ENTRY FOR THE PLOT BUNNY CONTEST
Story Name: The photo
Penname: AStarDanced77
Rating: M
Word Count (not including header/author's note): 5533
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Prompt: Picture Prompt http:/fc08(dot)deviantart(dot)net/fs14/f/2007/069/2/a/ Couple_of_Laughs_by_

I want to know who these two are. It could be that this is an old photograph one of them is looking at, or it could be that this is them right now. Any couple works - Bella/Edward, Angela/Ben, non-canon, whatever

BPOV

I sat and stared and the picture in my hand. Elegantly mounted in silver, the black and white photograph spoke of true love and pure joy. I gazed at the two people and wondered what had happened to them. The boy looked at her with such devotion. The girl's smile held so much tenderness. They were supposed to be together, forever. Every day of forever, he had promised.

How had it all gone so terribly wrong?

I remembered the day it had been taken. It was a beautiful spring day. Well, as beautiful as spring got in Forks; it had still only been 61 degrees. Angela had been going through her black and white photography phase - she had carried that camera everywhere, taking photographs of everything she could see. We had to look through a lot of shots of trees that spring. Edward and I had just been sitting, waiting for her to finish taking the perfect shot of the bank, as she muttered to herself about symbols of consumerism. We were touching, of course. In those days we couldn't help ourselves. I never felt right unless he was touching me somehow. I still didn't feel right without his touch. These days, I had just learned to live without it.

We had been so caught up in each other that day we hadn't even realised Angela had taken our picture. It wasn't until I was looking through her prints of endless treescapes that I had seen it. I had begged Angela for the negative and made another copy. I found a frame and had given it to him on our first anniversary. It wasn't this frame. This was a suitable frame; something that fit with our décor. I sometimes wondered if the only reason the photo had been left on display was because it fit the white theme of our formal lounge room. The decorator had liked the arty feeling of the black and white; thank goodness for Angela's artistic enthusiasms. Edward hadn't seemed to care either way.

Back then, the picture had seemed to me to encapsulate everything that we were: the devotion of our gaze, the eagerness of our touch, the blinding smiles and, most of all, the insatiable need to kiss.

If I could have had my way, I would have spent all my time kissing Edward. As far as I was concerned, even breathing came second place. The feeling of his mouth on mine, his hands wandering my body, becoming rougher as he became aroused, the way his body leant into mine, enclosing me in our own little bubble. I thought nothing could ever be better. Of course, as our relationship progressed I learned that, in fact, it could get much better. The physical side of our relationship had never been our problem.

I lay the photograph gently on the bed next to me. It was the only photo I had brought with me. I couldn't bear the rest; so many marked the milestones of our life. Our high school graduation, our first day at Dartmouth, our first apartment, our college graduations, Esme and Carlisle's 40th wedding anniversary, Emmett's wedding, Alice's wedding.

Our wedding.

We had waited until college was finished. We wanted to be mature and show our families we weren't rushing anything. Edward had proposed the evening he received his bar exam results; he literally couldn't wait a moment longer. That night we had made love for hours, just glorying in our togetherness. He murmured perfect words of adoration and fidelity in my ears as his hands ghosted over my body. Later, when he finally entered me he whispered so quietly that I could barely hear him. "Forever mine."

I thought our wedding day was the beginning of forever. Alice had been beside herself trying to make everything perfect. I could have told her that it didn't matter. As long as Edward was there it would be perfect. I didn't bother - she would have just rolled her eyes and muttered something about how sickening we were. So I sat back and let her fuss around. It was her gift to me; Alice's contribution to welcoming me to the family and making me her sister.

Charlie had walked me down the aisle. His arm through mine was the only thing stopping me from running straight down the front to Edward. I couldn't wait to be married – I wanted everyone to know that he was mine, only mine. The wedding ceremony was yet another affirmation that we belonged together. In it we were joined; hand to hand, heart to heart, soul to soul. As soon as I walked into the church my gaze met his. He was my magnetic north; everything in him drew me closer. His smile wavered and I thought for a moment he might cry. Then the joy burst through and he beamed at me. He had always looked at me like that. As if I was all his dreams come true. When had that stopped? And why hadn't I noticed?

