A/N: Thank you so much to our betas, EchoesofTwilight, kimberlycullen10, and theladyingrey42, for reading this continuously and giving us fantastic feedback. We love you ladies!

We don't own any of these characters, but these two boys sure as hell own us. We hope that you grow to love them just as much as we do.

Carlisle POV

"I'm sorry, sweets," Charlie mumbled as he nursed his coffee. The dark circles under his eyes hinted at his exhaustion, but it was more evident to me in the way his voice was just slightly slurred. "I wish I could be there tonight. There was just no getting out of this shift."

I smiled at him and reached out to squeeze his hand. He had stopped by the hospital to see me on his lunch hour, which was much later than usual as he was working the evening shift. I'd suggested coffee in the cafeteria, hoping to help keep him alert. He looked like hell, if I were being honest, because he was worrying himself sick. He wasn't sleeping, which meant I wasn't sleeping in turn.

Of course, the irony was that the less sleep he got, the shorter his temper was with Bella, so in some ways, things had gotten even worse at home. Every time I thought they were making headway, one or the other of them would blow up over something seemingly innocuous, and we'd be right back at the beginning.

It was maddening.

They were trying, though. I had to give them that. They were just too much alike.

"Why don't you order a pizza?" Charlie continued. "Eat in the living room or something. Just make it easy." He shrugged and ran his fingers through his hair.

"We'll be fine, love," I murmured, smiling at him. I felt much more nervous than I let on – I didn't think it would help Charlie to know I was completely unsure what to say when left alone with Bella. She still wasn't speaking directly to me often, and we'd never been alone for more than a few minutes at a time. Tonight's dinner would change that. "We're not going to change anything just because you're not there. I'll cook, and we'll eat in the kitchen just like every night."

Charlie looked skeptical, and I sighed, not relishing the idea of arguing with him. I was struggling to come up with a change of subject as it seemed that Bella was all we talked about any more when my eyes fell on Edward. I smiled as I always did when I saw him at work – he was so much happier now than the sullen, angry boy who'd first come into my office.

He was clearly coming over to see us, so I greeted him by saying, "Edward! How are you?"

As he returned the greeting, I let out a small sigh of relief, appreciating the distraction he provided. He and Charlie spoke for a few minutes about Edward's family and friends, while I took the time to simply enjoy my coffee. I was technically off duty and would be heading home right after we finished, but I was beginning to think I needed the caffeine just to stay awake on the drive.

My mind was drifting, thoughts of my pillow calling me, when Edward said something that caught my attention immediately. He said, "Hey," and then lowered his voice, licking his lips and glancing left and right before his eyes focused on Charlie. "I think you should know that Bella doesn't hate you."

I inhaled audibly as Charlie froze. I saw the hope in his eyes – and the fear to even hope. I didn't know what to say to that. I had told Charlie as much time and again, but Edward knew her, or at least knew her a damn sight better than I did.

My eyes were focused on Charlie, gauging his reaction, so I nearly missed it when Edward continued, "She's pissed off that you lied to her, and she has a hell of a lot of…technical questions…but she doesn't hate you." I was a little baffled by his phrasing, so I turned to ask him but was stopped in my tracks when he added, "Either of you."

It felt as if my heart stopped for a moment before beating rapidly, fluttering until it was nearly uncomfortable. All I could think was that Edward must know – she must have told him or at least made it clear to him. He was not cruel enough to give me hope if there was no hope to be had.

My smile widened, becoming more genuine, and I felt rejuvenated somehow. I could feel Charlie's relief as well, see it in the way his shoulders squared even as he demanded to know what Edward meant, exactly. I was confused by the curious phrase he'd used, but I assumed he must mean questions about what, exactly, had taken place all those years ago.

She'd made comments here and there since she moved in that hinted at a definite misunderstanding of our relationship, which likely stemmed from her uncertainty about…well, all of it. How it started, who initiated it, just how long it had been going on. I would've been happy to answer them for her, except for two things – first, she needed to talk to Charlie. I didn't want to come between them, and he had already lost a lot of respect in her eyes. Second…why would she believe me?

Edward batted away Charlie's request for more information, and I hid my quiet smile behind my coffee mug. I was proud of him, proud of the way he'd grown. He clearly genuinely cared about all of us and wanted to help, but he wasn't willing to betray the confidence of a friend. That showed tremendous maturity in such a short span of time.

He excused himself and went straight back to work, while Charlie and I sat in silence for a moment. Charlie was watching Edward, but my eyes were on the man I loved. I couldn't quite read his expression, not until he looked back at me with a quiet smile and a new glimmer of life in his eyes.

That's my Charlie.

"Do you think he's telling the truth?" Charlie's voice was skeptical, his eyes sliding back to Edward as Chief Swan emerged.

And that's my Charlie, too.

I grinned and reached over, covering his hand with my own. "Yes, I do. That was tough for him, Charlie."

He nodded, his eyes narrowing just slightly as he studied Edward before turning back to me. "Sure wish she'd show it," he said gruffly.

