In the first few moments of waking, Bella couldn't remember why her stomach was so tightly curled with nervous excitement. Her mind was still full of the strange dream that had caused her to wake—Jake had chased her through an abandoned theatre, huge fangs dripping with blood resting against his lower lip—but she knew that it wasn't the cause of her anxiety. The dream had been rather uninspired, almost amusing with its obviousness. No, for once, the first moments of her day were not haunted by nightmares. This was something else.
It hit her, almost literally, when she tried to roll out of bed. The pain in her ribs and shoulder wasn't crippling, but it still made her gasp with shock. She pulled up her pajama top and stared at the bandages that bound her chest. Her face was blank for a long, unsettling moment, until memory resurfaced, and her skin bloomed an impressive scarlet.
She pressed her hand to her mouth to muffle the breathless giggle she couldn't contain. It felt as though her body had been hollowed out and filled with bees. Her skin hummed. It was a surprisingly pleasant sensation.
She sat on the edge of her bed for a long moment, thinking about what had happened the night before. She had to admire her own bravery. She imagined that Edward could understand at least some of the reasons that it had been so difficult for her to talk to him like she did. She hoped that he could begin to appreciate how scared she had been, so that he could begin to understand how important he was to her. She would not have risked exposing her heart for anything less than him.
Hope and fear battled in her chest, making her hands tremble against her knees. She knew that she couldn't fully trust the perfect things that Edward had said the night before, but by God she wanted to. She knew that she had risked a lot, saying the things that she had said, holding him like she always wanted to. She knew that if Edward was lying to her, if he treated her the way he used to, if he took over their relationship, made her feel small, or ran away if it got too hard, then she would be ruined. She had no misgivings about that. She knew that she was strong. She knew that she could handle a lot of things that normal people couldn't and keep smiling at the end of it, but she also knew that she couldn't handle his rejection again. Maybe that was weak of her, but it couldn't be helped. Edward had the power to destroy her.
But he won't, she thought belligerently. He needs me as much as I need him. Fear was what ruined our relationship last time. I'm not going to let it rule us now.
Feeling more confident, but unable to fully stop her hands from trembling, she marched into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Waiting for the water to heat up, Bella caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She turned to stare at herself, shocked and a little amused by the face staring back. Her cheeks were stained an enticing red, her lips were wet and slightly parted, her eyes were shining like diamonds, and her hair was ruffled in a messy halo around her face. If she didn't know any better, she'd think the girl in the mirror had just had a thoroughly good fuck.
I wish, she thought a little ruefully as she climbed into the shower. We didn't even kiss…
Bella froze, the lavender scented shower gel slipping from her grip and thudding against the floor. She hadn't even kissed Edward last night? She must have done, of course she did…she wasn't stupid enough to tell Edward all that and not even kiss him.
She cast her mind back to the night before, trying to remember what had happened after she pressed herself up against him and asked him to help her. She had told him that she had missed him, and asked him if he truly believed that he could handle her life. He had…laughed at her, she recalled, and told her that they could do anything. Her heart skipped at the memory.
Then…then they had stayed wrapped up in each other, not speaking, just breathing each other in. She couldn't remember how long they had stayed like that, but at one point she had yawned right into his ear. Bella winced. Not very sexy. Edward had chuckled softly and carefully disentangled himself. He had run a finger underneath her eyes and said that she must have been exhausted. Bella had started to argue, but could barely force out a few words before she yawned again. She had apologized, and he had said that it had been an unbelievably long night, and he wasn't surprised that she was tired. He had walked her to his door, an arm wrapped around her shoulders as she curled herself into his side. At the door, he had stroked her cheek, kissed her hair, and said goodnight. She had pressed a hand against his chest, over his still heart, and turned away.
What the fuck? She cursed at herself, extremely angry at Past Bella who couldn't even be bothered to kiss the love of her life. Why had Past Bella been so content with a hug and a chaste peck? Where was Past Bella's game?
Anxiety reawakened in her stomach, and she busied her hands with lathering her body in an attempt to dispel some of her nervous energy. She felt extremely young and naïve all of a sudden. It was ridiculous, and she felt a little embarrassed at herself. She had kissed other people, countless times, although perhaps not particularly recently. For Bella, kissing had become something rather ordinary, almost boring. It was nothing to get particularly excited over…
But just the thought of kissing Edward made her giddy. She thought back to that day, almost a week ago, when she had practically attacked him in her kitchen. Her whole body flushed. She remembered the way his lips had felt under hers, how they had moved, how they had opened at the slightest suggestion, how his tongue had pressed against hers in her mouth…
Bella turned the temperature of the water down. Yes, that had been intense, but this felt different. It felt as though she was anticipating their first kiss. It felt like, when they kissed, it would be the start of everything.
