We do not own Twilight. Shotguns are overrated.

All rights and respects to Stephenie Meyer, William Shakespeare, Metric, Awolnation, Florence and her so-amazing Machine, Violent Femmes, Bishop, Girls, Taking Back Sunday, William Blake, Gotye, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

babybabe, so long in the making, we're so close now, girl. .

babyblue, thank you so much for all your care and for giving me this today.

i love you guys.

also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANDREA! we love you, sleepy!

William Fitzsimmons and Priscilla Ahn – I Don't Feel it Anymore: We'll fall just like stars being hung by only string. Everything, everything here is gone. No map can direct how to ever make it home.

We're alone.

We're alone.

We're alone.

Chapter Thirty Four – Isabella's Precious Heart

Charlie's at work. Renee's at Wentworth Lake. The house we're approaching is empty.

We're alone.

Just me and her. Just like we started.

She unlocks the front door, loosening her scarf, stepping into furnace heat and the scent of pumpkin bread. Around the stairs, there's a loaf on a cooling rack on the table, next to a note. She holds onto her backpack straps. As she walks toward the table, she warms.

I beat.

Baby, the note says. If you get this, I'm at Apple Fest with Sue. If not, I'll see you when I get home.

There's a heart around a smaller heart.

All my love, Mom.

Silent under the weight of her homework-filled bag and four days of pretending, Bliss breaks a corner of the bread off and wraps the rest of it up. She flushes the broken bit and locks the front door before she climbs the stairs at a steady, normal pace.

Even in the absence of everyone, she's so steady.

Renee had said she wasn't going tonight, but Bliss was insistent it would be fine.

"You guys have been talking about it for months," she reminded her mother with a strong smile this morning. "I'll be fine. Don't ditch your plans so you can watch me do homework. Really."

She drops her book bag off on her bed and heads down the hall to the bathroom, still wearing her coat and boots.

She wants this. She's been waiting days for this moment. She needs it.

When we get to the bathroom and are alone with the mirror, she looks.

And looks.

And tries.

And tries to let everything relax. To open. To let. To feel. To unhide and seek me.

But it's hard.

She's buried me so deep this time.

And I don't make it easy. I bear a grudge that torments every part of us.

Bella closes her eyes tightly and breathes through our nose. She curls our fingers into angry fists and slams our right hand down against the counter because she knows.

It's been four days since she begged him not to leave. Four days since he let her think he'd actually come back.

Because they were finally together.

Because she was really his, and he was really hers.

And it was her birthday...

He was supposed to come back.

Bella screws our lips shut and makes our fingers stretch out. She forces another breath in. She raises our lids and stares into our dilated pupils. Our blue-greens are red-rimmed from clenching closed, but they're painfully dry. Not a single tear comes up for comfort. She hasn't cried since she pulled it together for him, for the two of them.

The grocery store is a ten minute drive from her house, there and back, tops. Even if it was packed, which it never was, he shouldn't have been gone twenty minutes. When half an hour passed, she knew, and she swallowed everything. She closed me off completely. For four days, she's been faking okay from waking up to passing out. She doesn't have to pretend to be completely alright. Her best friend did just kind of really hurt her. It's understandable if she's quiet and red-lidded, but this is deeper than that. Bliss walks around like a shadow behind a ghost of who everyone thinks she is.

I beat, low on strength and weak with absence, poorly, but steadily just like every other part of us that still works. Running on nothing but threadbare echoes that are more insubstantial than even memories, and survived by the thin, thin, thin hope that maybe, just maybe, she'll think of him, I keep us going.

She washes our face. She closes our eyes.

I beat quietly and cautiously, like tiptoeing in the dark.

She braces our hands and our unnaturally light weight against the counter. It's only been a few days, not even a hundred hours, but she hasn't eaten. She does enough when her mother is watching, but I feel it. She's noticeably undernourished all around me.

Cry, cry, cry, she pleads without a word. Please, it's okay, she attempts to convince our mind and myself and our so-stubborn tear ducts.

Please, give me something. Anything. Please...

We're stuck on survive though, and the truth is I'm dying without him. This is what living has become: disappearing slowly, secretly, and alone.

Bella closes our fingers again and lets out a low scream. She drops our fists to the counter again, rolling through the urge to knock the hand soap off its holder and strike the mirror. She digs violet painted nails into our palms.

He left you, she digs at me. He doesn't want you.

Cry, she demands. Hate him.

She scratches deeper, cutting into the soft centers of our hands when no pain registers.

Fucking hate him, she orders desperately.

I pick up for her. I let her know I feel her effort because I do. I feel the sting of our painted-pretty and consciously unbitten nails, but I feel it alone. It doesn't register anywhere else. Out of pure protection, our mind refuses her anymore hurt.

Love did this.

Love made us this way.

We used to be free, before love. But the mind, like me, just wants what it wants, and against everything else, it just wants Bliss to live, every bit as much as I just want him.

Love has made war of our girl. Love has turned our vessel made for cherishing and devotion into a bleeding and desolate battlefield.

I beat faster. I try so hard to give her the pain she seeks, but our girl feels nothing. She can't cry, even here. Even alone, she's standing behind herself, separate from and unable to connect.

I know better than to pulse his name. I'm afraid of her burying me deeper, but he's the key, I try to tell her, hopeful for anything, even just a single thought of his blues, his voice, anything. You can't cry without him. We can't anything without him.

So, I do it. I beat his name into our veins, and Bella fulfills my fear instead of my hope. She swallows hard and holds air that I need, that our whole body is dependent on, violently tight in our throat.

It's a natural instinct for me to panic at first, but it's momentary. Bella holds her breath, and I'm helpless.

Once upon a time, I'd have protested such a punishment. I'd have beat faster in turn. I'd have almost attacked and demanded the oxygen I need for our lungs, but I don't. Not here. Not now. I know it wouldn't do any good. Bliss is so gone. She'll hold out until we black out if I fight her for him. I know. This fight is old and I know every step of it. They're numbered with as much terrible simplicity as one, two, three.

Try.

Fail.

Carry on.

Be merciful, I weep. Say death.

But she doesn't. She locks me into silence before she finally breathes again.

This is the hardest part of surviving.

The better she gets at living without, the more useless I become. The struggle to live in love's absence means forcing me into an unseeable, unhearable place, and Bliss is a contender. And deep down, deep inside, where only he has ever touched, where only he can reach, I'm voiceless and terrified, and slowly relinquishing the life she's banished me to.

.

.

.

