Season of our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest Entry

Title: Anointed

Picture Prompt Number: 1

Pairing: Edward and Bella

Rating: M

Word Count: 13,406

Summary: She revered him; he manipulated her. Too many sins, too much deception, and a single fall from grace. "Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth" (Ezekiel 28, 18).

Disclaimer: I am in no way intending copyright infringement; I do not own the Twilight Saga.

Biblical Disclaimer: Lest there be any confusion, all Bible passages found within the text are from the Good News Bible, Catholic edition, written in more of a modern text and context. The title, however, is found from the more traditional, Protestant King James Version. (I liked KJV's diction better.)

Warning: Any comment or opinion regarding the Catholic Church stated in this one shot is in no way shared by me. I am not imposing Catholic views or specific beliefs, but exploring faith, in a sense. I am in no way trying to insult or belittle Catholics for their religion; nor am I belittling or insulting any other faith. This one shot contains lemons (canon and non-canon alike), foul language, and character death.

Author's Note: The difference in page breaks is intentional. Congratulations to all the winners. Every entry into the contest was heartbreaking. Thank you 22blue and katinki for hosting this contest.

Suggested listening list: "Cheap Kicks" by Noisettes, "Next Girl" by The Black Keys, "Jesus Stole my Girlfriend" by the Violent Soho and "Choose Love" by Sebastian Lind.

~:~

A forward, of sorts

Anointed: to confer or bestow a divine appointment (usually upon a priest/preacher or monarch). The title is in relation to the "Anointed Cherub", or Lucifer.

"Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee." (Ezekiel 28:13-15)

~:~

She lingers.

Her essence clings to him, too painful for him to handle. And yet, his guilt, his selfishness keeps it tethered tightly to him.

Aimlessly, he dips his head in prayer to a spiteful God. He's unsure when he arrived to the decrepit church, or if he was taken there. The silence irks him. It's condescending and judgmental. He's small and weak in the quiet of the church. He's naked, his many transgressions and few virtues right there, for all to see and condemn.

The crucifixion looks down at him, condemning him, from His perch high above the altar. His tarnished visage shows redemption and hope and disgust. It is more than he can bear, a painful reminder of what his sins are; their effect on his life rippling outward with an alarming pace.

Words flow through his mind, words that he has no right to. But he does not fully understand. Comprehension is beyond him.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

'*'*'*'*'

Alice points her out. "That's the bitch."

"Her? Brown hair, flannel, pale?"

"Yes," she snaps. "There's hardly anyone else here, Edward."

Dedicated students use this floor of the library. And it's common courtesy by others, less fastidious, less focused to leave it be.

But that doesn't stop Alice. Or Edward. Their conversation is barely contained. He's sure she can hear them; and it doesn't bother him at the least bit.

"She's fucking ratted us out three times. Three. She's the moral police for our floor," Alice says. Disdain for the young woman a few tables down burns in her eyes. "And the fines were ridiculously steep. What the fuck? I was hit for underage drinking, and boys in the room after curfew. Mom and dad were so pissed."

"I know they were." Edward had received many frantic and angry calls from their parents, full of shouts and disappointment. What they do not realize is Alice will do what she wants. Always.

"It's her fault," Alice says resolutely, nodding her head once decisively.

Edward is noncommittal. He will never pull Alice out her selfish bubble; never make her understand that breaking the rules comes with consequences. And when she makes a mistake, she has to own up to it.

"What's her name?" he asks distractedly, reviewing his notes for an upcoming test.

"Isabella Swan."

"Mmm."

Alice ignores the sound; she ignores her brother. She begins BBMing, the replies echoing loudly around the library.

Heads whip up, annoyed with the sound. A few mumble, a few glare. People perusing the Sociology shelves housed on this floor peek at the table. Edward feels the stares, tiny pricks at the back of his neck, his cheek.

He makes a weak attempt to tell Alice to turn the sound off, which is replied with a succinct "fuck off"; he's sure the volume is raised instead. He disregards the annoying chirps and pings, instead focusing his attention to the Ptolemaic model of the system.

"Geocentric – the earth being the center of the galaxy. Believed to be the truth for many centuries, adopted by many cultures. The Catholics adapted this belief too, for it mentions many times that God had the earth stand still, and the sun and moon travel around it. Many early geocentric Catholics took many passages from the bible, two of the most famous and redundantly argued, Joshua 10: 12-13 and I Chronicles 16:30…"

As Edward mumbles his notes quietly to himself, the passage, from a long ago education, flows through his lips: "The sun stood still and the moon did not move until the nation had conquered their enemiesFear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved."

Astronomy fascinates him. Edward thrives on the idea of the possible paradise they house. The Heavens, the vastness of them, entice him, brought forth perhaps from his mostly forgotten Catholic upbringing. Their makings; sheer numbers; the galaxies and constellations enrapture him; the balance of light and darkness created with in space.

Shuffling. Heavy shoes drag along carpet, near their table.

"Alice, do you mind turning the sound off? We're all just trying to study in peace." The sounds are soft. Steel sheathed in silk.

"Fuck off," Alice replies darkly. The girl eases away. Edward doesn't bother looking up.

"That was my pain in the ass," she announces. Alice watches the subtle slump in Isabella's shoulders. It sparks an unnatural glee in her.

"Really."

"Yes, really." Alice quiets again, allowing her brother brief peace to study.

"Heliocentric – a sun-centered solar system (i.e., ours). First studied in detail by Nicolaus Copernicus, a Catholic monk and later by Galileo Galilei; who, while studying the heavens, found indisputable proof that the earth in fact revolved around the sun, through Jupiter's four largest satellites and by Venus' orbit. There was much difficulty with the Catholic Church over his findings, the politics behind the opposition shallow and contradictory…"

"What are you spending so much time on?" Alice inquires, peeking over his forearm with feigned disinterest. It burns her that he's so focused on something as trivial as review.

"Astronomy."

"Fascinating." Her tone is scathing.

Edward understands her motives, her pale attempt at manipulation. "Yes, it is." He will not be baited this time.

"Really."

"Really."

Petulant, Alice again ignores her brother, instead focusing her attention to the invitations coming in. So many parties for her to attend, so much drinking.

So many joints. There is ecstasy to thrive with, cocaine to buzz on. So many men to enjoy. Her fantasies of carnal activities blossom darkly in her heart and her mind. So many men.

Alice's attempts of subtlety are weak and half assed. All who understand what goes on in her life realize what is the true intent. It's her way of objecting to a religion forced upon her. She hates the lack of choice, the upheaval faith brought to her life.

And finally, away from her parents' piteous gazes, away from the pious eyes of her priest, she lives. Recklessly. With pent up anger as her catalyst, and pain as a motive, Alice lives.

"Edward." She takes the grunt as a signal to continue. "I need a favour."

"I'm not buying you booze. Get that shit yourself."

"That's not what I wanted," she simpers. Not really.

"Then, what? I have a busy day."

"I need you to come with me to a frat party."

"Fuck no." Edward didn't do frat parties in undergrad, and he will not attend them now.

"I need you."

"Find someone else."

"Fuck you." She sweeps her purse onto her arm and leaves. She makes it past Swan's table, casually knocking over a stack of books. She does not acknowledge her cruelty.

Edward is too focused on Pope Urban VIII's tacit approval and Cardinal Bellarmine's deceit.

What he reviews, he knows. His study of Galileo and the hypocrisy of the Church are not new to him, but Edward reads with the heart of someone who is new to it. The church's misgivings and all around shitty behavior spark something inside of him, although it is bleak and unclear to him. Neither disdain nor acceptance, or condemnation nor approval. It just is, something there for the Church to contend with.

It makes them human – not quite the aloof and powerful image they use as a false front.

His beliefs are removed from his studies. It's better this way. Edward takes whatever dredges of contempt for the harshness used to describe the church away.

It's just better this way.

~:~

"You're not a native, are you?"

"Pardon me?" Her tone is harsh, her expression equally so.

She drips brackish water, salty with old oil leaks and tar, back to its resting place. It stings her eyes, he can tell, and leaves dirty trails along her cheeks.

The taxi hadn't seen her, no matter how far her hand had stuck out into the street. He saw the incident occur from his spot under an awning; the cab had flown by, covering the girl in dirty rainwater.

It isn't sympathy but pity that motivates him to assist her.

"You didn't grow up in Seattle." It isn't a question.

Apprehension is clear in her face; a knowing glint in her iridescent eyes. Unusual, he thinks, for her eyes to glow in such overcast weather. He can't tell the color; not quite brown, not quite black. It's curious to Edward that their shine is so noticeable, but not the hue.

