Contest: Season of Our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest, Picture Prompt Number #9

Congratulations to the winners of the contest and all of the participants!
There were so many amazing entries that just broke my heart.

Thank you to my pre-reader and beta, femme-mal.
I think we are both still recovering from this contest!

Warnings and Disclaimer: This story includes difficult/sensitive subject matter that may include one or more of the subjects listed in Rule #7 on the Season of Our Discontent profile page. Please refer to the profile page before reading if you are concerned about content. Twilight belongs to S. Meyer. I own nothing.

Note: This is my entry for the Season of Our Discontent Anonymous Angst Contest. This is not a happy story. And so my thank to you for reading is especially heartfelt. A link to the banner is on my profile.


Wandering Star

Bella retreats to the shower when she needs a place to think. Sometimes when she needs to come down or sober up. She sits on the floor of the stall with her forehead against her knees and the drone of the exhaust fan in her ears. The hot water drums gently against her skull and skin, soothing her knotted muscles. Her mind drifts, skimming over details from the day that will return to chase away sleep late in the night. Under the water, it's possible to find a few moments' peace and escape from the world. But Bella can't escape herself.

Edward slips into the stall wordlessly, sinking down to sit behind her. She should be startled by the intrusion, but her body sighs in relief at his touch. He wraps her in his arms, pulling her against him, and his long legs stretch alongside hers. His body is lean and hot, his cock pressing hard against her lower back while he buries his face in her wet hair.

"Bella." His low voice is rough and she feels his lips move against the nape of her neck. The heat of the steam and water is nothing compared to the fire Edward lights inside her.

Turning her head, she meets the flesh of his arm with her lips. Her kisses are greedy, open-mouthed and hungry over his muscles. Edward's gentle fingers move the heavy curtain of hair over her shoulder before his lips fall on her neck. His hands are roaming, opening the tight cage of her body and Bella groans when he palms her breasts, her head lolling back against his shoulder. Under the water, it's wet between her legs.

"What do you want?" His right hand strokes her stomach, sliding lower while his left hand moves across her breasts. Those long fingers trail fire across her skin the water can't touch. "What do you want, Bella?"

"Will you fuck me, Edward?" His eyes are hooded and stormy when she turns to look at him. Reaching back, she runs her hands over his cock, her fingers teasing him through the condom and making him hiss. "Will you do that for me?"

His fingers answer, first one and then two slipping inside her slick heat. Those fingers steal her words and reason. He covers her moan with his mouth and the fire in her leaps higher, scorching and delicious. She needs him inside her, all of him, before she screams.

Without warning, she is scrambling, desperate for that contact. Edward shifts below her, guiding her with trembling hands and pressing his wet skin tightly to hers. His eyes slide closed when she sinks down over him, his mouth falling open with a hoarse sigh. Bella kisses his wet lashes, feeling him pant against her neck before his lips open over her skin. His mouth and cock push her to the edge of reason. The fire inside her is raging, crushing her as they thrust against each other.

He is muttering between kisses, stealing Bella's breath with his words. "You're gorgeous when you're fucking me," he says, his eyes boring in to hers once more. One big hand is spread wide across her back while the other cradles her ass as it rises and falls. "It's never enough... uh. Oh, God."

She knows Edward finds the remains of days-old bruises on her right shoulder and along her neck when he bends to run his tongue over them. She knows too that he hides his fury and disgust as he tends to her, having learned over the years that comfort is all he can offer in moments like these.

Bella loves the sounds he makes when he is inside her; they are rough and aggressive, utterly unlike the gentle man he is. Drags her fingers through hair made dark and heavy with water, she watches desire transform Edward's beautiful face into something wild and hungry. Their gasps and moans echo against the tiles and their eyes lock together over their writhing bodies. She suspects as well that he searches her brown eyes for signs that she is high or has been drinking.

"You feel so good inside me, sweet boy," she says in a breathy groan that begins Edward's undoing. She runs her tongue lightly over his lips and teeth, watching his pupils dilate with pleasure.

He jolts suddenly and his low cry snaps her control. Bella's eyes are wide when she falls, her mouth open in a silent, breathless scream. Edward's thrusts become erratic as he watches her come apart around him. He follows a moment later, stiffening underneath her for an instant with a deep grunt before he can move again, clutching her like a drowning man.

They rock quietly together for a long time under the spray, slowly coming down. Edward's lips move over her face, leaving slow kisses that crease her heart while his hands paint circles on her back. Bella curls her arms around his shoulders, memorizing his touch, adding to the catalog of memories she keeps. When the water begins to cool, they stand to wash one another, hands soft with soap moving over wet, sated skin.