Four more days have passed.

It's been a week and one day.

It's Halloween night, and we're alone, mostly.

He hasn't called or texted, and neither has she. She won't. He made his choice, and now he gets exactly nothing because we all know that exactly nothing hurts the very most.

Charlie and Renee are asleep and we're in the bath downstairs when Bella sinks into hot water up to her earlobes and closes our aching-to-cry eyes.

She breathes. She focuses on me. She sifts through our mind with blurry, anxious quickness, and I feel her listening, trying to hold onto my rhythm and I know suddenly – I know – she's going to give him to us. She's drained and weak and weary from living without. She needs, even just to think of him.

She ran this bath so that she could, privately and secretly.

Bliss exhales slowly. She stops sifting through memories and concentrates on the first one that's clear enough to make me skip.

It's his voice.

"Here."

It's only just a memory. It's a flimsy, feeble thing that pales in comparison, but I'm desperate for even that now. I'll take and love anything, anything, anything she'll grant me.

It's one word, but if I had lips, I would smile to the sky.

It's more of him then. I can see him walking toward us with a gift bag in his right hand, and if I had eyes, I'd blink to see him better. I'd open them wider in love, love, love...

It's Isabella's thirteenth birthday. She's sitting up in his bed, grinning like crazy as she opens the bag.

It's the smell of home and the feel of the softest cotton.

It's "Is it dumb that I gave it to you?" and him watching, looking, seeing us for just a moment longer before he turns around so she can take off her dress, and put on his sweater.

It's him holding his hand out for hers, and if I had wings, I'd flip and flutter and fly, fly fly.

It's fingers touching fingers until she falls asleep, and continuing to touch all through the night.

It's sleeping like nowhere else in the whole world, and waking up with his arm around us for the first time.

And then it's just like everything else.

It's gone.

Bella blinks and breathes, and braces herself, and if I had hands, I'd grip and grab and fight her. I'd cry with my eyes and beg with my lips. Please, please, please, don't take him from me.

Not yet.

I'm not done.

Please, not yet.

But it's over. She's closed herself to me, and fair isn't fair, but it's how we work.

The memory was taken too soon, but she gave to me.

So I give to her.

Slowly, so very carefully, I open just a little and let a few drops of the hurt I carry so deeply she can't even access it, into her bloodstream.

Bliss winces. She bends her knees and closes her eyes tighter. She chokes, but she breathes.

I beat faster. I give her the smallest bit more, and it's enough. She slips a weak cry, and it happens. Tears swell up and slip together under our twisted cooperation, sliding down so hot, her cheeks burn.

The pain I gave, a few aches from breaking, are there and then gone, just like the memory.

We're alone again, Bliss and I.

I don't have hands or lips, or eyes, but I cry just the same. I cry with her. Every beat is a tear, and every tear is a wish for what should never have been and what could never be anyway.

For him.

For love.

For home.

.

.

.

The next morning begins like every other since her birthday: Bella hurts before she opens her eyes.

She's been counting herself to sleep at night to avoid thinking of him. Anxiousness, absence, and the knowledge that everything is wrong keep me company while she rests, and when she wakes, every day, she wakes sore in the worst way: chosen over.

Drained cruelly close to dead, betrayed, and left behind.

Alone.

She blinks eyelids that feel like contusions open and closed again, not wanting to be awake, not wanting to live through this.

I beat. I can't help it.

Bella swallows, refusing to linger. She wills our muscles and bones into submission. She makes our eyelids lift and stay, and she pushes our legs out of bed and feet to the floor. She doesn't wait for our eyes or ears or lungs to adjust to the cold uncomfort of waking. She trades our soul aches for the fading pangs of hurt that so many parts of her still feel from holding him nine days ago.

She leans into the nearly-gone throbbing in each thigh with every step down the hall. She touches our tongue to the corner of our kiss-split mouth while she starts the shower. She backs against the wall and lets too-hot water cover blue-brown grip shapes on our sides and hips that still remember, and she lifts our left foot to the corner of the tub, opening, so that hot water can burn our barely still tender center.

I pulse with her, in harmony with our girl's self-inflicted furthering of our physical suffering. I want it too. I want all of the hurt to stay forever.

She washes. She dresses. She puts headphones on that cover both ears and turns the volume of Blindness so high up.

Ear drums wince. She turns it louder.

I'm lost in the process.

She sits down at her mirror and puts on her face for the world. She conceals purple dips and pink puffiness with ivory powder. She hides tired lines with light shimmer-shadow. She makes perseverance look youthful and real.

She's awake and alert on the outside, but inside she's indifferent, dead to thought and unmindful of anything that isn't part of putting this portrayal together.

She packs her backpack and goes downstairs. She turns the volume down a little, but doesn't take her headphones off as she grabs a granola bar from the cabinet and kisses Renee on the cheek. She doesn't keep the earphones on every morning, but it's Monday. Monday means school and having to face a best friend that isn't anymore.

Alice and Bliss don't yell or call names or ask pointless questions. They don't fight and they don't apologize. They don't really love or hate or speak at all. What's there to be said? It's messed up and unfair on too many levels, and underneath each one, Bella's still lying. She's still keeping truth in the dark.

Renee understands, or thinks she does, or really wants to, and is really trying. She gives Bella's empty left hand a small squeeze, and her heart, half of the one that made us, double beats. Love echoes pulmonary promises through their palm to palm contact, but goes unspoken. She doesn't want to push or pry any more than she already has.

Outside, November first air is freezing sharp on nose and cheeks. Little red vessels rush to the surface of our exposed skin, turning it pink. Our girl sniffs, and it reminds her of selfish love.

She pushes him from me and conscious thought just as quickly, tossing the granola bar to the passenger seat. She switches headphones to turned-up speakers and blares Guilty Filthy Soul once she's out of the driveway. On the street, I can't hear myself beat. I can't hear anything over "I'm running out of faith, be careful who you tell..."

Only when we get to the parking lot does she turn it down. She shuts the car off and breathes out, and for a second, everything is quiet and still. For a second, the chaos stops and it's just me and her.

I beat.

I beg.

I plead heedlessly with her to ditch school and go looking.

Call him.

Just think of him, just for a minute.

But she does what she does every day right here. She switches. She goes from blocking me out to bearing down. She cracks her window and takes all the bitter cold air that she can in through our nose and down to our chest, forcing our bruised ribs to expand and sore lungs to take and hold.