No pressure or anything.
Bella sighed at herself and shut the shower off. She was thinking about this way too much. She had bared her soul to him last night; surely a kiss was no big deal.
Then why the hell can't I stop thinking about it?
Bella buried her face into the towel and laughed at herself. She felt like a teenager again, which was both extremely disturbing and rather amusing. The bees were still buzzing somewhere in her stomach, and she felt in danger of bursting into spontaneous giggles at any moment. Maybe she shouldn't kiss Edward—it would only make matters worse.
For the first time in a very long time, Bella stood in front of her wardrobe and wondered what to wear. She felt that as though she should make some kind of effort today, just to acknowledge that something had changed. She pulled out a pair of skinny jeans, stared at them and promptly threw them onto her bed. Just because she wanted to look nice didn't mean she had to be uncomfortable. Within a space of three minutes, Bella had considered and then disregarded every item of clothing she owned.
Bella stared at the pile of clothes and shook her head in disbelief. She had nothing to wear—how painfully clichéd. Refusing to spend any more time obsessing about clothes of all things, Bella grabbed her most comfortable pair of baggy jeans. She vaguely remembered something Alice had said to her once about balancing baggy and tight clothes, so she grabbed a t-shirt bearing the slogan 'I Roll With the Best' that she had accidentally shrunk in the wash. She tugged at the hem, which failed to cover a good inch of skin exposed above her waistband. She thought about changing for a moment, but the fantasy of Edward 'finding' the gap between her clothes, his hands slipping under the material…no, this top would do just fine.
She ran her hands through her wet hair, took a steadying breath, and promptly cursed at herself again. She wasn't getting ready to go into battle; she was just going to see her boyfriend.
Boyfriend. Bella grinned to herself. Edward was her boyfriend. How high school.
Distracted by her thoughts, Bella opened her bedroom door and wandered into the kitchen.
Boyfriend. Bella repeated the word in her brain, wondering if it would ever sink in. If anyone had told me two weeks ago that Edward Cullen would be my boyfriend again, I would have sucker-punched them in the mouth, and then probably started crying.
Bella grabbed a bowl from the cupboard and filled it with Lucky Charms, picking out and eating the marshmallows before pouring the milk.
She stood at the sink and stared out the window, marveling at how quickly everything had changed. She felt as though she had spent months struggling with her feelings, as though she had been unreasonable and unfair in taking so much time in telling Edward how she felt, but in reality it had only been six days since Edward had admitted to loving her. It had only felt like such a long time because it had always been inevitable that she would be with him, and every day fighting against her desire had felt like an eternity. But she also knew that she had needed those days, and that she wouldn't be feeling quite so excited about their relationship if she hadn't sorted through her demons first.
Not that she had been entirely successful on that front. They still had so much they had to talk about, there were so many things she had to tell him and things she had to decide on, but maybe that was all for the best. Maybe she wasn't supposed to figure everything out on her own. Maybe, as Edward had said, they were supposed to do that together.
Together. How bizarre.
"What are you thinking?"
Bella jumped so violently at the unexpected voice that she spilled half of her cereal down her front. She dropped her bowl, but recovered from her shock in time to catch it before it hit the floor. Although she managed to save the bowl, she also succeeded in sloshing the rest of the cereal over her hand.
"Shit-bucket," Bella hissed.
Bella squeezed her eyes tight in embarrassment, and felt the slow burn of a blush creeping across her face. She took a steadying breath and looked up. Edward was standing a few feet away, his hand resting on a chair. Despite her mortification, Bella felt excitement flare up in the pit of her stomach. She couldn't stop her eyes from moving from his neat black sneakers, up his long, jean-clad legs, across his muscular chest so perfectly framed in a black button-down, and finally, to his face which, at that moment, looked amused, a little smug, and yet oddly hesitant.
Bella looked away quickly, depositing her now-empty bowl into the sink and rinsing her hand under the tap. She realized that she had ignored two of Edward's questions, but all of her usual rough eloquence had abandoned her and she couldn't think of a single thing to say. She forced herself to make some kind of acknowledgement of his questioning by making a strange humming noise that was pathetically high pitched and squeaky.