Edward wraps her in the old terry robe she cannot bring herself to throw away, gathering her long hair over one shoulder. In turn, Bella winds him in bath sheets, running a hand towel over his head while he drips on the bathmat. She refuses to let him redress himself from his neat pile of clothes on the counter.

Wet footprints trace the path they take through the house, gleaming over the wood floors to end in the kitchen. They work together easily, making hot tea and sandwiches while their damp skins and hair dry. Its early evening when they take their small meal to the kitchen table, sitting close with their bare legs tangled together. Edward's green eyes are keen over the edge of his mug, watching Bella nibble her turkey and tomato.

"I wasn't sure if I should expect you tonight," she says, watching him carefully.

His eyes are touched with sadness when he puts his mug down, reaching across the table to press her hand. "I told you I'd be here," he says in the warm, velvet voice that echoes through her dreams.

"I know. But I wasn't sure you'd be able to get away." Bella refills their mugs from the teapot, eyes on her hands as they pour cream and honey. "You've been spending a lot of time with Jane."

Jane is an accountant with the architecture firm Edward own with his brothers. A gamine blonde with an orderly mind and passive temperament, she is in many ways Bella's polar opposite, cool and logic running against fire and passion. Unlike other girls Edward has dated in the past, Jane seems to have gained his particular attention, something that has not escaped Bella's notice.

"Does your numbers girl know where you go on these nights, Edward?"

She licks olive oil from her fingertips with the tip of her tongue, her skin prickling when he doesn't answer. The silence lengthens, growing heavy, until she can't bear it. Glancing up, she finds him watching her, a troubled expression on his face. His tension is evident in the way he worries his lip with his teeth and fidgets at the towel draped around his neck.

"Jane asked me to move in with her," he says at last, his quiet voice loud after the silence.

"Sounds serious. Have you picked out your china patterns already?" Bella's tone is light, but she knows the look in Edward's eyes is all seriousness.

He licks his lips, dragging a hand through his hair before his eyes flick away from hers to the left, focusing over her shoulder. That simple motion makes her stomach clench; Edward always meets her eyes.

"Answer me," she says woodenly.

"Jane stopped seeing other people. She's asked me to do the same... so it can be just the two of us," he replies carefully, his eyes still averted.

"And you've agreed?"

"I told her I needed to think about it. But I'm going to agree, yes."

Bella's humorless laugh surprises him. His eyes snap back to meet hers and she sees the hurt in them immediately.

"You're joking, right?" Smiling, she shakes her head at his furrowed brows and frown. "I'm supposed to take you seriously when you tell me you want to play house with Jane, that boring little bean counter?"

Still smirking, she stands and pushes the chair back sharply, nearly knocking it over. "Is that supposed to make me jealous? Grow the fuck up, Edward."

His chair scrapes the floor behind her as she walks out of the kitchen. Edward's long legs get him within an arm's length by the time she reaches the bedroom and he's almost on top of her as she nears the bed. His face is dark with anger when she turns to face him.

"I'm nowhere near kidding," he says stiffly. His eyes are blazing and his hands are balled into fists at his sides. "I'm going to try to make it work with Jane."

Bella's smile is mocking and cold. "Why, for God's sake? What the hell is the point, Edward?"

"Jane wants to be with me," he replies, his chin lifting slightly as he makes this quiet declaration. "She wants the same things I want."

Bella doesn't try to hide her sneer, her voice growing harsh with disdain. "And what exactly is it that you think you want?"

His ears and cheeks redden as her meaningful words register, anger flashing in his eyes. "You know what I want. I've been telling you for years. A wife. A family. I want to have a normal, boring life. A safe life. "

A sensation of tightness spreads through her chest, pushing her into motion. She paces the room like a caged animal, her jaw tight in anticipation for what she knows is coming next. "And what would I have to give up, huh? What do I have give up to make you happy? Because there's always something you want, Edward."

"Peter," he says at once, his jaw tight. "Give him up, Bella, and be with me. Just me. Be in my life and let me make you happy."

"Fuck, you're nothing if not predictable," she retorts. "You know I can't do that. Peter needs me."

"I need you," Edward protests, burying his hands in his hair. His lips are pressed so tightly they're a white line. "Jesus, I need you so much, can't you understand that?"

"It's different," Bella shakes her head, denying him as she has always done. "You don't need me the way he does. You're strong; you can take care of yourself."