I had been so proud that day; proud to belong to him. I was still proud of him. He had achieved so much. The day he had been sworn in as the junior senator for Washington I had been almost beside myself with delight. I sat with his family and thought I might burst from the excess of emotion. Everyone warned us that the high of the campaign trail would wear off and leave us empty but we knew that would never happen. We had each other – emptiness wasn't even possible. We had sublet our apartment in Seattle and found a tiny one-bedroom place in Washington D.C. I blessed my job as a freelance writer many times during our first session of the Senate. I worked when he worked, often far in to the night. I slept when he slept and on his rare free days we explored the town and surrounding area.

Ironic, then, that the job that allowed us to be together provided the first wedge to drive us apart. It had started harmlessly enough; one line in a two page article making a slighting comment about legislation Edward was supporting. We had made no secret of our opposing political views. It wasn't even surprising. He was the product of a long line of left-learning philanthropists; I was the daughter of a small town cop. The surprise was how often we managed to agree. But that line caused panic in Edward's office.

As he had gained experience and respect as a Senator, he had gained responsibility. By the time of the great article debacle, he had acquired a small political staff. They were horrified that I had dared express an opinion of my own, and a contrary opinion at that. There had been a crisis meeting in Edward's office where Jane, his chief of staff, had discoursed at great length of the magnitude of my transgression. I kept waiting for Edward to speak up, to defend me, but he didn't say a word. I think a little part of me died that day. A larger part died the next day when I had discovered Jane had released a statement retracting the comment on my behalf. I had stormed into Edward's office demanding that he fire her; instead he defended her actions.

After that, I had stopped sharing my personal political opinions with my readers. As politics began to creep into every facet of ordinary American lives it left me little to say. I stuck to light subjects – entertainment, fashion, house improvement; things I knew little about and cared less but were at least safe. The job I had been so proud of became a noose around my neck and eventually I quit. We didn't need the money; Edward was independently wealthy. Jane congratulated me. Apparently, it was looked good to the constituents that Edward could support his wife. They all assumed we were getting ready to start a family. I didn't bother to correct their misapprehension.

And so I had become another bored housewife. The charity work I could take up was limited. Esme, Edward's mother, took me under her wing and steered me towards the party approved functions. She knew how bored I was and tried everything to get me to start writing again but I wouldn't risk it. We became close even as her son and I were drifting apart.

After giving up my job I no longer had a reason to travel to Washington D.C. with Edward. The first time I decided to stay home he didn't bat an eyelid. I had hoped that he would at least ask me to change my mind and come. Instead he muttered something about me being bored while he was at work and shut himself up in his study. Another plan backfiring.

Sitting here on my old bed I wondered why I hadn't just told him how I was feeling. We used to tell each other everything. We would talk for hours about the most inane subjects just for the joy of hearing the other speak. We had epic debates on the issues of the day until the tension between us got too much and we ripped each other's clothes off. Edward declaiming his position on climate change wearing nothing but his reading glasses and towel was one of the sexiest things I had ever seen. I was sure he had worn those glasses deliberately after that, just to turn me on.

And yet, here I sat. Alone. I had left my husband of ten years with nothing but a note. I wondered if he had found it yet. He was due home tonight but he was so often late; he probably hadn't even left Washington. He would find it eventually, though. Would he come to find me? Would he call? Or would I wake up one morning to a stranger serving me with divorce papers?

That final thought broke me. When I left I thought the pain could not possibly be any worse.

I was wrong.

EPOV

I sat and stared and the picture in my hand. I tried to concentrate on the people in the photo, to remember when that had been us but I couldn't. All I could hear were the words running ceaselessly around my brain.

She left me. She's gone.

I couldn't make sense of the words. It was as if my brain had stopped working completely. There was no comprehension; I was capable of no movement. Nothing worked any more. Because Bella was gone.