"No."

"Would you like a cab?" He's polite, pity still coursing in his body. He will be sure to make a point of sliding into a cab first with her, lest he sit in the street water.

Again there is hesitance held in her face; again a sheen of comprehension in her eyes. It unnerves Edward.

"Sure."

He's quite a bit taller than the mysterious girl beside him and easily acquires a taxi. He steps in ahead of her.

"Where to?" the cabbie asks, glancing idly into the rearview mirror.

Edward looks at the girl beside him. She takes the cue, muttering the University of Washington's main campus.

"I'm going a ways past it. We'll settle that later." With a pointed look through the mirror, an understanding between the men is passed. It's unnecessary for him to share personal information with her there. So he won't.

She nods, as if she understands what transpired. The cab ride is silent, awkward. There is nothing to break the quiet, not the buzz of a phone. It's strange.

The heavy traffic and rain slow their drive. It drags on for Edward. She is seemingly oblivious, looking out the window with interest.

Edward pulls a hand through his hair; an unusual gesture for him. He isn't a fan of the feeling; the supposed intimacy an emotional obstruction for him. Kate enjoys it, he muses, her slender fingers running the smooth hair between them. A gesture she makes in the height of her passion; it's still undesirable to him. Occasionally, she attempts it as one of comfort for when he's stressed and as he lays his head on her chest before he surrenders to sleep.

And still, it is undesirable to him.

She gives Edward the fare up until the campus, mumbling that he can use it and pay all at once.

"Thank you."

He's silent a moment. "What's your name?"

Surprise dances upon her features, her nose scrunching, lips pursing. "Bella."

And she slams the door.

~:~

"Hey, baby," Kate mutters sleepily from the couch. "You stayed out late."

A strange mix of a groan and a sigh slips past his lips.

It is the Winter Solstice, and on a surprisingly clear night, his professor had taken the class to the observatory on campus for them to map constellations.

He was lost in the celestial figures for hours, entranced by their subtle rise in the night, and set that will inevitably happen in the pre-dawn.

"We were stargazing."

Kate nods, pats his hand as he sits on the love seat beside her. The leather settles, its unique sound loud in the sudden quiet. She continues to read People, her attention focused on the glossy photos and superficial words.

Edward pulls out his laptop; opening up the document of notes he made that night. They correspond with his star chart, meticulously mapped and stowed in a cylindrical tube.

Edward enjoys looking at his notes – a sense of satisfaction settling around him, boosting his ego. It pleases him, these perfect words and angles, a microscopic, tangible part of the unknown in his hands.

The story of Taurus, the great bull, tugs at Edward's concentration. A fascinating story, a fascinating constellation, he thinks.

Taurus is a story of dominance. Of power and deception and manipulation.

"Zeus, the mighty God took the form of a bull to seduce Europa, a human king's daughter. So entranced with the bull was she, she climbed upon his back and he swam to the remote island Crete. Zeus, taking his true form made Europa his lover. She then became the first queen of Crete. Much speculation surrounds if Zeus' plan contained seduction or ravishment (rape). The manipulation, and especially the tie period from which it sprung, often leads historians and mythographers towards the latter."

Edward looks at the screen, the cool white of the electronic page and its black markings – the text is emotionless. He considers the debates his professor spoke, for a moment leaving the math and the quasi-absolution of space and delved into interpretation. Edward had enjoyed the lecture, more so than usual, the supposition of the story fascinating to him.

"Europa hadn't, of course, been forgotten by history. One of Jupiter's many moons is named Europa…"

And with a bitter reflection of history, it is one of the few moons that may contain water.

"And there is the continent Europe, named after the Phoenician princess…"

Edward recognizes the irony; a continent named after an abuse victim continually pillaged and destroyed other cultures.

He feels nothing. Empathy is lost in him.

The noise of Kate on the couch slowly drags his attention from his stars.

"Edward." His name is petulant on her lips. He nods, allowing her to continue.

Instead, she slips towards him, her thigh pressing against his. Her ridiculous chemise has risen further, the silk whispering against the top of her legs.

He says nothing, understanding the tightening in his stomach, the light in her eyes. He saves and double saves his notes, careful to put his laptop away safely, even with her soft breasts pressed against his arm.

Edward leans against the armrest, dragging Kate up his chest; she slips her cool hands under his shirt, dragging it along as she goes. She peppers kisses against his chin, her blonde hair a halo at the edge of his vision.

He hardens in his trousers, a response to her subtly grinding against his hips. Edward's hands move from her arms to her waist pressing her against him with more force.

Kate moves again, one hand to his nipple, the other to his belt, easily maneuvering the buckle open and the zipper down.

Edward moans, the feel of her hand on him through cotton is pleasant. He bucks upwards. Kate's lips whisper a smile against his neck, slowly, slowly moving to his ear.

"Right now, Edward." Her breath tickles his ear.

Kate pulls his pants down, his boxers trailing behind. She grips him, as she knows he enjoys, pumping once, twice, before moving on top. She moves her underwear out of the way and settles around him, comfortable warmth that is familiar to him. Her hand runs through his hair, scratching slightly at the crown atop his head.

She controls their movement – it's slow, languid with an inevitable build up to release.

That he reaches, before her. And he helps her there, his fingers gliding along the pink silk to her clit, massaging in a frantic pace so contrary to their previous actions. Desperation settles within Edward; it's wild and dangerous. He pushes himself, and Kate towards a climax frenetically. He leans down, enveloping her silk and lace covered breast within his mouth and exhales.

Her inner muscles stiffen against his flaccid cock.

~:~

Dr. and Mrs. Cullen call their daughter. Incessantly. They worry for her; her lack of school focus, her overwhelming social life.

Her non-existent religion. They fear she is beyond redemption.

Dr. and Mrs. Cullen depend on hope. Hope… hope is there for them to cling to, to betray and lead falsely.

Alice thrusts the phone towards Edward, desperation clear in the gesture. She slurs as she mumbles that it's the 'rents on the phone.

"Alice? Mary Alice, we're entirely too worried about you." His mother's tone is weary.

And so hope betrays.

"She's fine, mom," Edward mutters into the phone, watching his sister limp around the dorm, one boot still in place, the other on her pillow. He watches her strip – shamelessly – and dive into bed.

"Get the fuck out," she mouths, flipping him off.

He sighs but does as she demands.

"Edward." his father's voice is tinny, the reception deteriorating in the corridor. His mother's sobs are echoed in the earpiece. He imagines them in the kitchen, sitting at the breakfast nook. His father would have been standing behind his mother – close enough, of course, to clearly listen to the undesired and obligatory conversation.

No one wants to hear their worst fears confirmed.

"Yes, dad?"

"How bad is your sister?"

And so hope leads falsely.

Hope, Edward realizes, is a fickle, nasty thing. It hurts. Hope blinds and deafens; it mutes. It deadens the senses until there is nothing but stinging resentment and disappointment left behind.

Edward answers automatically, no longer thinking of his sister, but of his own failure with his parents.

"She's fine. School is just tough for her. Y'know?"

His father clears his throat, no doubt swallowing the truth; instead he lets it fester within, feeding off vain hope.

"You're watching out for her – helping her?"

"We're all good here, dad."

Silence. His mother sniffles. His father shifts his feet – the tell tale rubber soles of his hospital shoes bouncing awkwardly off the tile.

"You'll call if you need any help? Money, support?" there's such deep connotation with this word. It turns Edward's stomach; it burdens him and liberates him.

"I'll call."

"And if Alice becomes too… taxing, you'll contact us? You'll let us help her?" his mother sighs loudly, metallic in Edward's ear.

It's always about helping others, with his parents. Helping Alice – it isn't to aid Edward, stuck in his duty to his parents and sister, caught very much in between the two. It's to help his confused sister, lost from God's way, doing horrible things in childish rebellion. It's to help bring her back to Him.

No, it isn't about relieving him.

"I'll… let you help her." Because Edward thinks it's already out of his hands, and into his parents', and their God's. He stopped being his.

Edward hangs up after his empty good bye, refusing to listen to his father's response. He walks into Alice's room, the acrid smell of vomit stinging his nose. He sees it, pooled in the garbage can. The sight and scent of it chokes him. His sister sleeps, blissfully ignorant of the storm she causes with her disregarding behavior, her sheer stupidity.

Anger pulses through Edward, vile and hot. He tosses the phone on Alice's resting body before leaving the room, closing the door none too gently. It bothers him, the way Alice expects Edward to clean her messes; for her parents to be there and pick up the pieces of her misdirected life.

He starts for the stairs, so far from his sister's dorm room. He doesn't see the body before she's on the floor, his focus too far inside his mind to truly see anything.