"Being strong doesn't mean this isn't killing me, Bella. I may not be the fuck up Peter is but I'm just as human." In a burst of speed Edward is in front of her, stilling her with his big hands. His touch is urgent and a little rough, and his chest is heaving as he stares at her with undisguised distress. "I can't tell you how much it fucking hurts that you can't do this for me."

"But you ask me for the impossible," she exclaims, pain flaring in her chest at his words. "I love you, Edward, God knows I do. But I can't give him up. Peter won't make it without me, can't you see that?"

"No, I can't," Edward all but shouts, his fingers tightening around her arms before he catches himself. Dropping his hands to his sides, he is only a little calmer when he continues. "Fuck Peter. Peter can get help; he can go to rehab, he can go to a halfway house, whatever. He can go to the tenth circle of hell for all I care. But he can get by without you. You just need to let yourself believe it."

"So is that guy your boyfriend?" Edward asked her, smiling tentatively at her over his beer. His eyes flicked over her shoulder to the rowdy group in the back of the bar.

Bella followed his gaze, quickly finding Peter's blonde head in the crowd. Peter had scored some coke earlier in the day and shared it with his buddies. He was very high and his euphoria was tempered by hostility; adding alcohol to the mix made his moods even more mercurial.

Bella turned back to the young businessman she had been chatting with for over an hour. Edward's gaze was bright and engaging, and he smiled so warmly as they spoke. He had been excited to learn she was a painter and then modestly answered her questions about the new community center he was building in Port Angeles. The stark differences between this handsome young man and her oldest friend were painfully obvious.

"Peter? Well, he's almost family." Bella returned his smile but there was something guarded in her expression that caught Edward's attention."It's complicated."

He set his beer down on the bar, his expression turning serious. "Known him a long time?"

"Since we were kids," Bella said. "My parents brought Peter to our family when he was ten, through the foster care system. He had a pretty shitty life up until then. I'll spare you the gory details, but his biological parents are in jail."

"So you and your parents took care of him," Edward said, nodding at her in encouragement.

"Yeah, as best we could. It was hard. Peter was... pretty messed up. But my parents loved him and he made progress. And we always got along great; he said he liked having an older sister-type.

"I was thirteen when my mom got sick. Before she died, she told me it was my job to help my dad with Peter, even though I'm the younger between us," Bella continued, her voice softening. "I loved my mom and I loved Peter. It made me happy to help my dad. I made sure I was there for Peter, no matter what."

"And are you still taking care of him?" Edward's eyes were on the slim hand resting on the bar. Carefully, he ran two fingers slowly over her pale skin, his light touch sensuous but completely respectful.

Bella licked her lips at the sudden rush of desire she felt for the man in front of her but paused before speaking. If she let this go anywhere beyond tonight, and oh how she wanted that, she had to be up front with him.

She looked into his eyes for a long moment, enjoying the feel of those two long fingers lingering on hers. "Yeah. I'm still there for him when he needs me. My dad is gone now, too. Charlie... he died last year, so it's just Peter and me."

The genuine sympathy she saw in Edward's expression brought an unexpected lump into her throat that she swallowed. "Peter and I are a kind of package deal. He needs me in his life and I need to be there for him."

"I can work with that, Bella Swan," Edward replied. His words were light, but it was the earnestness in his eyes that made her smile again.

Bella steps close to Edward, tilting her chin up to meet his eyes. "So, what, that's it? I dump Peter and you'll dump Jane, everything's fixed?" Her voice is heavy with sarcasm. "That's what I have to do to get you take me back?"

"Jesus, Bella, I never let you go." Edward reaches for her, the heat from his hands seeping through her robe and into the skin on her hips. "How many years have I been here, waiting and hoping you'd give us a chance?"

"And you're still here, even after all that time." Taking his right hand in both of hers, she runs her fingers over the wide silver band on his middle finger. Over the ring she'd given him years ago, and the single, five-point star engraved on the inside, away from the eyes of the world and known only to Edward and her.

His face empties of expression when he grasps her hand in his fingers. "Yeah. I'm here. Still getting shit on, every day. Every time Peter touches you. Every time you give him money or my clothes, or he steals my GPS, my laptop, my cell. Every time you give him love that should be mine."

"Peter deserves to be loved too, Edward," she tells him, the words automatic and bitter in her mouth.

