Disclaimer: SM owns Twilight. The Pre-game belongs to me. And any other famed entity I may have given a mention.

A/N: It's been a bit of time since I last saw you, but I've been busy. Wrote the EPOV of Ch 7 and got it sent off to Fandom4Texas, posted Ch 24 of Clear and Bright, aaaand started a new fic, for those who may not know, Say Goodbye. Prologue and Ch 1 are already posted. To sum it up in one word... Bitchella.

Now, as for this little darling... I'm still on the bridge. Holding on tight, scared shitless of heights. And water. Send a helicopter, please. You know which one. I'm willing to beg. Fifty times over. *sigh*

And one more thing... I kept my promise. For those of you who have PMs disabled, you were spared.

aaaand... Pre-game in T minus... NOW.

Chapter Nine : Pre-game

Edward

"Knock it off, Kate."

She laughs as she looks up at me from her desk. "Knock what off, Mr. Masen? Your too-pretty-for-your-own-good head?"

"Would you like to join your friend in the world of the stupid and unemployed?"

"No, thank you, sir."

"Then I suggest you watch how you talk to me, and KNOCK. IT. OFF."

"Yes, sir. My apologies, sir. But I still don't know what you're referring to. What would you like me to knock off?"

Don't know, my ass... "Stop sending every unimportant fucking phone call that comes in to my desk!"

"Well, they all asked for you."

"Of course they asked for me, it's my fucking firm, they all want the chance to talk to me. But do you really think it's so funny- and worth risking your job for- to send a call to my desk that wants to confirm that we received the new yellow pages? Or any of the other waste-of-my-time bullshit you've sent?"

"It was a little funny."

"Kate!"

She doesn't try to contain her laughter, but manages to rein it in finally when she sees how strongly I don't share her amusement. "Okay. I'm sorry. It was childish, and I'll stop now. Just wanted to torment you a bit. Give you a reminder of sorts." She looks at me intently, and her tone grows serious, "You're better than your recent behavior, Mr. Masen. Holly is my friend, but friend or not, she's not worth your lapse in judgment. Or what happened because of it. She told me what she did... and even though I've behaved childishly today on her behalf, I completely agree with your decision to fire her for it. She was way out of line, and I unequivocally told her that. Isabella did nothing to deserve to be put in that position, and Holly only did it because she knows- and is, and always has been, jealous of the fact- that you have a strong affection for her. Unfortunately, last night you gave her an opportunity that she couldn't resist taking advantage of. I know you're not happy about that, and probably feel like absolute shit for your own part in it, but I implore you to keep that firm in your mind when you choose a replacement for her. Someone less tempting, perhaps. And less conniving. With all due respect, sir."

All of that, yet I only heard one thing. Strong affection for her. Jesus, am I that transparent? Kate knows Isabella is important to me, but her emphasis on affection leaves no doubt that she's now fully aware that there has been a change in what that means.

And there were Holly's comments this morning...

And Rose's knowing glare at dinner last night...

And, of course, Isabella herself...

Shit.

I'm wearing it on my fucking sleeve. Or somewhere.

Are Jasper and Emmett the only ones who don't see it? They're closer to it than anyone.

But they know better than anyone how deep that affection goes.

And, Jasper especially, would never doubt it's innocence.

Because it's unfathomable to him.

Even to me.

It's unfathomable.

I know that.

Under no circumstances can I have her, no matter how much I want her.

"Aren't you going to answer that, Kate?" Jasper's sudden appearance makes me nearly jump out of my skin.

The phone is ringing like crazy on Kate's desk, but she's just staring at me. How long have I been standing here silently, lost in my self-dialogue?

She's still staring at me.

Because she knows.

And now she knows that I know she knows. Her eyes flit to Jasper- who she knows doesn't know anything- and back to me, before she clears her throat purposefully and attends to the sudden barrage of calls.

"You're awfully tense, isn't your temp working out?" Jasper asks to my back as I turn and walk away.

"No, she didn't. Or the two they sent after," I mutter, not bothering to turn around, certainly not wanting to take the risk of him seeing too.

"What happened? Were they all wearing thongs, unaware of your out-of-character aversion to them?"