He looks down, the brown hair a flutter in the recesses of his memory.

"I'm sorry." He clenches his teeth.

Empty. Edward has enough decency to understand it's entirely void of honesty.

He is empty.

He stares, the flutter insistent. She stares back, her face at once both calculating and empty. And it is curious to him that he recognizes her not by the flowing brown of her hair, but by her eyes.

Brown eyes. He sees them in the bleak fluorescent light, dull in their current atmosphere.

"Bella." He sounds her name out slowly, carefully. He does not savour, but selfishly indulge.

She narrows her eyes, lips pursing. Panic sets into her fey-like features. She does not respond, but continues to study him.

"I'm Edward." He says this as if she was already to know; to understand. "I was… visiting my sister." He gestures behind him. She pushes herself away from the ground.

She opens her mouth, closes it. "I see."

"I'm sorry," he repeats quietly.

"I'm alright."

Unsure of what to do, he regards her. Bella's petite, only a few inches taller than Alice; she's in flannel and jeans. Edward judge's her coolly; nothing particularly interesting, he notes, neither pretty nor ugly. He's not particularly interested or drawn. And yet, he stares; only noticing as he looks at her face that she looks at him in a similar fashion. It burns in him, much as his anger had, to know what she thinks.

"I'll be going." It hangs limp in the air between them. Empty.

She nods, slowly, and turns away, into her dorm room.

~:~

Kate is in tears as he steps into the foyer.

"My father," she hiccups, falling uselessly into his arms.

"Shhh," he whispers, kissing her temple. "Slowly, love."

"A car accident. He's at-" she gasps, chokes on her breath. He pats her back, the act pushing her further into his embrace.

"Harborview," she mutters.

"C'mon, lets go." He grabs her purse and jacket, leading her down the hall and into the elevator. "Everything will be fine." Empty.

She murmurs a Hail Mary, fingering the single decade rosary, always worn on her thumb. Kate is from a family much like his. Faith and family in balance; both always a priority. She believes, as does her family, unlike Edward who hangs in the unclear in between.

It's a long cab ride to the hospital, the broken silence painful for Edward. He finds himself saying a prayer, the Hail Mary, with her, mouthing the words ingrained in him from a young age.

He pulls Kate from the cab, leading her to the triage nurse, gaining information and playing translator for the crying woman.

It is a long wait in the room. There is so much off white. The pleather cushioned chairs, groaning with each minute shift; the couch Carmen, Kate's mother occupies with the rotation of daughters; the table, littered with old magazines and a bible.

Edward picks it up, at a loss of what to do otherwise. He studies the faded burgundy of the jacket, the thin pages and small print, the rudimentary sketches to garner the attention and fascination of children. It is not a Catholic bible, but a Protestant one, the King James Version stamped upon the spine and cover, the gold ink fading. But it does not negate the pride so obviously felt by these words, the implicit air this bible contains.

It reminds of himself as a boy, at the young age of thirteen, with his uncle Aro as his sponsor before the bishop, ready to pledge himself to the Catholic Church, to belong. He thinks of the boyish pride that filled his chest, ready to be a full member of the Church. And as he stood before the bishop, he saw a wizened face, faded, but with pretention in the finery he wore and in the very air surrounding him. He was intimidated and for a moment doubt had seeped into him, questioning himself and his beliefs and his motives.

But he had stepped forward, regardless, and was confirmed. He filled himself with the Holy Spirit, and united himself with his brothers and sisters within Christ.

He wonders now what had happened to the doubt while it lay dormant for so long.

Kate tugs at Edward's hand, her swollen cheeks shiny in the fluorescent light.

"I need…" she begins, stops, breathes. "I need."

He understands the glaze in her eyes, there not from tears or exhaustion, but from a darker, carnal place.

They wander the hospital, away from waiting room, away from pain and enter the in between.

Kate's hand is nestled in Edward's larger one, pulling him toward a janitor's closet.

It's frantic. Kate pushes him into a corner, knocking a mop over and spilling cleaning solution on the floor. She sucks on his neck.

He bites into her shoulder. Her furious pace empowers him. Not often does Kate lose control. He exploits her breakdown, letting it fuel his desires. She pushes at his pants, the drawstrings giving way easily to her shaking hands.

His hand slips between cotton and skin, then lace and skin, to her most intimate place. She's wet, barely. Her face is damp, slowly leaking into Edward's t-shirt. It pushes him deeper into his craving; he slips one finger, and then another into her thrusting to a mad tattoo. His thumb circles her clit.

She palms him with one hand, the other maneuvering his boxers away.

He feels her shudders, disregards them. He shoves her pants to her ankles. The waistband dips into the solvent, the black fabric glistening in the dim light.

"Now, Kate." He lifts her, pushes her onto the shelf. Her legs dangle, hips hanging off the edge.

He plunders. It isn't pleasant, or soft. It is violent. She moans, half in pain, half in pleasure. She needs this, or so she believes.

Edward wants this.

Her muscles tighten; her mouth is against his cheek, her breaths light against his ear. He pushes into her through her orgasm, determined to achieve his own.

And as he does, his head drops to her shoulder, weak. He is spent.

The waiting room is quiet when they return. Her sisters regard them both, speculation adding a glimmer to their panicked stare.

"Any news, Mrs. Alekseyev?" Edward asks quietly. His baritone is harsh in the dull quiet of the room.

She shakes her head from its perch on Irina's, her youngest, shoulder.

"Nothing since we got here," Tanya snaps. If Edward's voice is severe in the silence, Tanya's tone both cuts through it painfully and hardens it into a wall.

It suffocates him. He needs to leave. The guilt of wanting to leave shames Edward. But the yearning does not lessen, but grows, steadily as the hours drag.

Kate uses his chest as a pillow, over his beating heart. She says the Lords Prayer, the Serenity prayer, the Hail Mary and the Apostle's Creed. Rosary after rosary is mumbled, quietly joined by her sisters. Her mother mouths the words, her usual strength gone. Hope, in its despicable existence, replaces true character; makes her want good news, forgetting her daughters and their needs.

There's a visitor in their off-white room. Light spills into the space.

She wears a lab coat. She wears green scrubs underneath; she wears a plastic cap over blue and black hair.

She wears a smile.

~:~

Edward spends a day with his sister again. Her head doesn't hurt, her stomach no longer aches. The ground doesn't tilt beneath her at every move.

Sobriety is painful for her, he can tell. But it is refreshing to him. They stroll through UW's campus, lingering near Drumheller's Fountain. Occasionally, the autumn wind blows the water near Edward and Alice, pricking their skin.

"Mom and dad are worried."

"I know."

Mirrored sighs escape their mouths. It's peaceful between them, a calm that eluded the siblings for as long as Alice has attended UW.

"They have a service on Sundays, in the chapel."

"I know."

He questions why it was brought up. Mrs. Cullen had made a point of mentioning it to them weekly in September, a pipe dream of her children continuing with religion motivating her. Her children had not.

"What do you know about Bella?"

"Isabella? She's a total bitch. She's gotten me into so much shit," Alice spits. "All those fines?"

Edward neglects to explain to his sister that it was she herself that had gotten her into trouble; that laying the blame on Bella's shoulders is stupid and cowardly.

She wouldn't listen, anyway.

"Why?" Her eyes narrow. "Who said she was 'Bella'?"

"She walked into me as I left you. You were passed out, hungover. You'd left me to deal with dad." There is a cautionary edge in his voice. Alice, stupid, or perhaps stubborn, ignores it.

"Edward, why?"

"I was curious about her."

"What about Kate?"

He regards her, letting careful incredulity into his face. "What about her?"

"Well, you're practically engaged. And that's the only way you could convince both sets of religion-Nazis that you could live together."

"How does this have anything to do with Bella?" he asks. The words eke through his teeth.

She pauses, studying her older brother carefully. "She's too young for you. At least you and Kate are close enough in age."

"Alice. What the fuck are you going on about?"

"Nothing."

The fountain's sounds increase; the harsh slap of water entering water loud within them.

"I've got to go," Alice announces. She brushes the hair away from her face absently, the shortened locks hitting her eyes directly. She squints in the weak sunlight.

"Where to? I'll walk with you."

"I need to go to my dorm." She stands, walking away, expecting her brother to follow. Edward does, his longer gait catching up with her easily.

"Any plans tonight?" Her sobriety uplifts him; he hates the thought of her ruining it. It annoys him, this concern he feels.

"A frat party. Wanna come?" Her lips lift ever so slightly at the corners.

He grins in response. "Fuck no."

