorrow."

"That's it? You're so backwards. Let me know when you have something good to dish." She looked so disappointed, and I felt sort of bad.

"We kissed. With tongue!" I stage whispered at her before running to the kitchen to avoid any more alone interrogation time. It was silly and childish, I knew, but Alice always loved that sort of thing. And I was feeling silly and . . . well, maybe not childish, but youthful and free and genuinely happy. Giddy happy.

Nervous flutters in my belly, cold nose, chapped cheeks, watery eyes on a cold night at a fair giddy happy. With a warm funnel-cake.

At the end of the night, comfy feelings of hope and anticipation followed me home, not before Emmett danced around the room with me locked into a tight hug because "I looked too happy, and that shit was catching," and cocooned me into my bed. I couldn't sleep for as long as my mind chased Edward around the dark corners of my room, and when I finally did, my dreams took up where my waking thoughts left off. It played on a loop for me, this game of tag or catch or hide and seek; I always chased.

Still swollen with warm, fuzzy tickles, I awoke with a distinct comfort. One I had never really felt, definitely not for months, and I was pleased with the delayed memory of my dreams. Unlike most which started out strong and clear and pungent, only to leave a mild sweet tinge on my tongue with no memory of what I had eaten, these tasted more amorphous than water, flavorless air. Only a mood to suggest an untasted flavor. As I wiped the sticky sweet sleep from my eyes, and my room came into focus, so did my dreams. So did Edward. So did one recurring thing. An important thing.

My dreams were all seeking and chasing and running and needing and finding and . . . catching. Catching him, every time, catching Edward. Every loop, every replay ended the same way, and the clarity, the sweetness of powdered sugar and warm funnel cake on my tongue, a taste I could identify, added a pleasant and reassuring weight to the burning flutters in my belly.

I still had to walk Jake today, so I wasn't sure exactly how we were going to meet. We hadn't even thought to sort out those details. He seemed like such a magnetic element in my world I didn't even think to ask. If he weren't in the elevator, which I swiftly realized might be the case because it had been weeks since the last time, I could always go knock on his door. Again.

God, I wanted him to be in the elevator.

I tried not to ignore Mike's innocuous attempts at banter as he smiled and chattered. I tried not to rush my routine with Jake as he slobbered and licked. I'm pretty sure I failed.

After the rush and anxiousness and anticipation, I found my finger hesitating at the elevator.

What if he weren't there.

I needed him to be there.

I needed that effort from him.

Finally, because Jake wouldn't tolerate sitting in the hallway much longer, I was forced to cross my fingers and push the button. Once inside the overly warm steel box, I was flooded with daydreams and memories; I may have held my breath. I may have said a prayer. I needed the doors to open on the seventh floor.

And they did.

And he was there. And he was stepping into the tiny space. And he was smiling, big and glowy and beautiful. And he was there.

And I was, I was . . . near tears I was so damn happy.

Those flutters and embers and tickles bubbled up and out and away but not really. They did all those things, but they didn't leave me behind; they grew like effervescent fizzies of vinegar and baking soda flowing out of a science project volcano. They overflowed. I overflowed. "You came." I didn't mean for that to overflow.

He ducked his head and from shimmering green, under eyelashes, looked at me sincerely. "We're having coffee."

It wasn't a reminder; it was sweet and unsure and exactly what I needed. Him. Here.

"I know, but I thought maybe you'd wait for me to knock on your door." I rushed the words. Suddenly they felt like the wrong ones to say.

"I told you I would try; I meant it." Earnest eyes. Peach cheeks. Soft smile.

Full body shiver.

"I was sort of wondering if . . . hoping I could walk Jake with you?" A curious twist of his mouth, eyebrows knitting over the bridge of his nose, nervous fingers fumbling. I watched the question write itself all over his body. In every tweak of fabric and twitch of eyelids and forcefully expelled huff, I read his anticipation.

Realizing I'd cruelly left him wondering, waiting too long, I smiled big and bright and genuine and told him, "Of course, anytime, always."

We spent most of the next forty minutes walking through the park across the street as Jake loped circles around us, taunting us with his fetching stick until we wrenched it away and threw it again.