I struggled not to roll my eyes in exasperation, determined not to fall – once again – into the same circular conversation. "This is a good thing. Edward wouldn't have said anything without knowing for sure. You know how he is. He plays his cards close to his chest, and that was a risk for him to take, especially with how…" I trailed off, licking my lips as I pondered my word choice. "…unpredictable Bella can be."

Charlie snorted and stared at his coffee cup before shaking his head. He lifted his mug and drained it, putting it down on the table before he spoke again. "I know you're right, Carlisle. I'm just…scared." He gave me the little half-smile that made his vulnerability plain – the one that had only ever been for me.

I squeezed his hand and gave him a smile in return. "I know you are, my love. But Bella is here with you. She's staying, and now you know something you didn't before – something positive. Just hold to that."

He nodded again. "What would I do without you?"

"Starve," I joked, lightening the mood.

He laughed, his brown eyes truly happy. He thought about it for a moment and then shrugged, muttering, "Too true," under his breath. He raised his voice and said, "I need to head back…"

I frowned, not liking the idea of parting even though I knew we had to. He went to pay the check, and I started to follow behind until I saw Edward bussing a table. He was frowning slightly, scrubbing at a sticky mess someone had left behind.

Beyond the pride I felt, there was a growing sense of gratitude, and as I watched him muttering to himself, I hoped he wasn't regretting his decision to tell us. I walked over to him, putting my hand on his shoulder to let him know I was there, and when he turned to face me, I said, "I just wanted to say thank you. You really didn't have to do that, but it means a lot to him…" I glanced at Charlie, seeing his broad shoulders covered by the police jacket he wore so often and the wavy brown hair Bella had inherited, and realized that – finally – I had a chance at the family I'd always wanted with him. I looked back at Edward and smiled when I corrected myself. "To both of us."

"No problem, Doc," he answered with a grin, brushing it off just like always. He was never one for the spotlight, and I didn't make him uncomfortable by heaping the praise on him that I wanted to.

I went back to Charlie, who was just finishing up, and we walked out of the hospital together. The cruiser was parked next to my car, and he leaned against it, spreading his feet slightly as he pulled me into his embrace. My arms encircled his shoulders, my fingers playing with the hair on the nape of his neck as he kissed me.

Our kiss was innocent and chaste at first, but that never lasted with us. His lips parted mine, our tongues meeting, and all too soon, I had to pull away. My mind was conjuring images of Charlie in our bed, and on any normal day, I would've grinned wickedly at him and told him to get his ass home – and he wouldn't have hesitated.

He groaned, his hands tightening their grip on my hips, and his jaw clenched before he said, "I know."

I chuckled and reached up to cup his cheek. "Sorry, baby. I wish we could, too."

He grumbled under his breath about me not making it any easier, and with one final kiss, he sighed and straightened. "I should be home a little after eleven…think you'll be up?"

I rolled my eyes. "Like I'd miss my chance at more of this…" With that, I leaned in, kissing him thoroughly, and he moaned, returning the kiss eagerly.

"You're a dangerous man," he breathed when we parted, and I gave him my most angelic smile. "Definitely dangerous," he muttered in response. "See you tonight, sweets. I love you."

"I love you, too, Charlie," I answered with a smile. I stepped back as he got into the cruiser, and it wasn't until he'd pulled away with a wave that I finally got into my own car.

My thumbs tapped nervously on the steering wheel as I drove through town. The closer I got to home, the more keyed up I felt. I was sure Bella would have beaten me home, and I was equally sure that she'd be holed up in her room. She knew Charlie was working late, and I seriously doubted she would risk a run-in with me alone.

I sighed at the thought, my heart heavy as I wondered – yet again – how to fix the mess we were in. I hoped that, despite knowing we were alone, Bella would come out for dinner at 6:00. I wasn't sure what to do otherwise. Knock on her door? Demand that she come eat with me? Leave her alone?

None of those ideas sounded particularly pleasing, and as I parked my car beside Bella's red truck, I pushed the thoughts away. It was still nearly two hours until that time, and experience had shown that I would have those two hours to myself, as Bella would not emerge until necessary.

As soon as I was inside, I hung up my coat and went to our room, where I took a quick shower and changed into fresh jeans and a clean undershirt before standing in our closet, staring at my clothes blankly. I had no idea what to wear. It had never seemed like a big deal before, but I didn't want Bella to think I was being too formal…or trying too hard to be casual.

I was waffling between a pale blue button down and a maroon long-sleeved t-shirt when I decided I was being ridiculous. Bella had seen me most often in my work attire, so I grabbed the button down and pulled it on. I left the top two buttons undone and rolled the sleeves up to my elbows before padding down the hallway barefoot.

Ever since I found out that Charlie would be working late, I'd been trying to decide what I could fix that Bella would appreciate. Charlie had very simple tastes in general – he was a meat and potatoes man at heart, though I'd broadened his horizons a little over the years. I wanted to make something that might help Bella feel more at home, so I'd stocked up on flank steak and everything I needed to make carne asada.