She left me. She's gone.

I had worked frantically over the last four days to get everything done so that I could come home. Too often I had made plans to come home, only to get held back at the last minute. I was determined it would not happen this time. I needed to come home and see my wife. We had some decisions to make and this conversation could not happen over the phone. So I had survived on five hours sleep a night and ploughed through the stack of documents on my desk. Even so, I had been lucky to make it out the door. Seth had given me the heads up that Jane was coming and covered for me as I snuck out the back way. I would have to give the kid a raise.

She left me. She's gone.

All that work had been for nothing. I was too late. I had arrived to a house too dark and too silent. It had scared me – I was terrified that she was lying inside hurt or unconscious. I had practically broken the door down in my hurry to find her. Instead I found an empty closet and a note.

That note. She had left me and all she could think to say was apologise for the potential effect on my career. As if I cared. As if I could possibly have a career without her. As if I could have a life without her. I could barely breathe without her; how could she think I would chose my career over her?

Dear Edward,

I'm sorry. I know this is a terrible way to do this but I have to go. I can't be the loser in this ménage a trois any more; you, me and your office. It is for the best. This way you can concentrate on your career.

Don't worry, I will be very discrete. I won't make anything public until after the election. I've gone to Charlie. You can tell the press that I am visiting my aged father. Make sure you mention your ties to law enforcement, that always goes down well.

Be well,

Bella

I still couldn't comprehend it. How could Bella believe that my career was more important that she was? How had we gone from the laughing, love struck teenagers in the photo to this?

I remembered the day she had given me this photo. It had been our first anniversary. I had been excited for weeks. I wanted to shower my Bella with gifts, I was so grateful that she was mine. I wanted take her out to dinner and dancing. I wanted the whole world to see us, to see the goddess that was mine. I was simultaneously in awe she wanted to be with me and certain that we would be together forever. I had wanted to buy her a ring even back then in high school. I had known I would ask her to marry me from the moment of our first kiss. She was my everything and I could not imagine a life without her.

She left me. She's gone.

I had done none of those things. I was too young to propose and I knew that Bella wouldn't enjoy a fancy restaurant. As for the dancing, she would have been appalled. I had made us a picnic and taken her to our favourite place, a meadow deep in the forest where we could be alone. Instead of the ring I desperately wanted to give her, I had given her a necklace with a crystal heart. She understood the symbolism, she understood everything. In return, she had given me this photo; a memory of us that I had cherished ever since. The decorator had wanted to take it and give it a new frame, to "pretty it up". I had refused and got her a copy instead. This was mine; it went everywhere with me. I rather liked that there was a copy in our lounge room. It was a piece of us in the midst of all that over-staged perfection. I thought Bella would like it too. If she did, she never said a word.

She left me. She's gone.

It still didn't make sense. I could look back over our history but I couldn't pinpoint the time when we had moved from that to this. We had been so full of hope, so eager for the adventure. Whether it was graduating high school, starting college together, finding our first house or getting elected, we tackled every challenge, celebrated every high, commiserated every low together. I literally couldn't fathom any other way.

Our wedding day had been the proudest, happiest, most wonderful day of my life. Better than graduating summa cum laude, better than being elected to the Senate, better than anything I had ever or would ever do. Watching my Bella walk down the aisle towards me, more beautiful than any woman I had ever seen, had literally been my every dream come true. And more beautiful still were the words she said standing at that altar with me. Her promise of forever was engraved on my heart. I had made many promises in my life, some small and private and some huge. I had sworn an oath on taking office – to my constituents and to my country – while my parents and my Bella watched me proudly from the side. But nothing could ever be more important than the promise I had made on my wedding day. I would love, cherish, honour and protect her for all the days of my life. I meant it then and I still meant it today. But how could I now?

She left me. She's gone.

The numbness was starting to wear off. In its place I could feel the pain beginning to form. I laid the photo carefully on the bed beside me and lowered my head to my hands. I clutched at my hair, pulling sharply, hoping to distract myself from the pain. It didn't work. The feeling of pressure built higher until all it was all I could do not to scream.