She shrugs and continues, kicking rocks along the path. Idly, he knocks one back, enjoying their childhood game. Back and forth they go, the rocks and pebbles passed as they near her dorm.

It's a comfortable hush that fills their space. It soothes Edward, placates him, that he may have his sister – his old sister with him.

She leaves him in the corridor, a smile pulling at her lips. She parts with him silently. Edward walks down the hall slowly, studying each door intently. He comes to Bella's, standing before it. He doesn't understand what to do, why he hovers so close to the steel door. It angers him, this indecision within him, this need to see her.

Edward fixes his jacket, adjusting the collar away from his neck. The tag scratches at the sensitive skin, irritating him further.

"Hello?" Her voice is cautious, curious.

"Hi."

Bella's hand is on the doorknob. "Edward?"

He nods. Words… they're beyond him. The symbolism of a doorway is not lost on him.

"Wanna come in?" Her face has the merest hint of a blush filling her cheeks.

Edward pauses. Guilt… guilt ekes into him. No. Not guilt, but something nastily close. He hasn't done anything, nothing but think. He wonders, curiosity creeping into him at his most vulnerable.

It's a purposeful step that he makes, moving past Bella and into her room. Set up similarly to Alice's he notices the stark difference in halves. One is tidy; there is deliberation and organization. It lacks personality. The other side is chaotic; bright bedding, and a wall full of cut outs and photos. It surprises Edward when she walks over to the turquoise bed, the heart-shaped pillow resting in the unmade sheets.

She's unsure of what to do. It empowers Edward, this opening to take control. To analyze and deconstruct the mystery – not of her, but of what draws him in, entices him.

"Bella…" His hip touches her desk, his back against the wall. "What do you want to do?"

She blanches. She opens her mouth, her lips moving silently. "Talk," she rasps.

"Tell me about yourself."

Again, Bella is unsure of how to proceed. She doesn't understand why Edward does as he does. Confusion glints in her eyes, hides weakly in her tone. She speaks of nothing, of everything. Her life, her school, and her friends – it spills from her mouth, a history of the mundane.

But Edward absorbs the knowledge. He sees her movement, classifying it, studying. He listens to her tone, to her inflection. He looks at her hand gestures – timid, close to her body. He sees the glint in her eyes, enraptured by it.

Somehow, he manages to pay attention to her words, too.

"Bella," he says simply, but with an undeniable order to cease.

She looks at him, the light in her eyes dimming. "Edward, I'm sorry, I must have been boring you."

Down. Eyes cast down, seeing his scuffed Adidas. He repeats her name, staring hard. He wants those eyes on his face. And as her head moves up, he understands the malleability within Bella. While she does not break, she bends. Easily. It is so entirely appealing to Edward, this pliability within her character.

And it is with this desire in his veins that he moves, decisively closer to her. Hands reaching her elbows, he draws them up along her bare arms; the tiny hairs whisper against his palm.

Her shoulders are delicate, the bones prominent to his seeing hands. His thumbs brush against her neck. Her face intrigues Edward; the large mouth, almost dominating her face; a tempting chin. Her nose, with the slightest of bumps in the bridge, light freckles dusting a long it. She's not pretty by any means, but handsome. She has a strong, emotive face, if only she has the potential to use it.

He decides she does not.

Her hands shake in between them, only stopping when they reach his chin. She nudges his face. His name is a breath in between, hanging in the middle.

Like him. Edward floats through life in varying shades of grey.

He neglects to kiss her.

Not yet, he tells himself.

~:~

"Baby?" Kate's voice echoes from within their apartment.

"Yes."

"Why're you home so late tonight?"

"Mars is exhibiting retrograde motion right now." Edward's explanation falls on deaf ears, he knows.

Non-committal noises. He shakes head, annoyed she would ask; but not, of course, with himself, for the deliberately dull explanation.

"How's Mr. Alekseyev?"

"Dad's much better, thanks. They're thinking of removing the catheter," she replies, stepping out of the bedroom in yoga pants and a bra. Edward's gut tightens, an immediate response to her.

"That's good," he says. He watches her, her movements subtle and obvious simultaneously. She reaches, she bends, but never does she grab a shirt from the overflowing laundry basket on the couch.

"So…" She smiles over her shoulder, a poor attempt at coy.

"Yes, love." He understands what she does, what she wants and needs, but Edward refuses to give in so easily. It's a game of cat and mouse, with neither one of them playing the mouse.

"I had a stressful day." She simpers, and Edward cannot help the look of disgust across his features.

"Kate." An order directed again with just a name.

She walks over, the pale yellow lace straining across her breasts loud in the dim lighting.

She leans in, kisses his jaw. He sighs; the lust grows within. She pushes him against the door.

~:~

Trent Reznor's voice is loud within the hallway. Edward listens carefully, wondering which girl likes the dirty lyrics.

He stops before Bella's door, knocking without thought.

The music is lowered; she smiles at him. "Hello, Edward."

"Hello, Bella. May I come in?"

She moves behind the door, shutting it gently when he reaches her desk.

Insecurity. She doesn't know what to do. Edward… he wants.

More. More than Kate. More than school. He wants indulgence, he wants excess.

Greed.

He gestures her over; she moves.

His hands make a similar path to their previous one. They've studied their route well. Past her neck, he traces her chin, her ears. Slowly, his fingers brush her lips, nose, eyes. They learn her hairline; it's soft to his fingertips. She shudders.

He lives off her reactions. They push Edward to move forward. And he does, placing a kiss along her jaw. A single touch, and she quakes.

Responsive, he thinks, and his blood sings. Further, he pushes them both. Another kiss, higher up on her chin. Again and again, at an imperceptible pace until it's her lips and his, against one another. Bella's breathing is erratic. Slowly, he takes her top lip between his. And slowly, he nips at it.

She responds, finally, slowly. She bites his bottom lip; her body sags against him.

He rubs a hand along her back. This release she gives excites Edward.

Her name is a harsh breath into her hair.

She pushes back, pushes up slightly. She kisses him again, and again, quick pecks to his lips before her tongue is there, a request.

She leaves it up to him. A release, again. Edward thrives on it. Exploits it.

His hand on her back pushes her towards him tightly; the hand on her shoulder moving toward her neck. He squeezes, bending her neck for a better angle.

His tongue moves along side hers. She hesitates, still, but follows Edward's lead. She runs a hand through his hair, her nails scraping along his scalp.

"Not that." He murmurs against her lips. The gesture is too closely linked to her.

He continues to kiss Bella, learning her mouth, her breaths and sighs.

As he leaves her apartment in silence, he is alive with this new prospect.

~:~

Edward steps out of the cold and into the warmth of his sister's dorm. He's often climbed these stairs to visit Bella that it has become odd for him to bypass her door.

"Alice, what is it now?" he asks as he enters her room. She's a bump within her blankets, her head an inky blot on her pillow.

"Too cold," she says, her voice shaky and weak.

Edward pulls off his jacket, tossing it on the bed before moving closer.

Alice's pale skin is sallow. Sickly. Dark circles surround her eyes. She shivers beneath the blankets. He presses a hand to her forehead; cold sweat transfers to his palm. She burns with fever.

He rubs at his face, the scruff scratching slightly at his fingers.

"How long have you felt like this?"

"Since this morning." Alice makes an effort to look at her brother; her eyelids droop, her cheek pressed far into her pillow.

"Where's your roommate? Lily, Rosa, Rosie – what the hell's her name?"

"Rosalie… she went to pick up some stuff from the pharmacy on campus."

Edward sighs in relief; glad his ignorant sister wasn't roomed with an idiot.

"When did she leave?"

"Before you got here," she says. "She'll be back soon."

He's at a loss for what to do. He wants – needs – to run from this room, and the sickly it houses.

Instead, he sits beside his sister on the bed, absently brushing hair off her forehead.

The serenity prayer loops in his head. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

It annoys him, this prayer. Edward does not like that he prays when he needs help. He shouldn't have to, period. This reliance he feels for religion angers him. It is in times like these when the grey no longer surrounds him, but that he is swallowed by an older, immature part of his life.

But he cannot stop the droll repetition, the plea for serenity and courage running through his head. It is the only admittance of his concern he gives himself.

"Alice?"

"She's resting," Edward replies. Her roommate is similar to Kate. She's tall and fit; probably a runner or a dancer. Blonde wisps escape her hat, the large pompom on the back weighing down.

She looks at him, guardedly. "I'm her brother," he says simply.

She nods, pulling out a thermometer. "Here"

He takes it, nudging Alice gently. "I have a thermometer; we need your temperature."