He held us so tightly on the dock, I remember, working like a whisper. He couldn't let go. You told him you couldn't breathe, and he still couldn't stop –

Bella inhales deeper, cutting me off. When I can't help it, when I can't fight her any longer because I need her to release her breath and give me more, I quiet. I surrender, and she swallows me into pitch dark purgatory. She locks me in cold disregard and tucks breakfast into a trash can on her way into school.

.

.

.

It's a few minutes after one in the morning.

School was hard. Seeing Alice is hard for too many reasons to count, never mind the fact that aside from everything it already is, she reminds Bella so much of him.

They didn't speak as they passed in the hall, but they didn't look away. The uncomfortable half-smile, half-nod they shared said so much, and nothing at all.

She can't be mad. How can either one be mad? It's just different, and awkward is so much worse than hurtful. Hurtful is at least manageable . Hurtful, we can do. Uncomfortable is new and much more difficult. It drains what meager strength Bella has, and frays her already uneasy nerves.

Charlie and Renee have been in bed since eleven or so. Bliss read with her mother after a dinner she forced down, and waited until both parents were surely resting before running a bath. We traded again, memory for hurt. She needed it. She'd been counting down the minutes to it since she pulled into the school parking lot just in time to see Alice, getting out of Pete's Caprice Classic black and white. The siren and decals were gone, but there was still a cage between the seats, and a spotlight near the mirror. He bought it at the police auction last week. He's not in high school anymore, but his girlfriend is, which means everybody knows everything there is to know about anything.

Kind of.

Sort of.

Every step took effort after seeing them together, easy and carefree in the light of day. Every minute was work. By the time we were finally alone under hot water tonight, Bella was bone-weary and consciousness-crippled to open up and let go.

She closed her eyes and covered them with her hands, and thought about dancing with him at prom. She thought about glowing in the dark, and "do you have any idea how hard it is not to kiss you when you smile like that?" . She thought about "let me show you how loved you are, " and open, hope-tinted, needful blue.

If I had roots, I'd have tangled in her thoughts and dug myself a place to stay.

But I don't.

I'm only a heart, and truthfully, I'm half of what I am. When Bliss cuts me off, I can't help giving in.

Knees to chest, forehead to knees, she cried for almost an hour. She only finally slowed and stopped when crying began to take effort, too. She realized when she did, that the water was the same temperature as she, and she was cold.

We're in her room now, getting ready for bed. She doesn't need music or intentional effort to quiet me here. I'm as hollow and weak as she after her cry. I'm gutted a tiny bit more irreversibly, just as she.

We're perishing, little by little by little.

Turquoise plaid pajama pants and a long sleeved light yellow shirt on, Bella steps from her closet to her side table. She turns on her lamp, out her light, and is folding down her blankets when I'm pulled hard and fast from solitary silence.

The pull is abrupt. More like a jerk. A sharp, all-consuming gulp.

It's everything.

He's here.

He's close.

I know it. Our fingers tremble and curl, and our lips tingle and part. Our arms ache while knees shake, and legs go completely weak. Our toes curve against the carpet as pupils swell and our ossicles strain to pull every sound from the air. Our butterflies take flight and our soul, tucked deeply between the walls of my four chambers, glows.

I don't mean to hurt Bliss, but I've come unhinged. I can't help it. I beat his name until our blood is singing it and I thrash wildly to get free.

Up through our throat.

Out our mouth.

Into his hands.

Bella swallows hard, keeping me down, keeping control. Her phone vibrates at the foot of her bed, not just once, but continuously. She looks for a second before she starts to walk to it, and she steps so slowly I want to scream.

His picture lights the screen: his face on the morning of her birthday. Her kiss-too-hard and cling-too-tightly marks are across his neck, and his sleepy grin is genuine.

Our lungs expand and our throat opens. Our bones yearn and all the tiny little hairs on the back of our neck stand up. Even the corners of our eyes sting with need.

Everything pains.

Her phone stops vibrating for a second, just to start up again.

He's here, I pound against our ribs, delirious with love's proximity. He's here. He's here.

But she's not listening. Bella's looking from her phone to the window and back again. She walks over so that our eyes and mind can face what I already know.

There's a boy one floor down, hood up, fighting with everything he has not to make a scene. He's at the side door she's kept locked every night since he left, lit by nothing but almost full Autumn moonlight. His back is to us, and his left hand is in his front pocket. His right is to his ear, under his hood, holding his phone.

He's gray on black, and he can't stand still for a second.

I ache. I twist. I cry.

She makes our feet step. She takes us from the window before he can turn and look up. A voicemail lights her phone, and she moves it to her desk. She sets the bright little link to him face up and sits down in her chair without any kind of acknowledgment.

Require as I do, there's not half a chance she'll answer, and I know it. She won't even red-button his calls or turn her phone off to diminish the number of rings he has to hear. She just sits, silently derailed, watching the seconds pass between all seven vibrations and the pause before the reconnect.

She watches one voicemail turn into two, then three, then four.

She checks them with her fingers barely wrapped around her phone, holding it out, inches from our left ear.

"Open the door..." He whispers under the wind. His voice is strong, but he's biting so much of it back, and the wind is loud. "Bella -"

He pulls the phone away, frustrated. For a few seconds, it's all wind.

"Bella, come open the fucking door, baby."

They go on like that, one after another after another. Pleas and demands resonate between gusts of wind and tightly clenched curse words. Threats and ultimatums are whispered violently with claims and counterclaims.

"Let me in, Bella. I swear to fucking God -"

She bites down on our bottom lip.

"I'm dying. You want me to die out here?"

She closes our eyes tightly.

"I'll set this fucking house on fire. You know I will. I don't give a fuck, baby. I'll burn you out. You know I'll do it."

He breathes heavily between mixed up phrases. He sniffs, and sniffs, and our ears don't sense it, but our mind swears it hears him grip the phone to near shards. Fright shivers our backbone, but Bella doesn't make a move.

"You're killing me, Bliss. You're fucking killing me." He sounds lost in the wind, and bound more than a mad man is.

I shake the curved bone bars of my cage.

Let him in, I cry and shriek and wail. Don't do this. He's here. He needs me. Let him in.

You're killing him.

But she doesn't.

He calls and calls. He warns and swears, but she gives nothing. He doesn't get her answer or her anger. He doesn't even get her thoughts when it's just her and I, unless she's at her very weakest. She gives him exactly, utterly nothing.

She sets the phone down after the fifth voicemail.

It's ice cold angry.

It's "baby..."

And "you're doing this."

And "selfish little liar."

