A/N: Sorry I'm late with this update! I found an issue at the last minute (of course!) and had to rewrite a small portion of this chapter, which, also of course, was a complete nightmare and took way longer than it should have! Doh! Anyways, it's all fixed up and good to go now, (I hope!), so here we are!

This (slightly revised) chapter is dedicated to vickie l, whose insightful and startlingly accurate review honestly kind of freaked me out a little. Has she been reading over my shoulder as I write? Lol! All kidding aside, she hit the nail on the head with a number of points, and put a big fat smile on my face in the process. This one's for you, darling! :)

Love and thanks to AngelGoddess1981 for reading and betaing this chapter at least 4 times. I'm not even kidding. She is just too good to me!


~ Chapter 22 ~

(Edward)

An unnerving silence met me on the other end of the line, and I wondered belatedly if Ms. Weber would even be willing to hear me out after all that had gone down between us. I'd acted like a jackass yesterday; I certainly wouldn't blame her if she wanted nothing to do with me anymore.

She exhaled sharply before she finally spoke. "Alright, Mr. Cullen. What is it we need to discuss?" I could picture the rigid expression she wore as her voice lashed at me like a whip. She was angry. Very, very angry.

"Listen, I know you probably think I'm a raving asshole after everything that happened yesterday, but ... I'm trying to make things right and I could really use your help."

"How so?" she asked coldly.

I sighed. "It's too complicated to get into over the phone. Can we meet at The Den? I could really use a friend right now, and Angela is the only person I can think of to go to." It felt weird talking to her about the other side of herself, but I was quite certain that appealing to Ms. Weber wasn't going to get me anywhere. I needed her to shift into peer mode so we could have a real conversation.

I was met with dead air again as she considered my request. It was almost a full minute before she replied. "Very well, Mr. Cullen. Tonight at seven o'clock. Do not be late."

She hung up without another word, leaving me standing there with my acquiescence still hanging on my tongue. "Right..." I muttered, shaking my head and pressing 'end' on my phone. I knew by now that this was just the way she was, but even so, attempting to befriend Ms. Weber was definitely not for the faint of heart.

I checked my watch to see how much time I had before I would have to leave for Seattle, and then headed into the kitchen so I could fix myself a late lunch. After a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and a juice box, I made a few phone calls—one to order a new refrigerator to be delivered ASAP and the other to arrange for a rental car for Bella while I was gone with the Volvo—then set the alarm on my phone and laid down on the couch for a nap.

Three hours later I was awakened from a deep sleep, though I could have sworn I had just drifted off minutes before. I rubbed my eyes and sat up slowly, my head pounding again and my neck and shoulders painfully stiff. Another Advil was definitely in order, and maybe another coffee, too.

I cleaned myself up a bit before I dashed out the door, and within minutes I was coasting down the highway toward Seattle. It killed me that I would be so close to Bella and not get to see her, but sadly, I just wasn't ready to go home yet. I could only hope this meeting with Angela would help me get closer to getting my life back.

The drive went by fairly quickly, and before I knew it I was pulling the car to a stop in front of Ms. Weber's large, three-storey Victorian house. Even though it was late winter, her home was still immaculately kept: the sidewalk was shovelled right down to the cement and the snow was swept from the porch, railings, and windowsills. The outside lights were on in what I assumed was expectation of my arrival, but all the curtains were pulled closed now that the sun was fading quickly.

Maybe it was because I was apprehensive about the meeting that awaited me inside, but I couldn't help but feel like the place looked really cold. Uninviting. Or at worst, unwelcoming. I felt like it was staring me down, hoping I would turn tail and run away. Though again, it could have just been because of the not-so-warm reception I was surely about to get.

With a deep breath to steel my resolve, I got out of the car and walked briskly up the path to the front door. Sharp raps echoed around the quiet neighbourhood as I knocked, and then the door swung open to reveal a very unimpressed looking Ms. Weber. She wore a tight black turtleneck sweater, a knee-length, snug-fitting black leather skirt, her usual fishnet stockings, and a pair of black stiletto heels so high they put her eye to eye with my six-foot-one. This was not Angela.

Ok then ... we were going to do this the hard way.

She glared at me fiercely through her black-framed glasses, and I glared right back. Two could play at this game, and unfortunately for Ms. Weber, her harsh demeanour didn't intimidate me anymore. I knew exactly who she was now, and as I stood there refusing to back down from her stare, I came to realize what that meant.

I knew who I was now.