"I don't know what kind of fucking undergarments they were wearing, Jasper, nor do I care- and I sure as fuck wasn't interested in finding out- but that worthless temp service sent me nothing but whore after whore, whose only interests in performing a job were to blow me, so I sent them packing one after the other. And it's not out of character, you know how much I hate that trashy shit, you asshole. And... now the whole day has been an unproductive waste of time, because I can't get shit done while I'm still stuck answering my own fucking phone!"

"You weren't interested? You feeling alright? Or did your dick finally fall off from overuse?"

I cross the threshold to my office and kick the door shut in his face in answer to his unamusing questions, but he isn't deterred and opens it, following me in, laughing like he's the funniest thing since Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Too bad he's not.

"Don't you have anything more important to do than amuse yourself with me?"

"Actually, no. Unlike you, I have had a very productive day. I was thinking of heading out early and seeing how Isabella is faring. I talked to her a couple of hours ago, and she said she felt better, but she looked so terrible this morning, I'm not sure I believe her."

Isabella looking terrible is a physical impossibility... "Why would she lie about that? If she said she felt better, then she probably does. You should be glad. Why are you questioning it?"

"Her feelings were hurt that we moved game night to your house. I tried to explain why, but she wasn't listening... She said we wanted to get away from her. And that she never meant to be in the way... "

Oh, Isabella... you wicked little devil... "She knows better than that, Jasper."

"You didn't see her face or hear her voice, Edward. It broke my heart."

I'm sure it was true Isabella-fashion Oscar worthy... "I can see that," I snicker.

Now he doesn't see the humor. "I can't believe you, of all people, would be amused by her feelings being hurt. Are you really that bitter about her serving you your ass last night?"

"Don't piss me off, Jasper, you fucking know better. What I'm amused by is your cluelessness. Let me guess... you ensured her she was wrong, told her how much we all adore her, and then she insisted she would be fine and that game night be moved back to your house as usual?"

"Pretty much. Your point?"

Some things never change... "Okay, take notes. Isabella : Lesson 177,245 ... " He flips me off, hating it when I have to explain her to him, or feel the need to, like now, but I ignore him and continue. "For some reason, she actually enjoys spoiling us. She looks forward to it. Needs it. And, believe me, she likes it when we bow to her for it. We have to be there to do that. Understand now? She played you. And you fell for it. And everyone thinks Emmett is the dumb one?"

"She wouldn't do that to me. I know my sister. Her feelings were genuinely hurt."

"If you were so concerned about it, then why didn't you say something this morning? You came in here, you didn't say a word."

"That's because by the time I left the house, she had moved on to determined. At that moment, it seemed the bigger issue, but now that she's had all day to stew... you know she can be... sensitive... her mind... No. You're wrong. I'm going home."

"Let me know if... "

He doesn't wait for me to finish, he's already out the door. I still think I'm right, but after last night, I feel like a complete ass for not at least checking to see how she was feeling. Or thinking. God knows I thought about her...

Well, it's not too late to let her know that, at least on some level. I pull out my phone and type her a message:

I had the most heavenly apple pie for breakfast this morning, my humble thanks to YOU. How are you today? You've been on my mind. Edward

I hit send, and wait for her reply, trying not to over-analyze adding that last sentence, or how she might take it. Luckily, I don't have to wait long.

You're welcome. I'm fine... NOW, thank you for asking. And... GOOD, at least you're man enough to finally admit it. Isabella

Shit!

How the fuck am I supposed to respond to that? I pull at my hair in frustration, flabbergasted at my continued carelessness and stupidity with her. Of course that's how she took it.

Didn't I know she would when I sent it?

Yes, I knew.

Did it stop me?

No.

The only question I have no answer to is why?

Why can't I think straight when it comes to her?

Why isn't my brain capable of anything but thinking about her?

Why can't I stop myself from doing and saying things I know I shouldn't?

Why can't I keep the boundaries clear in my head?

The lines are clearly drawn.

Between us.

All around her.

Where they're supposed to protect her on all sides.

There's even signs posted...