We talked, but not too much. Generally, I was talkative but not chatty, and we just enjoyed the company and the random questions formed of silence. I asked him simple things I'd wondered and obsessed over for longer than I'd ever care to admit. Ever. And I was curious if his seemingly spontaneous questions, like mine, weren't spontaneous at all.

Eventually, we decided to walk to the coffee shop and sit outside with Jake to enjoy the beautiful weather. I tied the giant dog as securely as possible to the hitching post outside, and we walked into the store. Edward turned to me with a sweet smile but a determined gleam in his eye.

"What would you like, Bella?" He asked with more formality than would seem normal, and if I hadn't understood his purpose, I would have been a bit uncomfortable.

"You don't have to buy mine."

"Funny, I don't remember asking if I could," he retorted with a raised brow which told me he was still waiting for an answer to the original question. Redirecting my attention to the menu board, I pretended to ignore his expectant gaze. Instead of reading, I watched him in the corner of my vision.

Edward stared, unchanging expression. Then, he pursed his lips, relaxing them into a devious smile, and walked to Seth at the counter.

"Hi Seth, I'll have the usual, and I also need an earl grey tea with room for milk and one of those short bread cookies. Thanks." He passed his money across the counter before I even had time to react.

Seth looked over at me and winked. "So, two usuals and a cookie? Got it."

Edward handed me the cookie and picked up the cups when they were placed on the counter. I walked silently to the door and huffed out to a table near Jake. I scowled at Edward as he sat down, placing a cup carefully in front of me. Ready to hassle him about ordering for me, paying for me, I looked up and met the most gloriously happy childlike grin. Well shit. I couldn't help my mirroring smile, but I could still tease him a bit.

"How do you know I didn't want coffee?"

"You drink earl grey with milk, oh crap, I forgot to get you milk." The flash of disappointment in his shining green eyes was like a tiny little knife to my heart.

"It's okay, Edward. Thank you. How did you know I usually drink tea? I think I ordered a coffee the last time we were here together." My face flushed hot with the admission of my memory. Everything revolving around Edward seemed so surreal, so technicolor to me it was normal to remember every moment, every utterance. I realized a second too late most people wouldn't consider it normal at all.

"You did. You ordered a latte. But usually, you smell like tea," his face heated to match mine.

"I smell like tea?" Oh Jesus I was one cat away from being that woman. That crazy one who smelled like some sort of food product all the time; always the same product.

His face got impossibly redder, brighter, and he smiled one of those apologetic, embarrassed smiles.

"Well, you sort of smell like bergamot, you know, from earl grey tea and citrus and summer . . ." He trailed off, and my jaw fell open. Okay, maybe I wasn't that woman. Did he say I smelled like summer?

He said I smelled like summer.

I beamed at him, thanked him, again, and changed the subject. As adorable as he was when he admitted too much and was wholly uncomfortable, I didn't want him to associate uncomfortable feelings with me.

We talked for a few more minutes until I begrudgingly asked him the time.

Sullenly, I mumbled, "I have to bring Jake back now." I didn't want to stop talking to him; I didn't want to stop being around him. He wasn't running, and I wasn't ready yet.

"Okay, sure." He said; it was neutral, maybe a hint of optimism tinting the edges of his voice. Maybe he'd had enough. Maybe this was bordering on too much, too fast, too soon. That would be okay; I would be okay with that.

We walked at a comfortable pace, Jake, worn out, carrying his fetching stick. We commented lightly on everything around us and really nothing at all, and it was pleasant.

Mike stage winked at me as we walked toward the elevators, and I heard Edward just barely chuckle with his exhalation. Working not to stare too obviously, I marveled at the lightness coming from him. He was never really morose, but he seemed so weighted with his own thoughts all of the time, as if he'd carried an extra fifty pounds around his neck which was now dematerialized. It was delicious and infusing and reinforcing to see.

We stepped into the elevator, and halfway to reaching for the buttons, I turned to ask him for more. Buoyed, bolstered by his lightness, I felt confidence replace some of my trepidation.