As soon as I stepped into the kitchen, I began chopping and mixing ingredients for the steak marinade. Once it was settled in the refrigerator, I turned my attention to the pico de gallo and avocados I was preparing to go with them. I hoped Bella would like it, since I was pretty much flying blind when it came to her tastes.

Working in the kitchen was calming, and the time passed quickly as I fixed the rice and refried beans and then heated my iron grill pan. The steak was still sizzling in the pan, just moments from being ready to come up, when I heard the clatter of plates behind me.

I glanced over my shoulder and found Bella watching me. Her eyes were wide, so much so that I had trouble glancing away to read her expression, but she seemed…shy. Nervous. She flashed a small smile and turned around quickly, going to the table.

I looked back at the steak, keeping my eyes on my work. I couldn't help the smile on my face as the tension in my shoulders relaxed some. She'd come out of her room. She was going to have dinner with me, and she was even setting the table just like every other night.

Thank heaven for small miracles.

Of course, even as I felt relief, my nerves began to build again. I wasn't sure what to talk to her about, what to say when it was just the two of us. I knew we shared a love of literature, but would it be strange to bring that up? I wasn't sure how aware she was that I had been the one leaving her books for years. Everything seemed…dangerous. A field riddled with land mines that were sure to go off with a small misstep.

After all, I'd watched several of her explosions with Charlie – many this weekend. He kept trying to talk to her, but something always seemed to go wrong. He would mention something that would make her eyes flash, and then she'd be slamming a door in his face. Or she would call him Charlie, and he wouldn't be able to stop the grimace on his face.

One thing I had picked up on, though, through their little tiffs was that Bella clearly blamed her parents' divorce on…well, me. Or us, depending on how you looked at it. It was becoming alarmingly obvious to me that she believed Charlie had been disingenuous with Renee, when he had actually been open and honest.

I didn't really blame her for being upset with me. In all honesty, if it hadn't been for Charlie's attraction to me, they might possibly still be married, so her anger was somewhat valid. I knew without a doubt that my Charlie would not be happy, not like he was with me, but I wasn't sure if Bella would be mature enough to realize that – or to care if she did.

But the fact remained that it would be an irrational anger. Charlie couldn't control who he was attracted to, and he'd handled things the best way he knew how. It was up to Bella how she took that – once she had all the facts.

I sighed, absentmindedly rubbing my temple as I pulled up the steak and arranged it on a plate. I was back to where I started, just as I had been for days – wondering if I should say anything…how much I should say…what I should say. I knew without a doubt that I didn't want to undermine Charlie, but we couldn't take living like this much longer – and I couldn't take Bella's disdain for her father. Every time I caught a mutter about liars or saw blatant disbelief in her eyes, I felt indignation and sorrow.

Charlie wasn't perfect, but he was far better than she was giving him credit for.

I'd taken all the time I could plating and slicing the strips of steak. I began transferring the food to the table, arranging the bowls of rice and refried beans beside the platter of avocado slices and the smaller dish of pico de gallo. Bella's eyes widened when I said, "I hope you like carne asada. I took a chance."

She hesitated for a split second and then smiled, nodding. "Thanks…Carlisle." She cleared her throat, her smile wavering before she forced it back in place. "Do umm…do you want me to warm some tortillas?"

My own smile was surprised but genuine as I told her that would be lovely. She grinned at my choice of words and then nodded silently, going to the refrigerator. "You want cheese and sour cream?" she called, her voice muffled as she dug around in the crisper.

"Bring whatever you'd like to the table, dear." The term was automatic, and I saw Bella's spine stiffen, but she made no comment. I half-expected another temper tantrum of the type I'd seen her throw with Charlie, but she took a deep breath, closed the refrigerator, and got to work warming the tortillas on the stove.

We lapsed into silence again, and soon everything was ready. Our kitchen table was small, and for years, Charlie had been sitting on one side while I sat at the end – it was easier to talk and touch that way. When Bella joined us, she began sitting across from Charlie, which put her on my other side. Normally it wasn't an issue, but tonight, I was especially aware of the proximity.

We assembled our food without a word being spoken until Bella took her first bite. "Holy…" she trailed off, swallowing before she tried again. "This is fantastic, Carlisle! Seriously."

I smiled and tried not to preen under her praise. I murmured my thanks, and Bella surprised me by saying, "You can really taste the lime. How many did you use?"

"Two," I answered, feeling slightly off balance. We were able to talk easily about cooking then, and it became clear to me that Bella had done more than her fair share in Phoenix. She seemed to enjoy it, and I made a mental note to talk to Charlie about seeing if Bella would like to cook dinner occasionally.

I wouldn't say our conversation was perfect by any means, but it did flow smoothly. It took me a while to figure out why, but gradually I realized that we were able to relax more without the added pressure of wondering what Charlie thought of what we were saying. Bella wasn't…warm…by any means, but she wasn't cold either.

I asked her about school, and she mentioned finishing The Awakening for her AP English class. Seeing my chance, I wiped the corner of my mouth with my napkin and cleared my throat. "So what do you think of Wuthering Heights?"