His eyes clench closed, reopening slowly and filling with anger though he remains motionless. "I don't give a goddamn about what Peter deserves. He deserves nothing for the way he treats you, Bella. I hate watching him pull you down with him, every day, making you less.

"It's not right that he makes you use with him. That he gets you so high you can't sleep for days. That he leaves bruises on you that you won't talk about-" Edward stops, choking on his words, and the sound makes Bella's jaw clench.

One hand comes up to rub the back of his neck in frustration, and he lets loose a long sigh before continuing. "That asshole has got you so messed up right now you can't hold a job. The empty canvases in your studio tell me you haven't painted in months. And if it wasn't for the money Charlie left you, and this house, you'd be on the street, Bella."

"Do you even know where Peter is?" He drops his hand to press over hers again, holding it tenderly between his own as if it is breakable. "How long has he been gone this time? How do you know he's coming back at all? Or that he not going to blow in here tonight with his crew and turn the place inside out again?"

Edward's eyes hold a mixture of sadness and anger as he looks at her. For the first time Bella also sees pity. "Do you think I like having to wear condoms because neither of you have any idea who he's been when he's too high to care? Or maybe that you're too high to care when one of Peter's friends decides you're the party favor?"

"I don't do that anymore-" Bella cuts in angrily, but Edward waves her off with one hand, shaking his head.

"The way he's going, Bella, fucking him could kill you someday. It's only a matter of time before he gets sick. But it's like you don't care at all if you get sick. Do you understand how it makes me feels to know how little value you place on own life? To know that I can't count on a future with you? I deserve better than that," he says with quiet bitterness.

Bella feels her face hardening into the mask she wears when Edward asks her for things she cannot give. She wished it was as easy to harden her heart. "Anything else?"

"Fuck, yes." Edward's voice is rough with emotions he is struggling to control. "I want to lay down to sleep with you every night and see those brown eyes of yours when I wake up. I want to be able to hang out with my girl and some friends for dinner. I want to make love with you and know that I'm the only one.

"I don't want to get texts letting me know you have a few hours to squeeze me in while Peter goes to see his dealer. I don't want to find your underwear under my car seats after you've borrowed it. Or to be stood up in restaurants on my birthday or yours. I want to celebrate my parents' wedding anniversary with them, instead of driving to Seattle because your 'ride' left you stranded. I don't want to find coke dust on the dresser and Oxy in your pocket. I don't want to be one of your buddies anymore, Bella. I need more than that."

Each word flays Bella's heart. She feels sick, hating his neediness and her own weakness even more.

"I've never lied to you about what I can give you, Edward." Her voice is steady, but inside she's coming apart piece by piece. "I don't want to be married, to anyone. I don't want to play the good wife or be a mommy. I don't want those things... they're not me. And you know that."

"I know that's what you've told me." His eyes are burning as they rake over her. "But I also know you hurt when I'm with other women, even when you push them at me. I know you got drunk and tried to slash Tanya's tires when she asked me to marry her last year. And I know you didn't sleep right for six months after you lost the baby-"

"Stop!" Bella's voice cuts through the air with a force that makes him flinch.

He was there when she opened her eyes, his tired face swimming into focus as she blinked. She knew from the antiseptic smell that she was in the hospital. Her head felt leaden and she was weak and sweating. She knew from the ache low in her middle that something had gone wrong.

"What happened?" She whispered through parched lips. Edward's fingers squeezed hers reassuringly before reaching for a cup and straw. He nodded at her free hand when she made to take the cup, making her aware of the IV line under an ugly wad of bandages.

"You collapsed outside of your studio this morning," he said quietly, holding the straw to her lips and waiting as she sipped water. "You told the EMTs to call me before you lost consciousness. And you told them you were pregnant."

"You have pneumonia. You temperature spiked through the roof; that's why you fainted." Edward's fingers moved softly over her hairline, tucking loose strands behind her ears, his expression gentle. "You miscarried the pregnancy, Bella... but my dad says it was just an unfortunate coincidence."

Bella felt sick knowing that Edward's father was on duty. As the ER attending in the hospital, Carlisle had been present during some of their other ER visits; this one was sure to surpass all the rest. She sank into the pillows, an alarming mixture of emotions pouring through her; relief, guilt, shame, and a slow, creeping sadness for what she knew was lost. The combination of concern and pain on Edward's face fueled her grief further.

"I started feeling shitty a couple of days ago," she muttered, closing her eyes. "I've been trying to take care of myself, you should know that. I... I made an appointment to see my doctor because I was sick and... fuck."