"Will you come up with me to bring Jake home?" I could feel my teeth bite into my lip as soon as the words escaped, but I held his eyes with whatever courage I had and whatever I could feign on top of it.

I heard my quick halting breath when the smile contorted his features into the best expression imaginable, and it was embarrassing.

But I didn't care.

And he didn't answer.

"Mm, it's just, I thought, maybe . . . well," Just say it, Bella. "I would still like to spend time with you." There. I said it.

"Oh yeah, definitely, um," Why is he so adorable when he's embarrassed? "Sorry for not answering you."

"It's okay." I shrugged. Biggest lie I'd ever told because it was so much better than okay. Okay didn't even feel like the correct language, it was so far removed from what I was actually thinking.

With a bubbling little jolt I pushed the button for the eighth floor. Only the eighth floor.

When I opened the door to Jake's home, Edward was kind enough to offer to wait in the hall before I had to ask. I trusted him, but it wasn't my place to invite him into someone else's apartment. Promising speed, I darted into the door before it was fully open at which time Edward requested I slow down, pretty please. He actually said "pretty please," and I actually melted a little bit, at a slower pace.

When I stepped back into the hall, Edward was leaning casually against the wall across from me, and I found myself biting my lip again.

For very different reasons.

"Well, I still have some tea so technically we are still on a . . . date, right?" I started the sentence without thinking about the ending. I hadn't meant to call it a date, at least not to him. Not that it wasn't a date, but I didn't know if it was either.

"Right." He nodded and smiled. That smile. "So, why don't you come finish your tea in my apartment?"

I turned, walking back toward the elevator, and looked over my shoulder to make sure he followed. He did. Pausing at the steel doors of the lift for a fraction of a second, I diverted to the stairwell door and pushed it open.

"Thank you," he whispered, and I peeked back at him, grinning.

We sat on his couch and talked casually, asking simple questions and relaxing into the cushions. He belonged here, in this space, his space. Though the furnishings were subtle, I began to see him in everything he'd chosen. The overall minimal quality the space suggested mimicked the simplicity of his quiet demeanor, but it wasn't true. It wasn't wrong; it was a lie of omission. A fleeting glance didn't reveal the small explosions of color (his eyes simmering over a teasing smile), the elegant lighting (his innate physical grace, permeating out through his skin), the small, wild, handmade eclectic pieces (the depth and insanity of his mind all at once). A fleeting look, a tongue dipped hesitantly in to taste, did not reveal Edward; discovering him was slow and deliberate and thought provoking and so fulfilling.

And finally, the one thing in the room which was completely Edward, told his stories, washed the walls with his heart. The piano.

I found myself staring at the piano as he spoke to me. I heard his voice as if it were the strike of hammers on strings, flowing out of the dark shadow created by the lid. That was what he was. Beauty, often confusing and complicated, sometimes melancholy and wistful and infused with pain from darkness, but beauty still.

"Will you play something for me, please, Edward?" I blurted into an open space, lucky for it; the words were coming, interruption or no.

For the first time today, a flash of the ever-present self-doubt completely clouded his face, and I wished I could take it back, suck the words back down into my diaphragm and will them out of existence. But then his features started to soften, in millimeters, starting at his hairline. Lastly, his jaw unclenched, and he didn't smile, but he didn't frown anymore.

Standing, he moved around the couch. Lightly resting his hands on the shiny black instrument, he lowered himself deliberately to the bench. I stayed on the couch because I didn't want to make him more uncomfortable, and he started mumbling to himself in a steady stream, a hum teasing my ears. He unzipped his sweater, and I was sure he unzipped his chest along with it, ready to open it, pour himself out.

He quieted and tilted his head to rest gingerly on the piano as his fingers began to play. Immediately, I recognize the music, this music, my music, and I'm sure a soft whimper huffed out of my lungs, exaggerating the clench of muscles under my ribs. A violent shiver ran through my whole body, dissolving into waves of energetic heat. The longer I sat so still, so far from him, the more the music vibrated into me. After only a few moments, the hum was so violent, I jerked to my feet abruptly. The shift helped me calm my shaking, and I walked slowly, carefully, to the bench.