She burrows herself deeper into the blankets, groaning. "Alice," he says stiffly, in a tone not unlike their father's. "Then you'll get some medicine –" he glances at Rosalie; she mouths Tylenol; "– Tylenol and sleep."

The idea of slumber appeases her; she brings her head up slowly, opening her mouth to accept the thermometer. She lets it lie beneath her tongue for the requisite thirty seconds.

Alice pulls the thermometer out herself. She checks the temperature, groans and thrusts it toward her brother.

"100.5, Alice. What the fuck?" He doesn't acknowledge the increase of worry.

"She should be fine," her roommate pipes. "If it increases to 102, though, she's fucked."

Cold stare. "How do you know?"

Rosalie shrugs, otherwise ignoring the question. "Cold compresses on her forehead, and we should keep her covered. When the fever begins to break, her body temp will increase, she still needs the coverage."

"Go and wet some face cloths or something," he demands. She looks at him, defiance clear in her stance. "Please."

She rolls her eyes. "It must be genetic," she mutters as she leaves for the bathroom.

"Alice," he sighs. "What did you do?"

"Don't know."

"I find this difficult to believe."

"Slept… outside… night," she says into her pillow.

"You're a stupid fuck sometimes."

"Fuck yourself," she replies, cracking a grin from Edward.

"We'll give you some Tylenol, okay? And we're putting a cold towel on your head," he says.

"No."

"We need your fever to break, Alice. It's really fucking high."

"Too cold, ass. Sweating…" Her teeth chatter suddenly. Edward bolts upwards from his spot, hovering uselessly around her.

"You haven't broken it. You would have warmed up a little bit had you done so." He shakes his head, wanting to laugh at his sister's determination.

"Don't care."

"I don't care. You need it."

"Fuck," she gasps as Rosalie opens the door.

"Her favourite."

"Christ," he mutters. He can only imagine what her favourite is.

"Has she taken the meds yet?" Rosalie asks, closing in on the siblings slowly. She has an unidentifiable bowl filled with pink and yellow towels, sopping wet and dreary.

"No, she's too busy arguing against those." He nods towards the bowl.

"Alice." Rosalie's voice takes a commanding tone. There's little room for disobedience. "We're giving you some Tylenol pills. You will swallow, and you will let the cold compresses rest on your head. No room for fucking discussion."

Alice manages to slip her hand from beneath the blankets and flips off her brother and roommate.

"Hurry up, then." Edward puts two pills in the outstretched hand, folding the shaking fingers carefully over the palm. She swallows then with a drink from her water bottle.

Rosalie forces Alice's shoulders down. She places the cloth on her forehead, leaning slightly onto her eyebrows.

"Has she been throwing up at all?" Edward asks as his sister grumbles.

"Once or twice… then she just stopped."

He's quiet a moment, looking down at his sister, studying her. "Do you want me to stay?" he asks slowly.

"For a little bit, yes. I'll be back soon."

Edward is shocked; he doesn't understand why he should have to stay with Alice, why anyone should. He merely asked out of a formality.

"Fuck," he mutters as she walks out of the room. He moves back to the bed. With little thought, he texts Kate, explaining he'll be home later; he's staying with his sister all night.

He thinks of Bella. He thinks of their kisses, their few discussions. He thinks of the look in her eyes, of cautious reverence. A wary sort of admiration she holds for him.

Does she know he's Alice's brother? The spoiled child with an arrogance that surpasses all – does Bella understand he's related to that?

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Edward is not Alice. He is not immature, selfish. He does not act out of instinct.

Alice kicks out in her sleep. She hits his thigh; pain radiates from the blow. He shoves at her feet absently.

Edward wonders if Bella is home. He amuses himself with the idea of going over.

She's so responsive to him; her reactions hard wired to his lust.

Edward rubs Alice's legs through the bedding; it's a gesture their mother would use when either one would stay in bed sick. She would sing hymns, too, her soprano soothing to fevered ears.

He hums instead, old tunes that calm them both.

"Bye, Edward," Rosalie says as she steps through the door. She holds it open for him, nodding her head slightly for him to leave.

"Bye, Rosalie. You'll call if anything happens?"

"Sure, why not."

The door snaps closed behind him. The wind bites at his face as he leaves the dorm.

~:~

"Edward, tell me, how's grad school going? It's astrology, isn't it?"

"No, sir. I'm studying astronomy," he corrects, his molars grinding together.

"And whatever happened with your other one? Theology?" Mr. Alekseyev is persistent in his hospital bed, most likely bored out of his mind. Edward figures there is no coincidence that Tanya and Irina are decidedly absent. His wife sits on his left, casually stroking the IV wires gently over the skin.

"Yes, Mr. Alekseyev, it was theology. However, I felt that studying astronomy was more practical."

"More practical than your roots?" He blows air through his mustache. The acrid smell of onions and beets burns Edward's nose.

"Daddy, let it go," Kate places a careless hand on her father's broken leg. He winces in pain – but the gesture aches at his ribs.

It's a vicious cycle of agony, being crushed between two cars.

"Sorry, daddy." Kate's usual voice and tone of a reasonably intelligent woman is gone as she speaks with her parents – always. She simpers; she pouts. She secures the title of "favourite child" with every demure purse of her lips.

"It's alright, dear. Your father's a tough man," her mother pats his arm, most of her palm meeting the waxy plastic of tubes and wires.

"How's your job coming along, Katie?" her father looks her in the eye, curious to know how the job he secured through a friend of his priest is treating his daughter.

"So good. The kids are just darlings, and I'm so happy I can use what I went to school for." Kate's smile is glaringly false, but her parents accept it, as they do most of her bullshit.

Edward feels the dangerous get out. The superficiality… it presses inward, choking him.

"Excuse me, a moment." He doesn't wait for an answer, leaving the private room swiftly.

Edward studied theology in the beginning, as a representation of his belief, at his unswerving faith in God. But he swerved. He fell out of Catholicism and into the irritating in-between. He continued studying theology as a show of pride, but as a challenge to himself. He wanted to prove he could study faith without Faith.

And Edward does. He studies and he learns and he believes in what he learns.

He wonders idly if Bella is around. He wonders what she would think of his… what are they? In-laws, or close to it, he reflects. But Bella cannot know.

"Hey, Edward. You okay?" Irina hovers over his shoulder as he sits in the waiting room. He imagines her face as covetous, needy.

He glances back, unsurprised at what he finds. And directly into her eyes, a smirk on his lips, Edward says, "I'm fine, Irina."

~:~

"Hello, Edward." Silk covered steel.

"Hi, Bella." He turns toward her. She's in yoga pants and a large flannel top. Her hair hangs low on her chest, past her breasts. It leaves watermarks on her shirt as she nods back into her room, a silent request.

He walks in past her, ahead of her. She smells soapy and fruity, warm scent. He grasps her hand loosely, pulling her into him. He breathes her name into her hair; Bella's hands run up his chest to his neck, her fingers brushing slightly at the hair around his collar.

Edward drags his nose through her hair, intoxicated by its scent. He moves slowly to her mouth, a detoured path that traces her eyes with his nose, rubs hers with his. And as he moves to her lips, she plants a small kiss on his nose. The innocence of the gesture feeds into the tightness in his stomach.

As their lips connect, the unhurried seduction of before is gone; it's heated and quick. Sucking and tasting. Furious and carnal.

His hands move from her waist to her ass, palming it, moving her body to his. He thrusts forward, almost unconsciously, into her hips. His fingers glide up, beneath her shirt, and touch the soft skin of her back.

Her gasp is swallowed by him. She grinds into him. "You want this." His voice is gruff with lust. His hands run along her back, subtle pressure to push back into his body. Bella nods frantically.

"Good." He lifts her shirt up her body, breaking their closeness to pull it off her. She's left in a cotton bra, little cupcakes covering her breasts. Her innocence enthralls Edward. He traces the edge, half of his skin on skin, the other touching the material.

"Fuck, Edward." Desire… it courses through him. His mouth travels from shoulder to shoulder; his lips trace her clavicle; place wet touches to her neck. Her hands find purchase on his arms; she grasps at the jacket, shoving it off him.

"Not yet."

Edward moves her to the bed, lying her down with a stern, "Stay." He rubs her stomach with the lightest of touches, the pads of his fingers tracing patterns and words into her skin.

She quivers slightly, her shoulders hunching inward. "Edward." His name is breathy, faint. It empowers him.

He kisses her breasts, simple touches before moving lower. A heated path over her chest, down her stomach. He kisses her belly button, licks around it. Her hands, previously limp on the bed, move to his head, the hair slipping in between her fingers hair. From beneath his eyelashes, his expression is hard. "Don't do that, Bella."