Despite the inadequacy of Bella's response, it must have encouraged Edward, because he tried again. "I'm surprised I managed to sneak up on you."
Bella chuckled shortly as she dabbed at the mess on her shirt with a wet cloth. "Don't get used to it. I was deep in thought."
Bella finally turned to look Edward fully in the eye, and said in a pointed, yet ironic tone, "I'll give you three guesses."
She expected him to smile or even laugh, but he surprised her once more. He pressed his lips together, his jaw tight, and deliberately looked away. "Oh," he muttered, a frown carving lines into his flawless skin.
Bella stared at him in confusion as the silence between them mounted. She hadn't expected this and didn't know how to deal with it. Edward wasn't being his usual, charming self, and she thought it extremely ignorant of him if he expected her to be able to carry the conversation. Surely he knew by now that, when it came to this sort of thing, she needed all the help she could get.
His gaze flickered to hers and away again almost too fast for her to catch. "How are you feeling?" he asked, his voice strangely careful, as though he were containing something too great for mere expression.
Bella tried to shrug off her bewilderment, and replied, "Yeah, I'm fine. My ribs still twinge a bit, but they're nothing like they were last night. My shoulder's practically back to normal now, so I don't have to wear that god-awful sling anymore. I really hate slings."
Edward nodded rather absently. His fingers drummed against the back of the chair, as though he was struggling to control his impatience. "That's good, but I meant…"
Understanding came to Bella like a lightning bolt, and she barely held in a harsh bark of laughter. He was unsure of her. Despite everything she had said last night he doubted her feelings. She fought the urge to be angry or truculent, because, if she was honest, she still had doubts of her own.
So she responded as honestly as she could, even though it dented her pride, because she was tired of playing games and hiding feelings.
"How do I feel?" she asked rhetorically, a shaky laugh in her voice. "Like a schoolgirl with a crush. Except times, like, a billion. I forgot what this felt like. I'm completely unprepared. It's not helping that you're all the way over there."
It was as though a black veil had lifted from his eyes, so suddenly and radically did they shift. He reached out a hand before he was within reach, as though he couldn't wait to touch her, as though the distance he had put between them was eradicated in his mind as soon as she had finished speaking. His fingers trailed across the back of her hand before entwining with hers, pressing their palms together so firmly that he could feel the pulse under her skin as intimately as if it were his own.
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice immediately warm and full of the quiet passion that had made her fall in love with him in the first place. "I wasn't sure if—"
"I know," she interrupted, not wanting to hear him speak his fear out loud. "But if there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that I don't like liars. I may keep things to myself, and be infuriatingly reticent a lot of the time, but I only ever say what I mean. I meant every word I said last night, Edward."
His hand tightened around hers, and he had to look away in order to gather the immense feelings her words evoked in him. She smiled slightly, overcome with a strange conviction that she had actually managed to dazzle him.
"I just wasn't…sure," he mumbled, still unable to meet her eyes, his gaze fixated on the wisp of hair curling around her cheek, and reaching toward her lips. "Last night was…really intense, and I know how much the fight upset you, and I didn't know if you had merely spoken out of the heat of the moment, or if you really meant it, and of course I wanted you to mean it, but I couldn't just come down here and—"
Bella pressed the fingers of her free hand against Edward's lips, trying desperately not to laugh at him. "You're rambling," she observed. "It's cute, but completely unnecessary."
He looked at her then, properly, his eyes unusually dark. There was something in his gaze—something she couldn't name, but understood in a silent, primal, and utterly physical way—that made her stomach jolt, as though she had missed a step. Struck dumb, Bella watched powerlessly as Edward's hand curled around her wrist. His gaze never wavering from her own, he pressed firm yet brief kisses against each of her fingertips.
The moment his lips brushed her skin, she was gone. By the time he pressed his final kiss against her thumb she could barely remember her own name. It was such an unbearably innocently intimate gesture, which was perhaps why it affected her so powerfully. She could almost feel the last of the wall she had constructed around herself crumble uselessly to the ground. Feeling vulnerable, and more turned on than she could ever remember being in her entire life, she did the only sensible thing and pulled his head down for a scorching kiss.
He met her enthusiasm equally, his lips pressing hard against hers as though he just couldn't get close enough to her. His body curled around hers, and the feel of him made her tremble, her heart crashing against her ribcage, barely managing to snatch enough breath. She clung to his shoulders desperately, knowing that she was gripping too hard, but completely unable to loosen her grip. Her head was filled with an odd buzzing sound, as though the feeling of him beneath her lips was so powerful that she couldn't handle sensation and thought at the same time. It was almost like a panic, the way her brain gave up on her.