Bella was quiet for a moment, pushing small pieces of steak around on her plate with her fork. She was still looking down at her plate when she said, "You left it for me?"

No turning back now.

"I did," I answered, just as softly. "I knew you liked to read, and Charlie isn't much for it, so…"

All I could see was the top of her head as she nodded, and then she looked up. Her eyes were a confusing mixture of emotions – some I wasn't even sure she was aware of – and she finally whispered, "Thanks."

"You're welcome," I said simply. I could see in her expression that there were more questions on her mind, so I went back to my food, giving her time and space to think.

I wasn't surprised when she dropped the subject of my giving her books altogether and instead said, "I enjoyed it. It's interesting to me that gothic novels can be so…honest."

"Honest? How do you mean?" I asked, fighting a smile as I listened to her describe the treatment of physical and mental cruelty, the way that gothic novels were unapologetic. I found myself nodding, actively engaged with her as we moved through the Bronte sisters and into other areas of literature.

The rest of dinner passed quickly and comfortably – much more so than other meals we'd shared. When we were finished, we stood and began clearing the table, and I felt more relaxed and hopeful than I had since before Bella moved in. She was still keeping her distance, but once she'd begun talking about books, she'd exposed a chink in her armor that allowed me to gain some ground.

I was making a plate for Charlie while Bella started washing the dishes when I began to realize that this might be my only chance to talk with her alone for a while. Charlie was typically around – for which I was thankful – but there were some things I wanted to say without him hearing. He was so tenderhearted when it came to Bella that I didn't want to risk him being hurt anymore, and I also thought that she might place more weight on my words if he weren't around.


"Bella, can I be frank?" I surprised myself by speaking when I hadn't even fully decided on what to say.

She tossed her head, brushing her hair back of her shoulder as she turned her penetrating gaze to me. After a protracted, awkward moment, she bit her bottom lip and nodded, looking back down at the plate she was washing.

Now that I'd started, I didn't know where to go, so I finished putting plastic wrap over the leftover avocados before saying, "I'd like to say thank you, first, for having dinner with me tonight. It was…nice."

Nice seemed woefully inadequate for the change in the tempestuous atmosphere, but I hoped she would understand. She nodded – whether in agreement or simply acknowledgment, I didn't know.

I transferred the steak to a plastic container and sealed the lid. "I ahh…I also think there's something you should know."

All pretense of working stopped as Bella shut off the water and dried her hands. The air in the room was charged once again when she turned around, leaning against the counter. I was standing on the other side of the kitchen, and I could see the way her eyes were hardening. She was deciding already that I was meddling, that I was taking Charlie's side just because, and I didn't want this night to end like that. We were facing each other when I said, "Just listen?"

She huffed, crossing her arms and looking down at the toes of her shoes. Finally she looked up again and nodded. "I will." I gave a small smile that quickly faded when her eyes lingered on it and her mouth tightened.


Obviously the relative truce between us was tenuous. I wondered if it would snap under the weight of the words I was about to say, but I needed this truth – this small little bit – out there. Whether or not she believed me, just hearing it would at least give her pause.

I breathed shallowly and then forged on. "I know Charlie's not the best at communication." She snorted but otherwise held her silence. "And he's broken your trust in ways that will be very difficult to forgive. There is so much that needs to be said between the two of you that I wouldn't even know where to begin. I know, too, that you have no reason to believe anything I say…" I heard myself rambling, and in my struggle to stop myself, I stammered, "It's just…just that you should know…you should know that Charlie never cheated on your mother. I wasn't even aware of his attraction until after you and your mother moved to Phoenix."

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep the rest of the words from tumbling out, the words that Charlie needed to say. Bella needed to know how devastated he was to lose her, how his heart had broken that he couldn't be everything that she and Renee needed, but it just wasn't my place to tell her.

She made a small noise of disbelief, her hands moving to the counter on either side of her hips as her gaze returned to her shoes. At a loss as to what to do, I stood there looking at her shoes as well. They were light blue canvas sneakers, covered in drawings, and I let them catch my attention until she finally cleared her throat.

I glanced up to find her watching me. Her eyes were dark, unreadable, and she crossed her arms over her chest again as she mumbled, "Thanks."

"You're welcome," I answered softly.

I thought I saw her eyes reddening as she turned around, and her voice was gruff when she said, "I think I'll just finish these and go to bed. Okay?"

I recognized the question for what it was – a dismissal – and said, "Of course…good night, Bella." I took a few steps toward the hallway and then stopped. "Let me know if you need anything, please."

I heard a noncommittal noise over the rattle of dishes and felt my heart sink. The last thing I'd wanted to do was make her cry, though I supposed it was a good sign – better than her yelling anyway. Maybe she'd honestly listened for once.

I felt restless, every bit of me wanting to go back into the kitchen to comfort her, but I knew that wouldn't be welcome. Instead, I went to our room, deciding to change into something more comfortable and try to watch a movie until Charlie came home. I had to find something to occupy myself, or I would drive myself insane.