Edward is silent for a long moment. "Do you want me to call Peter?"

She shook her head, closing her eyes. She didn't want to admit she hadn't seen or heard from Peter since telling him about the pregnancy two weeks before. Wherever he was, he had access to money and drugs.

They were quiet for a long time, and Bella dozed off, weighted down by exhaustion and medication. Edward was still there when she stirred in the now darkened room, shadows hiding his face though his hand remained warm over hers. She realized her face was wet, drops leaking from her eyes each time she blinked.

"Why didn't you tell me?" His low voice held an undercurrent of pain that smashed her heart.

"I wanted to. I was going to. It's just... I didn't want you to have to worry about it," she replied softly. "It wasn't your baby."

Edward was quiet for a long time before he brought her hand to his lips. "That wouldn't have mattered," he said simply. "That wouldn't have mattered to me, Bella."

Bella takes a moment to regain control, inhaling deeply before she trusts her voice to continue. "Don't you dare bring that shit up, Edward. You know better than that."

He nods, his face filled with a mixture of repentance and defiance. "Bella, just about the only thing I know anymore is that I love you. I love you so fucking much I'm willing to give up things I've always wanted. I'd give them up for you."

"God damn it, Edward, don't give me this guilt trip shit, not now." Bella pulls her hand from his to sit on edge of the bed wearily. Scrubbing her forehead hard with her fingers, she sighs heavily before looking at him. "I've been honest with you since the beginning, Edward. I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of, but I've never lied to you about how things are between Peter and me. You can't stand there and act like you're surprised by anything that goes on between us."

She expects more heat and angry words, but is surprised when Edward sits quietly beside her.

"You're right, you did tell me," he murmurs, taking her hand again. "And, you know, that's just it: there are three of us in this: you, Peter, and me. For five years I've put up with there being three people in this relationship. Believe me, it took a lot of effort., but I thought I could handle it, Bella, I really did. I just... fuck... I just can't anymore."

Bella shakes her head, her throat narrowing with emotion. "But why; what changed? Is it more than what I do with Peter? Is it Jane? Do you... do you love her, Edward?"

She runs her free hand over his hair, fingers brushing through the soft auburn waves. She realizes she's begging and doesn't care. "Don't do this. I know I make things impossible, Christ, but I love you."

"I know. But not enough," Edward says miserably, one warm hand rising to cup her cheek. His face is suddenly careworn and tired. "You've never given me your whole heart, Bella. There's always been some piece of it that you held back for Peter."

She leans into his hand, her eyes sliding closed as the ache spreads under her ribs. "And you think you've given me your whole heart?"

"Oh, Bella. I gave you everything so long ago," he says, his lips ghosting over her lids and bridge of her nose. He slides close, radiating warmth. "I can hardly remember what it's like to not love you."

"Then why are you doing this?" Bella turns, pressing her lips to his palm, her tongue darting out to lick his skin.

Edward's breath fans over her face when he replies. "Why can't you love just me? Why can't you let him go?"

She cannot answer his anguished question. She's said it all before, told him time and again that Peter will always be in her life. Though he struggled to understand her decision, Edward accepted it, even when it was painful for him to do so. Since they met, he has always there, comforting her when she fell, steadying her when she trembled. Until now.

He appears exhausted when she opens her eyes to look at him, sorrow settling into the planes of his face. Tugging at his hands, she draws him back onto the bed after her, pulling at the towels he's still wearing. Edward's movements are sluggish and he frowns in protest, but allows her to settle him between the sheets. Shadows darken his eyes as he watches her move around the room, turning down the lights before sliding in next to him, her red bathrobe tossed and forgotten on the floor.

"I shouldn't stay," he says softly, reaching to run his fingers through the dark curls that tumble over her shoulders.

"Close your eyes, sweet boy," Bella murmurs, gathering him gently against her. Edward lays his cheek between her breasts, his long arms curling around her. Drowsy and warm, he answers Bella's quiet sigh with one of his own. She feels his body growing heavier as he falls into sleep, and buries her fingers in his hair.

It's late when Edward's lips wake her, their wet heat drawing deliciously on her breasts. His hands are massaging the soft flesh of her thighs in deep circles, turning her sleepy bones to fire. Even half asleep, Bella is intensely aroused, unable to stifle her soft moans. Every touch of his mouth and hands tightens her desire. The luscious smell of his skin and hair fill her nose when his lips skim over her neck, traveling higher until his mouth covers her own.

"Bella, please," he says, his whisper raw against her lips. "I love you. Please, do it for me. For us."