It's "fucking open the door," and below freezing wind, and resentful breathing, and the weight of unworthy need that's far too immense for words.

He waits out the remaining minute and a half of the message, just as silent as she before it disconnects him.

Bella forces our little toes to uncurl, and brings our feet that hurt to step to the edge of her chair. She bends our knees that long to unbend and walk, under our chin. She watches as the seconds stretch into minutes between calls.

He doesn't leave another message.

She doesn't weep, but she wants to. Our stomach turns and our throat muscles twist. Our eyelids close and press and squeeze, and she silently begs him, everything, the whole world, stop, stop, stop.

I can't grant her tears now, though. He's here, and she won't let him in, and it's so hard to hear him over all the wind. I'm nine days, eight years, and a million miles past frantic. I'm beyond panicked. He's going to leave any second. I know it, and I haven't even gotten to hear his heart yet.

Bliss drops our lids slowly and concentrates hard on taking one steady inhale.

I'm racing too fast to pump enough blood into each beat, though, and it's making our breath short and our brain dizzy. I'm close to palpitations, and all she wants is calm.

But all I want is him.

Six minutes scrape by. Bella rests our throbbing left temple on our brittle left kneecap, and presses both palms over our so-sore sternum. She drops our aching eyelids and presses the heels of both hands, pushing pressure right into my septum.

I struggle.

I flare up and push back. I clamor and pulse. I howl like the beast she's made of me for mercy, compassion, forgiveness.

His.

My own.

Him.

Her phone doesn't ring again, and she doesn't let up, and when I feel him turn away, I don't let her miss it. I burn it against her. I split open cuts in my tissue that are shaped like back-scratches from another. I force open mostly-healed scars that he cut into me years ago, the first time he brought us to tears. I burden our shoulders and try to break Bella's cold resolve with "I wasn't with Bree."

"I've never been with Mixie or Charlotte."

"I wouldn't lie to you."

I don't have them, but I bear arms. I bear teeth and knuckle and raw hurt against her. I make her feel all of it.

Everything.

Anything.

Hate him.

Hate him if you need to, but call him back here.

I flood her with savage, ruthless and unrelenting beats, and it's enough to make her move back to the window. He doesn't look up, but even if he did, she's standing enough to the side of it that she can see without being seen.

I fight harder. I beat first-time fast, back seat-crazy, and unlocking-the-front-door-in-a-thunderstorm-after-the-first-time-he-left hard. I beat more forcibly than I maybe ever have, praying at the top of our lungs for her to lift the glass that separates us.

But she stifles me with a swallow. She refuses me air and curves our fingers that want nothing more than to open her window, into fists so tight our knuckles ignite. She locks our entire skeleton still as our boy turns from his pacing and head shaking. Taking the cigarette from his lips to his right hand, he bends his right leg. He kicks the door so hard the porch beams quake and the glass between us vibrates.

The dogs next door start barking and don't stop. Fear chills our blood.

Down the hall, Charlie's sitting up in bed, Renee next to him. Hand in hand, their hearts' confusion and distress does nothing to calm me.

Bella's about to cross her floor to turn her light out and tuck us under covers, but not before she watches love turn one more time.

Hood up, back to us again, Edward doesn't run or hide or make any attempt to hurry carefully away. He walks, right through the yard, flicking his cigarette in the grass as he goes.

.

.

.

We wake as alone as we blacked out.

Bella's at the foot of her bed, curled in a fetal shape, cold and uncovered around me. Her phone alarm is going off, face down across the room.

She remembers throwing it.

I remember him.

She blinks our tired eyes wide open, pressing our painfully empty hands into the bed to push herself up.

I'm tender and heavy, and my work is spiteful.

I seethe beats.

She ignores me.

She showers, even though she bathed last night. She pulls clothes on and twists red blonde into a loose side braid over our left shoulder. She covers our ears with headphones and turns Kiss Off all the way up.

She takes her earphones off to choke down whole grain toast and honey, and she talks with her mother about classes, and the weather, and "did you sleep okay last night?"

Renee's only child looks up to find her mom looking at her with eyes that are hopeful and loving, but uncertain and concerned. Bliss shrugs, taking a bite of bread that our taste buds hate and our stomach tries to deny.

She swallows stubbornly.

"Yeah," she replies with practiced ease.

Even if I didn't, so what? she thinks. I'm best-friendless. Do we need to talk about it some more? And so what if some punk came by and kicked the house? Doesn't mean I know him...

If I had a head, I would shake it.

If I had middle fingers, I'd show them both to her.

I'm twisted hot in anger. If I had teeth, I'd snap them at Bliss for keeping Edward and his heart from me, for keeping love we need to breathe a secret.

"Why?" Bella asks, forcing a drink of milk with a so perfectly curious and relaxed expression.

Renee shakes her head a little. She presses her lips together in the smallest smile and reaches, tucking hair none of us realized was loose behind our girl's right ear. Bella fights the want in every muscle to pull back, scream out loud, and turn the kitchen table over into a million pieces.

"I just worry is all," her mother says, her voice kind and patient around her honesty. Her eyes study, and we know they notice lost weight and carefully covered purple circles.

"I love you. You can tell me anything, you know. We can talk about anything."

"I know, Mom." It comes out quicker than she means for it to. She meets Renee's eyes and apologizes with a smallest smile of her own before she stands. Grabbing the apple next to her milk, she drops it in the side pocket of her acid-washed Jansport. "Thanks," she offers softly.

She exchanges 'I love you's and 'have a good day' wishes through wanting to curse and cut and cry. She drowns me out with Lust for Life and tosses the apple into the garbage on her way into school.

In class, she concentrates solely on the subject matter. At lunch, with Rose and Leah, she keeps up with who they know her to be. She plays it cool. In the halls, she pretends better than the best of them.

She has surviving down to a science.

The only part that's kind of, sort of harder than seeing Alice, is being seen by Garrett. I don't flutter or fly. Our fingers are curious sometimes, sometimes even our lips are, but I don't feel any differently around him than I do around any other person that doesn't belong to us.

But our composure does.

Our silent suffering does. Our deeply tucked, so buried need just to be seen and heard, sees and hears him, and wants to lean when he is near. His heart doesn't talk to me, but I know it's good. I know he is good. He's truly honest-to-goodness.

"Hey," he says with a smile, catching up with Bella on her way out of AP sociology and on his way out of sculpture. He has on a grayish-blue sherpa lined hoodie, unzipped, and taupish-white clay stains on the knees of his jeans.