STOP

KEEP OUT

DO NOT ENTER

AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY

PRIVATE PROPERTY

NO TRESPASSING

BEWARE OF DOGS

Well, they were.

Until she pulled them all out by their stakes.

Until she flipped then upside down and used them to sweep those carefully defined lines into oblivion.

Until she swung them like a bat and knocked my will into the same.

Until the dogs were duped like the idiots they are.

She distracted them.

Threw food to one. That was easy.

Her seemingly wounded heart to the other.

So he'd wander away searching for a way to help her. That one was harder.

He never lets his guard down.

Except he did.

Because he doesn't realize he needs to protect her from one of his own.

One of the authorized personnel.

As for the third...

She doesn't want him to leave her.

Or be distracted in any way.

She just wants him to stop standing guard. Leave his post. His post outside.

She erected signs of her own.

Just for him. Me.

ENTER

WELCOME

DOGS WELCOME

PLEASE COME IN

If only...

But no.

No. No. NO.

They're not for me.

She can't see it now, but she will.

I'm not right for her.

I don't belong inside.

Out.

Out is where I belong.

Out is where I have to stay.

For her.

Her, who has gotten tired of waiting for my reply.

Your wishing you could take it back doesn't make it unseen or unsaid. It's too late for that. I won't forget. Any of it. Isabella.

Fuck!

Everything was so much simpler a week ago. Before I let her see anything. Hear anything. Know anything.

I knew... I'd always known, but not how, perhaps. Not how deeply.

I'd catch her stealing glances... She'd blush. I'd smile. But nothing changed.

No lines were crossed. It was harmless. Innocent. Sweet.

Sweet, like the day when she was four years old and I arrived for one of her infamous tea parties and found her wearing the Snow White dress my mother had made for her-topped off with a makeshift veil. Her table, usually set with a teapot and teacups and cookies, instead held apple juice and champagne glasses and a cake, with her Snow White and Prince Charming figurines centered on top. She'd told me this tea party would be a special one, and to dress up like a grown up. I had done as she asked-or rather insisted- and had even tried to get my hair to lay down. She giggled when she saw me and ordered me to sit, and reached up with her tiny little fingers and messed it all up again. Then she said it was perfect and asked me if I was ready.

I laughed and asked her who the lucky prince was that was going to get to marry the beautiful princess and she rolled her big brown eyes at me, put her hands on her hips, and said "You, silly."

I remember that day like it was yesterday, and how her eyes lit up when I smiled at her declaration. I looked up when I heard Ethan laughing, and he was leaning in her doorway, beaming at the adorable little girl that was the light of his life. My brows lifted in shock when I saw that he, too, had dressed for the occasion, foregoing his usual basketball shorts or warm up pants and t-shirt for a suit.

He crossed the room, and bent down to kiss her smiling cheek, and glanced up at me. "Like it could ever be anyone else? Really, Edward... " He rolled his eyes, mimicking her and making her giggle, before directing his next words at her, "He really is silly, isn't he?"

She nodded her head with an exasperated sigh and another roll of her eyes, making us both laugh, and Ethan slapped me hard on the shoulder. "Good luck, O chosen one, you're gonna need it."

She batted her long eyelashes, an innocent smirk forming on her small mouth, before running to the doorway and balling her hands into fists. "Jasper! Get your butt in here! It's time for the wedding!"

Like it was yesterday...

Only it wasn't.

And she's not that little girl anymore, playing innocent dress up games.

And I'm not that young boy who only wanted to make her happy.

Not even close.

Doesn't she understand that?

How different it is?

Doesn't she see the danger now?

What would her answer be if I asked her?

Do I want to know?

Yes.

I want her to tell me.

Tell me, so that I know how to protect her from both of us.

I type out my message, hoping that she takes it seriously. And that her answer won't scare the hell out of me.

Oh, Isabella, when did you stop dreaming of Prince Charming and resign yourself to tempt the evil huntsman? Don't you see how dangerous that is? Please see. For me? THE HUNTSMAN

Isabella

See? For him?

