An Officer and A Gentlemen Contest

Title: Fortune Favors the Bold

Your pen name(s): CapriciousC

Branch of Service/Profession: USAF

Pairing: Bella/Edward

If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visit the "An Officer and a Gentleman " C2 Community:

www (dot) fanfiction (dot) net / community / The_Perv_Packs_An_Officer_and_a_Gentleman_Contest_Entries/76389/


Author's Note: Please see the Photobucket link in my profile for visuals. Aduentas Fortuna Juvat = Fortune Favors the Bold, Motto of the 366th Air Expeditionary Fighter Wing

Disclaimer:Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. NASA holds the original patent for synthetic vision systems. The USAF and Boeing own the C-17.

BPOV

I have lost track of how many times in the last couple of years I have been in this type of situation, the only woman in the room, dozens of men hanging on my every word. It should be old hat by now, a boost to my ego, but instead I feel like I'm going to throw up. These men hold the fate of my career, and that of my best friend Rose, in their hands. If they aren't impressed with what I've shown them today, we will forever be known in the aerospace industry as the two wunderkinds who spent years on a fruitless idea that went nowhere. Earlier this morning we had given them a demonstration in the flight simulator. Now I had finished my presentation, given it my all; I stood at the podium, waiting to see if they had any more questions for me before they went off to decide our fate.

Rose and I met as undergraduates at MIT, and hit it off immediately. In addition to being two of a very small number of women in the Aero/Astro department, we were both military brats and shared a passionate love of all things related to airplanes. Both of our dads had been pilots – mine in the Air Force, Rose's in the Navy – and we had grown up on an assortment of military bases, where every day the sky overhead looked like an airshow.

We had first come up with the idea for our synthetic vision system while working at British Aerospace as interns. Well, technically, we had first come up with the idea while in a pub, but we kept that little detail to ourselves. In all fairness, though, the multiple pints of beer we'd consumed that night probably had made it a bit easier for us to think "outside the box."

When we sobered up the next morning, we realized that our idea was unusual, but had merit. Flying in bad weather was something all pilots had to deal with, but most found it very counterintuitive to rely on a bunch of dials and other numerical readouts. They wanted to see where they were going. Our system would use weather radar and altimeter data to generate a picture inside the airplane for the pilots to show them what the world outside would look like if the weather was perfect – like a video game display, it simulated a bright, sunny day. We could even show them a sort of "highway in the sky" – all they had to do was follow the road and they'd get to their destination safely.

We had come a long way since then, developing a prototype system to demonstrate our idea, working out many of the details. Now if only we could convince the government to give us the money to develop and flight test the system. The Air Force was already convinced our idea was something they wanted on their C-17 Globemaster transport airplanes, and they were willing to lend us a few of their pilots and even a dedicated C-17 to develop and test it. If the House Appropriations Committee didn't approve the money, though, it was all over. No one but the government could afford to fund the development of such an elaborate system. It wasn't that we would lose our jobs, but the stigma would follow us for years, seriously hampering our careers.

Way to put all of your eggs in one basket, Bella.

Still, if my dad was here to see this, I knew he would be proud. "Go big or go home" had been his motto, and he had lived it right until the end. Rose and I had certainly gone big – there were three Congressmen in the room, an Air Force Brigadier General, the Vice President of Engineering of Boeing - the company Rose and I worked for - as well as several Colonels, a few Majors, numerous aides, and other associated hangers-on. There were a couple of definitely friendly faces in the room, though.

One was Colonel Carlisle Cullen, the Air Base Wing Commander we worked with on a regular basis. Rose and I were civilians – Boeing engineers who designed systems for the Air Force's airplanes. As a result, we spent a lot of time working closely with the pilots who reported to Carlisle – they tested out the new designs we came up with. From almost the moment he had become the new Wing Commander two years ago, he had been our biggest supporter. Without his political connections and continued championing of our system, I doubt we would have made it this far. The other friendly face belonged to Major Edward Masen. Once Rose and I had convinced him that our design would improve safety and potentially save lives, he also became a very vocal supporter. He may not have had Carlisle's political connections, but his undeniable reputation as an ace pilot – and, some would argue, war hero – meant that his support was also invaluable.

