Little Slugger

Story Summary: AU/AH - Edward long ago committed himself to a secluded double life - by day a Customer Service Rep at a questionable corporate organization, and by night a God of the Open Mic stage. Coworker Bella is quirky and observant, and her curiosity about Edward may eclipse his need to keep his life private.

Rating: PG-13/T

A/N: I began writing this story as an original screenplay about a year ago, and stalled out about 2/3 of the way in...when I continuously imagined my main duo as E&B, I realized that perhaps it was meant to be a twi-fic all along. Enjoy!

Song for this chapter is By This River by Brian Eno.

1 – If He Could

This bar was dark. His favorite kind. The smells and desires of the people inside seemed to swirl around the room, slow and deliberate like a snake guiding a tornado on a secret quest. It flowed serpentine between the beer taps at the bar, dipping below and through the cracks of the sticky wooden floors, and zipped right through the triangle between the heel and toe of shoes far too desperate for a Tuesday.

The jet stream of pure humanity led straight to him. Upon arrival, it danced around him like forest nymphs at play as he sang, giving itself to the moment, becoming something that could only be owned by the spirit of right-this-very-second.

If he could love anything at all, he would love this.

He had a fondness for the cycle, as it had come to be, in his own way. In the way a spider loves the fly it traps in its web, perhaps. Celebrate the success of the capture, eagerly soak in the energy it provides, and then toss the remains aside in disgust…only to crave it all again the next day.

Every night he watched them from the shadows, while he waited in line for his fix. No matter the venue, the scene was always the same - they sit, they drink, they laugh and flirt and sigh. Act after act, they half-listen, tending to their own needs. He couldn't even begin to fault them for it, 'cause he was there for the same reason they were – to pretend that life meant something. Or at the very least, to hold off on the eventual realization that perhaps it means nothing at all.

Something was curiously different about Edward, though. When he strummed, slow and weaving in a long intro, they took notice, disengaging from whatever distraction they had busied themselves with. When he sang, his voice raspy and soulful and palpably stuffed full of old memories he would shield from his world forever if he could, their glasses made subtle clanking sounds as they touched down upon the tabletops, and he felt the energy of two dozen sets of eyes as they moved in unison in his direction, like the spooky antique portraits at an amusement park haunted house.

If he could love anything at all, he would love the way it felt to have all those eyes on him.

They wanted him. They wanted to be him. They wanted his talent, his balls, his ability to tie himself to others with the mere act of offering sounds and words. It was a simple but vital relationship – he let it fly, they soaked it in.

But even more potent than that was how much he needed them. And his whole charade would crumble to pieces if any of the random people in this bar had any idea whatsoever the power that they had over him. They owned him.

In the regular world, these connections might be the beginning of a long and happy relationship between the entertainer and the entertained. But this was Edward's world, and in Edward's world, audience attachment had a simple and absolute response - to never set foot in that bar/club/restaurant/coffee shop again. It was New York City after all, there were plenty of Open Mics to go around, though he had been stretching the pliability of that lately, with outings at least three times weekly.

So while yes, he did make an impression on the people before him, no one, and certainly not Edward, has ever really made the mistake of thinking that Open Mic Night is about the audience.

In this case, though, it also wasn't about high jumping stage fright, or testing the temperature of new material, or proving to yourself that Yes. You. Can. For Edward, it was the only way he knew how to mediate between a past laden with mistakes and regrets, and a future that the boy he once was had dreamed of.

And as a result, he reconciled neither.

He throatily started into the last verse of the last song. He slowed his tempo a tiny bit, to make the moment last, but doubted that they would notice. On this night, as it always eventually did, his moment began its fade. He could feel the sting morphing into a burn as his brief time as Scientist, Superhero, God tapered to a tragic close. For now. One last flick of his wrist echoed the final note through the night.

Sometimes they would cheer or applaud, hoot or holler; some would just gaze after him in wonder. But if they did tonight, he failed to notice. Instead, he stood quickly from the simple, solid wooden chair and made a deft hop from the elevated corner stage to the creaky floor below. He tossed his guitar carelessly into its hard case - he closed, latched, grabbed, and turned on tail in one fluid motion.

If he could love anything at all, he would love this moment of escape.

He made eye contact with no one as he set his sights firmly on the glowing red exit sign that hung like a beacon above twin doors. The rush of cold air slapped him in the face as he pushed the door forward with force, and instantly he was back. To the chill, dark night. To reality.

He pulled a pair of black-framed glasses out of the pocket of his gray flannel pea coat and dropped them onto his nose. It was officially official - no more superhero.

'Til next time, he thought with a bitter yet triumphant smirk.

He awoke groggily the next morning to a gentle but methodical scratching sensation on the side of his face.

Alice, he groaned internally, as the reality of the early wake-up call reached his full awareness. He opened his eyes to the sight expected, a pair of blazingly beautiful gold eyes staring back at him with love and expectation. He smiled at her.

"Are you happy now that I'm up?" he asked hoarsely as he lifted his hand out from under the blanket to massage that spot on back of her neck she loved so much. She remained silent, but responded by eagerly nudging the side of her head into his hand with pure adoration. Her eyes mere slits, she rested herself on his torso and snuggled deeply into his chest and neck.

"That's enough, Alice," he said with jest force as he rolled her over to the side of the bed. He hefted his feet onto the floor, and leaned backward towards the window, blindly reaching towards a vintage ceramic planter sitting on the sill and retrieving his glasses from inside it.

He ferociously rubbed the sleep from his face and slid them on. Oh fuck, another day.

Sighing, he glanced out the window at the morning's overcast sky, and gently fingered the withering edge of a leaf on a small ivy plant housed in a simple clay pot atop the bedside table. He turned his eyes from the plant to the neighboring clock, and in that same moment, the digital screen went black for two seconds before leaping back to life, flashing its eternal midnight.

He turned back to Alice, stroking her soft black hair with a smile of admiration.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were psychic. If you hadn't woken me, I would have been late for work." She glanced up at him knowingly, a soft purr escaping her throat. "Where's Jasper?"

As if on cue, Jasper rounded the corner and looked to Edward with sheer anticipation.

"Hungry?" Edward asked him.

The yellow longhaired cat meowed loudly in response.

Edward chuckled at him. "Alright buddy, let's go hunt." He pushed himself to his feet and headed to the kitchen, Alice jumped down after him and the two cats followed swiftly at his feet.

Alice wound between his legs in constant figure eights as he opened a can of food and spooned it into a bowl on the floor, where they both descended, eating savagely while Edward set about making coffee and playing back last night's performance in his head.

They liked it. They felt it. I felt it. He convinced himself as he tried not to pine for his next opportunity to play – tomorrow night at the Blue Mango, a hip little vegetarian bistro built into the corner of a Downtown parking garage. The place was pretty mainstream, but chock full of seriously good Open Mic energy. He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his already messy hair. Thirty-six hours had a way of feeling like thirty-six year at moments like these.

Shower. Shave. Breakfast. Toothbrush. T-Shirt. Jeans. Old brown, paint-splattered engineer boots. A nice scratch behind each cat's left ear, down under the chin, and a last wanton glance at the guitar case nestled in the corner near the door.

Tomorrow, he mused as he grabbed a black and gray checkered flannel off the coat hook and locked the door behind him. We will reunite tomorrow.

If he could love anything at all, he would love that promise.

A/N: The tone of this chapter is much more drunk & dreamy than will generally be the norm for this story. It was necessary to paint the picture of what the open mic experience is like for our specward. Reviews make my world go 'round!