I took longer than necessary, trying to give Bella enough time to make her escape. I tossed my button down into the hamper and put my jeans away before pulling on a pair of Charlie's pajama pants. They were a little bigger than mine, and I just wanted some small connection with him then.

I was thinking of how, exactly, to tell Charlie what I'd done when I heard a door close and decided it was safe. I stepped out into the hallway and ran right into Bella, who was coming out of the bathroom. She collided with my shoulder with a small gasp, and I reached out automatically, catching her by the upper arms.

I dropped my hands quickly, my face heating, and I saw a crimson blush on her cheeks. "I'm terribly sorry," I murmured, stepping back.

"It's okay," she answered in a rush, not meeting my eyes. "G-good night, Carlisle."

Her door slammed shut before I could even finish saying, "Good night, Bella." I sighed heavily, reaching up to scratch the back of my neck before pulling our bedroom door shut.

At least this time I was dressed.

The thought put a wry smile on my face as I shrugged and walked into the living room. Typically Charlie was home with me at nights, so this one was the first I'd had relatively alone in a long time. I appreciated nights like this normally – they gave me some time to myself, let me relax and miss him so that I was even more eager for him to come home.

I tried to settle into my normal routine of picking out a movie and settling in front of the TV with a good book. Nothing seemed to be suiting my tastes, though, and I finally ended up putting in The Mummy Returns for background noise and picking up my copy of The Lost Symbol.

I turned on the lamp and stretched out on the couch, propping my feet on one arm and my head on the other as I played with my hair and tried to get into the book. By the time the movie was over, I gave the novel up as a lost cause and tossed it onto the coffee table to pick up another day.

I went into the kitchen and grabbed a pint of ice cream from the freezer. As I was pulling a spoon from the drawer, I heard music playing from Bella's room and wondered what, exactly, she did in there every night. There was no real way to find out, short of asking her or poking my head through her door – neither of which was appealing – so I took my dessert into the living room.

I changed DVDs, popping in The 13th Warrior because I hoped it might prove more entertaining – and, admittedly, because there were a few nice things to look at. I smirked around my spoon as I pulled my feet onto the couch beside me and leaned against the arm. This time, I really did pay attention to the movie, and I was leaning forward, watching Buliwyf fight the leader of the Wendol when I heard Charlie's keys in the lock.

The thud of his boots followed not far behind, and I heard him groan as he took off his coat and hung it in the entryway. "Carlisle?" he called lowly.

"In here, love," I answered automatically, my eyes still focused on the TV. He walked up behind me, rubbing my shoulders over the back of the couch, and I hummed my approval.

I heard his chuckle and then his voice rumble, "Needed some eye candy?"

I glanced over my shoulder, rolling my eyes even as I grinned. "Maybe?"

He leaned down, pressing his lips against the pulse point beneath my jaw as he murmured, "Maybe I can help you out a little later, hmm?"

My eyes closed, my head lolling to the side as he kissed up and down the column of my neck. He patted my biceps and then said, "But first, I'm going to grab something to eat."

I laughed and paused the movie, getting up to follow him into the kitchen. He raised an eyebrow at the empty ice cream carton as I tossed it into the trash, but he didn't comment. We talked quietly in the kitchen as he warmed up the food I'd set aside for him. He told me about his day while making his tacos, and as he took the first bite, he moaned, his eyes drifting closed.

I grinned. "If I'd known you'd like it that much, I would've made it for you."

He grinned, swallowing and wiping his mouth before he leaned over to kiss me. "Thanks, baby…it's fantastic." I grabbed a beer for him as we headed back into the living room, and I started the movie once more. Charlie picked up the remote and went to the scene selection, picking it up about midway again after asking if I minded. I didn't, of course, and we settled onto the couch and talked about nothing of importance as the movie played quietly in the background.

It felt good to be with him like this again. Every day, we were finding more and more moments of "normal". I smiled as he put down his empty plate and sat back, slipping his arm around my shoulders. There wasn't much left of the movie, and we watched it in companionable silence with occasional brushes of fingertips against skin and lips against cheeks.

As the movie was winding down again, Charlie turned to me, his brown eyes burning with a fierce desire. I couldn't stop the way my head tilted so my lips could meet his – I didn't want to stop it. His lips parted, letting me taste the beer and spices and savory flavor of Charlie himself. His fingertips kneaded my thigh, his grip firm and sure, and when he pulled away, his gaze locked with mine.

"Let's go to bed, sweets," he murmured, a quiet rumble laden with promise.

"Charlie…" I started to protest, but he shook his head.

"Let's go to bed," he repeated. His tone matched the steel in his eyes as he squeezed my thigh once and stood. We both reached for his plate at the same time, but he pulled it away. "I've got this." He kissed me once chastely, his lips hovering near mine as he said, "Head on to our room. I'll be right there."

He turned then, heading into the kitchen, and I stood there, unsure what to do with myself. Automatically, my hands went through the work of straightening the living room, turning off the movie, and locking the front door. I felt a strange sort of giddy excitement, almost like I was a teenager again, as I went down the hall to our bedroom.