It was only when he touched her, when his hand curled around her neck and tilted her face more affectively against his, that she realized that what she was feeling wasn't merely akin to panic—it was panic. His hand was so cold against her skin, too cold. His grip didn't hurt, but it was too firm, and felt suddenly and overwhelmingly threatening. His touch was too familiar, and the countless memories of other creatures holding her neck like that, mouths and teeth straining for her pulse and her life, seemed to crash into her in the same moment.
She pulled away, but not far enough to break their hold on one another. Part of her was paralyzed with this sudden excess of fear, and the other just refused to let Edward go, clinging to him as a source of comfort even as she wanted to reject him as a threat.
She felt him shift under her hands, and a shot of adrenaline and fear shot through her chest so forcefully, it took all of her limited concentration to not lash out. "Don't…don't move," she managed to force out through clenched teeth.
He obeyed immediately, and perhaps too well because the way he became so perfectly still and silent merely served as another reminder of what he was.
She tried to pull herself together, but she couldn't hold down her panic when his hand was still curled so possessively around her throat, so she said, her voice shaking with the amount of adrenaline pumping through her, "Can you…you need to move your hand, really slowly, slowly away from my neck, please."
She focused intensely on the black button right in front of her eyes, studied it so carefully that she didn't react when Edward slowly lifted his hand from her throat. She saw that a thread had become loose in the hole of the button, that it was not perfectly straight, that the edge of it was smudged with Edward's fingerprint. It was perhaps the last observation that calmed her the most, the evidence of his basic humanity, something that truly linked them—the mark of a fingerprint.
Edward must have noticed that she calmed down—either through the slowing of her heartbeat or the way her fingers stopped digging painfully into his shoulders—because he placed a hand on her waist, and leant down so that he was level with her eyes, and said, "Bella, it's—"
"No, don't even try…please stop looking at me," Bella choked, covering her eyes with her hands. She turned away so that she couldn't see the unbearably understanding look in Edward's dark golden eyes.
"Listen to me," he said almost sternly. "You have nothing to be embarrassed about, it's completely nor—"
"Shut up, please, you need to stop talking now," Bella whispered, trying her hardest not to cry. She had done terrible things, things that crawled out of the darkness and made sleep impossible, but she honestly couldn't think of a time she had felt more guilty or ashamed of herself.
She had wanted to attack Edward. She had been scared of Edward.
"God, what's wrong with me?" she asked despairingly.
She jumped when she felt Edward's hands slide around to her back, and pull her into toward him. After an excruciatingly long moment of tension, Bella forced herself to press her forehead against his collarbone. His hands gently rubbed her back, slowly extracting the poison in her body, and eventually she released a heavy breath she did not realize she had been holding, and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what happened," she breathed against the fabric of his shirt.
"Yes, you do," he said. "It was a completely normal reaction, one that I always expected you to have. I'm a vampire, Bella. You shouldn't want me close to you. You shouldn't—"
Bella drew back again, and pointed an imperious finger against his chest, saying rather impatiently, "Oh, don't give me that old crap, Edward. I've never thought of you like that and you know it."
"But you should," he said softly, taking her hand from his chest, and twisting his fingers between hers. "I am a vampire."
"No shit, Sherlock," she spat.
A flash of impatience sparked in his eyes, but he impressively held his temper. "You shouldn't be so angry with yourself. I'm not upset."
"Well, I am!" She broke away from him, still frustratingly unnerved by his closeness. She ran her fingers through her hair, tugging fiercely in an attempt to control her aggravation. "You have no idea how impossible this is for me. You're Edward. My Edward. The idea that I can't be close to you, that I've ruined what we used to have…Christ, I forgot who you were! I couldn't think, I just wanted to hurt…is my distress amusing to you, Edward?"
Bella stared at him indignantly as he chuckled to himself, sharp sardonic humor curling about his lips.
"I'm sorry," he said, not sound apologetic in the least. "But you're being utterly ridiculous."
Bella's eyes narrowed dangerously, and she turned on her heel in order to storm out of the room in righteous anger. When Edward gripped her wrist to stop her leaving, Bella had to contain a violent urge, not, thankfully, because she was scared, but because she thought he was being deliberately and arrogantly insensitive.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have laughed at you," he said hastily, still without an appropriate amount of apology. "But I'm right. No, listen to me. Don't you remember our first kiss? Our very first kiss?"