She removes her hands immediately, resting them nervously on her stomach, beneath her breasts.

Edward hands move to her pants, tugging them downward. "Up, Bella." She arches, the brushes of his fingers on her sensitive skin almost too much. Her breaths are short and shallow. He watches her chest for a moment, her breasts spilling over the bra as she exhales an erotic sight for Edward.

Her panties are deliberately sexier then her bra – pink and lacy and barely there. He kisses her through her panties.

"Is this your first time, Bella?" he asks.

"No." Breathy, cautious.

Jealousy… Edward has no right to it. But it's there now, in his system as surely as the heated lust is. It fuels his desire, a darker aspect for what is to come.

His jaw brushes against her thighs as he moves higher again. The texture of it is too much for her, he can tell. Bella quivers on the bed – her body on the cusp of release and hypersensitive.

He leans up, placing a small kiss to her breast and places the heel of his palm against her clit. Her face crumples inward, her nose scrunches. Eyes closed tight, lips open and gasping she climaxes.

Bella is almost… unappealing to him as she orgasms. The desire, it's misplaced to Edward. He questions, for a single moment if this is the right path for him; should he continue.

It's enough doubt. He pulls back, pulls away.

"Bella."

He says over his shoulder. Confusion, hurt and pain cross her face before she turns away. "'Bye, Edward."

He closes the door gently behind him.

~:~

Edward looks out the cab as his mother speaks into his ear. Her voice is too shallow, the reverberations too loud. She uses speakerphone, probably to let his as-yet-not-introduced father listen in.

"We were thinking of coming to the city for Thanksgiving, dear. Wouldn't that be lovely, Edward?"

Truthfully, no. "Sure, mom, whatever you think is best."

"Of course it's best! Your sister told me what happened to Kate's father. We'll take the Alekseyevs out for dinner, of course. Or perhaps we could have it catered at your apartment? Kate should best know how to host, maybe I could –"

"Kate's still not totally comfortable hosting in the apartment. And besides, her dad's still in the hospital. I don't think her, or her mother would want a dinner resting on their minds." He hears her intake of breath, knowing the rebuttal. Gently, he says, "Mom. Relax. We'll find a banquet hall. The Westin will be open." He hopes.

"It isn't polite to cut your mother off, Edward." Dr. Cullen's voice is quiet, deep. He's taken it off speakerphone.

"I know, dad." He scowls. "But Kate and her sisters and her mother can't handle a dinner right now – even if it's catered."

He hates how desperate his voice sounds. He hates that the onus is on him to host a holiday dinner – with both families joining together. The prospect of all those people in his home annoys him.

Dr. Cullen is silent for a moment. "I understand."

The relief Edward feels sickens him, slightly. The concept of one but not the other is lost in him.

"How's your sister?"

There is a brief second in Edward's head and his heart where he wants to tell his father exactly how she is.

Brief – too brief. "She's fine dad. She caught a nasty bug a week ago or so, but she's fine. I nursed her back to health and all." The sarcasm is lost on his father, as Edward knows it will be.

"Esme? Esme! Alice was sick a while ago, and we're only now learning of this."

"Did you want to know every time I was sick?" Edward snaps.

He hears his mother cross herself. Had she been truly worried, she would have said it in Latin, he knows.

Another falsity in his life.

"Edward." Dr. Cullen's voice holds an edge.

"I apologize," he says, breath ragged. God, he thinks, it's all so tiring.

"Goodbye, Edward. Next time either one of my children is sick, I'd appreciate a notice."

Edward doesn't remember the dial tone ever coming on so quickly.

~:~

"She'll be back soon."

Bella isn't there. She isn't in her dorm room, waiting for Edward. Logically, realistically, he knows she doesn't have to be, that he doesn't call her to let her know he's stopping by. He doesn't email her.

He doesn't have her number. He doesn't have her email address.

It's glaringly impersonal to him. Or so he thinks.

"I'm sorry, Bella hasn't mentioned you." Her roommate is small, mousy. Limp brown hair, dull grey eyes, she lacks personality. She's plain. Adolescence is still with her, pimples along her forehead and jaw.

"Edward," he says. "I'm her friend."

"Really." Speculation – he doesn't like it. Not from this stranger.

"Do you mind if I wait?" he asks, slowly inching through the doorway.

She moves out of the way, going to her bed and pulling out a theology textbook.

He had read that one too, for Religion and Society 1001.

Edward sits on the bed, at a loss for what to do. He feels the roommate looking over her book more often than at it. He pulls his BlackBerry out checking and rechecking his emails.

"Edward." She smiles.

He can't help but look over at the roommate, condescension ripe in his gaze.

"Hello, Bella. How are you?" He stands as she nears. She pulls him in for a hug; his response is immediate, stiff. He keeps his arms at his sides, his head pulled away slightly.

He can still smell her shampoo around her pillow.

"I'm excellent." She beams up at him. "What do you want to do?"

He's silent a moment, his fingers sliding under her shirt slightly. It's enough of a hint for Bella; she turns to the roommate.

"Bree." Her name, and a distinct nod to the door send her out, scrambling to grab her books.

"Bye," she calls before she steps out. She waits for a response. She gets none.

"Mmmm," Bella moans as Edward kisses her neck. His tongue leaves wet trails up to her ear, along her jaw until he reaches her jaw.

Three kisses he places against her lips, before she pushes back. Excitement. Anticipation. Lust – his and hers.

Edward is ready. His hands grip her waist, hipbones in the crook of his palm. His fingers near her ass, stroking.

The heady scent of orange and grape seed permeates the air. He buries his nose in her hair, the silky feeling on his face erotic.

Bella's breathing is shallow. Chest against chest, the fluttering of hers against his is light and barely-there; and yet, each pulse pushes his in reaction. Her hands hover over the back of his neck, desperate, he knows, to run through his hair. She groans quietly, as Edward circles his hips slightly.

"Edward." On his face, his neck, on his lips, in his ear.

"Bella." Running his hands over her back, near her ass. Up again. Her body is filled with sensuous paths for him to explore. The downy hairs brush his palm lightly. The feeling is sensual. He grabs her shirt, slowly trailing it up her body. She keeps steady, hands on his shoulders; soothing strokes.

Bella pulls back as her t-shirt reaches her neck. Awkward, she rests her hands on her hips, blushing and looking down.

"Look at me," Edward demands. He cannot have it any other way.

Glancing from underneath her eyelashes, face still turned away – she is the picture of coy – she fingers the waistband of her pants. A hand reaches out, for him, playing with the buttons of his Oxford shirt. She fiddles with it, trying to open it single handedly. He moves her hand away, carelessly pulling the buttons from their holes.

His undershirt is the next to go. Hesitantly, her hand reaches for his torso. Casual brushes; her fingers graze his chest hair. He shivers.

Bella spends time understanding his body. She trails her fingers down his arms, across his pelvis, up his torso in a seductive pace. Licks her lips, tracing his pectorals, catching the freckles along there. She breathes along the damp paths. Edward groans each time.

He pushes her to the bed slowly, his hands back to her hips, dipping into the elastic band. He feels lace.

He tugs at her pants; she obliges, pushing them down her legs. Edward responds in kind, fiddling with his belt and the zipper before his pants are sliding down and pushed away.

She wears a plain bra, beige. It's dark against her pale skin – an odd contrast. Lace… Edward felt correctly. It's green and small.

He stands before her, boxers hanging low on his hips. Her hands continue their perusal, tracing the newest lines.

He steps closer, her hands tightening as it his waist.

He pulls at her panties, wordlessly asking. A formality. And with sharp movements green lace is sliding along her legs and dropped to the ground.

Poetry. She is poetry. It spills from his lips in breathless whispers against her throat, her sternum. Her stomach.

Your hair is beautiful upon your cheeks

and falls from your neck like jewels.

But we will make for you a chain of gold

with ornaments of silver.

He speaks to her skin, as it slides against his. Edward brushes kisses against her breasts, slipping the peaks into his mouth. Sensuous tugs and nips – she's shuddering and moaning incoherently.

Her knees surround his hips, pulling him closer. His name is a shuddered breath as he slips into her.

Excitement – at this; at being here, with her. Edward is steady with his thrusts, a climbing pace until it's a disjointed staccato. He groans, slightly, as her nails drag along his back, up to his neck – she tickles his hairline.

"Not there, Bella," he snaps harshly, pausing. She blushes, embarrassed. Her hands resume their pace after a moment.

That gesture is too similar – too close to everything else in his life.

He reaches his peak before she does, waiting long enough only to feel her orgasm before he pulls out – pulls away.