The silence was heavy behind Bella's door, and her light was off. I prayed she was asleep because Charlie clearly had plans in mind…and I was emboldened by the heady realization that I wasn't in the mood to stop him tonight.

I went through our room into the restroom, and by the time I'd finished my business and washed my hands, Charlie was waiting for me in the bedroom. He crossed the open space, taking me in his arms and kissing me hard before breaking away to nibble at my jaw. He bit down harder and then whispered, "Shower with me, Carlisle?"

I smiled, my body responding to his touch and to the memories of hot water streaming over us as we made love throughout the years. I didn't answer, at least not verbally – I just began unbuckling his belt, pulling the leather free with a metallic clink. Charlie put his hands on my hips and walked me backwards as we kissed.

We laughed when I bumped into the doorframe, and he whispered, "Sorry," before steering me to the right and through the door. I unbuttoned his pants and tugged the tail of his shirt out, but he turned away before I could finish my work. He reached into the shower, starting the water, and then his hungry lips were on mine again.

Our kisses were interrupted as shirts went over heads, and we were nude before steam began filling the bathroom. His hands were light and teasing as they ghosted over my length and drifted down my thighs. I bit back my moan, some part of me still acutely aware of Bella in her – now silent – bedroom. The need to be quiet was exciting somehow, and I took Charlie's face between my hands, pulling him to me for a searing kiss. His arms encircled my waist, flexing as they drew me close, and we both inhaled sharply when our sensitive, hardened flesh brushed together.

"Come on," he murmured, dropping his arms and stepping into the tub before I'd had a chance to register what he'd said. I followed behind and found myself pressed immediately against the shower wall as he dropped to his knees. The tile was cold against my ass, and I let my head fall back as I soaked up the warmth from the water.

Charlie turned me slightly, angling me so that my body blocked some of the water that had been spraying into his face. His hair was already soaked, dark waves sending droplets over his cheeks, and I reached down to brush them away. His eyes were focused on my cock just in front of his face, and he licked his lips, giving me a wicked smirk as he raised his eyes to mine.

His lips parted as his head dipped down, and I felt the teasing probe of his tongue as he took one of my balls into his mouth. I pressed my head against the tile again, staring at the ceiling as I focused on how he felt. He knew me so well, knew just what to do to have me panting and begging, so I tangled my hands into his hair and let him have his way.

A deep moan escaped my chest as he spread my thighs, licking just behind my balls, and he stopped at once. He stood just in front of me, our bare, wet bodies pressed together as he ran his tongue along the shell of my ear. "Shh, Carlisle…you'll have to stay quiet now." The words held a familiar cadence, and I recognized them as my own from so many years ago. I inhaled sharply when he took my cock in hand, pumping me slowly as he whispered, "Can you be very quiet?"

I nodded, biting my bottom lip and swallowing hard. He kissed my cheek gently and reached for the bottle of lube mixed in among the shampoos and body wash on the shelf. The snap of the lid made my eyes flutter closed as I felt him sink back to his knees in front of me. The struggle to control myself was arousing, especially when coupled with Charlie's slick fingers rubbing my entrance as he took my cock deep down his throat. His other hand wrapped around my base, and my world was nothing but tightness and heat and steam and the abrasion of teeth.

He was relentless in his attentions, every touch designed to drive me toward my release, and I understood intrinsically that this was what he wanted. He wanted to control this corner of his world, to leave me panting and breathless as I came down his throat.

I gave myself over to him, relishing every touch, feeling every tingling nerve when he hit just the right place. I tried to keep my hips still, but it was at last a hopeless case, and my shoulders pressed against the tiled wall as my fingers tightened in his hair. The thrusting of my hips was fast and hard, and Charlie hollowed his cheeks, his fingers gripping my thighs as he did all he could to hold on.

A whispered, "Fuck," spilled from my lips with a muted growl as I came in hot, thick spurts. Charlie smiled around my cock, and I felt the vibrations of his inaudible hum as he licked at my head. I jerked, entirely too sensitive, making him chuckle fondly as he stood.

When he kissed me, I tasted myself on his tongue and felt my knees wobble as they nearly gave way beneath me. Charlie put a steadying arm around my waist and pressed his other hand against the wall over my left shoulder, deepening our kiss as if he just couldn't get enough of me.

I could feel him hard, pressing against my hip, but when he pulled away, he kissed my chin and my nose and murmured, "I love you," before turning and reaching for the soap.

I frowned, not liking the loss of intimacy with him. It wasn't like we always had to be equal – there were plenty of times when we'd done just what Charlie had right then – but I needed him. I needed to feel him, needed to know that he still wanted me just as I wanted him.

It was irrational and ridiculous, but I realized suddenly that I was a little…jealous. Not of Bella, exactly – I wanted him to have a strong relationship with her – but of sharing him. I supposed it was more insecurity than envy, the idea that I might be replaced in some capacity, but whatever it was, I didn't like it.