"Of course I remember that, you think I could forget?" she asked irritably.
"Then describe it to me. Please."
Bella rolled her eyes and sighed heavily, but decided to humor him. "We were coming back from the meadow. You were running and I was on your back. I got really dizzy and you helped me down. Then you said that you wanted to try something and told me stay really still. Then you kissed me. What about it?" she said shortly.
"Then what happened, Bella?"
Bella hesitated. She thought carefully, and as the memory unfolded in her mind, the anger and resentment seeped out of her muscles like poison being drawn from a wound. Edward felt her antagonism drain away, and dared to step closer, but he was still wary of the tense set of her shoulders.
"It's not the same," she muttered, undermining Edward's attempts to catch her eye by resuming her stare at the button on his shirt.
"Because…" Bella said petulantly.
"You wanted to hurt me, didn't you?"
His tone was gentle and understanding, but she felt as though she had been thrown a hideous accusation. An accusation she couldn't deny. She wrapped her arms around her waist in an almost-forgotten gesture.
Edward took her pained silence as agreement, because he continued, still in that awfully sympathetic voice, "Believe me when I say that I know what that feels like, Bella."
"You want to hurt me because it's in your nature. It's not something you can help. I reacted like I did because of what I've done. I've made myself into a monster."
Edward chuckled again as he took her right hand and soothed it out of a fist. "Shall I point out the irony of you using that particular word?"
She sighed deeply. "Please, don't."
"I told you something last night that I'm not entirely sure you heard or believed," he said, pushing his luck and stepping so close that Bella could feel his icy breath against her forehead. "Do you remember me telling you that I love you more now than I did before?"
Bella couldn't stop her lips from curving up, ever so slightly. "That was, in fact, one of the highlights of my evening. What about it?"
"I'm not sure I told you the real reason behind the intensity of my feelings. The truth is, and this may sound rather selfish of me, but I love that you can finally understand me. Before, all those years ago, I occasionally tried to explain my feelings about what I am, my guilt and shame about what I had done in the past, and how it was affecting our relationship. If you remember, you used to dismiss my concerns, or pretend that they weren't important." Bella opened her mouth to object, but the words felt false on her tongue, so she let them dissolve. "I almost fooled myself into agreeing with you. I couldn't be myself around you—my whole self, everything that I was—because I didn't think that you could understand. Now, I think you can. You have no idea how relieved I am that I can finally open up to you, let you see the truth about myself, and not feel inadequate or ashamed. So I implore that you do the same."
"You make it sound so easy," she muttered darkly. "It doesn't feel easy."
"No," Edward agreed. "Perhaps not easy. It wasn't easy when you told me about that man you hurt, but it helped to talk about it, didn't it?"
"Philip Burke," Bella whispered in way of reply. She remembered the way that Edward had listened to her story without interruption, how he had made her a cup of tea, how he hadn't been disgusted when she told him about the things she had done, not even when she told him how many vampires she had killed. Instead of being repulsed by her, he replied with a horrific number of his own that made her feel just a little bit less alone.
He must have caught the tenor of her thoughts by the softening of her expression, because he reached out, tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, and said, "You were uncomfortable around me, but you still felt like you could talk to me. You knew that, out of everyone, I would be the only one able to understand what you were going through."
"I remembered what you had told me about your past," she said softly. "About why you had left Carlisle and what you had done. I remembered how guilty you felt about it. I thought…I thought you could help me, and you did. Just by being there and listening you gave me hope, you know that?"
Edward smiled in what looked like relief, leant down slowly and pressed a light but lingering kiss against the corner of her mouth. She felt light-headed, but it was definitely not from panic. Her fingers instinctively curled through the loops of his jeans.
"I do," he murmured against her skin. "But only because you've done the same for me. So we shouldn't overreact over the little things, all right? If something bothers you, just tell me about it. I'll never judge you, Bella."
Bella reached up a hand and traced the strong line of his jaw, amazed by him. She smiled suddenly, and said, "It's annoying, isn't it?"
He frowned at her. "What is?"
"The angst. The self-deprecation. The brooding. It's annoying to be on the receiving end of it, isn't it?"
Edward laughed quietly, his eyes crinkling in the way that she knew meant he was sincerely amused by something. Bella laughed along, more in relief than anything. She laughed because she realized that she didn't have to be alone anymore. She could share her darkness. Somehow, impossibly, it could become a place of refuge.