I lowered myself apprehensively to perch on the very edge of his bench, and his eyes shifted towards me, lingering for only seconds. I barely sat on the smooth seat, but I was afraid to push myself too far into his space. It didn't matter. The music was still vibrating into me, but now it passed through, no longer reverberating around, rattling my teeth. This way I felt like a part of a closed electrical circuit; instead of flowing into me and leaving me humming, hot with no discharge, no grounding, the sound could move through me into a larger circle. At first, I thought the energy, the sound, was traveling from the piano, through me and into Edward, but the more I felt it, it was him. It was always him, flowing into me and magnifying into something poignant and soft and lovely and hard and playful. Something which was me but so much more. It was us.

He played, and I watched him. Just yesterday, he'd promised he would try. I hadn't expected this. I thought about our conversations today, how he made so much effort without being false. It wasn't perfect, littered with childlike awkwardness and fidgeting silences. It was real, so it was perfect. The electric quality of the music resonating under my skin left no more room for fear. He left no more room; he, with his unzipped chest.

And I wasn't worried anymore. About what would happen if . . . about what people would think, about timing or rules or touches.

The heat in my limbs took on a very different quality and pulsed inward to my chest. I slid closer to him, resting my hand on his thigh. my fingers gripped the fabric, squeezing gently to emphasize the music flowing into me, away from me. The touch helped me dispel the fullness in my chest, only to replace it warmer, richer; I wanted more. I pivoted my body on the bench, straddling it to face Edward as he continued to play parts of the music I'd never heard before; I was sure of it. I replaced a hand on his leg and rested the other lightly against his back, feeling him move, muscles shift, with his creation.

He played the last chords of the song, the ending I'd never heard, and it was perfect. Straining, hopeful, tense yet comfortable, a mass of contradictions and resolution.

His fingers danced over the keys, cycling back to the beginning, as he began to play the same piece again. Already, I could hear more in it. More need, more curiosity, more light, more passion. More. My hand slid lightly across denim, inscribing invisible circles in wide arcs, pressing into dense muscle. My fingers etched a path up to press my palm against his groin. He gasped quietly as my hand massaged into the hardening bulge under heavy fabric. I fingered the buttons beginning at his waist teasingly before popping the first one open. As I moved to pry at the second button, without stopping the flight of his fingers across the keys, Edward turned his face to meet mine, eyes blazing and dark, tongue chased by teeth on his lower lip.

"Bella . . ." His eyes rolled back, lids sliding closed languidly as my hand increased the pressure. "I'm trying, so hard. I can't . . . . It's too much, like this; I can't just, just be your friend when you're . . . . You should stop," he stuttered out around deep breaths and perfect notes.

I leaned closer as he moved to face forward again. Sliding ever closer, pressing my breasts against his arm, I tilted up to bring my lips to hover over his ear.

"Shhh, Edward," I breathed, warm air sending a shiver down his spine, a pulsing under my hand. "I want this. I want you. However you want to give yourself to me, I want you." My teeth found soft flesh, nipping at his earlobe, eliciting a delicious groan. "Keep playing." A whispered command, lips brushing skin.

He did. His fingers tickled across keys as mine, first freed, then tickled across his length. I felt the pulse of his heartbeat in the hand against his back, thrumming a rhythm to match the notes swirling out of his instrument. He was thick and hard and warm and soft in my palm, and the whoosh of blood rushing in my ears added another layer to his melody.

I caressed; he sighed.

I stroked; he hummed.

I gripped; he groaned.

I pumped; he growled.

I watched his fingers fly, driven by touch and memory. His eyes squinted hard on his face, twisted with immaculate tension. Without thinking, I tipped my head under his arm, dragged my tongue across curiously soft, swollen flesh.

He gasped; he missed a note. Shifting subtly, he leaned back. He was giving me more room. Lips brushing his head, I smiled.

And my tongue was against his skin: licking, swirling, tracing. And the music was in my chest: swelling, unfolding, revealing. And my mouth was around his cock: sucking, tasting, praying. And he breathed and skipped a note. And I moaned and sped my pace.

And he tensed.

And I squeezed.

And more notes missed.

And a twitch.

And a rasp.