A menial kiss is brushed against her forehead, her cheeks. Edward's distance is not lost on him.

He finds his clothes around his room, frustrated that his shirt was left in a twisted heap.

"Good bye."

He answers with a wave just before the door closes behind him.

~:~

"Is mom still riding your ass?"

Edward gives his sister a look not unlike the ones she received from her parents – the time she flirted with the altar boy, the time she took more than she gave in the collections' basket, the time she skipped Sunday school.

Alice's sobriety is noticeable. It's in the limp flip of her hair, the haggard look in her eyes – the chalky pallor of her face. The substances that kill her make her look deathly off them. Irony is a cruel bastard.

"She's mentioned the campus mass again."

"They offered to send me the priest's contact information," she returns. Edward shakes his head in response.

They sit in her dorm room, facing each other on her bed in a similar fashion to their childhood antics. Alice leans against her mountain of pillows, forever the prima donna. Edward sits at the foot, back sore and hunched over.

"I think… I think she want's me to propose." His concern and doubt slip out into the emptiness between them, a quiet rival to the pop music Alice has playing.

She responds in silence.

"Well?"

"Why are you so surprised?" she snaps. "You and Kate led them all to believe you were almost at that point anyways to move in together."

Can't she understand it's too soon? Can't they both understand?

"What are you going to do?"

Edward doesn't know. He doesn't want to know. And so his mind wanders to Bella and the time he's spent with her. It's physical; it's a release. She listens, she respects.

She's there to mold for his uses.

"Edward?"

"I'll take the days as they come."

"What about Kate? She's got to be expecting a ring, too, you know."

But he's not really listening anymore. He's too busy thinking of a not-too-distant-past, and of a not-too-distant-future.

Remembering and fantasizing.

~:~

Bella rests against a tree. The weather is much too cold for them to sit outside, but Edward wanted this. Badly.

His head rests in her lap, his breath tickling the sliver of skin between jacket and jeans.

They communicate with casual brushes of fingers, lingering on her hands, her ribs; on the very edge of her breasts. He feels her hands on his forehead, down his face and soothing against his neck.

Edward sees the glances sent from the passerby – he ignores them. He's focused on the subtle seduction he delivers.

"I've always wondered about Catholicism," Bella says.

He tenses. "Why?" Not quite a snap, not quite nonchalant.

Her hesitancy is telling; she knows exactly how brittle everything is.

"What brought this on, Bella?"

"Your sister."

Alice is a difficult topic to broach. An outright bitch to most everybody, he understands Bella is no exception to her sour disposition. And yet… Edward is curious to see how she put it all together.

"She… she mentioned the 'stupid fucking masses at Newman.' Newman is the Catholic Centre," she says slowly.

"Who's my sister?" It is imperative to him that he knows of whom she speaks. He knows – he knows its Alice who speaks of mass in such sacrilegious words. But a confirmation… it angers him, this stupid, flimsy hope that it might not be her.

"Who, Bella?" Biting. His tone is biting, and Bella feels it as such.

Her response is quick, defensive. "Alice."

Edward sits up suddenly, his face close to Bella's. "Don't speak of her. Don't speak of it."

His eyes stare straight into hers – never wavering. It is a show of dominance, accepted as such when she nods.

He places his head onto her shoulder, watching people walk by. The pathway is covered with gold and burgundy leaves; a crackling dryness as they step. It's a fiery path they cross.

People huddle in groups to protect themselves from the late October cold. The wind bites at their exposed skin. People look to the clouds, doubtful that it won't rain. It always rains. Costume parties are advertised, bright orange and eerie writing speaking of fun times on the thirty-first.

It's the hair he notices first. A delicate blonde like her sisters', peaking under a pink beanie. The gait comes next, an easy shuffle; she too picked this up from her sisters. Irina is coming closer their way, kicking up leafy flames as she goes.

Edward turns his head, his breath heavy against Bella's neck. Mindless kisses and nips – casual licks – placed there, along her pulse. Her breathing quickens, a rhythm matching her heart.

His arm is across her stomach, playing with the skin at her hip. He hopes the stupid hat Kate stuck on his head as he left in the morning conceals his hair. She believes he went to the observatory, to see new images of exoplanets discovered. He spent his day with Bella, in bed – languid foreplay, exhausting sex.

Bella turns her head for a better angle. He obliges her, moving his mouth to the sensitive skin of her ears.

As Edward pulls away, he looks back to the path, noticing the flopping pink beanie move away.

Bella watches him watch. "Do you not want to be seen with me?"

"No."

~:~

There's a new familiarity with the dormitory that he didn't feel when his visits were restricted to his sister. There is a grudging significance to the place now. A sort of conditional specialness.

Edward doesn't wait for the door to open before going through. He finds her in a large U-Dub t-shirt, legs bare.

A heady ball of desire punches through his stomach, weighing there. She looks over her shoulder at him, coy surprise gracing her features.

"Edward." The excitement in her tone is palpable.

He moves to her without sound, grabbing the hem of her shirt. He shifts it up her body, his fingers trailing on exposed skin.

Animalistic, furious lust. It's potent, and soon Bella is pressing heated, wet kisses to what her lips can reach.

It has to be now. Now. He pushes her to the door, the only flat upright surface. He's sure the posters will dig into her back, but cannot bring himself to care.

She barely has time to unbuckle his belt before he's pushing her hands away and dealing with the rebelling snaps. He doesn't bother to check her panties today as he shoves them down her smooth legs.

Edward pushes forward. He's ready. And that is all that matters.

One leg is hitched around his hip. The other is balanced on her toes – the tense muscles against his jean-clad thigh.

He's quick and erratic. One arm carelessly braces her against the wall as the other reaches for her breasts, rolling her nipples and stroking her pale skin.

Bella's hands leave his neck to take her shirt the rest of the way off. She runs a hand through his hair, kissing him hard on the lips.

"Not fucking there." Brutal, harsh. Bella shrinks away, her hand slipping to his shoulder.

She'd been so good for a while, he thinks.

Edward doesn't wait for her to finish. He comes inside, immediately satiated.

She quakes slightly against the wall, her right legs visibly in spasms.

"I… I…" Bella stutters, out of breath. "Edward… I did–"

Red… she wore a scrap of red lace. He knows those panties, seen them in the laundry he's left to deal with all the time.

Kate wore those there last time, only a few weeks ago. She brought up Thanksgiving. Her parent's wedding anniversary. Family. His family, her family, their family, together. Love and partnership. He'd fucked her to shut her up.

Edward blinks as he stares at the damn panties. He's frozen at the intrusion of Kate in all of this. Bella is on the periphery of his reality. She's a fringe.

"I need to… goodbye." It's the first real parting he gives her.

"What about me?" It's the first time she questions him.

"Deal with it yourself." He shrugs. Not his concern.

Edward got what he wanted.

~:~

Edward doesn't go back. Can't. Won't.

Alice saw him leave. He saw her too.

Too far in shock to care, too in his own head, he walked to the observatory, spending the rest of his day and most of his night lost in the stars.

Kate was a mess when he got in. Crying, furious, rambling in her anger. She hit him she threw things. She left empty threats in a shaking voice.

She wasn't much better now with Edward. Her temper is icy. She hurts him most with her coldest of exteriors.

Alice, too had taken the idea of her brother's imperfection hard, drowning in bottle after bottle of whatever was readily available.

Edward had been called too often to her dorm in the past weeks.

He'd only passed Bella once in those few weeks of taking care of his sister. She'd stepped out of her doorway, before turning around, body shaking.

It was the last time he'd see Bella, as he'd promised Kate. Promised her, after each visit to Alice.

"Thanksgiving's next week. Are you parents ready?" her tone is saccharine sweet. False, acidic. It burns him slightly.

Too hard too swallow.

She doesn't know his parents have been in the city for almost two weeks, looking after Alice.

"All set. What's the deal with your family?" His attempt at lightheartedness falls flat, even to him.

"They're all fine. Daddy's getting better every day."

"Good, good."

The ring in his pocket burns through the stiff material of his khakis. It's antique, or so the jeweler had told him.

It's extravagant, ostentatious. The diamond setting sparkles in the dimmest of light, an empty sort of luster.

It's a lie. The wrong solution for the worst problems. Kate is frigid with him, unafraid of bringing up Bella.

She calls her his whore. Edward supposes Bella was no better.

Thin. Her threats of bringing Bella up with her family – his – are thin. Angry, her words are lashes against him.

But the guilt he feels is not insurmountable. And in his deepest reflections, Edward does not feel the kind of guilt he should.

Betrayal is not as he sees it. It simply is to him – something undefined. But the fear of the Alekseyevs or his parents finding out aggravates him more. And so he plays the part of the contrite, apologetic boyfriend.