"Slightly annoying, yes," he admitted finally, his finger tracing her lips as though it wasn't enough to see her smile, he had to feel it as well.
"And not at all attractive."
"I don't know," he mused. He curled a hand under her chin, bringing her face closer to his and brushing his thumb against her full bottom lip. "I rather enjoyed the pouting."
Bella raised an eyebrow in slightly shocked acknowledgement. She wasn't used to Edward being so playful, but she couldn't say, hand on heart, that she disapproved. Her tongue flicked, of its own accord, against the pad of Edward's thumb and she shivered at the dark look of desire that shimmered in his eyes.
He leant down toward her, but stopped with his mouth hovering a mere breath above hers. She waited for him to close the distance, holding her breath, her eyes closed in anticipation. When she didn't feel him move after a long moment, she let out her breath, but didn't open her eyes. She felt embarrassed, and didn't want to see the pity or—worse—wariness in his expression. Despite everything that he had said, was he really going to treat her like a bomb about to go off?
Finally, setting her face into an expressionless mask so that she could pretend that he wasn't hurting her feelings, Bella opened her eyes. Edward smiled at her, his thumb shading across her jaw, but he still didn't move toward her. She frowned at him for a long moment, taking in his content and patient expression, until she realized what he was doing. She could have laughed out loud. Since when had Edward been the sensible and supportive half of their couple, and she the melodramatic destructive agent? She didn't know whether she wanted to hug him or kick herself. Both urges felt rather powerful.
He was giving her control. Somehow, he could still sense her nervousness and discomfort, and he was being careful of overwhelming her, like he had unwittingly done before. So he was holding back, silently telling her that he was happy for her to set the pace.
She fought against the urge to just grab him and mash her face to his, because she knew that—no matter how understanding Edward was being—she couldn't stand reacting the same way she had just minutes before.
So she took a calming breath, and brought her right hand to his chest. She briefly held it over the place where his heart would have once beaten.
"Edward," she whispered, as if to remind herself.
She slid her hand over his collarbones, and then reached up to trace the straight line of his left cheekbone. Her eyes darted around his face, as if she was trying to etch it into her memory. She curved her hand around his jaw, and moved her face so close to his that it felt like he surrounded her completely.
"My Edward," she sighed.
His hand involuntarily tightened around her waist, and she felt his intake of breath as though he had taken the air from between her own lungs.
Still taking her time, Bella wrapped her lips around his bottom one. She drew it ever so slightly into her mouth, taking a moment to get used to his cold, strong and soft skin. She pulled back, opened her eyes for a second, as if to reassure herself that he was still there, and then leant forward once more, this time to pull his upper lip between her own. In what she considered a calculated risk, Bella briefly touched her tongue to his lip. She pulled away slightly, rolling the taste of him around in her mouth. It was familiar to her, but not in a frightening way. No, this time she could only feel, smell, taste Edward. He was just like she remembered—bright, sharp and softly addicting—but he was different as well. She could feel him in ways that she never could before. Impossibly, he felt more.
Flushed with her success, Bella smiled up at Edward, only to see how tight his jaw was and how uneven his breathing sounded. She had almost forgotten that this would be just as difficult for him, if not more so. She waited for him to relax and meet her eyes again. She was surprised, and supremely relieved, to see not a hint of embarrassment or anger in his expression after his momentary lack of control. He actually looked slightly amused. He raised an eyebrow at her, as if in challenge.
"You all right?" he asked, faux-nonchalantly, as if they were just greeting each other, and absolutely nothing of consequence had occurred in the last twenty minutes.
Bella briefly pressed her lips together against a smile, before returning with equal indifference, "Yeah, you?"
They sniggered together childishly.
"So." Bella smiled coyly at him. Or at least, that was what she was aiming for. She wasn't entirely sure that she could do coy. She guessed that she must have been a little successful, because Edward's gaze flickered to her lips and didn't wander for a rather flattering amount of time. "You fancy giving this another go, then?"
His smile was wicked, but his voice maintained their casual banter. "I thought so. That is, if you're agreeable?"
They moved together without another word.
They had never kissed like this before. Surely she would have remembered. They slipped between hard, urgent kisses that set her body on fire and had her fingers digging and twisting into the fabric of his shirt, and soft, languorous and teasing kisses that made her feel as if she was melting. For the first time (she was sure of it) they were truly enjoying each other. There was still tension there, deep down, and an occasional flash of impatience, evident in the way she would occasionally tug on his hair, or the slightest rumble of a growl in his chest, but it always settled.