"Bell-ahh . . ."

And suddenly the only sound was the symphony of a fist against keys, his lungs, my mouth, a desperate gasp, a purr of anticipation, and it was a transcendent harmony.

A throb.

A hand in my hair.

"Bella?!" A warning.

And the chorus of his climax. Erection pulsing with release, spasming and hot. Grunts echoing in ears, aching and full. Hand fisting in hair, clenching and desperate.

I released him gently from my lips, dragging wet tongue across flesh again, as he shivered and tugged lightly at my hair. I shifted up to him in small increments, my eyes the last to meet their mark. Suddenly, I was nervous in a slightly pleasant, abashed way, so when I returned his fervent gaze it was with a blush and a smile I could feel but not hide. His look was hungry and searing and dismantled me where I sat, peeling away the layers, all of them, until all that was left of me were pulsing heart and throbbing sex, both thrumming under the intensity of Edward.

Roughly, needily, he shifted to wrap his fingers fiercely around my waist, pulling me off the bench to stand between his legs. He gripped my face, enveloping me in a devouring kiss. Lips crashing against mine, sandalwood and mint invading my senses, tongue tasting me and him mixed with me and my vibrating hum. His mouth aggressively kissed a wet trail along my jaw to my ear, licking, nipping, whispering into my skin, into my ear. Nimble fingers explored desperately under my tank top, burning trails and fingerprints into my ribs, over my stomach, under my bra.

Enveloped in his hands, his kiss, I struggled desperately to calm the racing course of my veins, the stuttering pants of my fluttering diaphragm. I was walking a fine line between wanton desperation and embarrassing hyperventilation, and when Edward shifted away from me to tear my shirt over my head, groping at the clasp of my bra, I used the space to slow and measure my breathing. The dizzying haze of sparks, flint striking steel, making me lightheaded, dissipated. It diffused down into my body to relocate in my gut, my abdomen; a deep, heavy burning ember which heated want and need and lust into my viscera, between my legs.

Lips found mine with light kisses, no less intense, and Edward's rasping voice skittered across my mouth.

"Bella . . . you taste so good." He tasted me again. "Like summer . . ." taste, "And citrus . . ." again, "And tea." He smirked impishly, and I pulled away to quirk an eyebrow, twist a smirk.

"Is that so? Tea, you say?"

"Mhmmm . . ." kiss, "And . . ." taste, "And I want . . ." he paused hesitantly. "I want . . ." more kissing, and I vibrated like a tuning fork as he rubbed up over my naked breasts, teasing my nipples.

"Edward?" I breathed against his cheek as his tongue sought my jaw. He grumbled, rough and feral, in response. "What do you want?"

"I want to taste you," He growled against my ear, his hands flying to the button of my jeans, tearing at the fabric. I yanked my remaining clothes down my legs, feet struggling to step out of the bunched material.

The bench scraped loudly against the floor as Edward stood, pushing it back with his legs. In the same fluid motion, he grabbed my hips, resting me on his piano. A discordant lusty sound rang out to accompany the bite of cold keys into my soft flesh. He stepped into me and kissed my body into an arc over his instrument, leaning over me with just enough weight to limit my lungs, press against my nipples. I groaned at the slight burning protest in my muscles as he released me to drag his nose and mouth down my neck, my chest. Settling on his knees, he moved in trails over my belly, across my hips, drawing the paths with his fingers, lips, eyelashes, tongue, marking points with his teeth, lightly, playfully.

His palms wrapped around my inner thighs, sliding up, fingers caressing the bend where legs met hips. My breath, my heart were too loud in my throat, eclipsed only by the throb and heat between my legs. His head dipped down, nose grazed thigh, hands tightened grip.

I sighed, and graceful fingers brushed along my soft, swollen skin.

I gulped in a noisy breath, and felt tentative lips kiss me. A hesitant tongue swept out and pushed gently between my flesh, vibrating with a guttural groan.

I shivered; Edward pushed carefully against my legs, brought my feet to his shoulders.

This time, with no hesitance, his tongue slid along my entrance and up to my clit, lapping and pressure and flicking and heat.