She kisses him, winding her arms around his neck as he settles between her legs, needy heat bolting through her again. It is the wet warmth on her face that causes her heart to freeze and fracture. The tears on her cheeks are not her own. They are Edward's. He is crying, teardrops falling fast from beneath his closed lids, staining their faces and wetting the sheets.

Bella has seen Edward in tears only once before, when his mother nearly died three years ago in a car accident. He is close to his parents and was devastated when he and Bella arrived at the hospital to find Esme in critical condition. But he'd pulled himself together almost immediately, knowing his family needed him. Swallowing his tears, he had taken his distraught father's hand before looking around at his brothers and their wives, polling their strength to lead them through the crisis.

Like his family, Bella counts on Edward's steady strength. He's doesn't fall apart or walk out when they argue, no matter how fierce their words become. He is always centered, providing a quiet eye in the storm that often surrounds her. He picks up Bella's wreckage and helps her put it back together.

These tears tell Bella his declarations tonight have been spoken in earnest. This is real. This isn't just another argument they will have that can be smoothed over with time. Edward has reached his limit. He is going to leave.

"Don't," Bella whispers, as much to beg him to stay as to comfort his tears. Pulling his body against hers more tightly, she buries her face in his neck.

Edward's weight settles over her as he gives in to his sorrow, hiding his tears in her dark hair. Bella winds her legs around his waist, feeling him tremble from emotion and hunger, his cock pressing against her stomach. Pulling back, she draws him up gently with her hands, needing to see his face and watch him succumb to his desire.

He is panting through slightly parted lips and his cheeks are flushed. His eyes are closed while Bella's are wide open, taking in his every beautiful detail. Cradling his face in her hands, she runs her lips over his cheeks, taking his tears onto her tongue. Their kisses are slow and deep, salted with his sadness.

"Edward," she breathes against his mouth. "I need you."

The few moments it takes to find the condom in the nightstand are too long. Her hands are trembling as she reaches to take the foil package from him, going through the motions swiftly, Edward's soft moan in her ear as her fingers roll the latex over him.

"Uh," he grunts when he slides inside, filling her with warm flesh. Resting his weight on his left elbow, he pumps deeply, the pain in his tear stained face mixing with pleasure. "Jesus... I want... oh, Bella."

Bella runs her hands over his back, her palms dipping low over the swell of his ass, urging him deeper inside. Edward twists his hips, angling himself in a way that wipes her brain clean every time; she can hardly breathe let alone think. A tremor begins deep inside her, spreading steadily outward like a wave. She knows it won't be long and her heart thunders as she chases the high.

The sounds of their passion grow quieter as they move against one another. Groans become low whispers and his murmurs melt into kisses so tender they pierce Bella's heart. His eyes are open now, red rimmed and conflicted, looking deeply into hers with a searching expression she has never seen before. Reaching up, she frames his face with her hands, watching him as their hips meet again and again.

Bella's gasp when she comes curls through the air like smoke, her hands sliding around his neck as she shudders under his kisses. Edward watches her, his breaths loud and fast, his body trembling when follows just after her. His face contorts with pleasure and a long moan fills his chest while he rides it out. Bella holds him when he collapses against her, their breaths gradually slowing while the sheen of sweat on their bodies cools.

"Stay with me," Bella murmurs when Edward moves to remove the condom and clean up. She wraps her fingers around his wrists when he turns back, curling on her side and drawing Edward against her back.

He drags the blankets over their bodies as he curls around her. "For a little while," he agrees quietly, knowing she means more.

Grief begins to work its way through her, her eyes stinging with a storm of tears that will not come. Her knuckles whiten as she pulls him closer, finding no pleasure in his own fierce embrace. "Do you really have to go?"

"I'm sorry." His voice is like smoke and velvet, and so terribly resigned. "I want things to be different. But I've been living half a life for a long time, trying to be there for you... I sort of put myself on hold years ago. And I don't want to hold back any more. I need to move forward."

"You think little Jane can help you with that?" She knows her question is unfair and childish, but the words are out of her mouth before she realizes it.

"I don't know," Edward admits, his fine nose running along the shell of her ear. "It's not really about Jane. It's about learning how to live. To go after the things I want again. Jane may be part of it, or not. Maybe she can teach me how to be healthy again."

"Are you guys are going to find a little house near your parents and fill it with babies?" Bella chokes on her words, her stomach churning at the thought of having to see Edward here in Forks with a wife, a family. Even Edward's apartment in Port Angeles seems too close.