I was Dr. Edward Cullen: son, brother, friend, husband, lover ... Dominant. It was as much a part of me as the colour of my eyes or the tone of my voice, and no longer would I deny such an integral piece of my make-up. Being a Dom was woven so deeply into my being that I had to wonder if Bella had known it was there all along; if she had seen something in me, something different from the other boys, which drew the submissive inside her to me. After all, she had craved my dominance long before I even allowed her to see what I wanted from her in return.

The realization hit me so quickly it was like a switch had been flipped in my head. It was so obvious now—so right, so true. I was her Dom, and she was my sub. Nothing ever would, or could, change that fact, and I decided right here and now that I was done running from it. I would be the man she wanted, the man she needed, and most importantly, the man I was.

A grin crept onto my face as I refocused my attention on Ms. Weber, who eyed me warily as my newfound confidence rose to the surface. She took a small step back and cocked her head to the side, her eyes narrowing while studying my face, absorbing the sudden change in my demeanour. A charged silence hung between us as she decided whether or not she would speak with me, until finally she stood aside and opened the door wide enough for me to enter. "Come in, Mr. Cullen."

Ms. Weber closed and locked the door after I crossed the threshold into her home, and then led the way down to the basement without another word. I followed her to the sitting area and we each sat on a leather couch, facing each other as equals. We eyed each other for a moment, the Dominant within each of us sizing up the other, neither of us sure who was really in charge of this meeting. Though we were supposed to be peers while within The Den, my recent behaviour had obviously set her against having me as a friend. I couldn't blame her, but I was still disappointed. I had honestly liked Angela.

When Ms. Weber made no move to engage me in conversation, rather sitting stone still and glaring daggers at my skull, I cleared my throat and began to speak. "Look. You know I don't want to be here. I mean ... I do ... just not ... here ... with you." She arched an eyebrow and one corner of her mouth twitched downward. I was not off to a good start.

"Okay, that's not what I meant. What I'm trying to say is... I know I'm not on your good side anymore, but I had no one else to turn to. Believe me, the last place I wanted to come back to was the scene of one of my worst nightmares. It's just... My whole life has fallen apart. I need to put it back together, and I don't know where to start. I was hoping you could help me understand."

Ms. Weber blinked at me a few times before responding. "Understand what, Mr. Cullen?"

I scrubbed my hands over my face a few times, trying to think of an honest answer. "I don't know. I guess my biggest problem is that I keep screwing up, no matter what I do. We played around with BDSM, and Bella got hurt. We abandoned BDSM, and Bella got hurt. I tried to force us back into the life we had before, to pretend that none of it ever happened, and things just took a nosedive. We honest to God could not go back. I tried. We tried. But no matter what we did or where we went, it was always there, taunting us with what we wanted but couldn't have. We couldn't run away from it."

"Why were you running in the first place?"

"I wanted Bella to be safe, even if that meant protecting her from myself," I admitted with a sigh. "I struggled with getting into all of this right from the beginning. Not because I didn't want to—because, God, did I want to—but it just seemed so wrong to want those things, and worse to take them—especially when another person's wellbeing was tied in with all of it."

"That's understandable." Ms. Weber said. Her voice was still hard, but no longer razor sharp and deadly.

I was slightly taken aback. "It is?"

"Absolutely. As a sexual dominant, we are, in most cases, inflicting physical pain and discomfort on another. That's not something that should be taken lightly, and it certainly doesn't come easily to everyone. Some of the fiercest Dominants I've trained were hesitant at first. There's nothing abnormal about it, Mr. Cullen."

I just stared at her for a moment, letting her words sink in. "Are you telling me that I'm not the huge failure I've come to think I am? That all the trouble we've had is actually kind of ... normal?"

Ms. Weber sighed. "No one's experience with BDSM is the same. Some people transition into their chosen roles seamlessly, while others have a more difficult time releasing their preconceived notions of what is right and wrong in regards to sex and relationships. Men who were raised with the ethical belief that it's wrong to hit women—which is a good thing, of course—often have a harder time wielding the whip, so to speak. It can be a struggle to let go of those ideals, no matter how much they may want to engage in sadomasochistic play."

"That's... Damn. Well, that's pretty much my issue right there. What's the next step then? How do people overcome this?"