One moment, Edward was in charge. He tilted her face more firmly against his, angling her mouth in such a way that when he applied the right amount of pressure, her lips fell open and he could feel the intoxicating heat of her breath. Another moment, Bella was pulling back slightly, pressing brief, closed mouthed kisses across his mouth and chin.
Never once did she forget who she was kissing. The fact that she was with Edward, that Edward was so close to her, teasing her, testing her and taking from her, was never far from her rather vague thoughts. His name formed a chant in her mind, as if she had to constantly be reminded of her immediate reality, in case it slithered away. Whenever this thought crept into her head, she'd press just a little bit harder against him, and he would always respond in kind. She snatched breath when she had to, losing air in quiet groans and whimpers, but she couldn't get enough of him. She didn't think that she could ever stop touching him.
How the hell had she gone eight years without this?
"Eww, gross. Get a room, you pervs."
They jumped back in surprise. They had been so wrapped up in each other they hadn't heard Diane walk into the kitchen. Bella turned to her, but the ferocity of her glare was somewhat undermined by the blush that blossomed on her cheeks.
"We…" Bella's voice came out embarrassingly croaky, so she cleared her throat, ignoring Diane's snort of laughter. "We had one until you jumped out on us."
"Jumped out at you?" Diane repeated incredulously, one of her eyebrows raised impressively high. "I couldn't have made more noise. I wanted to make sure I didn't walk in on that." She shivered with mock disgust. "You've put me off my breakfast."
Bella shot Edward an apologetic look, concerned that he might take Diane's teasing seriously. She needn't have worried. He was wearing such a self-satisfied smirk that Bella had to hold back a snigger. She turned back to Diane before her laughter broke out.
"Poor baby," Bella joked. "Will a cup of tea make you feel better?"
"It might go some way toward healing my trauma, yes." Diane grimaced and settled herself at the kitchen table.
Bella turned to the tea cupboard, which happened to be next to Edward's head. She put a hand on his shoulder as she perused the tea, not because she needed balance as she stretched on her tip-toes, but because it had been too long since she had touched him, and that was just unacceptable.
In the end, she just grabbed a random packet. Edward was staring at her, his face so close she could feel his cool breath against her cheek. She bit her lip against the foolish grin she could feel forming. She walked away to the kettle, feeling as though a huge balloon was expanding behind her rib cage. She felt so light she was so surprised she hadn't started floating toward the ceiling.
Bella stared at the kettle as it began to heat up, unwilling to look back at Edward or Diane until she had her unexpected surge of giddiness under control. Though, she couldn't help but smile as she listened to the two most important people in her world talk and joke together. She couldn't explain how necessary it was for them to get along, even though she knew that Diane—despite her teasing and unwavering support—was not entirely comfortable around Edward.
"I spoke to Carlisle earlier," Edward said smoothly, though Bella could still hear the smirk in his voice. "He said that he would take your cast off your arm today, if you like."
Bella heard a thump that sounded like Diane slamming her arm on the table. "Thank God. I'm getting really sick of this thing. Plus, a spider crawled into it yesterday, and I swear it hasn't come out."
"That's…" Edward hesitated, sounding unnerved. "That's really rather horrible."
"Don't be silly. He's just a spider. He's not going to hurt me, are you, Gary?" Diane peered down the top of her cast, and said in a cooing voice that would perhaps be appropriate for a baby or puppy, "No, you're not, 'cos you're a good spider, oh yes you are."
Bella's shoulders were shaking with the effort of trying not to laugh out loud. Boiling water splashed onto the counter as the kettle trembled in her hand.
"You've named the spider that has crawled into your cast?" Edward asked, understandably confused.
"Of course I have," Diane scoffed, as if the question was absurd and barely worth answering.
"And you called it Gary?"
"What's wrong with Gary?"
"Whenever Diane names anything, she calls it Gary," Bella told Edward, moving to pass Diane her cup of unspecified tea. "It's after Gary Lightbody. You know, he's that boring moody guy from that boring moody band, Snow Patrol. She's got an inexplicable boy-crush on him."
"Did you…I can't…" Diane spluttered for a little while in indignation, before fixing Bella with a slack-jawed scowl. "You know, I'd be much better at being straight than you. You have very questionable taste in men."