His pupils dilate. His steps lighten. His fingers twitch and curve the slightest bit tighter around his backpack straps when he sees her, but there's no change in his pulse. Even as she falls into step next to him, his heart says nothing.

"Hey." She smiles too. It's not as deep as his, but it's not completely contrived. I'm still buried and ignored; she's still this built-version of herself, but just a tiny bit, just the smallest fraction of a little, she eases. She lets go of some of the pressure behind our eyes and relaxes some of the tension in our shoulders. She softens the strained stiffness in our neck and jaw as she slips our right arm through the offered open bend of his left.

It's not much, maybe half a degree, but his body temperature rises. I feel it. I hear his lungs expand to breathe better and feel his nearly straight as an arrow spine line all the way up. He stands taller. His kindness, consideration and stability are discernible, but his heart simply lubs and dubs.

It's not home, but there is comfort in this. It's familiar to our senses and safe for our nerves, and consistent at every turn. It's a kind of comfort to so many parts of her as they walk arm in arm, but I still ache. I still yearn and miss and belong. I still wane, and not a single bit of it lessens for literate and stylish.

I'm long term plans based on mistakes.

I'm what living like this does.

I'm a wishful thinker, and I beat solely for the boy who leaves the lights down low so we know he means business. While the rest of our girl finds some small semblance of solace in Garrett, sort of like she does when she sleeps, I keep us going.

.

.

.

Three more days go by.

She puts on acts and pretends to eat. She blocks me out and makes like I don't exist. She lies to her parents, fabricates with her friends, avoids Alice, leans on Garrett, fakes okay, and hides the truth.

She hasn't cried since Monday night, before he showed. She hasn't opened up and let me breathe in three days.

I'm contentious, but I'm weary. I keep our blood flowing, but it's thinner than it should be. I'm not only starving for him, but simple acknowledgment now, too.

How long can I really go without the light of day before I waste away completely?

I don't want to find out.

I want her to listen.

I want her to trust me. If she trusted me, none of this would have happened, not like this. If she'd have just let us love when that was all we wanted, if she'd have not let our mind and conscience and fear get in love's way, we'd be exactly where we should be tonight.

Which is anywhere with him.

Heart to heart.

That's how we're supposed to be. Always.

It's a few minutes after two in the morning now. Bella's night lamp is on, but she's counted herself out. While our girl sleeps and doesn't dream, I continue to work. She fills our lungs with air and I send our life force to them. I keep us breathing, and am kept company by nothing but my own woeful sounds.

She breathes.

I work.

And I feel him almost a full minute before our ears register the low roll of the Lincoln and the loud clap of his car door. His steps from the street to the sidewalk are steady with intent, and if I had toes, I'd be on them.

I hammer against our ribs and pummel cool blood through our drowsy veins. Bella's phone vibrates on her night stand at the same time, and she wakes with a sharp start. She closes her hands around it, quieting the sound and covering his too-bright-for-our-tired-eyes face.

She rubs our eyes and coughs. She silences his call.

She doesn't hear it, but one floor down he turns the handle. He tries, but it's locked. She makes sure it is every night, before she comes up here.

I fight. I struggle in the dark, blind and banished and terrified she's going to do it again. She's going to turn her back on us – on him and me – again.

She sits up in bed, bending legs that burn to run downstairs underneath her too-light weight. His second call goes unanswered while she listens to his first message.

"Let me in, B," he says, above a whisper. She can hear him moving, pacing maybe, and she can hear the wind. His voice is rough, thick in his throat like he hasn't used it all day, maybe longer. "You said I'd never be without you. You'd never take yourself from me, remember?"

All ten of our fingers clench, and she pulls the phone away, resisting the urge to throw it and scream until our whole body gives out.

He calls again.

And again.

Forever, I remind her desperately. You said forever. You said more than life. I endeavor with everything I'm made of to overwhelm and drown every fraction of us with soul-betrothed beats. You told him he belongs here. He belongs right here.

I push and pulse and throb our blood through our arms and legs, through our fingers and toes until our tips pound with aching life. I force pressure with my rhythm until our vision blurs and our hearing clouds, and our brain vibrates my cry.

Phone still vibrating in her left hand, Bliss pushes her blankets back and stands, not still for a second before she walks to her window. He looks up the second she's there, and she doesn't bother to hide, and he's ours, but he's so, so, so lost.

His eyes are sunken and bleak and dangerously deficient. His lips are pressed together in tight instability, and his chest rises and falls too quickly under his sweatshirt. She stares down, phone in her hand, and he stares up, phone still pressed to his ear under his hood. His look communicates more than he can say with words. It's a threat. It's a plea for help. It's a right demanded.

When her voicemail picks up this time, he doesn't speak. He takes his phone from his ear and pockets it.

He looks.

And she looks.

And she walks.

She gives him our turned back and a dropped curtain. She shuts off her light and gives him her dark, and I panic shamelessly in the hole she's buried me in.

While she sits on the edge of her bed and listens, our arms ache. Our marrow boils and pops, and our bones burn. Our joints wail and our muscles screech. Our intestines twist, twist, twist and tighten, and try to turn themselves inside-out. Our hands make fists with little fingernail-cut and bleeding palms, and our skin cries, and cries, and cries for his.

I double and triple and quadruple my beats.

She ignores. She denies and punishes and helps slowly kill. And I can feel him turn. I can hear his empty hands close and open and close tighter as he walks away.

Then I hear it.

It's so faint under the wind. Our ears don't pick it up, but I do.

His heart.

It's like an echo of an echo of a breath that hurts, and it's seeking me.

Love?

It's cutting tears.

Love?

It's calling home.

Love?

Our weary soul feels its worth, and rejoices. I fall on knees I don't even have.

But then Bliss closes our eyes in sin, in error, and I lose everything.

I scream and weep hysterically. I scrape and dig against our bones, and I swear against God.

I curse her.

I hate her.

I beg her.

Please, please, please.

Don't do this. Please, don't do this. Don't fucking do this.

She closes our eyes tighter. Our lids pinch. They suffer under her effort.

Let go. Let go. Let go, she pleads in turn. Let go.

I push, and she pushes back. I drop beats like bombs while she sheds blood from our palms. I rise up, and she lays waste, and in the middle of all of it, outside, right in the driveway, glass smashes and breaks.

Our tortured lids fly open and our forced fingers immediately undig themselves from open-wet-red skin. The neighbor's dogs go insane, and there's another glass-shatter sound.