My request was honest though my hands were devious as I stepped up behind him and took his cock in hand. I kissed along his neck and whispered, "Please, Charlie…let me feel you. I need you, love…"

He pressed back against me, his cheek against mine as he answered softly, "I'm not sure I can be quiet, baby. You feel so goddamn good, and I just…" He shrugged, and I bit back a smile. It was true – Charlie was quite vocal sometimes, but that didn't stop me.

"I know you can do it…" My hand squeezed as I went up and over his head, my other hand dipping down to cup his balls. "Come on, Charlie…" I reached for the lube and poured a little into my hand, warming it before resuming my attentions.

He uttered, "Oh, fuck…" and I heard the way his breathing stuttered, bringing a smile to my face.

"Make love to me…please…"

My last whispered plea proved too much for him, and he turned quickly, his hands squeezing my ass as he kissed me hard. "You're impossible to resist, you know that?" He mumbled breathlessly before spinning me around.

My hands went to the shower wall as Charlie spread my feet and stepped between. The slight sting as he entered me was exquisite; the way he hardened even further was every shred of evidence I'd needed that he was mine. I felt a little ashamed then that I'd had a bout of uncertainty, no matter how brief, but he left me no room for wallowing as his hips began to roll against mine.

His hands roamed my back and ass, speaking to me in soft caresses and harder pinches the way he usually did with words. One hand settled on my shoulder as he took me deeper, harder, and I rested my forearms against the tile, my forehead against them. My panting breath combined with the steam to make me dizzy, but the reality of Charlie's body rocking mine kept me grounded.

I felt him pulsing, his thighs quivering just before he grew utterly still. His fingertips were nearly painful, digging into my hipbones, but I would not have traded that visceral knowledge that he was mine for anything in the world.

As he pulled away from me, I felt the serenity I usually knew settle into my chest once more. Charlie and I were okay – we were us, no matter what this life threw at us.

Shame still burned my cheeks that I had needed such a reminder as I turned around, but if Charlie saw it, he didn't comment. He kissed me tenderly and gave me a mischievous grin before facing the showerhead and reaching for his soap. We cleaned each other in relative silence, reconnecting and sharing occasional kisses.

My heart felt lighter when we climbed out and dried off. We spent a few more minutes getting ready for bed, and as we settled against the headboard, I wondered how, exactly, to bring up the things I needed to talk to him about.

He saved me the trouble as he sprawled out beside me. His cheeks were still faintly flushed when he glanced at me and said, "So…how did it go tonight?"

He must've taken my silence for some sort of reproach because he chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair. "Yeah, sorry…guess I didn't give you a chance to say much, huh?"

I grinned. "No, you didn't…but you won't hear me complain." I kissed him once and then sat back, trying to decide where to begin. "Tonight was…good, actually."

"Really?" His disbelief couldn't have been plainer if he'd come out and said it, and I smiled wryly in response.

"Yes, really. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was actually pleasant." Charlie set up straighter, asking questions, and I told him about Bella helping set the table and finish up with dinner.

"She really seems to like cooking, too. Do you think she might like to cook here sometimes? I didn't know how to ask her because I didn't want it to seem like she had to, but I don't want to stop her if she wants to."

Charlie listened with a thoughtful expression and then sighed, running his hands across his face. "Hell, Carlisle, I have no idea. Maybe?" I frowned a little at the way he seemed to give up in exasperation so often with her. At my pointed look, he said, "Yeah, she might, actually. The last couple of years she came up here, she cooked some, but I thought it was just because I'm terrible at it."

I chuckled and reached out to take his hand. "Well, you are that."

His admission that he didn't know this about Bella brought me around to what I really needed to talk to him about. I felt a heavy sense of dread as I sighed, lacing my fingers through his. "I need to tell you something, Charlie," I began, deciding on the spot that it was best to just get this out in the open.

I waited for him to prompt me, to ask me what I was talking about, but he stayed silent. When I glanced at him, his brown eyes pinned me in place, and I found the words spilling from my lips uncontrollably. "I hope you're not upset, but I couldn't take the way Bella looks at you anymore. I knew she had a few things…twisted, and I had to set them straight. I wasn't trying to get in your way or tell her more than you intended her to know, and I definitely didn't want to undermine you, but-"

The flow cut off abruptly as Charlie's fingertips pressed against my lips. "Calm down, Carlisle." I could see the tightness and worry around his eyes, even though he tried to hide it. "I know you wouldn't do that, baby. What did you say, though?"

I exhaled audibly and murmured, "I told her that you never cheated on Renee…and that I didn't know you were attracted to me until they moved to Arizona."

One side of Charlie's mustache moved as he chewed on the inside of his cheek. His eyes were filled with questions that he never voiced – I wondered if he was afraid of the answers. Finally, he cleared his throat and said timidly, "What did she say?"

"She said 'thanks'," I answered simply. I let him absorb my words for a moment before squeezing his hand. He looked back up at me, and I added, "She was upset, Charlie. She looked like she was going to cry and just said she was going to finish the dishes and go to bed."