Bella grinned broadly. "I know," she said happily before kissing Edward on the cheek and pulling herself up to sit on the counter-top beside him.
His hand wrapped around her ankle. Her leg twitched uncontrollably as something like electricity shot through her. He tried to look upset at her remark, but he wasn't fooling anyone. "So, that's how it is now?" he asked petulantly, his thumb tracing circles into her skin. "We finally get together and the abuse starts?"
"Well, yeah," Bella said casually, twisting her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck. "Obviously. Didn't you get the memo?"
The pretense fell away as they grinned widely at each other. Bella could tell that Edward was remembering—just like she was—the promise they had made to each other the night before; that they could cope with everything bad that came their way if they stuck together. Sitting there in that kitchen, connected by the slightest of touches, grinning like idiots, Bella thought that it actually could be that simple.
A soft scraping noise drew Bella thudding back down to Earth. She tore her eyes from Edward's to see Diane standing up and begin to walk away without a word.
"Hey, where're you going?"
Diane turned partly toward her, but didn't meet her eyes. Her face looked suddenly closed off, the lines around her mouth more pronounced than ever.
"Me and Gary are going to spend some quality time together," she said, trying and failing to sound light-hearted. "See you guys later."
"Come get me when you see Carlisle," Bella said quickly, before Diane disappeared completely. "We…we'll just be in the living room, so—"
"Yep, sounds good," she said dismissively. She spun around and left the room quickly, as if she couldn't stand to be in the room—with them—for a second longer.
Bella took her hand from Edward's neck and pressed her fingers against her forehead. She felt suddenly and intensely guilty.
"Are you all right?" Edward asked her softly, leaning against the counter to face her fully.
"Do you think we were being insensitive?" she muttered. "After what she's been through…"
A corner of his mouth curled into a sad smile. "I don't know. Maybe. Then again, we can't pretend this isn't happening." His hand squeezed her ankle as he spoke, showing her that 'this' was actually 'them'.
She sighed deeply, and stared off into space for a long moment. "I don't know if you wanted to do something today," she said eventually. "I know I sort of bulldozered anything you might have planned when I said we'd be in the living room, but I want to stay close, just in case."
He smiled at her reassuringly, and she stared at the tiniest hint of a dimple that formed on his right cheek. She felt a maddening desire to touch it, and then she realized that she could, so she did.
She blushed crimson when he started laughing silently, his whole body shaking with the effort it obviously took him not to laugh out loud. Apparently, just because they were now dating, that didn't mean she should start poking him in the face. Noted.
"It doesn't matter if we don't go out," he said, still chuckling. "You're always great entertainment, no matter where you are."
Bella rolled her eyes. "I'm glad I amuse you."
"So am I." She flicked his ear in irritation, but he just laughed and caught her hand before she could do it again. She felt like she could forgive him, though, when he curled his fingers around hers and looked at her in such a gentle, honest way that she held her breath. "Staying in is fine—it's great. We can hang out, watch TV, and just…be together. It sounds perfect."
In order to stop herself from saying something embarrassingly soppy, Bella leant down and kissed him firmly but briefly, right on the mouth.
She pulled back, feeling slightly dazed. She ran a finger down the side of his face, and felt him shiver.
Bella smiled. His involuntary reaction to her touch did more to reassure her than his perfect words ever could.
"So, has Alice's shopping spree extended to DVDs?" Bella asked, a lilt in her voice that Edward had never heard before. "I'm in the mood for something kind of ridiculous."
"She didn't get DVDs, but she's got…" Edward's face went curiously blank for a split second, before breaking into a massive grin. He suddenly, and rather adorably, looked as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. He mashed his lips to hers in a happy, rather unwieldy kiss, before pulling back and gushing, "I know exactly what we should do. Wait here while I set it up. This is going to be so awesome."
He leant forward again for another rather unsuccessful kiss, though this time it was because Bella was too busy laughing into his mouth. He didn't seem to notice or care very much, because he just flashed her another uncharacteristically silly smile and practically sprinted out of the room.
Bella continued chuckling to herself, her legs swinging in the air in an attempt to distil the bubble of giddiness still trapped in her chest. She couldn't remember being this happy in…well, ever. Even when they had first been together, they had never joked around like this. Edward had always been too mired in his self-doubt to ever let himself get lost in the moment.
It was like their roles had reversed, except she was not quite so good at prolonged self-deprecation, and Edward was much better at dragging her out of it.
Maybe, just maybe, this time they had a real shot at something great.