"I'm moving," he replies, his breath hitching. "Jane got a job in Olympia six months ago; she's been living there. I talked it over with my brothers and we think I can work from home and meet with clients in Port Angeles and Seattle. Even if she hadn't, I'd want to move anyway. I don't want this to be any harder on either of us than it already is."

Bella is quiet as she imagines not seeing Edward in Forks or Port Angeles, not having his solid presence close by. She realizes that, perhaps unknowingly, he has been building his escape route for some time, his friends and family silently helping behind the scenes. She knows too that he stayed for her, even after Jane left, and that knowledge suffocates her with guilt.

"Would you leave her if I changed my mind, Edward?" Her voice is very low and she feels him pause for an instant when her words register.

"Yes," he breathes against her ear.

Closing her eyes, she runs her fingers over his hands, her touch lingering on the ring with the hidden star.

She was straight when she bought him the ring, seized with the impulse after he'd voiced his desire to move their relationship to the next level. She wore it on her thumb for a week, loving the idea of wearing something that would soon be his.

She was very drunk when she finally gave it to him. They had been out with his brother for a night of pool and darts. Edward had indulged in a few beers but Bella and Emmett had worked their way through most of a bottle of Jack Daniel's. Emmett was the only one of Edward's family that seemed to like her. Their parents and second brother, Jasper, regarded Bella with ill- concealed mistrust, and Edward's sisters-in-law were even less friendly.

"You're going to be hurting tomorrow," Edward said as he put her to bed. He smoothed the hair back from her forehead, chuckling gently. "If he wasn't before, Emmett's one hundred percent impressed by you now. Any woman that can hold their own with him over a bottle of Tennessee whiskey is a keeper."

Bella grabbed Edward's hand, focusing for a few moments on his long fingers. She frequently had trouble verbalizing her overwhelming feelings for him but the whiskey freed her, sending her words tumbling loose. Pulling the ring from her thumb, she slipped it over his middle finger, smiling slowly when his brows furrowed in confusion.

"No, sweet girl," he said softly, reaching to remove the ring. "You don't want to do that-"

"I do," she whispered. "I bought that for you. It's for you, Edward."

He blinked in surprise, looking from Bella's sweet, drunk eyes back down to the silver band. They didn't give each other many gifts and he had noticed her wearing the ring earlier in the evening. Bella knew he would consider her touch on the ring particularly intimate.

"What's the occasion?" Edward's face was tentative as he watched her.

Bella closed her eyes, needing to distance herself from what she suspected might be hope brimming in his eyes. "I can't give you what you want, Edward," she sighed. "I told you before; I can't give up that part of me... Peter. I just can't. But I want you. For as long as you'll have me."

"You have me, Bella," he replied and she heard the sad tenderness in his voice, felt it in his fingers as he stroked her hands.

"I know I'm fucked up. But I want you to remember that I love you, okay?" She fought the booze haze, needing to say the words that had been simmering inside her. "No one knows I bought that ring. There's something inside that ring that will stay between us. Promise me; just us, Edward."

He shushed her quietly, dropping kisses on her face that were light as falling snow. Bella opened her eyes and stared at him until he removed the ring and looked inside. His eyes found the engraved star after a moment and flicked back to hers, questioning gently.

"When you look at that ring, remember that I love you. Even when I fuck up. Even when I say the wrong thing. Even when I am with him," Bella said deliberately, her teeth clenching when Edward winced. "I can't give that part of myself up. But I want to give you the best parts I have."

His breath is warm on her neck, lulling her, as does the heat from his body. She doesn't want to sleep, not while he is with her still. But she is fighting a losing battle against heavy lids, her body drained by lust and pleasure, her mind exhausted by the acknowledgment of loss.

"I'll miss you, Edward," she says, her voice hushed. "I'll try not to call. I – I won't call, I swear."

His voice is just as quiet, hardly above a whisper. "I'll miss you so fucking much. Promise you'll try to be better, Bella. Just tell me you'll try."

She nods, knowing he won't believe her. Not after spending so long learning the lies she tells herself and living with them. "Will you stay?"

"Until you sleep," Edward promises, his lips against her ear. "I'll be here until you sleep."

"Stay with me, Edward." Bella's words are slurred and she begins to drift, floating in his arms.

"Sleep, sweet girl," he whispers. "I love you."

She feels his lips against her temple, and hears him draw a long breath, his nose buried in her hair.

The sun is streaming over the bed when Bella wakes up. Edward is gone.