The sound of the phone jolted me from the prison of my thoughts. I considered answering it but could not locate my motor skills. After a while it stopped and I went back to my prison. The phone rang again; I ignored. It rang a third time; I ignored it some more. It continued to ring. Eventually motivating myself with the thought that it might be Bella trying to talk to me, I managed to move my hand to pick it up.

"Edward? Finally, I've been ringing you non-stop. Why didn't you pick up?" Jane's voice rolled over me. It was the wrong voice and my brain shut down again. "Edward? Are you there? Edward, why aren't you answering me?"

"She left me. She's gone," I said, my voice cracked and almost unrecognisable. Then I hung up the phone.

I needed a drink.

I woke the next morning to incessant banging. I had finally passed out after half a bottle of Jack Daniels; I had never been much of a drinker. Bella used to tease me that she was half my body weight with twice my capacity. I wondered for a second where she was until my brain caught up and it all came flooding back.

She left me. She's gone.

The banging was augmented with a voice yelling my name. I hauled myself to my feet and stumbled downstairs to answer my front door. Outside on my porch, every hair in place, make-up perfectly applied, was Jane.

"You look like shit, Edward."

I didn't have the energy to fight her at the moment. I wordlessly moved out of the way to let her enter the house. She marched straight into the lounge room and took her stance in front of the fireplace.

"Have a seat, Edward." As if it was her own house. I sat.

"I know this has come as a shock to you, though I honestly can imagine how it could be. But you need to see this as an opportunity, Edward. You are incredibly popular with women and young people already. Being single is only going to make that better. And let's face it, Isabella never really did anything to help you out. She rarely made it to any of your speeches any more. This could be a good thing, Edward, if we play it right. We just need to find a way to keep her quiet while we figure it out."

She started pacing up and down the room while I stared at her with dawning horror. I had always known that politics was Jane's lifeblood. She loved the fight. It had been getting harder and harder for her to agree to compromise; she wanted to win and then she wanted to gloat. But this was something different. I had never seen her so ruthless. Or maybe I had just never noticed because it wasn't directed at me. The import of her first statement finally struck home.

I found my voice. "Excuse me? What exactly did you mean, Jane? You can't imagine why this is a shock?"

She swung round to face me, her expression irritated at the interruption. "Really, Edward, are you the only one who hasn't seen this coming? You and Isabella used to be joined at the hip. When was the last time you did anything together? She never comes to Washington any more. Do you even know what she does with her time? She's probably got a lover stashed somewhere, she might even be shacking up with him right now. Not that I care. As long as she keeps it quiet..."

"You're fired!" I didn't raise my voice but it cut through her rant. "How dare you? My marriage is disintegrating and all you can say is that it'll be good for my career. And that my wife is probably 'shacking up' somewhere." The anger grew and I clenched my shaking fists against my thighs. "Enough, Jane. Get out of my house."

"Edward, I was just.."

"No," For the first time in our relationship I refused to listen. " You need to leave, Jane. Right now."

She picked up her briefcase and, without a word, stalked out of the house. I would have to fire her again. After this was all over, when I knew I could face her dispassionately, when she knew I was serious and not reacting to the stress of the situation. I could never work with someone who could view the break-up of my marriage as an opportunity to garner more votes.

Who was I kidding? There would be no more elections, no more votes. I could barely cope with the stress of the job as it was. Without Bella …..And the words were back.

She left me. She's gone.

My phone rang again; the house phone this time, rather than my mobile. I dived for it, hoping it would be Bella but the caller id said Alice. My sister, who despite being on the other side of the country had some weird psychic link to me, who always knew when I needed her. I picked up the phone, suddenly desperate for someone to talk to.

"Edward?"

"She left me, Alice. She's gone."

"I know, sweetie." What? How did she know? "Charlie rang me."

"What do I do, Alice. How do I fix this?"

She sighed. "I don't know, Edward. But you need to think very carefully. Do you want to fix it? Or are you going to let her go?"