It doesn't hurt that he's pretty, either, I thought to myself as I glanced his way. I noticed that he and Carlisle were engaged in their own quiet conversation, while the assorted Congressmen conferred with each other.

So pretty…those deep green eyes, that wonderfully messy hair, not to mention the broad shoulders and *ahem* strong thighs that were highlighted so very nicely by that flight suit…

I was pulled out of my daydreaming by the ranking member of the appropriations committee calling my name. "Dr. Swan, we're very impressed with everything you've shown us today. You've addressed all of our concerns satisfactorily – we've decided to approve the budget as you've outlined it and you may proceed with the development."

I was stunned. They had decided to approve the budget? When? I had only stopped speaking a few minutes ago, and they hadn't asked me to leave the room or anything so they could discuss it. Wait, I should probably respond to his statement.

"Thank you, Congressman Obey. My team and I really appreciate your confidence in us and our system." The various aides began gathering their bosses' things, and Major Masen offered me a quiet "congratulations" before leaving the room. Sigh – always polite, always professional, but nothing more.

After several minutes of handshaking and "thank yous" and other professional courtesies that seemed to drag on and on, I found myself alone in the conference room with Colonel Cullen and Mr. Richards, the VP of Engineering.

Mr. Richards congratulated me, telling me what a "big win" this was for the company and how we had always had his support. Honestly, he was more of a politician than the actual Congressmen – I knew if they had denied us the funding he would have told everyone who would listen how he knew our system was a long shot. But I smiled and thanked him anyway – he was a VP, after all. Then he said, "I do hope you and Dr. Hale take some time to celebrate your accomplishment this weekend, but I'd like a preliminary list of your proposed team members on my desk on Monday."

Shocked, I asked, "Rose…I mean, Dr. Hale and I can select our own team? The whole team?"

Mr. Richards replied, "Who better than you and Dr. Hale? I expect you'll want to retain some of the engineers you've been working with up to this point, but you're going to need a lot more people – the best people – you get me the names and I'll make it happen. Well, except for the Air Force personnel, of course – those choices will be up to Colonel Cullen here." With that, he left me alone with Carlisle.

Carlisle smiled broadly at me and said, "Congratulations Bella, you and your team have worked so hard for this. I'm sorry for all the hoops you had to jump through today. Just between us, I suspect that they had already decided to approve the funding, but some of the members of the Appropriations committee wanted a chance to play in the flight simulator."

I laughe. "Our tax dollars hard at work, right?"

Carlisle chuckled. "Indeed. I hope I'm not overstepping my boundaries by telling you how proud I am of you and Rose – you know Esme will be over the moon, as well."

"No, not overstepping at all, Carlisle. Thank you for all of your support – I know we never would have made it this far with Appropriations without your help. Rose and I both appreciate how good you and Esme are to us." It was true – he and his wife had more or less adopted most of the people we worked with, hosting regular barbecues and inviting us all over for the holidays if we couldn't get the time off to visit family.

He smiled. "Speaking of Rose, I believe you have some news for her, and the two of you need to start thinking about your team."

"I'll go and find her, but first, may I ask if you've chosen the pilots you're going to assign to our project?"

"I have spoken – informally - to those I think would be best for the job, but nothing's set in stone yet, so I think it's best not to say anything until I know for certain," he answered.

"Of course," I replied, although I was secretly disappointed. I was eager to find out who he had in mind. I sincerely hoped Major Masen would be among them.

Because he's an excellent pilot, of course. Plus he has a background in engineering so he'd be a real asset to the design process and…I'm not even fooling myself. His qualifications as a pilot aside, the man is yummy. Looks yummy, smells yummy, and even his voice is delicious.

I made my way toward the office area I shared with Rose, knowing that she would be waiting to hear how the meeting had gone. As I approached the reception area, Angela, the assistant who worked for Rose and I, whisper-yelled, "She's back!" and came dashing toward me.

"Well?!?"

"Patience, grasshopper," I said. "I'll tell you both all the gory details once we're behind closed doors."

We walked into Rose's office to find her perched on the edge of her desk with an expectant look on her face. "So, how do you think it went? When do you think they'll decide? What's the next step?"

I closed the office door behind me. "I know exactly how it went, and they've already decided."

"Dammit!" she said. "They said no already?"

