Thank you to loss4words for beta'ing and to those of you who've stuck around thus far. There's a long end note.


Cullen Mansion 2 October 2010

I couldn't breathe properly with him around. It was like Edward sucked all of the air out of the room and completely deprived my brain cells of oxygen. I felt this neverending draw toward him, and I wasn't sure if I liked it on an intellectual level. Physically, I was giddy. I could still feel his hand sliding down my hip, the way his fingers hesitated… I had seriously considered just doing it with him. I'd always wanted to; he never would, and suddenly that option seemed to be on the table. The problem being that Edward would most likely take sex as a declaration that I'd made a decision, and I hadn't.

Before I left the bedroom I stood next to the bathroom door for several long minutes. Maybe we could have just fooled around like we used to? He'd been very good at that. Then again, the commitment issue reared its ugly head. He would want that. It would be teasing to allow him to… I had to leave the room.

I pulled out a clean pair of clothes, changed, and practically ran down the stairs.

That was where I met my next surprise, Jacob and Ren, being not so discreet in the living room. I hadn't expected him to be there. Jacob was supposed to be in Atlanta, and Ren was supposed to be doing this whole thing long distance.

I cleared my throat.

"Bells!" Jacob bellowed.

"Hi, Bella," Ren said shyly.

"Good morning," I said, but I meant, 'get a room.'

Jacob jumped over the back of the couch and picked me up in a bone crunching hug. Ren took the more socially acceptable approach of walking around the furniture. She gave me a much more reasonable hug. Honestly, I didn't want to be touched. It was like they erased the hum that Edward had ignited under my skin. I tried very hard not to be irritated about it.

Unfortunately, I was more irritable than usual. Staying at the Cullen's had been a mistake. I really needed time alone. I wasn't acclimated to dealing with regular people. I was still a bit shell shocked and raw from training and everyone wanted me to be ready for parties and hugs.

I wanted to hit something, so of course Jasper walked around the corner.

"Good, you're dressed appropriately," he grinned.

I looked down at my exercise pants and T-shirt and then back up at him.

"Let's go handle that, shall we?" he nodded toward the basement where the Cullen's had a full gym, including space for Esme to do whatever aerobic workout was currently the trend. Jasper slid a hand around my arm and steered me in that direction.

When the door was safely closed behind us I turned to him. "I wasn't going to hit anyone."

"That's not what it feels like, sugar. Let's spar a bit and work off some of that aggression."

I could feel my emotions spinning a bit out of control. His comment made me want to cry. He glanced at me.

"What?" I shouted.

"Just waiting for the merry go round to stop."

It stopped on crying.

"Oh, Bella," he whispered, patting me on the back.

"I'm so tired," I sobbed.

He led me over to the mat and sat down with me. My head dropped onto his shoulder, and he wrapped an arm around me.

"It's okay," he said.

"Everyone wants something from me. Edward wants a decision. Esme wants a party. I can't do either right now. I don't even know what I want. I can't do any of this right now." I was snotting on his shoulder, trying desperately to rein back in my emotions.

"You don't need to do anything for anyone. Edward knows you aren't ready, and Esme just wants to make you feel welcome. They're trying to help you in their own way," he said.

I sobbed again.

"It's okay."

"I can't… I need to go home…"

"Shhhh," he soothed. "Just keep breathing, take it one inhale at a time."

I consciously tried to slow my breathing, to pull in more air. After several breaths when I'd pulled myself together, I messily pulled back from Jasper's shoulder.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"It'll wash." He grinned at me.

"I should go home."

"I don't think you should be alone," he countered. "I'll talk to the others, tell them to stay clear. You can have some quiet time, use the library or the pool, but you really need to have some support right now."

I grimaced.

"I know it's not what you want, sugar, but you need someone around in case you get upset again."

"I won't get upset if no one's around," I protested.

"Neither of us knows that," he said.

I sighed, realizing that arguing with Jasper was pointless.

"Do you want to hit me?" Jasper asked.

I made a lame punch at his shoulder.

"You were supposed to get stronger in training, not weaker." He laughed.

I rolled my eyes at him. He stood, and helped me to my feet.

"I just don't want to be touched a lot or fussed over," I explained. Except for maybe by Edward, because kissing him made me feel better…

"I'll spread the word."

"Now, I feel dramatic." I sighed.

"I can tell them, or I can not tell them, which do you want?"

"I don't know. I'm too confused." I wrapped my arms around my midsection and began pacing.

