*/*

SLIPPERY SLOPE

23 BACK TO REALITY

/BPOV\

"You really skied down a double black diamond on your first day? Wow, Bella, that is sick."

"Yes, Miguel. Not just sick, practically deadly."

"And then, this hero comes along and saves the day?" he prompts, peering into the photo viewer I slung from a pushpin on my bulletin board this morning, lest I start believing the whole weekend was merely a dream.

"Yes, Miguel," I confirm, for the fourth time. He seems to never tire of hearing the story. I understand well his fascination with heroes.

"So then, if you got your hero, why can't I get one, too?" This is what I feared. It's all good and well to encourage hope, but not to the extent that it builds unrealistic expectations.

"Honestly, Miguel, the guy in that picture? I'm not even sure he was real." But I have not only the picture as proof; I also have the voice mail he left me yesterday, which I've memorized at this point.

"Hello, Bella. This is Edward. Edward Cullen. I just wanted to let you know I had an amazing time with you this weekend. You're watching me from across the room right now, and looking at me with such suspicion, dying to know what I'm saying. I wonder how long it took you to check your voice mail once you got on the bus. Ten minutes? Five? (chuckling) Listen, I don't want to make any promises I can't keep, so I'll just tell you what is absolutely true. I want to find a way to see you again, sooner rather than later. Well, I better say goodbye before I get cut—"

Turns out, both his estimates were too long. I had the phone to my ear the second the bus pulled away from the curb.

"Hmm," Miguel ponders thoughtfully, his eyes flicking from me, to the picture, and over my shoulder. "If he's not real, then who's that?"

My brain is certain Miguel's made a mistake, but my heart's already going a mile a minute. I whip my head around, and there, in my office doorway, is the familiar grin I already miss ridiculously more than I should after our 24-hour separation. The rest of him looks completely unfamiliar in a navy pinstripe suit, blue button-down, and conservative gold tie.

"Edward?" I croak out, "What are you doing here?"

He leans against the doorjamb and folds his arms across his chest, crossing one ankle over the other. "Well, that's one heck of a greeting for the man who saved your life," he chuckles.

I can't resist one moment longer. I'm out of my chair, untwisting his arms and grasping his hands between us. I have to rise onto tiptoes to meet his lips, and the second our kiss begins, I'm transported straight back to our sad goodbye when I thought I may never see him again.

"Blech," comes from behind, as I remember we're not alone. Pulling Edward into my office, I gesture toward Miguel. "Edward, I'd like you to meet my very special friend Miguel."

Edward extends his hand. "Miguel, it's a pleasure. Bella told me all about you."

"And she told me all about her hero as well," he responds, dangling the key chain from his fingertip. I am so busted.

Edward's smile broadens. "Is that right?" he asks, lifting his merry eyes briefly to mine before refocusing his attention on Miguel. "Well, then I guess we're even. Oh, hey, can you show me where Bree Tanner's office is please?"

"Bree's? Why?" I ask dumbly, doing my best to keep my skyrocketing hopes at bay.

"I have an interview at noon."

"Sure, Edward," Miguel answers. "Follow me."

"Thanks. Oh, Bella, see you after?" he winks. I nod back, unable to utter an intelligent word in response. I collapse into my chair, stunned by his swift reappearance in my life.

Miguel breaks my trance, sliding to a stop in my doorway moments later. "Can I have him, Bella? Pleeeeez? Please say I can have this one!"

"Hey, Miguel," I answer calmly. "We don't know anything yet. I'm not even sure what Edward's doing here. He may be volunteering to help with some legal work. Let's just keep it together, deal?" I beseech myself as much as him.

"Sure, Bella," Miguel says, but his wide expectant grin tells another story entirely.

"Isn't it about time for you to get back to school, kiddo?"

*/*

|EPOV|

I knock softly on Bella's door, craning my neck around the perimeter to make sure we're alone.

She lifts her eyes and smiles. "So, how'd it go?" she asks. "Bree can be pretty rough on our prospective 'Bigs'."

"Well, I felt it only fair to tell her about those dead bodies in my freezer at home, but she seemed willing to overlook that."

"Yeah, we're pretty liberal here," she jokes. "So, Edward…what does this all mean?"

"Well, I think it means I'll be taking Miguel to a Rockies game this weekend, if all goes well."

"Oh my God, that's amazing! I'm so happy for him! I'm happy for you! I'm happy for all of us!"

I cock my head and wait for her inevitable question. Am I committed for the long haul?

"How will you manage with your schedule?"

"I guess I just made the decision to invest in my cosmic happiness. I'll make room."

"I approve," she responds.

"Good, because I have three tickets for the game, and I was really hoping you'd come along."

"Well," she smirks, "I was just about to book some luge lessons for this weekend, but I suppose I could be persuaded to change my plans. Hey, speaking of which, weren't you supposed to be up at Powderloaf through tomorrow night?"

"Yeah, well…" I ease myself into the chair across from her desk. "After you left, Jasper and I rode up to Devil's Basin and let Goosebumps pound us around for a bit. We got down to the Sunset Lodge, took one look at each other and agreed that the mountains had pretty much lost their appeal. I was on my way home an hour later."

She nods along with my story. "And when did you decide to come here?"

Bella holds onto my eyes, giving me nowhere to hide. "Not surprisingly," I begin, "being home offered me very little in the way of comfort for my agitated spirit."

With a look of concern, she asks, "Your spirit is agitated?"

"Yes, but in a productive way. The kind of agitation that kicks you in the butt and says, 'You need to do something about your sorry life before it's too late.'"

"And then?"

I rest back against the chair and exhale loudly. "And then…I decided to take your very wise advice."

"I wish you had called me last night, Edward. I could've helped with the—"

"No, Bella," I interrupt softly. "I didn't want you to know until I was pretty sure it would work out. I didn't really know what would be asked of me, but I knew that I couldn't disappoint you."

Bella's right hand covers her heart and she pops out of her chair to meet my on my side of the desk. Now that she's standing right in front of me, I can see the tears welled-up in her eyes. And when she speaks, it's not without difficulty, "I don't think you could disappoint me if you tried."

Her words draw me to my feet, and I don't attempt to form words over the lump sitting in my throat. It's enough that I take her face in my hands and brush the moisture from her cheeks with my thumbs.

"You're my goddamn hero, Edward Cullen."

A sound of disbelief leaves my lips as I kiss her forehead tenderly and attempt to blink away my own tears. "That's pretty funny," I answer, boldly looking her right in the eye and letting her see how she affects me. "I feel like you're the one who just saved me."

*/ the end /*


A/N: Truly, THE END. Trust me that these two will be doing all the lovely lemony things your imaginations are now conjuring now that they've reconnected out in the real world.

Thank you all for riding up and down this mountain with me since New Year's Day. I hope these two do-gooders warmed the cockles of all your hearts. Thanks again for helping this story rise to Fic of the Week status. Kitkat has made me a lovely new banner, which will appear alongside her review at TLS next week.

If you miss me, come find me tomorrow at KEA and Thursday at LRR- EPOV (or, All Lathered Up and Nowhere To Go!).