I smiled widely, "Did I say that? Such a pessimist, Rose, really…."

Rose stood up and fixed me with a glare that would peel paint off the walls. "Bella, I swear, if you don't tell me everything right now I am going to staple your tongue to the floor."

"Okay, okay…they approved the budget. It's a go."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. And get this – Richards said we can pick the team. The whole team, Rose – we can pick anyone we want. Except the Air Force people, obviously, but Carlisle is choosing them so you know they'll be good," I said.

Rose got a big grin on her face, "Did he say who the pilots are going to be?"

"No," I replied, "He said he's talked to the ones he wants, but only informally, so he didn't want to reveal any names until it was official."

"Well, I guess I can understand that. And you're right, they'll be good, whoever they are." She looked lost in thought for a moment, and then she looked at me and said, almost in a daze, "You did it, Bella. All those years, all that work, you convinced them to take the chance on us. You really did it."

"No, Rose – we did it. Your design is brilliant – even the politicians and executives could see it," I countered as I felt myself get teary.

Rose straightened her spine and grabbed my shoulders. "Okay, dammit, I am not going to cry in the office. We are going out to celebrate. Angela, you are the glue that holds this team together, you are coming with us. Both of you go home, get out of those work clothes and into something fun, and meet me for tacos and margaritas in an hour," she ordered.


An hour later I walked into our favorite Mexican restaurant to see Rose already seated at a table, pouring a pitcher of margaritas into three chilled glasses, Angela smiling broadly at her side. We spent the next couple of hours eating our weight in tacos and tossing names back and forth for our new "team." Angela was convinced that once word got out that we were making the selections, we would be inundated with a wave of bribe attempts and sucking-up. She was probably right – being assigned to this project meant a guaranteed job for at least the next decade, not to mention that it was brand-new technology, something most engineers would give up their pocket protectors to work on.

Rose and I both teased Angela a bit about Ben, the avionics engineer we knew she had a crush on, and who seemed to have an endless list of excuses to stop by Angela's desk during the day. Ben was a shoe-in for our team – he was brilliant, and perhaps working more closely with Angela would give him the courage to finally ask her out.

Then Angela asked the question that Rose and I had studiously avoided for the last couple of hours. "So, which pilots do you think Colonel Cullen has asked?"

Rose eyed me across the table. "I'm sure Major Masen is one of them," she said as she smiled slyly.

I eyed her right back and said, "I'm sure Bear is, too." Rose looked away and tried to hide her smile, but I knew the prospect of working closely with Captain Emmett "Bear" McCarty for the next several years was one she would relish. Bear was a mountain of a man who was intimidating in appearance, until he smiled, and you saw that he was truly a teddy bear at heart. I strongly suspected that he was as interested in Rose as she was in him, but he seemed a bit intimidated by the combination of her brilliance and her beauty, and she was of the firm conviction that if he was interested, he should make the first move.

Angela looked from me to Rose and said, "You know, ladies, denial is not just a river in Egypt. Masen and McCarty are just as hot for the two of you as you are for them, but you all just dance around each other. It's like a junior high school dance with the boys on one side of the gym and the girls on the other, and never the twain shall meet."

Rose and I both opened our mouths to protest, and Angela continued, "Yes, I know, I'm a big fat hypocrite, but I swear right here and now that if Ben doesn't ask me out by the end of the month, I'll ask him. I'm inspired by your success today – you knew what you wanted for your careers and you made it happen. You two need to take all of that passion and drive you have for your design and apply it to your love lives."

I answered, "Good for you, Angela – you should ask Ben out. He definitely likes you, he's just shy. However, there's a flaw in your logic as it applies to me – I could sell the system because I believed in it. I knew it was the right choice for the Air Force. But honestly – there's no way that I'm Edward Masen's type. Guys like that don't go for nerdy girls."

Rose snorted and said, "That's a crock. He eyes you like he's a hobo and you're a ham sandwich. Furthermore –"

Rose didn't get to expand on her hobo/ham sandwich metaphor, however, as my Blackberry chose that moment to erupt in a flurry of texts, e-mails, and then started to ring.

The caller ID showed that Mike Newton, one of our flight test engineers, was calling.

"Hi Mike, what's up?" I asked.