I, and every other part of our girl, am completely open and alert. And we're up. We're moving. We don't have any idea what to do, but stillness is impossible.

We make it downstairs just in time to see him through the lace curtains that hang in front of the two living room windows.

It hurts to breathe. It pierces. It stings.

Baseball bat gripped tightly in his left hand, he opens the door of the Continental with his right and slips in without even a glance over his shoulder.

He doesn't peel out.

He doesn't speed off.

He just starts the car, rounding the wheel with one hand and drives, not half a second before Charlie's rushing down the stairs.

Gray and black hair sleep-pushed every which way, he unbolts the front door without a bit of hesitation, and goes outside in nothing but a white tee-shirt, boxers and socks, with a Glock nineteen aimed before Bliss can even blink.

She can't.

She's stunned.

I'm stunned.

We will never forget this.

Ever.

From shifting in his sleep, Charlie's left sock is pushed a little further down than his right. His shoulders are squared and his heart rate is accelerated, but steady. He's not anxious or afraid. He's natural like this, guarding without a blink of doubt. He's prepared and willing to go to any extreme to safe keep love.

And it reminds every part of us of him.

"Bliss, what are you doing?" Renee pulls her from the window, into her arms, out of the room, and around the corner, into the kitchen. There's fear in her hushed-up voice that we have never heard.

Her mother's arms protect, and her hands hold. Her breathing is shallow and her heart is racing. She's holding her daughter to it with every instinct and ounce of strength she has.

Bella holds on, not because she needs to, but because she can't really let go. Our mind and composure are just as shocked and shaken up as I am. It takes us a few minutes or so to become calm while Charlie walks around the house. He doesn't come back inside until he's certain everything is secure.

"It's okay," he calls from the living room. The heavy sound of his gun being set on the side table next to the door resonates in our ears and chills our anxious nerves.

Bella swallows. Twice. She stands with her mom and follows her around the corner. She gags me, and hides our palms under long sleeves, shutting truth down, down, down. She pretends to be a different kind of scared and confused, the kind her parents expect her to be.

"What happened? What was it?" Renee asks, keeping constant contact with Bella. She strokes our hair and rubs our back. She smoothes the tee-shirt we're wearing and strokes our arm.

"Tail lights," Charlie says, shaking his head. "Somebody was driving off when I opened the door, but I couldn't make out the plates or the car." He's looking at Renee. Only at Renee. He takes her hand, gently disconnecting her from Bliss.

Mother and daughter's eyebrows wrinkle. I don't understand, and neither do they.

Our stomach dips, flipping over and over with our worries and our want to know everything. Our eyes dart and search for explanations.

"Just come out here," husband says to wife, his tone safety assuring as he leads her toward the door, leaving his gun.

But Bliss won't be disregarded, and I'm grateful. I don't want to not know either... I need to know.

"What?" she asks, stepping forward, following. "What is it?"

Renee turns, giving her a stay put glance, and Charlie finally looks at her. His eyes are dark with the sleep he was just pulled from, but so open, selflessly devoted and carefully, actively shielding.

"Alright." It's all he says before he turns, giving us permission to follow and see with just that one word.

Outside, the wind is cold and unrelenting, and what we see - the sight of the sound we heard upstairs - is momentarily stunning.

We heard the glass break. We saw the bat in his hand. We could have guessed, but we didn't know.

Renee gasps and covers her mouth with the hand that's not on the small of our back. Charlie scans the yard with his arm around her, and the wind whips strands of our hair against our stinging cheeks.

There's little slivers and shards of smashed glass glittering in the porch light that shines on the driveway. Both of the headlights on Bella's Rabbit are busted out, and I know I shouldn't, I know she'll punish me for it, but I can't help it. I thrum his name into our blood like a victory march, because I know.

He'll be back.

.

.

.

Ever-against me, it didn't take much prompting on Bella's part to convince Renee to have an alarm system put in the house. Just mentioning it the next morning was more than enough.

She didn't know her parents had already talked about it, though, after everyone went back to bed. After they'd asked her if she knew anyone that would do something like that. After they'd kissed our head and walked her back to her room. After Charlie's gun was tucked away, and Renee's heart calmed down.

They'd have to order her new headlights since there was nowhere to get Volkswagen parts in Forks. It would be fine; it would just take a while, and she wouldn't be able to drive at night, or in the rain. Renee tried to insist on driving her to school, but Bliss refused with the perfect amount of hurt, persistence and backbone.

"It's like, six miles away. Please, don't make me be the only senior that's riding with her parents. Just to school and back... It's not like I have anything else to do."

So they did. They let her drive herself, which was good. Broken lights were the least of our girl's worries, but she didn't need a ride to school on top of everything else.

Our tired bones.

Our overworked nerves.

Our drained patience and ready to give out at any second facade.

My wide-open wounds and terrible homesickness and miserable, bitter work.

And her constant striving to conceal it all.

Walking the halls and facing everyone was more than enough. Keeping him from our thoughts and concentrating on any and everything else required total control today. Especially after leaving lunch.

On our way back to French class, stepping with perfected ease, alone because Rose was home sick with the flu, streaks of pink and green and purple catch our peripheral vision. We don't stop or stare, but right there, out the double doors, plain to see in the light of day, Pete's sitting outside on the concrete steps with Alice.

He shouldn't be on school property. Lunch hour or not, he's not a student and he's not allowed, but they're being quiet, and no one's apparently cared to tell anyone.

They both have their hoods up and Alice has fingerless gloves on. Violet and teal are blowing out from under black cotton, and they're both laughing. There's a bottle of Gatorade between them and a jar of peanut butter. Pete's holding a spoon and she's holding an apple, and they're trading bites, back and forth.

When she tilts her head back and laughs with her whole body, just like her brother, I wince.

Bella looks away.

Practiced-perfect steps take twice the effort they did ten seconds ago. Our head feels impossible to hold up, and not breaking down into tears right here on hallway tiles demands every modicum of self-control we have, because we could.

She could cry here.

Right here.

Right now.

She wants to.

I want her to.

But we're suddenly not alone, and the unexpected presence contorts our constitution and makes me stare daggers I wish I had.

"Hey," Ben Cheney says with a too-sly smile, falling out of step with his friends and into step next to our girl. "What's up?"

Our intuition shakes its head. Our fingers press into skinny jean pockets and denim stings our wounded palms. Our lips close and don't want to open, not even to say hi, but she makes them. She makes us pretend to be polite.

"Hi," Bella replies with a glance, making our mouth curve up the slightest bit at the corners at Jake Black's best friend.