"You are wound really tight," Jasper observed. "I knew that you were, but I didn't realize that it was this bad."

"Edward and I kissed, and then some," I confessed.

"I thought I felt something like that this morning." He smirked at me.

"Just don't, I'm confused." I flopped back down on the mat.

"What's so confusing?"

"There's Edward and the way Edward makes me feel, and then there's Liam. Then there's the awkwardness of having Jake upstairs making out with Ren. And Edward treats me like a child, and I'm not one. Liam seems to get that but he's unavailable and cold lately. Then, I really wanted Edward this morning, but he's going to act like he's my guardian instead of my boyfriend, and I just can't do that again. I can't think around him, and I wonder if seeing him is even a good idea. I'm all muddled up, and he kissed me. It's not that I didn't like it or didn't want it, but I just can't… he can't… Why does he do this to me?"

"I suspect that he can't help it any more than you can."

I felt a new tear trickle from the corner of my eye, down my cheek.

"So, we're just out of control?"

"A bit."

"What should I do?"

"I can't tell you that, sugar. You have to figure it out on your own, Bella-girl."

I felt the edge of the mat shift under Jasper's weight. He was standing on the end, looking at me.

"This isn't healthy."

"What we want rarely is, but if you want him to respect you, you need to tell him. You need to be clear."

"What if he can't?"

He sighed. "If he can't give you what you need, then you need some distance."

I nodded.

Jasper was right. Edward and I had too much of a pull toward each other. Whatever it was that was between us would destroy us if we couldn't find a way to work it out. If that was the case, then I would have to go.

"Resolve is good," Jasper muttered. "I'm not sure now is the time to be making any life changing decisions, but you seem a little more grounded. Was this all about Edward?"

"I really do need time alone," I said.

Jasper nodded, gave me a hug, and then walked away. He was most likely off to tell the rest of the Cullen clan to leave me alone. I decided that I didn't care, and sprawled out on the mat. Edward and I were going to have to have a serious conversation, and I was going to have to break things off with Liam in order to give Edward a fair chance. I was surprisingly comfortable with the concept of not seeing Liam romantically anymore. He'd helped me through a difficult time, but there wasn't really a relationship to speak of. It was more like the sharing of beds. He'd been awkward the last time I saw him too. It was time to cut him loose before things got really awkward.

I still couldn't believe that Jacob was there. What exactly was he doing at the Cullen's house and how did he get there? I wasn't sure how badly I wanted to find out. It would involve talking to people, and I really did feel like I needed some space from everyone. I had to decompress and find myself in all of the emotional clutter running around in my head.

There was a knock at the gym door. I raised my head slightly to see who it was. Edward was standing with his head peeking through a crack in the door.

"Hi," he whispered, "Can I come in?"

I sat up and straightened my clothes.

"I came to apologize, and bring you breakfast."

My stomach growled.

"You brought breakfast?"

"Cake," he said looking guiltily over his shoulder. "Jasper nixed the morning celebration Esme was planning, so we're all eating cake for breakfast. Can I come in?"

"Only if you really have cake," I teased.

He grinned and stepped into the room holding a plate with a rather large piece of cake and a fork. I grinned back.

"Is that all for me?"

"If you like."

He sat down carefully, trying not to tilt the plate. He set it down on my lap and I attacked it with the fork. It was good. I'd never really cared about grocery store cake versus bakery cake, they were all good to me.

"I shouldn't have kissed you this morning," he said. "You haven't made a choice and it was wrong of me to take advantage of you like that."

I groaned.

"Edward, your timing was bad, but I don't think there's ever going to be a right time to have that conversation."

"So, you've decided." He frowned.

"I want to take it slowly."

He sighed and visibly relaxed. "I can do slow." He scooted around on the mat to slide up behind me. "Is this okay?"

I nodded and he wrapped his arms around my waist. We sat and quietly shared my cake. Having him there and having made a decision calmed my frayed nerves and made it easier for me to breathe. I didn't feel as unsettled.

"Do you still need to be alone?" he asked quietly.

My stomach instantly knotted at the thought of being separated from him.

"Can you stay with me?"

"Of course."

"I was thinking about getting a book and taking it back up to your room," I suggested, craning my neck backward so that I could see his face.

He smiled and stood. After he'd helped me up from the floor we collected the plate and fork and left for the library to find books. We didn't see anyone on our way to the library. Edward sent me up to his room with the books, while he took the plate and fork back to the kitchen. I didn't run into anyone on the way up either. The house felt abandoned.