I moaned, wove my fingers into his hair, dug my toes into soft cotton, listening to the music I couldn't forget, as it swelled in my mind with his touch. I heard the notes fall from his lips, humming against me, and they were in the stiffening of my muscles, the burning in my belly, the swelling in my chest.

Fingers teased traces along my thighs, up my stomach, kneading my breast.

Tongue lapping, lips sucking; heated exhalations cooling my burning skin.

"Ahhh . . . Edward, please." I wasn't sure what I was asking. For release, for his touch, for his mouth, for him not to stop, for him, for more. More and more and always more.

His body replied with a deep groan, fingers moving to touch slick wet while others pinched and squeezed a rosy pucker. He stroked my lips, mouth still working against me, and the burning heat surged in a halting pulse from my abdomen out, suffusing.

"Oh God, please." It was a whisper, a whimper, a plea.

Moving slowly, his fingertips barely pushed into me only to withdraw too quickly. I knew my sounds told him what I wanted, needed, and with a bit of roughness, his fingers, he was inside me.

"Oh!" A gust of breath.

Pumping, swirling.

"Uhhhng . . ."

Lapping, nipping.

"Yes . . . Edwaaaaard."

Thrusting, flicking, pinching, sucking.


"Oh . . . my . . . Ehhh . . ."

Vibrating growl against me . . .

And so much heat, and . . .

"Ahhhh, Edwaaaaaard!" Heat pulsated through my body, muscles clenched and locked, fingers gripped hair violently.

I came with such force, somehow, I coaxed more sound from the long silent keys on which I was seated. My body was at the center of a sensory explosion, yet numb at the same time. A million lights popped in front of my eyes, yet I saw nothing. A symphony played inside my ears, yet I was deaf. Odes told stories in vowel sounds from my lungs, yet I was mute.

Realizing first, I was tearing at Edward's hair, I sheepishly extracted my fingers, carefully fluffing and arranging the soft, thrashing tufts. Edward placed light kisses on my skin, withdrawing further each time, until he had shifted away from me. My eyes still closed tightly, I let my legs drop from his shoulders to dangle, and he leaned forward to scatter kisses on my knees, his hands rubbing gently up and down the outsides of my calves.

"Bella?" I opened my eyes to the most glorious face I'd ever seen. Not just because he was so indescribably beautiful, but the expression, the open glow made it feel like a religious experience.

I smiled timidly at him, feeling a flush across my skin, a remainder of the surging heat.

"Are you alright?" His question was not facetious, and his face was colored with worry and embarrassment and uncertainty.

I nodded slowly, widening my smile.

"Oh, okay, good. I just wasn't sure if, well," he paused here and bit his lip. He bit his lip.

"Edward, had you ever done that before?" After what he did, we did in the elevator, I assumed he had plenty of experience. I assumed it would extend to every aspect of intimacy. I didn't care either way; I never gave it a second thought, except when I imagined him doing those things to me.

The bloom of pink across his face and shifted eyes were answer enough, but with admirable confidence, his eyes came back to mine.

"Um, no. I never had the . . ." he fidgeted. "I never had someone . . ."

"You really don't have to explain. We are who we are."

There was that brilliant smile again.

Gingerly. I put my weight on my feet, hoping my legs had recovered enough not to embarrass me, and Edward adopted the sheepish expression I'm sure I was wearing when it dawned on me I was trying to bald him one handful at a time.

"What?" I asked with a curious smirk lifting my cheeks.

"Sorry, I just realized you're completely naked, and I'm pretty much fully clothed," he was adorable, and in true form, he was worrying already.

"Well, we can resolve this injustice with one of two solutions. Either I put on clothes, or you take off clothes. I know my vote," I teased and laughed when his mouth dropped into a shocked little circle, eyes wide and fluttering. After a still moment, he reached for his shirt and yanked it over his head.

It was my turn to be surprised. He snickered devilishly, and my body hummed with happiness, his joy so infusing. While I was marveling at how much he had relaxed into me, this, us, his hands fell casually to his open jeans, thumbs hooking into underwear. He wasn't bluffing. He was going for the big reveal all in one pass. No stalling.