Oh, I see... I just have to make him see. For both of us. But right now I'm going to make him wait. And anyway, I'm pretty sure I just heard Jasper's car pull into the garage. I stick my tongue out at Aro, who hasn't stopped his slithering frenzy since I came down here- which I don't do often when Jasper isn't here- and go upstairs to see why he's home so early.

"There you are," he says as I come up behind him. "I was just about to check upstairs. I thought maybe you'd gone to take a nap."

"No, I was just downstairs straightening up. Did you come home early to check on me?"

"Yes, actually. You look much better than you did this morning. You really do feel better?"

"Yes. I told you I did."

"You did. But I thought maybe you were just... "

"Just what?" I ask with wide, innocent eyes.

He gives me a look that says I have mine on you, but smiles. Briefly. "So, what on earth was there to straighten up downstairs? No snake guts, I hope?"

"Tempting... " I smile wickedly, "but no, and you'd be surprised. Mayhem creeps in the moment I go to sleep. Dust and such... it's horrendous."

"Horrendous? I'm pretty sure you could run a white glove over any surface in this house, and the glove would come up cleaner than when it touched down. Mayhem is too afraid of you to dare to enter your territory."

"I am pretty scary. Armed with my rag and a can of polish... I almost feel sorry for the nasty little particles. But not quite. So... did you tell the boys game night is back on?"

"Not yet. I wanted to see how you were doing first."

Of course you did... "Well, that's okay. I knew you wouldn't, so I already told Emmett. I was just about to call Edward, but since you're home, you can do that. And then you can go out and get the beer, because I didn't get out to do that today. Or you could delegate it to one of them. Whatever."

"You're passing up a chance to call Edward? That's... interesting."

I roll my eyes at his narrowed ones, and turn for the stairs, without another word.

I need privacy.

I have a list to make.

Edward

Productivity in the last two hours?

Negative.

Less than none.

Response from Isabella?

Still waiting for it.

Number of times I've looked at my phone while waiting?

Lost. Count.

Reasons to stick around the office another minute?

Can't think of a one.

I grab my keys from the desk, my phone already in my hand, like a teenage girl that gave it up way too fucking easy, and is stupidly sitting, waiting for a call that will never come from the asshole that took it without a second thought.

How many times have I been that asshole?

Granted, they're not teenage girls anymore, but they haven't grown any wiser with their years. They still give it up way too fucking easy. Most of them.

The only difference is, now they know better than to wait. They know their phones won't ring. I don't have a single number. I don't ask for them. I don't take them when they offer. I don't need them. If I want to get my dick wet, I have only to walk into any one of a hundred places and take my pick at how.

Yes, how.

Nameless, faceless whores, remember?

I slide my key into the ignition and start my truck, thinking that's exactly how easy it is for me...

I only have to decide what I want.

Decide, and it comes to me. I don't have to ask.

I glance at my phone, now on the console next to me, and I know.

There's only one thing that I want.

And for tonight, at least...

Nothing else will do.

Isabella

Well, Edward, I tried.

Even though your memory of the huntsman's actions don't seem to include his eventually discovered heart, I still tried.

For you.

Because you asked me to.

Yes.

I did.

Gave it my best effort.

I honestly and truly did...

But nothing.

I glance down at the list in front of me.

Well...

It has a title.

Reasons I should be afraid of Edward Masen

But under that?

BLANK.

Couldn't think of a one.

And a title does not a list make.

Certainly that means something?

Maybe he's the one afraid?

Hmmm...

That could be a list.

I flip the page, smiling to myself.

Reasons Edward Masen might be afraid of me

1) Jasper. The most obvious.

2) I'm a great cook. Maybe he's afraid that eating my cooking more than once or twice a week will make him fat? Seriously, Adonis has nothing to worry about.

3) Jasper. Probably worth mentioning twice.

4) Sudden irrational fear of peanut butter? Doubtful.

5) His dick. Probable. He might think not using it for a day will paralyze it or something.

6) Jasper. Yeah... back to that again. But unnecessary. I think he could take him.

7) Jasper + Emmett? A threesome of sorts. That might not go well in Edward's favor.

8) Threesomes. The other kind. Wouldn't go well in his favor, either. He'd have to give them up. Completely.

9) His dick. Getting more obvious.