I felt like my head would explode. "Do I….. Of course I want to fix it. She's my wife! This is Bella we are talking about. How can you think I would just let her go?"

"Edward, Bella talks to me. I know things haven't been good between you for a while. I wondered if maybe you would decide to just …give up."

I literally could not form a coherent sentence. The idea that even my sister knew about my marriage problems before I did was too much. I spluttered a little before her voice cut through again.

"But ask yourself this, big brother. If you want her back, if you want to fight for her, what the hell are you doing in Seattle?"

At her words, my brain exploded. She was right. I couldn't be here. I needed to be where Bella was. She had told me where she was going and I had wasted an entire night. I catapulted into action, running upstairs to throw clothes into a bag before searching for my car keys. I didn't even realise I was still holding the phone until I heard Alice's voice yelling for my attention.

"Got to go, Ali. I have to drive to Forks."

"Attaboy," she said, the smile evident in her voice, and hung up.

BPOV

I wandered despondently around the house. Charlie had gone to work. As much as he wanted to be supportive of me, he couldn't handle the level of emotion that was running riot. I had expended some energy scrubbing every inch of the kitchen and bathroom but Charlie's house was pretty small and I had soon run out of things to clean. I considered doing some grocery shopping; I could cook some meals for Charlie to freeze. He could do with some real, non-pizza food. But I couldn't bring myself to leave the house.

I knew why. I was still hoping he would come. Stupid, stupid, I chided myself. It had been over 24 hours without a word. I shouldn't get my hopes up. I should get on with this new life; the consequence of the choice I had made to leave. But still I moped around the house, hoping against hope that he would come, but knowing that he wouldn't.

I was wrong.

The sound of care tyres screeching in the driveway drew me from my preoccupation. A car door slammed and footsteps hurried up the front steps. I found myself rooted to the spot, too scared to see who was here, terrified that it wasn't him. The noise of a hand banging on the front door, then finally the sound I had been waiting for. Edward's voice calling my name.

"Bella. Bella, let me in. I need to talk to you."

I moved towards the door slowly, praying that this was not a dream that would taunt me when I woke. The banging stopped as I moved and I heard the soft thunk of his head hitting the door. His voice was so faint I barely heard it, desolation lacing his tone.

"Please, Bella. I need you."

The desolation pierced my heart and I reached forward to open the door. I ran my eyes over the man standing in my doorway. Bloodshot eyes, crumpled clothing, hair a glorious mess, dejection written in every line of his posture; he was still the most beautiful man I had ever seen. Just looking at him I felt the pull starting again. He was still my magnetic north, and always would be. Edward stared back at me, intense green eyes searing mine, until the corner of his mouth crept up into my favourite crooked smile.

"Hi," he said tentatively.

I half-smiled back, "Hi."

With agonising slowness, as if I was an illusion he was afraid would disappear with any sudden movement, his arm raised up until his hand cupped my cheek gently. I leaned my cheek into his warm palm and wallowed in memories of us. I knew that we had to sit down, talk this through like adults. We had so much to discuss, so much to resolve, so much silence hanging between us. But I couldn't stop the teenager from that photo taking over my body. The overwhelming need to touch him, feel his skin under my fingers, made me raise my own hand to run it gently over his cheek. My fingers trailed up his skin towards his hair, a familiar move that somehow felt new in this moment. Edward closed his eyes, his hand falling from my face, and took in a deep breath as my fingers played in the tangled mess.

I hadn't seen it so wild in years; Jane made him keep it severely under control. "No one wants to see a U.S. Senator looking as if he has just rolled out of bed." Well, I did. The sight of his disordered locks brought back more memories and the teenager in me rose again to the surface. I took a step forward and placed a gentle kiss on his collarbone. It was my favourite spot to kiss, one of the few unclothed parts of his body in reach of my 5'3'' frame. Edward's eyes shot open, impossibly wide as he took in my proximity. I lifted my face to his and finally he moved.