I was tempted to let him drop his pants for my own selfishly delightful benefit, but it felt sort of demanding even though I had only been teasing. I moved a hand out to stop his, telling him I would put some clothes back on so he didn't have to sit around or see me to the door naked. His face fell at the mention of me leaving, and I pushed my fingers into his cheeks, the corners of his mouth, to provoke a smile.

"What do you have to do today?" He asked quietly, eyes downcast.

"Nothing else, Edward."

Sparkling green.

"Would you like to stay for a while? Maybe we could watch a movie or something . . ."

"I'd love to," I said pulling on my jeans, re-clasping my bra, tugging the tank top back over my head. Jesus, that grin could cause traffic accidents.

I was more than excited to see Edward button his pants but make no move to replace his shirt, instead walking to the couch and plopping down casually. He patted the cushion beside him in a silent invitation, and I may have skipped slightly in my rush to comply. I'm pretty sure I did, because Edward chuckled lightly under his breath. I sat, and he grabbed the remote. Simultaneously he turned the TV on and reached out for my hand.

"So that piece you played for me, the one I always hear you working on lately," cue crimson flush. "It's done now, right?"

"Yeah, do you like it? I finished it two days ago," he mumbled the last part as if he were embarrassed to say it, but I had no idea why.

"I do like it. A lot. It reminds me of a poem I really like." He nodded. "What's it for? I mean do you compose on commissioned requests or just sell them when you're done? I don't really know how it works."

"Well, I do both. Sometimes I get a request for a particular piece to fit a scene in a movie or whatever; sometimes I write compositions, and then they are purchased for the same sort of thing after the fact, and some of them are for more artistic purposes. For orchestras to play." I nodded at him in response after he stopped talking, and I couldn't help wondering why he hadn't answered my whole question. Maybe he'd just forgotten the first part.

"So which is this one? Pre-sold, to be purchased or artistic?" I smiled at him.

"None of those."

"What's it for then?" I looked at him with confusion. If it wasn't going to earn him money or be played, why write it?

"It's for you, Bella," he whispered, so full of vulnerability and nerves, and oh my God, I thought for sure my chest would explode with the swelling.

I stared, and his eyes darted. To me and away. And just as he started to look like a caged animal, I unfroze myself. I didn't know what to say, so I just attacked his mouth with mine, attempting to fill his chest full of the warm fuzzy, loved feeling I had. We kissed languidly, after my initial pounce, for a few minutes, and when we separated, he was bright and shiny and light.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching movies and chatting idly; it was perfection. He made me a late lunch, and it was the most orgasmic sandwich I'd ever had, though it clearly bothered him when I moved the tomato and arugula around. He made me try his favorite beer, though he said he rarely drank, and spluttered awkwardly until I allowed him to pour it into a glass. I discovered he had quite ticklish feet, and he hummed almost imperceptibly when I ran my fingers through his hair, scratching his scalp. I giggled a lot throughout the afternoon. I also kissed him often, and couldn't stop imagining him naked in the shower while I washed his hair. I imagined him naked in every possible scenario my mind could concoct actually.

When the sun was clearly setting and we'd finished our second movie, I turned to him wistfully.

"I'm on foot, so I should probably head out before it gets too dark." I frowned, reaching over to squeeze his fingers. He looked miserable and conflicted, and he merely nodded his head.

I stood as his hand held mine and started to walk away from the couch only to be tugged back sharply. I landed on the plush cushion with an ungraceful flop, and before I could turn to face him, Edward's mouth was hovering next to my ear.

"Stay." He breathed, infused with need and heat.

"Okay." Without thinking it fell from my lips; I generally didn't over-think decisions as a rule, but this one was so right before it was even a hint in my consciousness, I felt as if the question had already been answered.

We spent the rest of the evening as we did the afternoon, talking, laughing, kissing. Even though we were kissing regularly and often, Edward still kept a physical space for himself, whether from desire or neuroses, I didn't know. He didn't pull me back to snuggle into his chest or fold me up in his arms. He embraced me when he kissed me and then returned me to my space. Our legs were touching where we sat, and occasionally we held hands; he didn't seem adverse to touch, just not sure of himself.