"Hi Bella, sorry to bother you so late but we just got another report of that navigation database anomaly – you know, the one that keeps showing up when they fly the polar routes – and Command is flipping out, so our management is flipping out and they want us to figure it out ASAP. We got the flight recorder data from the latest incident and it's loaded into the simulator – can you look at it tonight?" he asked.

"Sure, Mike, I'll be right there. Can you call Dispatch and ask them to send a pilot?"

"Okay," he said, "I'll have everything ready to go when you get here."

I ended the call and looked over to Rose and Angela, who had already figured out what was happening. "Another nav problem?" Rose asked.

"Yep," I answered, "They've got data from the flight recorder this time so hopefully we'll be able to figure out what the hell is going wrong. Continue the celebration without me. I'll call you both tomorrow afternoon and we can get together to work on that list of names Richards wants."

As I drove to the flight simulator building, I reminded myself that once we officially started development of our system, I wouldn't have to answer calls like this anymore. Until then, however, this was still part of my job – trying to figure out why airplanes flying over the North Pole in order to save fuel kept losing their navigation data, resulting in their pilots having to land before they reached their destination.

I entered the control room for the flight simulator to see Newton entering data on three different keyboards, setting everything up so that the simulator would precisely mimic the problem flight that had occurred earlier that day. I was about to say hello to Mike, when the door opened and Bear McCarty walked in and boomed a greeting to me.

"Hells Bells, you look good enough to eat! I have to say, while I like the naughty librarian look you usually sport, those jeans do amazing things for your ass, and that t-shirt is snug in all the right places."

I turned to look at him and tried to keep the smile off my face. "Teddy bear! Do you even HAVE an indoor voice? And what are you doing here at this hour? You were here with me all morning; you can't possibly be up on the rotation again so soon."

"Nah," he replied, "I've been here since you left with the politicos – they each left behind a gaggle of people who wanted to see "a demonstration of the system," which really meant that they wanted to fly the simulator. The last of them just left a little while ago, so now I'm going home. What about you? Why are you back here?"

"Nav problems again," I answered. "We've got some new data from the flight recorder so maybe this time we'll be able to figure it out."

"Cool, you need a pilot?" he asked.

"No, Mike called Dispatch and they're sending someone over. Besides, you must be exhausted – you should get to bed."

"Why, Dr. Swan! Are you propositioning me? I might have to call the Sexual Harassment hotline. Mike, you're my witness!"

I looked over at Mike and smiled, "Sure, Mike, you're his witness. When they ask you about the "incident," be sure to mention the fact that before I propositioned him, Bear remarked on my amazing ass."

Mike was wide-eyed, looking back and forth between Bear and I like he was watching a tennis match. In the current climate of political correctness, our exchange probably was shocking, but in the last several months it had become par for the course between us. We had always gotten along well, but our working relationship had undergone a sea change about six months ago when on a business trip. The two of us had been snowed in at the Anchorage airport and spent several hours drinking in the airport bar, trading movie quotes, embarrassing childhood stories, and dirty jokes. He had become the big brother figure I had wished for as a child, and as a result he could get away with saying things that would earn virtually anyone else a slap across the face.

I wanted to ask him if he was one of the pilots Carlisle had asked to work on our team, but what if I brought it up, and Carlisle hadn't asked him? Bear was an excellent pilot and it was a very desirable assignment, so it seemed unlikely that he wouldn't be chosen, but still…

Bear broke me out of my thoughts with a loud whisper. "Pssst…time to stop imagining me naked – your pilot is here."

Good grief, he really doesn't have an indoor voice, I thought as I turned around to see who Dispatch had called in.

Holy shit. I was going to spend the next four hours locked in a very small space with Edward Masen? Wearing – hot damn – a tight black t-shirt and fatigue pants. And I thought he looked hot in his flight suit. Wow. I had only had one margarita at dinner, so I couldn't even blame the tequila for my actions if I jumped him.

EPOV

As I pulled into the parking lot of the flight simulator building, I caught myself scanning the cars already parked there to see if hers was among them.

Yep, there it was. The Mini Cooper convertible with the "Geek the Library" sticker on the bumper.