Edward makes good on his promise to move to Olympia; it's a year before Bella sees him again. She is running errands in Port Angeles on the day after Thanksgiving when she sees a tall figure on the street, walking in the opposite direction. The broad shoulders and mess of auburn hair are instantly recognizable and her mouth goes dry. She wants to call out to him, to dash along the pavement that separates them to throw herself into his arms.

But Edward's arms are around the waist of another, a woman with blonde curls tumbling past her shoulders. Jane.

Bella stands frozen and silent as the couple stroll past the storefronts, their body language easy and familiar; affectionate. The little blonde is leaning into Edward's side, her head against his chest. As Bella watches, he turns to press his lips against Jane's hair, a small smile curling his lips.

Ducking quickly into the doorway of a bakery, Bella conceals herself enough to still watch the couple on the sidewalk. She feels ill at the thought of him seeing her. The concern she glimpses in the eyes of her remaining friends will be horrified certainty in Edward's. He will know why she is thin and pale, and why the smudges under her eyes are as dark as the bruises hidden under her clothes. Bella can no longer hide the habits she fought to control while Edward was in her life. But there are other reasons why she doesn't eat or sleep as she should, why her dark eyes are dull and her long hair so thin and dry. Bella is hungry for food, rest, and comfort. She is starving for Edward.

A half block away, the couple pause on the pavement outside a grocer's, their heads close together as they speak. Jane leans forward and up on to her toes to press a kiss to Edward's cheek before turning to the door of the shop.

His smile softens while he watches Jane, the tinkling of a bell on the door announcing her entry to the store. Edward turns away when the door closes behind her, facing in Bella's direction. And then his smile fades. His face takes on a thoughtful look, brows drawing over his eyes. He brings his hands together by his waist, left hand over right, thumb slowly stroking the fingers of his hand out of long habit. The corners of his mouth turn down gently and a look of sadness passes over his lovely face. He looks down at his hands, his left thumb brushing over the thick silver band on his middle finger, over the hidden star.

Bella's breath stops. The erratic thundering in her chest and ears would frighten her if she were capable of feeling anything. Unable to turn away, she watches Edward, standing so still on the sidewalk, lost in his thoughts while his thumb traces the lines of the ring again and again.

Heart in her mouth, she wonders if there is some part of him that can feel her now, so close by. She wonders what would happen if she were to obey her heart and run until she is wrapped around him. If, after all this time and as awful as she appears, he would hold her close again. She wants to know the feeling of his strong arms wrapping around her, the sweet, hot pressure of his mouth on hers, and the gentle touch of his fingertips through her hair. God, how badly she wants to hear his voice just say her name again.

The tinkle of the shop door bell cuts through her thoughts and she feels a hot rush of tears on her face. Edward is turning to meet Jane again, his face changing, falling into a gentle smile. Jane is holding a shopping bag aloft with an expression of triumph on her face, taking Edward's arm when he holds it out and pulling him along with her.

Bella's heart drops with each step Edward takes away from her. Blinking to clear her eyes of tears, she strains to keep him in sight as long as she can. She wraps her arms around herself and listens to her own whispering sobs. The sound of Jane's laughter finally breaks Bella's frozen trance. Able at last to make her legs work, she puts all thought on the steps she needs to take, moving blindly and always away from Edward.

She knows Edward was right to leave her that night. She never tried to deserve him or even to hold onto him. Her choices made it clear where he stood in her life and what she was capable of being for him. She was honest about who she was, and so was Edward.

If she regrets anything, it's that she hurt him for so long. She should have walked away the night they met and spared him the pain of knowing her. But Bella can't bring herself to regret the decision she made to keep him with her for as long as he could stand it. Not knowing Edward would mean missing the chance to know her place in the life of someone kind and loving, who found happiness by her side and wanted to give her happiness in return.

When she allowed him to, Edward made Bella happy. He gave her reasons to smile and fed her body and soul effortlessly, sharing himself with her. Without him, she has no moorings and is adrift. She misses him every day. She loves him every moment.

A/N

Ugh. Those two make me freaking sad. Thank you for reading.

My goal when writing this story was to impart angst while keeping the focus on Bella and Edward's emotions and attempts at communicating. I also didn't want to kill anyone off... I'm still working up to that in my stories. :)

The title, Wandering Star, is a reference to the beautiful Portishead song of the same name. Wandering star is also an archaic term for planets. To me, Edward is a bit of a wandering star, always orbiting Bella.