Bedtime with Edward was exhilarating in it's newness, nerve wracking in it's unfamiliarity and hilarious. Mostly, hilarious. Watching him curiously, I got to witness his nightly routines. First the lights and the locks and the doors, then the hygiene (for which I was quite grateful - he actually brushed for two minutes, flossed and rinsed with the mouthwash which removes the top layer of skin from your mouth), then he arranged his bed. To begin with, the bed was very neatly made, sheets tucked in, pillows arranged. He started by untucking the sheet from the bottom , and then he rearranged his pillows, placing some under the covers in various locations, moving others to what I assumed would be my side. It appeared he identified the pillows specifically with a rank of desirability or importance. I worked so hard not to laugh. It would have been good-natured, but I knew without being told this was huge for him. I wondered if any woman had ever been privy to so much of Edward. I didn't think so. Lastly, he walked to his closet, removed his pants and folded them before placing them inside the hamper. So curious. He looked confused though when his fingers hooked into the waist of his boxer briefs, and his face peeked out to me, sitting on the bed still fully clothed.

"Sorry, I didn't think about what you would sleep in or what you would be okay with me sleeping in," his shoulders shrugged innocently, and I smiled warmly back.

"You can sleep in whatever you like, and as for me, I usually sleep in . . . nothing, but I'll wear my tank top or a t-shirt of yours if you'd rather." It was my turn to shrug.

"I usually sleep naked too." His eyebrow quirked suggestively, and a trilling giggle bubbled out of my throat.

"It's nothing we haven't seen."

I pulled off my clothes, dropping them into a crumpled pile on the floor, and climbed back onto the bed and under the covers. Edward stared at the clothes on the floor, lips pursed in indecision, and I stifled another giggle. After another moment of thought, he picked them up, folded them and placed them on the chair in the corner, smiling apologetically at me the whole time. He walked back to the closet, and slipped out of his underwear.

I tried not to gape, but this was the first time I'd ever seen Edward completely naked. I'd seen his parts and pieces in sections, but that was like looking at one tenth of a Lichtenstein and pretending to know what the dots would become or listening to one tenth of a song and trying to sing all the lyrics. The art, the beauty, wasn't the same chopped up into little pieces and neither was Edward. His parts flowed so beautifully together, shifted so gracefully in tandem, it seemed wrong to even think of him as a mass of anatomical pieces.

He climbed under the covers opposite me. With a green glance followed by a shy smile, he reached out to turn off the lamp on his side table, and whispered goodnight to me. Somehow I knew, when he asked me to stay, he wanted to actually sleep with me, so I wasn't expecting any advances or overtures. Edward's bubble of space was radiating out in waves of nerves and anxiety, and I knew he wanted contact but wasn't comfortable pushing. His overwhelming desire to touch, be touched, was magnetic in its need, and resisting it made me feel hollow and needy in return.

I decided Edward had done enough for one day, for a lifetime, outside of his comfort zone, and I would do this for him. I turned to face him and wrapped myself around him. Hooking my leg over his, I pressed myself flush against his side, draped my arm over his chest, rested my head on his shoulder. I tilted my head to kiss his side, and though he was rigidly stiff at first, he relaxed into my body. We fell asleep quickly, me wrapped around him like a climbing vine.

When I awoke the next morning, I was slightly disoriented until I remembered falling asleep pressed warm against Edward's body, and a shiver bolted up my back. I realized quickly I couldn't move and Edward was folded tightly around me. Sometime in the night I must have rolled over to sleep on my other side, and he followed. His leg was pushed between mine, resting heavily on the one underneath it. His arm was under my head, acting as a pillow, and the other curled over me, hand pressed warm and flat against my stomach. His nose was nuzzled into my neck, my hair, breathing sweet heat into my skin. I'd never been so wrapped up in someone without a desire to move or squirm or break free.

Edward's sleeping body was able to act in ways his wakened mind confused.

I was light and air and summer.

a/n: Here's where I pander a bit. I won't be mad atcha for not reviewing (I deserve it for making you wait so long), but I would really love to hear what you think, especially after so long.

*kiss, kiss*