Had I known in high school that girls like Bella Swan hung out in the library, I might have focused a little more on my studies. I had always gotten good grades, but even in college I hadn't needed to work too hard to maintain them – I didn't go to the library unless forced.

I contemplated my own stupidity as I entered the building and headed for the stairs. Bella epitomized what I wanted in a woman – intelligent, well-read, great sense of humor – it made sense that she frequented the library. However, I knew that even if I had set up a cot in the Chicago Public Library all those years ago, I wouldn't have found the girl of my dreams – because while I was growing up in Illinois, she was in Germany, and Florida, and Guam, and Washington State.

Yikes – I sounded like a stalker. So I asked around a little – I was just curious about the bases she had lived on with her family. I thought it might make a good conversation starter, you know – "Oh, your dad was stationed at Hickam? So was I! What a coincidence…maybe we could have dinner some time and reminisce."

That sounded stupid, even in my own head. As it turned out, my career path and her father's had never crossed, so I didn't even have that flimsy excuse to strike up conversation. I saw her almost daily for the past year I'd been stationed here, and we talked all the time, but it was almost always work-related. Every time I tried to talk to her about anything that didn't have wings, I found myself stumbling over my words.

The fact that she was gorgeous didn't make it any easier for me to talk to her. Creamy skin and beautiful chocolate brown eyes, and if she'd ever let her hair down – literally – I bet it would be really long.

She always wore her hair up, usually in some sort of complicated twist thing that I was sure my sister would have a name for, but that made me want to pull out the pins and watch as it fell down around her shoulders. Not that I didn't like her hair up, because I did – she had a lovely, graceful neck – but I had never seen it down and therefore when I pictured her it was inevitably with her hair up.

Great – you've really got it bad, you know. Not only are you waxing poetic about her "lovely neck," you're lamenting the fact that you don't have a mental image of her with her hair down for your spank bank. Fucking pervert.

I sighed as I realized I was standing in a stairwell talking to myself about a woman who was so far out of my league that it was laughable. I climbed the remainder of the stairs and walked to the control room. As I approached the open doorway I heard Bella's voice – she was saying something about her "amazing ass."

What the hell?

I came around the corner and saw her facing Bear McCarty, with her back toward me and the doorway.

Wow – she wasn't kidding about her ass – it really IS amazing.

I had never seen her dressed so casually – her legs seemed to go on for days in those jeans, her faded MIT t-shirt was tight across her luscious breasts, and her hair hung in loose waves.

It's even longer than I thought it would be – I bet it would just graze her nipples if she was naked. Damn…

She was gazing up at Bear with a pensive look on her face. He noticed me standing in the doorway and stage-whispered at her to stop imagining him naked. I felt a hot spike of jealousy, even though I knew they were just friends.

After months of bitterly enduring their playful banter and wondering about the nature of their relationship, I had finally broken down two weeks ago and asked McCarty directly. He told me that their relationship was strictly platonic, but that he cared for her very much, as a friend. He also informed me that if my intentions toward her were less than honorable that he would kick the crap out of me, regardless of the fact that I outranked him.

I let him know that I respected his protective feelings for her, but that his concerns about my intentions were, in all likelihood, entirely irrelevant. When he asked me why, I told him I was sure she would never be interested in me romantically, because of my chosen profession. I knew her dad had been a pilot in the Air Force, too, and while she had always spoken fondly of him and of her childhood experiences, I had overheard her telling Rose that she wasn't sure she could live like her mother had – picking up her life every four years, starting over in a new place every time her husband got new orders.

"It's not like we work for Delta Air Lines, Bear – you and I both know that any woman that commits to us is also committing to the military lifestyle. She's done so well for herself at Boeing – why would she get involved with me, knowing that in a few years she'd have to quit her job?" I had asked him.

Bear's response had been cryptic, at best. "Edward, you have to have faith that things will work out as they're meant to – you might not always be in a position of needing to move every few years. Things change – you have to change right with them." With that, he clammed up and refused to say any more.

After Bear announced the arrival of "her" pilot, Bella turned around and our eyes met. She gave me a slow once-over from head to toe and then her face flushed a delicious pink as our eyes met again. She smiled tentatively at me and I felt a grin stretch across my face. I was pretty sure that she was just checking me out – did that mean that maybe she found me attractive?