"It's all about understanding and accepting the dynamics of the arrangement, Mr. Cullen. Forget about whether or not this is right or wrong. BDSM isn't about morality, it's about fulfillment. It's about finding the equal and opposite needs to your own, and working together with your partner to meet them. A BDSM partnership is symbiotic. As much as a Dominant wants to dominate, a submissive wants to submit. When everything is consensual and you stay within the confines of your agreement, adhere to your safeword system and remember that your actions are for both yourself and your sub's, there is no abuse. You're not beating your wife in a fit of untamed anger; you're not forcing yourself on her sexually. You're not doing anything that she hasn't specifically told you she wants you to do. This is for both of you, equally."

My mouth dropped and I sucked in a shocked breath as the reality of her statement crashed down all around me. This was for both of us ... equally. I wasn't fulfilling any part of myself that wasn't parallel to one in Bella. We were in this together, as consenting adults who knew exactly what we wanted from each other. I was her Dom, and she was my sub—perfect symbiosis.

What struck me even more profoundly was the realization that as much as I worried for Bella's safety and wellbeing, she in turn knew the potential risks of BDSM and had accepted them fully. I didn't need to protect her from this, because in the end we were working toward the same goal. Bella was a strong, fearless, intelligent woman who knew better than anyone what was best for her. Shedidn't want to get injured any more than I wanted to injure her. What we wanted was to fulfill our desires through our Dom/sub roles, and to do it safely and without incident, for both of us. Yes, the risk for accidents would always be there, but as a team, we could do our best to avoid them.

Together, we could do this, and we could do it right.

Ms. Weber's lips curved into a satisfied, knowing smile as she watched me fit the final pieces of this whole puzzle together. "Do you understand now? Edward?"

I chuckled lightly, glad to not only be free of the last of my hesitation, but also to see Angela, my friend, again. "I do—loud and crystal clear."

Angela's smile grew as her eyes softened. "I'm glad to hear it. In truth, I'm proud of you, Edward. You've come so far since your first day in my class. Despite your setbacks, you've grown into something bigger than even I expected of you. It's very rewarding to have witnessed."

I smiled at her unexpected praise. "Thank you."

"You are quite welcome. In all seriousness, you have something special; something I don't often see. The relationship you have with Bella, both in D/s and in your everyday lives, is ... incredible. Your love is palpable, your devotion unyielding, and the trust she has in you is shatterproof. I could see it from the very first day I met you. You're more than a Dom to Bella. More than a husband. I don't even know if there's a word to describe what you are to her, and she to you..."

"She's my everything," I said softly, filling in the blank Angela had left. "I love her. It's that simple ... and that complex."

"Exactly. You are a great Dom, Edward Cullen, and an even greater man. Be proud of every part of who you are."

I glanced down to the floor, humbled by her assessment of me. "Thank you. It means a lot to know you hold me in high regard. The feeling is mutual."

Angela nodded in acknowledgement before looking at me resignedly. "I owe you an apology," she began, folding her hands into her lap and leaning back into the couch. "I was out of line yesterday. It was not my place to come into your home and belittle you in front of your wife, your submissive. In all honesty, that was not my intention when I arrived. But you, Edward Cullen, are an infuriatingly stubborn man. You exasperate me to my limits."

I smirked. "Yeah, I've heard that a time or two." Or twenty. "And thank you. I accept and appreciate your apology, although I'll admit that it didn't even occur to me at the time to be offended. Mostly I was just worried about Bella, and how your visit might put her in jeopardy. I guess that wasn't really fair, though. I know now that you have only her best interests in mind."

"I want what is best for both of you," she amended. "If I didn't think this lifestyle was really right for you and your relationship, I never would have pushed so hard. I realize now that I took an unprofessional interest in your progression into BDSM, but like I said before, you and Bella have something truly remarkable. I couldn't allow myself to see that go to waste."

"Well, thank you," I replied, meaning it greatly. "You really did push me, but as we both know, I needed it. I'm just glad I had the strength to push back, and in the process, break through my own barriers."

"Very astute," Angela said, a small smile curving her mouth. "Tell me... What does Bella know of your newfound clarity?"

I cringed sheepishly. "Nothing. I haven't talked to her since last night, and even then it was pretty brief—I just didn't know how to explain myself. I've done everything wrong these last few months. I don't know if I'll ever be able to truly earn her forgiveness."

"She doesn't blame you," Angela offered. I looked at her questioningly, surprised and intrigued by her statement. She nodded affirmatively before continuing. "I stayed with Bella for close to an hour after you left, and we had quite a thorough conversation. She's a very insightful woman."

I smiled sadly. "She's always understood me in a way that no one else did. It was really foolish of me not to trust her with my demons, actually. She of all people would have seen them clearly."