I could see the pain in Charlie's eyes – pain for his little girl – along with a hint of helplessness. I leaned down to kiss his forehead and pulled his head against my shoulder, putting my arms around him.

"She doesn't know what to believe, sweetheart," I began again. "Her world is upside down, and she doesn't know who to trust. You have to try to talk to her again, and it may mean taking a little bit of a beating from her. I know it's natural to want to defend yourself, especially in the things you know you're right on, but it might help just to let her get it off her chest once and for all."

He let me hold him, his weight solid against my side. I ran my fingers through his hair, occasionally kissing the crown of his head as I gave him time to think things through. I knew where his thoughts were circling, so it was no surprise when he said, "What if she leaves?"

"If she were going to, I think she already would have." It was the first time I'd given him that particular answer, and he sat up, looking at me with eyes filled with questions. I gave him a small smile and brushed the back of my fingers along his cheek. "Think about it, love. Everything that Bella thinks she knows is based on the worst possible assumptions she could make. As much as I can't stand it, she thinks you lied and cheated on her mother. If she hasn't left based on that alone, why would she leave when she finds out what really happened?"

When Charlie didn't answer, I felt my smile falter. I swallowed slowly and forced the words out. "Unless…Charlie, do you think that our real story is worse?"

I had a sudden urge to cry as I considered the possibility that Charlie really was ashamed of me – or, at least, ashamed of the way our relationship had progressed. When my face fell, Charlie mumbled, "Oh god, I did it again…" and I was pressed back into the mattress at an awkward angle, his body weighing me down as he kissed my neck and cheeks, murmuring apologies.

At last, he sat up with a heavy sigh. His knees were on either side of my hips as he rested on my thighs, and he ran his fingers through his hair. He reached out a hand and pulled me up, crushing me to his chest as he said, "Damn it, I'm sorry." He sat back slightly and took my hand, placing my palm over the place where his tattoo marked his chest. "No, I don't. I'm so sorry, Carlisle. I just…fuck. I need this over. I need it to all be out in the open because I can't keep going like this. I think I'm actually going insane, and I keep hurting you, and…" He broke off, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. "I'm sorry," he breathed again.

"It's okay. Honestly. I understand…but you're right. We do need to get past this." I smiled. "Bella's here. She's living with us. We have a chance to be a family, but we can't just ignore this. It's not going away." He nodded, and I lifted my chin, kissing him softly on the lips. "Which is why I was thinking…maybe tomorrow's the perfect time to talk to her? No school for Veterans Day, and you're off, right?"

Charlie nodded and then frowned, his hands absently rubbing my biceps as he thought. "Yeah, maybe." He glanced up at me, pouting, and I knew then that he'd given in. He always turned petulant when I "made" him do something he didn't want to.

I chuckled, soothing him with kisses and quiet words, and we shifted back so that we were sitting side by side again. We spent an hour or so discussing the things he needed to bring up, and he asked for my advice on how to handle certain topics. It felt good to reconnect with him. So much about Bella had been off limits for years that, in some ways, it felt like I was being fully admitted into this part of his life for the first time.

We decided that they needed to be alone – perhaps Bella would be more agreeable if I wasn't in the house. I hated the thought that she found me threatening, but ignoring it wouldn't make it go away. We agreed that after breakfast, I would go in to the hospital a little early. My shift didn't officially start until 10:00, but I could use the time to catch up on some paperwork.

I was nervous, and I knew Charlie was, too, but I also felt a sense of impending relief. I could only imagine how rough tomorrow's conversation might get, but at least they would be talking. It had to bring progress of some kind.

I reminded Charlie that he needed to tell Bella about Alice's visit as well, especially since she would be staying in the tiny guest room for a few months. I resisted the urge to chide him for not telling her sooner. I knew all too well how easy it was to let something go and then continue to let it go.

By the time we went to bed, Charlie felt somewhat confident. He had a plan of sorts, and he felt better after talking through it with me. As we settled beneath the covers, he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me on top of him. He hugged me fiercely, and when his arms finally relaxed, we spent long moments kissing while his hands roamed my body tenderly.

"I love you, Carlisle," he whispered, and I heard countless unspoken apologies and reassurances. As I murmured my response, I hoped he could hear everything I felt as well – regrets and hope, understanding and compassion.

We rolled onto our sides, and though we often slept turned away from each other for comfort's sake, we drifted off that night in a tangle of limbs that made us one.

A/N: We'd like to remind you that the Fandom Gives Back auction for Alex's Lemonade Stand is coming up soon. We are offering up two types of auctions - first come, first served drabbles and a standard auction for a one-shot, outtake from one of our stories, or another chapter of a previous one-shot. The auction will run June 25 through July 2. Please check out http:/www(dot)thefandomgivesback(dot)com/

We'd also like to announce the Plot Bunny Contest taking place now through July 31st. SorceressCirce is one of your hosts for the contest while naelany is a judge. The contest is a different sort, with submitting plot bunnies which will be given out to other authors to write. Please check out http:/plotbunnycontest(dot)blogspot(dot)com/ for all the information!