"Major Masen, thank you for coming. Mike has uploaded the flight recorder data if you're ready to start," Bella said in her sweet but sultry voice.

"I'm ready whenever you are, Dr. Swan," I replied.

"Please, I'm sure I've asked you to call me Bella."

"You have, and I've asked you to call me Edward," I teased.

She blushed again. "Point taken…Edward. Shall we go then?"

Just then Newton piped up, "Do you want me to come in the simulator with you, Bella? I do know the nav system pretty well, after all, and I might catch some things that the pilots would miss."

What? I knew that asshat had a thing for Bella – he was always following her around like a puppy.

Before I could even think of a civil response, Bella said, "That's okay, Mike – go on home, it's late. I have complete faith in Edward's abilities – he is an ace pilot, after all."

Mike looked crestfallen as I gloated internally. Take that, Newton, she thinks I'm an ace.

Bear looked between Bella and I, smirking when he saw that we were still grinning at each other, and said, "Okay, we'll leave you two crazy kids to it. Come on Newton, I'll walk out with you."

Bella and I left the control room and crossed the footbridge to the simulator. Once inside, she closed the door and turned to me, asking "Motion on or off?" with a smile.

"On – always on," I replied with a smirk.

She leaned over to type some commands into the onboard computer, and her t-shirt rode up a little in the back, revealing…

"Bella? Is that a tattoo?" I asked.

She stood up and turned around so fast it made my head spin.

"Um, yes?" she answered.

"Can I…I mean…may I see it?"

"Um, okay, yeah."

With that, she turned her back to me again and lifted her t-shirt up to just below her breasts. I tried to focus on the tattoo and not the wide expanse of skin she had just exposed or how delectable she smelled up close. The tattoo covered her lower back – it was a koi fish in a pond, with two cranes flying overhead.

"It's amazing," I told her.

"Thank you," she replied, turning back around to face me. "My…my dad had this exact tattoo, but on his chest. He got it just after I was born – he was TDY in Japan – the koi fish was for me, he and my mom were the cranes. My mom was so mad when he told her about it on the phone, but then she saw it and loved it. When he died, I had a tattoo artist recreate it from a photo. I usually keep it covered, obviously – it doesn't really fit the company image, or whatever."

"I can understand why you feel that way, but it's a shame to cover up something so beautiful…and sexy."

She flushed bright red and I cursed my word vomit. "I'm sorry," I said, "I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable – that just came out."

"It's okay, Edward," she said sweetly.

God, I loved the sound of my name coming from her lips.

I suddenly realized just how closely we were standing. Space was at a premium in the simulator, and I could feel the heat radiating from her body. Bella was biting her lower lip and looking up at me through her lashes.

She's not moving away…can that mean…does she want me to kiss her?

I leaned forward experimentally, closing the distance between us by a few inches, and Bella leaned forward in response. Her chin tilted up a bit, her eyes closed, and I leaned in further. I could feel her sweet breath on my face, and I closed my eyes and prepared to touch her lips with my own –

My cell phone chirped loudly, announcing a new text message and startling both of us. Bella squeaked in surprise and then stepped away from me. She sat in the co-pilot's seat and began fiddling with buttons and knobs while I checked my phone to see who was going to have to die for interrupting us.

It was a text message from Bear – with a photo attachment. I opened the attachment to see a picture of Bear standing next to one of the Congressmen from the Appropriations Committee, arms slung around each other casually.

What the hell? I missed out on kissing Bella for this? A picture of Bear and some politician?

I opened the text message and read:

"Ed – did I ever mention my mom's brother Zach is a Congressman? No? My bad. 2 weeks ago when I said you might not always have to move every few years I might have had inside info. Things are changing – you can make sure they change for the better. Trust me – she likes you."

That son-of-a…he knew Appropriations was going to approve the budget for Bella and Rose's system. He also knew that Carlisle had asked me if I'd be interested in being one of the pilots assigned to the program, because Carlisle had asked him as well and we had discussed what it would mean for both our careers. It was a great opportunity for both of us – not only was it a high-profile project, but Carlisle said that Command had guaranteed we'd be able to stay at this base as long as we wanted. No more moving every four years, if we didn't want to.