"That's probably very true. Bella knows exactly why you reacted the way you did to all this, even explaining some of it to me when I didn't fully grasp your motivations. She knows that everything you did was because of your love for her, however misguided your attempts to protect her may have been. She doesn't hold any of it against you, because she realizes that you did it all for her."

I swallowed thickly. Of course she would understand. It was shameful of me to have ever doubted that. "I don't deserve her."

Angela snorted. "Don't even try to feed me that bullshit. No one here is blaming you but yourself. Love is a powerful thing. It makes people do nonsensical things in its name—that's a universal truth. If Bella is able to forgive you for all that has happened these last few months, I certainly see no reason that you shouldn't do the same. You are human, as much as the next man. Humans make mistakes, and then we learn from them. Learn from this, Edward, and be the better for it."

I nodded, letting her words sink in to the very heart of me. I would be better, and with that Bella would be able to be her best self, too. She would finally be free to be exactly what she was: my wife, my lover, my best friend, and my submissive. I couldn't imagine wanting anything more.

The room fell silent, and for several minutes we sat in quiet contemplation, me thinking on everything I had resolved today, and her thinking on ... whatever kinds of things she thought about. Then a question occurred to me. "What's your story?" I asked. She just stared at me with raised eyebrows. "Oh, come on. I bared my soul to you today. I'm sure you can offer me even a small insight into how you became who you are..."

Her eyes took on a wicked glint as her mouth twisted into a smirk. "I suppose that's only fair. I first dabbled in BDSM at the age of nineteen. I was a meek, unassuming child: often overlooked and seldom to ask for anything more. Then one day I read a book by the author Nathan Braxton*. It was a fictional story of a man who revels in dominance over his lover. I was enthralled by his boldness, wanting nothing more than to be confident and respected as he was. Spurred by the idea of breaking out of my shell, I did some research and soon found others who shared the same interest as me. I devoured all the information they could give me, and reluctantly started my journey as a submissive before moving on to training as a Domme.

"My own master was an incredible woman who enlightened me with more knowledge and understanding of myself than I could ever have discovered on my own. Subbing for her, while not an experience that I necessarily wanted, was one that I undeniably needed. Not long after that I was paired with my first sub, and from there I was reborn. I had found my power, and I never looked back."

"Wow," I breathed. "And Benjamin?"

She smiled somewhat fondly. "Benjamin came to me through a mutual acquaintance. I had already formed The Den but was still early in my career as a therapist. I was casually counselling patients out of my home, and had agreed to take on a Den member's long-time friend. He was hesitant to see me at first, being a tragically anxious man with nearly every social phobia in the book, but eventually he relented and we began weekly sessions. It took a while for him to open up and trust me with the secrets he had locked away, and once he did I found myself unquestionably intrigued by him. Our relationship developed slowly, experimenting and learning of boundaries and such until we solidified a situation that benefited us both. And now, well, we are what we are."

"And you're happy with him?" I prodded, hoping I wasn't going too far.

Angela was quiet for a moment, seeming to consider carefully before she answered. "I am content, yes. I do not want for any more than what we share."

I nodded, not sure of what to say. Angela had a very different take on life than the rest of us, but if what she had worked for her, then who was I or anyone else to judge? She said she was happy, or her version of what happiness was, and that was the important thing. Even though I didn't quite understand it, I was glad for her.

"Now, Edward," she said, breaking me from my thoughts. "As I understood from your phone call, you came here to ask my assistance in something. Is this still necessary after our conversation?"

"Oh, yes. More than ever, actually."

"By all means then ... ask away."

I huffed out a gust of air, unsure where to begin. I decided to be direct. "I fucked up. Really, really fucked up"

Angela raised one eyebrow. "Tell me something I don't know, Edward."

I snorted at her backhanded humour. "Right... Ugh. Walking out and running away like I did was incredibly stupid—the stupidest thing I've ever done. I need to make things right again."

"Agreed. I think you have your work cut out for you, though."

"I know, and I'll do whatever it takes to fix this. I have an idea, actually, but I'll need your help to see it come to fruition."

Angela eyed me speculatively. "Alright. Tell me this idea and what you require of me."

I grinned. "Well, it's right up your alley, actually..."


A/N2: *wrings hands nervously* Well? Did this chapter live up to its long-awaited expectations? I can't even begin to tell you all how happy I am to finally be moving this story along toward the finish! Thanks so much to all of you who've stuck it out with me for so long! We're in the home stretch now, friends, Don't give up on me now! :)

Reviews are always appreciated! xoxo