I flopped down on the bed in Edward's room and stretched across it. The bed really was comfortable. I grabbed a book and allowed myself to relax. My body seemed to melt into the mattress. I grinned and started on my book.

I was several pages in when I heard a chuckle from the door. I peered around the book and over my toes to see Edward standing in the doorway with a tray of snacks.

"Starting without me?"

"There's a bed and a pile of books, you didn't really think I'd wait." I smirked.

He set the tray down on the floor, then crawled up on the bed next to me. I laughed as he wrapped his hands around my waist, turning me so that we could spoon. He buried his nose into my hair and we lay like that for the better part of the morning.



Cullen Mansion 2 October 2010

I couldn't help but worry about Bella. She was different, and something had shaken her. I couldn't tell if she was angry that Nessie and I had hooked up or if it was something else. Did she really dislike me that much? Personally, I didn't think that our time together had been that bad, or that things had ended too terribly. There was the fact that I was checking up on her, but I was just worried and she should understand that.

I gritted my teeth when Edward came down the stairs. Being in his parent's house was awkward enough without him making an appearance. He stared at me like I didn't belong and gave me a look that indicated that he was watching me. I found that hypocritical considering his track record with broken hearts.

He and Bella had stayed in the same room, and it irritated me. She deserved better, and he deserved an ass-whoopin'.

Nessie was the only reason I didn't go after him. I had to play nice in the sandbox if I wanted to spend time with her, and how was I going to explain kicking her cousin's sorry butt into next week over an ex who I was over? She was young and vulnerable, and likely to think that I still had romantic feelings for Bella. I was still attracted to Bells, but I knew that the relationship had never been real. Also, Bells wanted to take care of herself, and she seemed to be able to manage for the most part. According to Ness, she wasn't seeing the D-bag. There was another guy entirely.

Then there was Ness, who punched me almost every time I called her Nessie. Her family called her Ren, but to me she seemed a bit too much like a mythological creature for that name. There was a lot going on under the surface with her, but her name just didn't lend itself to comparison to an iceberg. I wasn't sure anyone really understood how deep she really was.

"What're'ya thinking about over there?" Ness asked.

"You," I answered, thankful that I had indeed just been thinking about her.

She blushed and punched me playfully in the arm.

"If you keep doing that it's going to start hurting," I warned her.

"Poor baby."

I grinned and slid a finger into her belt loop. I pulled her squirming form over to me and proceeded to tickle her until she was completely out of breath.

"What was that?" I asked.

"I said, poor baby." She grinned mischievously.

I looked at what she was wearing, black T-shirt, short, dark blue shorts… her phone was on the table. I scooped her up and made for the back door.

"Where are you taking me?" she wailed.

Emmett, the big guy who was dating the blonde stood in my path for a moment.

"Just to the pool," I said. The big guy winked at me and opened the door.

"Jacob, no! Emmett, don't help him! Jacob, put me down!" she shrieked and kicked relentlessly until I dropped her into the water at the deep end.

I stepped away from the water, fished my phone and wallet out of my shorts, took off my shirt, and dove in after her.

"You jerk!" she yelled in between giggles.

"No hitting," I said firmly.

She rolled her eyes. "Didn't anyone ever tell you to use your words?"

"This was more fun," I said, shrugging. I swam to her and pulled her off the wall to me. "If we stay in here, they can't see us, and we can hear them coming."

"I like the way you think, Jacob Black." Nessie leaned in and kissed me.

End Note:

I'd like to thank those of you who've hung in there for the long haul. This story was never going to be a short one, and if you look at the word counts the chapters range between 5 and 10 pages per. These are really short chapters, so of course there will be a lot of them. I know that everyone is used to fast moving fanfiction but this story is an attempt at a nice slow burn with what I feel is ultimately a nice payoff in the end.

I've recently received some not so pleasant misspelled reviews with bad grammar and unnecessarily foul language. Listen, if you can't spell it or own up to it, you probably shouldn't type it up and put it out there for everyone. I deleted the worst one, after sharing it with a few people and laughing at the terrible grammar and spelling.

I was kind of excited for this chapter and now it seems like I'm pandering to idiots, and I'm not. This is where this chapter was going to be no matter what.

Hopefully, you're all still enjoying the story. I'm sorry that it's taking me so long to get it out there.