Maybe Bear was right – maybe it was time to make sure things changed for the better. I looked over at Bella as her phone chirped and she pulled it out of her pocket to read an incoming text. Whatever she read there made her smile.

I sat down in the pilot's seat and asked, "So, should we get started then?"

"Absolutely," Bella answered.

As I ran through the pre-flight checklist, I asked her, "How far into the flight did the problem occur?"

She looked apologetic and replied, "3 hours and 20 minutes."

We had 3 hours and 20 minutes to kill - there was no way to fast forward through the first part of the flight recorder data, and anyway, we needed to watch the instruments to see if anything strange happened. I guided the simulator through the takeoff and then let the autopilot take over.

I was determined to make the most of the time we had together. I looked over at her and joked, "Do you know any show tunes?"

She laughed, "You really don't want to hear me sing."

"How about truth or dare?" I asked.

She looked at me like I had lost my mind. Yeah, maybe not.

"How about twenty questions? Well, a modified version – I ask you a question, then you ask me one, and so on," I suggested.

"Okay," she agreed, "but you have to be willing to answer any question you ask…"

"Deal," I said.

We talked for more than two hours about college, our first loves, movies, books, childhood pets – it was wonderful. I was learning more about her tonight than I had in the previous year.

The next question was hers. "What was the defining moment of your career?"

"Easy," I answered, "when Appropriations approved your budget today."

"What?" she asked. "I thought for sure you'd say something that happened while you were a fighter pilot or when you flew those humanitarian missions on the C-17."

Interesting – she seemed to know a fair bit about my past.

"Nope – there were some incredible moments in those times, but this morning, that was the best. And I'll tell you why," I added, as she opened her mouth to say something else. "Carlisle asked me to be the lead pilot on your project a few weeks ago, hoping that the budget would be approved. I know what a big deal this project is for you and Rose, Bella, but it's a big deal for me, too. It means I can stay here, on this base, as long as I want. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but the idea of planting roots here and not bouncing around anymore – it makes staying in until I'm due for retirement far more attractive. Bouncing around the world doesn't hold as much appeal for me as it did when I was twenty-two and fresh out of flight school. I like it here. I don't want to go anywhere else."

Bella looked down for a moment, but when she looked back up, her smile was huge. "So you're staying?" she asked.

"I'm staying."

"I'm glad," she replied. "I also think my answer to my own question is obvious, so it's your turn."

"Hmmm…" I said. "Ever committed a felony?" I joked.

She blanched and said, "What did Bear tell you?"

"Bear? Nothing, I swear. I was completely joking," I answered.

She breathed an audible sigh of relief.

"Oh, no," I said, "now you have to tell me."

"Okay, so…you have to understand, MIT was hugely expensive, and Rose and I both come from middle class families. We had scholarships for tuition, but books and lab fees add up, and…it's really expensive to live in Boston, you know?" she rambled.

"Okay…"

"So we were both really struggling for money our sophomore year, and we looked into on campus jobs, but they only paid minimum wage…there was this guy in our dorm who made fake IDs, and they were okay, you know, but not great…he asked Rose and I if we wanted to buy some and she said she could make a better one on her own…so she hacked into the Idaho DMV website – it was the easiest one to crack - and made us each IDs."

"Um, okay…"

"So then the guy who was selling the IDs asked if we wanted to be partners – he brought in the customers, we did the actual "manufacturing," and it didn't take much time so we could still study and stuff and the money was really good and…so yeah, we never got caught, but technically I guess it was a felony." She looked ashamed.

"Wow, Bella – I'm impressed," I told her, honestly.

"Really? You're not, you know, bothered by my ambiguous moral compass or whatever?"

"No. Think about it, you weren't really hurting anyone, right? You did what you had to do to pay for school. I'm impressed by your ingenuity. You're always surprising me, you know that?"

"Really?" she asked. "My mom always says I'm an open book."

"Maybe you are, to your mom," I replied, "but to me…you're…a riddle, wrapped in – "

She cut me off, "Tell me you were not just about to compare me to the Soviet Union."

"No, no, I didn't mean it like that. I like that you surprise me – you're very intriguing. I'm sorry – in no way did I mean to imply there were any similarities between you and Stalinist Russia," I apologized.

She giggled – it was the cutest thing I'd ever heard.