His hands seized my face and his mouth descended on mine. The kiss was fierce, the hard edge of his desperation and longing searing through me. As it always did, his kiss fanned my own desire into a blazing inferno. Of their own volition my hands ran themselves over his clothes, trying to find the buttons so I could tear them off him. He broke off the kiss, both of us panting for breath.

It suddenly occurred to me that we were standing my the doorway of my father's house, making out like teenagers. I could see the same thought occur to Edward. He took a step over the threshold and reached out behind him to close the door. I thought for a moment that he would speak and I laid my finger softly against his lips. We needed to talk but we needed this more. His eyes blazed. Abruptly he reached out, swept me into his arms and carried me up the stairs.

My bedroom hadn't changed much in the time I had known him, including the size of my tiny bed. In all our years together, we had never slept in this bed. Edward's 6'2'' frame could never fit comfortably; his own parents lived close enough and had such a luxurious king sized guest bed that we had always stayed there on our visits. But now, it looked as if my bed was finally going to be broken in.

Edward deposited me gently on the bed. He knelt to take off my shoes the moved to my shirt. Silently, but reverently, he removed all of my clothing until I lay naked on the bed. Still without a word, he undressed himself and moved over to me. I ran my hand over the hard planes of his body; he watched it curiously, almost as if he didn't understand what was happening. His eyes traced a path up my arm to my shoulder and then to my face, the same slightly confused look on his face. Suddenly, his face crumpled and he drew in a ragged breath.

"Don't leave me, Bella. Please don't leave me. I can't live without you. I can't…"

The sheer torture in his tone twisted like a knife through my heart. I pushed myself up and captured his face in my hands, covering his lips with my own. He kissed me back, frantic in his need to be closer, to be deeper. I lowered myself back down to the bed, bringing him with me, soothing him with my kiss. We began to move together, a familiar dance which I had thought I would never experience again.

He knew every part of my body. His hands and his mouth moved over me, nipping here, soothing there, every touch fuelling my desire further. This was going to be no leisurely lovemaking. We had been apart too long, too much passion crackled between us. As he entered me he mumbled words of love, begging me over and over not to leave. The combination of his velvet voice and his frantic thrusts became too much. As much as I wanted to hold onto the delicious feeling of impending orgasm, I tumbled over the edge. He came with me, crying out my name with the painful force of his devastating emotion.

We lay together in silence afterwards, his body curled around mine. His hands ran tenderly up and down my arms.

"Come home with me," he whispered. "Please Bella. I'll do anything. I'll quit the Senate, if you want. Just…come home to me."

I turned to face him. "You can't quit, Edward. You swore an oath. Besides, you love your job."

"I swore an oath to you first, Bella. You are my first priority, you always will be. I can't be without you. If you say…" his voice caught; he swallowed and forced himself to finish the sentence, "…no, then I'll quit anyway. I couldn't stay knowing that I no longer have the capacity to do the job properly. I can't be that man if you aren't beside me."

"Jane," I whispered.

"I fired her," he interrupted me. "Please, I don't want to talk about my job. I want to talk about us. Tell me what I have to do, Bella. I'm willing to beg if you like. I mean it, I'll do anything."

I took a deep breath. "Really? You really want me?" After feeling invisible to him for so long it was almost hard to believe that he wanted me, even after all that had just happened.

He drew his breath in sharply. He struggled to answer, clearly battling with himself. "Yes," he said simply. "I really want you. And I will never stop apologising for making you think that I didn't."

"Then yes. I will come home with you."

His face lit up in a blinding, breathtaking smile. The first real smile I had seen since he arrived. He peppered my face with kisses, interspersed with words of apology and eternal love. I knew that this was not enough, that cuddles and (overwhelmingly mind blowing) sex could not heal the divide between us. It would take hard work, tears and apologies to deal with the backlog of the recent past. To overcome my silence and his inadvertent neglect. And there would be times when we would wonder if it might have been easier to walk away. But the memory of the last 24 hours, the pain and the emptiness of being without the other, would propel us through hard work and out the other side. I knew we would be alright eventually.

Because we were together.