Ben's heart beats too hard. It pumps blood to places she has no interest in as he licks lips she's never considered.

"What are you doing tonight?" he asks, nodding his head when one of his friends turns around and calls for him.

She shrugs our shoulders, and they groan in protest. The movement itself hurts, and the weight of the lie - the misconception she's putting on when she knows exactly what we're doing tonight - is painful.

Tell him, I urge her. Tell him we're going to wait until everyone's asleep and then make a twisted trade. We're going to ignore true love. We're going curl into a pathetic little ball and try like hell to shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from world-wearied flesh.

Tell him.

"I don't know," she says instead, keeping our eyes straight ahead. "Why?"

"I'm having some people over." He pauses. His smile twitches, but he keeps it cool. He glances down at Bella. She's listening, but she doesn't look up. "Molly," he continues, but the name doesn't ring a bell in our memory. "We're going down to First Beach."

Isabella swallows, digging our hands deeper into our pockets to give our mind pain to focus on instead of the almost all-consuming want to run to the bathroom, lock the door, and cry until we're blind.

"Isn't it a little cold for the beach?" she asks. Our palms sting. The corners of our eyes water.

I hate him.

I hate her.

I want love.

Ben laughs a little. We're approaching the French classroom, and I'm grateful. It's not the bathroom. We won't cry, but I don't care. I just want to be quiet and away.

"She'll keep you warm," he replies, stopping as our feet turn. Bella lifts our eyes to his, confused by what he means before we walk in. She remembers Edward making Jake bleed at the beach. She remembers him telling her to leave his house. She misses passionate protection, and I beat stronger for the memory of it.

"Call me, Bliss," Ben tells her before smiling, turning, and walking.

I would never. Not even for a second. But our girl - our half-alive, war-torn, shadow-of-who-she-actually-is girl - she thinks about it. It's only for a second on her way from the door to her seat, but she does. She thinks about what going might cause.

If I could, I'd shake her.

But I can't.

So I do the next most effective thing I can.

I remind her what we were doing before tall, curly-blonde and ridiculously indiscreet walked up. I pulse Alice's name into our veins and make Bella remember shared laughter at lunch, and open-for-all-to-see affection.

Our nose burns. Our throat closes up. Our tear ducts swell and ache and push.

I make the rest of us hurt like I hurt. I make her force our focus.

There's no winner in this, no victory in war. We're a constant collective casualty. We're spoils, and there's less of us left for love with every passing minute.

.

.

.

French class drags. So does Calculus.

Halfway through British Lit, thirty six minutes until the final bell of the day, we still can't shake the aching need to break down.

It's not fair, Bliss thinks over and over. They both lied and they still got what they wanted. They snuck and cheated and misled, and here they are.

Together.

Happy.

Allowed.

She torments me intentionally, like this is my fault.

She thinks about his right foot against our left under the breakfast table while Alice blows bubbles in her chocolate milk. She thinks about belly buttons and stolen white milk and locker notes. She remembers you look good enough to eat, princess pie and wishes he would have. She wishes so hard he'd have swallowed her whole four years ago so she wouldn't have to feel this.

Hopeless.

Helpless.

Not strong enough.

Not good enough.

Never enough.

Mad out of our mind and sorrowful down to our sinew.

Stuck and gutted and fucked in love.

Bliss rubs our eyes and leans our heavy head on the heel of our left hand. She half listens to her teacher talk about Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience and half-thinks about how she can't go home. It'll be too inexecutable to be away from all these people that require her fake alrightness, to face unconditionally loving and so-questioning eyes, and to be so near to a room they've secret-kept in, and not fall to cracked-up pieces.

So after class, she texts Renee and promises to be home before dark.

She goes to the school's library and spreads her books out. She opens notes and uncaps a marker, and tries her hardest to study through me and missing and hurting. She concentrates on William Blake, and breathing, and being still while our temples, cheeks and knees all miss soft kisses. She scribbles and highlights and memorizes stanzas while our wrists and collarbones and chest all miss his teeth.

Fading bite marks over where I pulse and plead and am ignored, warm with yearning. They sting heat until they feel like they're glowing, and Bliss has to set her pen down and press our crescent-cut-up hand over them. Over me.

It's comforting in a way, the pressure. It hurts. She's doing it to shut us up, but it's acknowledgment. It's her showing us we're real. We're not gone yet.

It's enough to make her sit back and exhale steadily. The clock on the wall across from us says ten 'til six, and when she looks around, there's nobody left in the wide open room save for her and the librarian. It's almost three hours after the last bell on a Friday; why would there be?

Worn down and mewed up to our heaviness, and remembering to be home before dark, Bella packs her bag up and makes her way to her locker. She grabs her cream pea coat and fastens all of the toggles. She puts the hood up, bracing herself for the cold wind she knows is waiting. With our right hand around her keys, and both of them dug deep into her coat pockets, wishing she'd have remembered mittens, she opens the door with our arm and steps outside.

Sure enough, early November wind greets our face like a slap. Bella nestles our chin and jaw down into the top of her coat, and step, step, steps down the concrete stairs, nothing on our mind but getting into the car and out of the cold until I feel him.

Before we turn the corner of the building and enter the back parking lot, I hear his heart, steadily humming my name in the frostbiting air.

Our legs almost give out from under us. Our diaphragm expands to accommodate the chaos in our respiratory system, and our eyes fasten.

He's there, leaning against the front of the Lincoln, which is parked right next to her Rabbit some twenty steps away. His sunglasses are absent and his black hat is up high and back, not hiding his thin face or his blackheart eyes that are every bit as locked as ours. Hands we long for are loose in the edges of his gray pullover hoodie pocket, and legs we miss between our own are long in dark slim straights. His black and white Vans are tied and stock still.

He doesn't move an inch, and as much as Bliss wants our feet to freeze, we keep walking.

Love, his heart calls through the wind, needing, reaching. Love?

Love, I call back, assuring and needing and reaching too. Love.

Our arms beg to stretch out and our jaw aches to unclench. Our lips tingle and our butterflies go crazy and our soul hums. Our whole body feels pulled to lean and open and give, but Bliss resists all of it. She looks away and bites our tongue, and she tries not to even breathe as we approach him.

Our lungs fight back, though. They crave vanilla and spearmint and smoke almost just as much as I do.

It's only then, once she's looked away, that she notices what he's done.

What Pete had to have helped him do:

Two shiny new headlights have replaced broken empty spots.