"But, um, you make me kind of nervous and I tend to stumble over my words around you," I admitted.

"I make you nervous? Why on earth would I make you nervous?" she asked.

"Do you really not know, Bella?"

She shook her head. "No."

We had turned our seats toward each other while we were talking, and now I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees.

"Bella, from the first moment I saw you, I was smitten. I'm in deep smit. You're smart and funny…you're kind…and…so beautiful." Her eyes widened and I started to stammer, "I…I know I'm probably not the kind of guy you'd usually be interested in…but, I'd like a chance to show you – "

She cut me off by placing a finger across my lips. When I met her eyes, she smiled shyly. She leaned slowly forward and replaced her finger with her lips, brushing mine tentatively.

The moment my lips made contact with hers, I felt a rush of sensation. Call it sparks or fireworks or chemistry – kissing her felt more right than anything else ever had.

I raised my hands to her face, cradling it gently while I deepened the kiss. Bella sighed into my mouth and placed her hands in my hair, alternating between running her fingers through the strands and tugging lightly.

I suddenly realized that she was leaned awkwardly over the center console of the simulator, and moved my hands to her waist to pull her into my lap. Instead of sitting sideways as I expected, she straddled me in the pilot's chair and the sixteen-year-old in me rejoiced at the cosmic alignment of my two teenage fantasies – a beautiful girl and an airplane cockpit.

Okay, so it was a simulated airplane cockpit. Close enough.

As we continued to kiss passionately, I moved one hand from her waist and wrapped it in her long mahogany hair. With my other hand I held her close to me, marveling at how soft and small and just…right…she felt in my arms.

Bella pulled her lips away from my own, and I moaned at the loss of contact. But then she began to kiss down my jaw, to my neck, until she reached my earlobe, which she nipped lightly with her teeth.

The heat from that one action shot straight to my cock, and I fought the urge to grab her by the hips and grind against her. As much as I wanted her – wanted to take her to my bed and not surface for days – I wanted more. I needed more. I'd never be satisfied with a one-time thing – I wanted her in my life. For good, if she'd have me. Knowing that, I knew I needed to stop this before I blew it.

"Bella," I breathed. "Would you have dinner with me tomorrow night?"

She sat up rather suddenly and said, "Um, what?"

Huh – I guess my question was kind of a non-sequitur.

"Please don't think that I'm not enjoying this – because, God, am I enjoying this – but I want to do this right, Bella. I want to be with you. I want to show you I can make you happy. May I take you to dinner tomorrow?"

She smiled brightly, "Yes, I'd like that very much. And Edward - just so you know – the deep smit is entirely reciprocated."

I touched my forehead to hers. "Bella, I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to hear that."

I kissed her softly, and then just held her close to me, thanking my lucky stars or whatever higher power was responsible for the amazing, life-changing day I'd had.

Just then Bella laughed softly and said, "I think I owe Bear a drink, at least."

I pulled back to look at her and asked, "Why?"

She got her phone out and showed me the text message she had received earlier – it was from Bear.

"Trust me – he likes you. Take a chance – I promise you'll be glad you did."

"I think we both owe him a little something – perhaps we ought to return the favor for him and Rose?" I asked.

"Perfect," she replied with a smile.

After a few more minutes nuzzling her hair and enjoying the feel of her in my arms, I noticed the countdown on the flight clock – we had less than five minutes before the mysterious navigation problem would appear. Bella looked at the clock just as I did.

"I guess we should get to work, huh?" she said.

"I think we'd better – I for one don't want to explain to Carlisle why we spent four hours in the simulator and never even tried to fix the problem," I answered.

She smiled ruefully and gave me a quick kiss before moving back to the co-pilot's seat. We were watching the displays, waiting for the problem to make itself known when something occurred to me.

"Bella?"

"Hmmm?"

"Why were you talking to Bear and Newton about your ass earlier?"

Author's note #2: Thanks to laraisawkward for being an amazing beta and holding my hand while I popped my fic cherry. Portions of this story were inspired by real-life events; names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, with one exception. Early in my career I worked with a pilot whose nickname was, in fact, Bear. He was kind and funny and a true friend in what was very much an "old boys" environment. Sadly, he died a few years ago in a plane crash. He is sorely missed.

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