10) Happiness. The pure kind. I'd give it to him. He doesn't think he's worthy. He's wrong. This should be number 1.

I should put in a call to Letterman. Offer up my Top Ten.

Except it's not funny.

So I'll just put it in Edward's hand. With the other one.

Edward

The hot spray beats on my chest without mercy.

The same way my hand strokes my throbbing cock.

The same way Isabella pummels my mind.

She's here again.

I brought her.

I tried not to.

But I failed.

I was doomed the second I walked through the kitchen door.

Greeted by her pie.

My mouth started watering.

I grabbed a fork and took a bite.

Then another.

My stomach told me there was no better taste on this earth.

Than Isabella's apple pie.

My cock disagreed.

It thought something could top it.

I think it was right.

I bet she tastes like heaven.

I want to know.

I've never craved anything more in my life.

My mouth has never watered quite like this.

And it's never done what it wants to do to her now in my mind.

As she's waiting before me.

Her sweet, unpicked fruit.

Dangling, yet hidden.

Out of sight to all eyes but mine.

Up on the highest branch.

Out of reach to everyone but me.

Tempting me.

Breaking my will to resist.

Stroke...

My body trembles as I climb higher.

Harder...

Slither towards it.

Harder still...

My breath becomes ragged as I reach out.

Punishing... the muscles in my arm straining with the effort...

My lips quiver as I take it gently in my hand.

Squeeze...

A hiss rolls deep in my throat as I bring it to my mouth.

Twist...

Her name flies from my lips into the steam-filled air.

Pure.

My knees buckle beneath me.

Unadulterated.

And the hard, hot spray beating down on me is a mere trickle, compared to the surge of indescribable bliss that explodes from my cock as I taste her sweet, delectable flesh.

Heaven.

My hands hit the tile wall in a desperate attempt to regain my bearings. Catch my breath. Come back to earth.

To her.

The her that I'm going to see just minutes from now.

The her that I'll have to look at, and talk to, knowing what I just did.

Just wanted to do.

Still want to do.

To her.

I am so fucked...

Isabella

Tip-off? T minus 37 minutes.

Jasper? On a beer run.

Emmett? Will show up when he smells food.

THE HUNTSMAN? Just pulled into the driveway.

Snow White? Prepped and ready. For THE HUNTSMAN. And the game.

Eminem? Present and blaring. NOT AFRAID.

Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

I open the door with a smirk, and his hands move instantly to his hair. God, I love it when he does that... The only thing I would love more is if I was doing it.

I'm already making him nervous.

I love that too.

I look him over slowly and purposefully.

His long fingers in his untamed hair.

His deep emerald and currently wary eyes.

His perfect lips.

His chiseled jaw.

His will-put-me-on-the-floor-if-I-look-at-it-for-too-long NECK.

I'm still standing, so just another minute...

He clears his throat and it makes his adams apple bounce and I bite my lip.

Breathe! Must. Finish. Inspection!

Tattered old Trail Blazers t-shirt. Black. And arms...

God help me!

Faded, ripped jeans over long legs.

Hello?

Black Adidas.

Head to toe perfection.

He clears his throat again, and my eyes make their way back to his face. Now he's the one smirking. "Is there a new dress code at the Hale residence? Do I meet the requirements to be permitted entry?"

"You could be wearing nothing and you'd meet the... " His brows raise and my hand flies up to cover my mouth. I really didn't mean to...

His mouth twitches and he reaches forward and pulls my hand from my thousand-shades-of-red face, sending shivers through me. And maybe himself. Or flames. I'm not sure which, but his face tells me it was something. It doesn't matter to me in the least. Something is all I need.

For now.

"Can I come in?" he asks, letting my hand fall from his, his eyes troubled by my newest glimpse of his weakening.

"Of course," I whisper, unable to stop the smile that spreads across my face.

He steps slowly inside and closes the door behind him. "Where is everyone?" he asks, shoving his hands into his pockets.

I want to join them... his beautiful hands...

My thumping heart makes my words come out breathlessly, "It's just you and me."

xx

So... you must have something to say? Like when the hEliCopter will arrive? *bats eyelashes* Pretty please?