Edward waits until their dinner is finished, the dishes finished. He finds a way to keep Kate company as she cleans.

He does not consider the timing of his question, only that it is time he asked.

"Kate…" Edward doesn't bend on one knee. He stands, back rigid, face rigid, tone rigid, and proposes.

He refuses to see the malice in her eyes, the distinct glee she immediately tries to hide.

"Thank you, Edward."

He doesn't question that she thanks him, accepting only that she does.

Nor does he accept that he should thank her at all. For saying yes, for her continual silence…

Edward ignores the nagging inside his head, his conscience reproaching him. And embraces the relief.

~:~

Dinner begins with various aperitifs and wine spritzers. A simple Grace is uttered by Carlisle in his calming tenor. Mrs. Alekseyev suggests that everyone say what they are thankful for; the matriarch is not to be ignored.

"I'm thankful for Kate, and her family." Edward takes their clasped hands and brushes a kiss over her knuckles.

"I'm thankful for my faith," she says. "For keeping faith." And with a sly glance to Edward, she continues her passive aggressive remarks.

Mr. Alekseyev and his father chime "Amen", repeated by the rest.

Alice picks at her food – until recently, her body had rebelled at anything without a high alcohol concentration. Tanya's eyes cut across the table often to his, sizing him up. Guessing, estimating what could have angered her sister so.

Kate's ring is the spectacle of the dinner. Her mother fawns over her daughter and her fiancé, congratulating them, crying and waxing nostalgic about her baby. Her father feels the need to remind him again of the damage he could inflict.

Edward bites any and every retort back about debilitating wheelchairs.

His parents are proud of their son, the non-fuck up. The gentle discussion of which Church to have the mass is brought up, each parent humorously arguing which church would be best.

Kate's priest baptized her; gave her, her first Eucharist.

Edward's priest married Carlisle and Esme – he baptized their children, gave them the reconciliation their childhood sins deserved.

Kate cuts in as the discreet wait staff brings out the turkey. "Please, mom, not now. Let us just enjoy being engaged for a while." But Edward knows otherwise.

He knows of the bridal magazines littering their living room, their kitchen. He knows of the list of churches in Seattle Kate has, magnetized to the fridge. He knows of the banquet halls she's been calling on her work breaks.

But Edward appreciates the idea this false front – depends on it.

"Edward and I are so happy to be here at this point." She reaches for his hand, grabbing, squeezing. Painfully so.

He kisses her hand again. Dinner continues - Alice's health the main source of conversation.

Mrs. Alekseyev speaks with greasy condescension. How, for some, the path of God is not for all. And with a sad twist of her head, and the fluorescent light hitting her eyes just so, Edward sees an ugly truth reflected – deeper than oily conceit and self-righteousness.

He sees such a look in Kate too. He sees utter and severe contempt – unforgiving disdain. And Edward cannot bring himself to care.

"How are the Heavens today, Edward?" Mr. Alekseyev speaks with his own arrogance.

"Well, sir. A comet passed earth a few weeks ago." He saw it after spending time with Bella.

"That all, son?" Carlisle asks, gentler than the other man, but no less haughty.

"Some exoplanets have been discovered. Fifty or so, I believe. And five may have living conditions close to ours."

"Fascinating." Tanya's scathing tone is harsh in the near silence of the dining hall. Her wine glass is empty – again – as she reaches for the bottle.

"I believe so," Edward replies. It's best for him to ignore it all.

Alice gasps, looking past Tanya's shoulder. It rips from her so suddenly, she coughs, chest heaving, mumbling, "that bitch," over and over.

Time slows when Edward realizes who turned his sister into the spluttering mess.

Bella. Bella. She's here, with a man. A young man.

It's white hot, and quick. Jealousy burns through his stomach. It roils, pushing his turkey dinner up his throat.

"Excuse me," he rasps, before roughly pushing from the dinner table.

"What's wrong, honey?" Kate asks his retreating back.

He stumbles away, ignoring his curious dinner party, the other patrons. The bathroom is empty as he retches.

Envy is still boiling in his gut, making him stupid.

He can't help it, really, when he leaves the bathroom Bella is leaving.

Edward walks up to her, clutching her forearm. "Bella, what are you doing here?" He does not look to her companion, grabbing their coats, but he speaks of him all the same.

"Enjoying Thanksgiving." She speaks to her shoes. Open toed sandals, nails painted forest green.

Edward remembers when she wore forest green somewhere else.

"I've missed you." Pain is in his voice. He misses her body, her dips and curves.

She refuses to respond, tugging fruitlessly away.

"Bella," he croons. He tries to soothe her, much like he soothes Kate when she's angry; or perhaps like Alice, thrown into a substance-induced rage.

"Edward, please–"

"This is your whore?" Kate's voice is painful to his ears.

Bella's gasp echoes. She reaches to slap Edward, but Kate intervenes, grabbing her hand.

"Don't touch him."

It's surreal to Edward – not real, but imagined. It cannot be real to him.

He thinks of the pride in his mother as he announced their anniversary. He thinks of her idiotic hope that perhaps the Cullens and their faith will prevail.

"Who is this? Edward?" Bella sees the flash of the diamonds, a bright spot on the grey pallor of her arm. Unhealthy.

"His fiancée. This is your whore, Edward?" Contempt. He saw it in her mother, it is there in her daughter – he knew it would be.

Her face cripples with agony.

Edward remains fastidious in his silence.

"Bella…" Her companion makes a gallant effort to pull Bella away from Kate's grip. He shields her instead from new patrons, shaking their umbrellas on the 'welcome' carpet, water dripping off the ends of their coats.

Edward focuses on the menial details of this situation. He watches the droplets make their trek along wrinkles in the fabric, allowing gravity to bring them down to their end.

"I missed you, Bella." Whispers. Whispered. A broken record. She was his to mold. To shape.

She revered him.

"Bella."

"Edward? What the fuck is she doing here? Did you invite her here?" Alice's voice is shrill.

Bella is speechless – frozen in the midst of chaos.

"Edward? Edward, did you bring your whore here?" Kate's voice rises in volume, her grip a mirror of the escalation, tightening.

"I… Bella."

"Stop saying that, Edward," Kate says.

"Let go, please. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Let go." Bella wrenches her arm free. Her relief is brief before she looks at Edward, Alice, and Kate.

"Edward…" His name, once breathed in passion is said in anguish, before she turns and runs.

She shoves past newcomers pausing for the spectacle and old ones stopping to see the show.

It's the sight of her retreating back, only seen once before to him, that pushes him forward to chase her.

"Bella!" She's near the sidewalk, erratic and disjointed in her rhythm.

She glances back, to the sound of his voice – her name.

And she is gone.

'*'*'*'*'

And so she lingers. A week. Hooked to an IV drip, trying to revive her, sustain her, in vain.

The taxi-driver, not used to the perpetual rain of Seattle, had not stopped in time to save Bella. She had soared across the air in a graceful arc. She was divine in that moment of flight, transcending human's mere existence of ashes and clay.

Edward stares at the condescending face of Jesus Christ the Saviour. He shrinks under His judgmental stare, cowering with the sheer inescapability of it all. The pew on which he resides is preternaturally cold, even in the sorry state of the Church. His prayers fall on deaf ears, he knows. And yet it does not prevent him from making more.

This. This is the guilt he should have crumbled under before – this is the guilt, now weakening him to a dangerously low point.

It cuts him at the knees – it clutches at his heart. He huddles over his stomach, sure there is a hole where his intestines are.

Edward is so sure of the pain he feels.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. Disparity echoes around the church, only then does Edward realize he's been speaking aloud.

Broken sobs eek from someplace deep in his heart. Guilt is a nasty thing, he knows. He was weaned on guilt. His mother placed the slightest of pressures on him over the last seven days, asking him to pray, to light candles. To answer her questions.

Edward was not the only one to refuse that request.

Edward, we have an appointment at seven.

He knows of such an appointment – it's with a banquet hall. The same, incidentally where their Thanksgiving Dinner was held.

He's almost positive Kate arranged such a thing on purpose.

Edward bows his head one final time, swallowing his sorrow.

I'm sorry.

~:~ Fin ~:~

End Note: After much deliberation, I decided not to put the Bible citation within the text. This is in regards to what Edward thinks, during his time with Bella: (Song of Songs 1:9-11).

Many thanks and love to my beta: shpwhitney; and to my prereaders: fanglang, Dandelion_Mind and acinadisme. They helped through the writer's block and prettied and polished it once it was finished. Thank you over and over and over…

Thank you for reading.