If I could grin, it would curve all the way up into steel gray clouds.

Bella rolls our eyes, opening her door and throwing her backpack into the passenger seat. She thinks about getting in and driving off without a word. So, I beat fearfully, direly, deliriously.

Don't. Don't. Don't.

Leaving her door open, keeping us half behind it, she turns around.

He's turned to face us, but he hasn't moved much otherwise. She looks around the parking lot. She looks him up and down.

Skinny.

Sky high.

So unwell.

She secures our eyes to his dope-stretched pupils and looks until our lids hurt with want to blink, and every cell inside us is feverishly homesick. She looks until I feel more alive than I have in too long and then she shoots seventeen unlit arrows straight through me.

One for every candle she never blew out, because he never came back.

"My dad almost shot you," she says, crossing our arms over me, squelching the song I'm trying to sing to our soul's run-ragged, overburdened and so lonesome heart.

Edward licks his lips before he speaks, not lifting his eyes from our lock. Desperation disguised as carelessness, charading as courage, pretending to be cocky keeps his posture straight and his eyes impervious. "Let me be put to death," he replies unflinchingly.

Bliss scoffs and sneers and closes our eyes. Embittered and instantly incensed, she uncrosses our arms and grips the cold metal of the car door, turning to get in.

"I need to see you," he implores, shifting and pressing with only his voice. Its pitch is compelling, but its undertones are empty, starving.

But she doesn't hear it like I do. All she hears is what he said, and our hurt feelings are so vindictive they use his words like a match to set the world on fire.

Letting go of her door, she opens our lids wide and points our pupils like weapons.

"Open your eyes!" she shouts, undoing her scarf and pulling her coat apart. Our hair whips across our cheeks and the cold wind pierces our skin with a million tiny needles as she exposes our neck.

Look at me, she screams without a word, baring our frame that her clothes no longer hug, but hang from.

It's not bad. We're not gaunt, but we're not ourself. We're waning.

Look, she demands with our eyes, showing him purple circles and blushless skin. See me.

She heaves breaths while she watches him take us in. She aims the effects of his choices at him and stares hard while his heart bleeds my name in apology and regret and mourning.

I take advantage of the violently cold uncovering and beat his name louder while I'm able, infusing it into the wind between us with all the promises and assurance I can.

Edward swallows. His eyes come up from our middle, back to our eyes, and his make-believe ease is struggling. We can see it in his black, and our girl doesn't skip the chance to fire. She reaches unhesitantly with our right hand and tugs the side of her shirt away from our neck, exposing collarbones that have never been so visible as they are here, today.

He looks.

He sees.

And just like Bliss knew it would, his front slips off and blows away with the wind. He swallows. His heart winces and cuts a drawn out beat.

He doesn't blink, though. He doesn't even take another breath. His lungs surrender to his heart and he stretches his right hand for our left.

Which she pulls out of reach.

I rattle my cage, frantic to shatter it while in a matter of seconds Bella turns, opens her door all the way and climbs inside.

Edward's heart clamors and cries out.

Love?

It screams like a cursed lover at the stars.

Love?

I try to pull blood instead of pushing as Bella turns the key in the ignition. She chokes out loud, but doesn't stop. Overfilled tears of pure physical hurt with nowhere to go but out, flood from our eyes. Born behind our lids, they slide down our cheeks with a single life span of a few seconds and with their one breath, before they go to die on her jeans, they pray for the heart she's shutting out in the cold.

They're his, I bawl at her. Those are his tears. Don't keep them from him. Stop keeping us from him.

I pull harder at our blood, struggling against my nature, fighting with everything I have to make her stop. Veins all throughout our body shriek for mercy, but I grant none as she shifts gears and turns the wheel. I try to pull harder, tighter.

She drives away, and I fight like hell. She can barely see through our tears, but I don't stop.

I don't care.

She drives and drives, around home and away from it. Even though we know she has to return there, she can't stop crying.

I don't ease. I constrict my atria and try squeeze my ventricles closed. I make our lungs and limbs and every cell suffer. I make our body burn and beg, and I don't care.

Not about her parents that will interrogate and scrutinize if she's out too late.

Not about police that may stop her if she doesn't slow down or drive straighter.

Not about the accident that might crash between her and another car if she doesn't get a grip.

None of it daunts me. Not even a little bit.

But the downstairs bathroom after midnight, hiding in hot water and cutting me with memories just so she can have this - feeling, pain, right here - more than intimidates me. I can't go back to that. I refuse. Not when he was right there, ready and willing and needy to give us the solace she seeks. And he can give it like I can't, so much better than I can.

Her phone rings. It's dark out. Renee's worrying.

Bella pulls over at the end of her street. She has to stop crying. She has to pull our shit together, and I know it, but I can't.

She sobs out loud. She hits the steering wheel the way she's seen him do. She digs the heels of our hands into our eyes and pushes our palms into our chest.

Stop, stop, stop, fucking stop, she demands.

And as much as I don't want to, as uncompromising as my fight is, it's completely hopeless when she takes a breath and holds it.

And holds it.

And holds it until our lungs compress and our vision blurs, narrowing our sight into a dark gray tunnel, and I have no choice. How much or how fiercely I fight is inconsequential.

Her control prevails, every bit as unavoidable as death itself.

.

.

.

Worn-weak and debilitated from my dissension, I'm half-passed away when I feel him.

Just as drained, but more vigilant than I can be at this point in our war, Bella is awake and waiting.

Helpless to hide our puffy, red-rimmed eyes, she blamed them on her former best friend when her mother asked, and Bella fell into open arms when she offered. Her cries were lies, but she cried them anyway, too far up agony's creek to hide or hinder them. She wept herself weary on her mother's lap, and rested more than slept on the couch with her.

Assuring Renee she was fine and just wanted her bed when she woke some two hours later, she came upstairs alone and closed her door.

But before all of that, after she parked her car and exhaled a breath that raked the inside of our throat, she entered through the side door and left it unlocked when she turned to her mother, who was too concerned with Bella's inconsolability to take any notice.

We felt guilt between saying goodnight and climbing the stairs. We felt wrong for misleading and stealing advantage of complete and unconditional care, but not enough to go back down and secure the lock. And the moment we felt his nearness, every drop of remorse dissipated anyway.

I hear his hand wrap around the handle and turn before the edge of the door brushes along its frame, opening. I hear it close, and then I hear discreet, deliberate steps, disciplined breaths, and desperately quick, so-devoted beats.

I am so thankful Charlie hasn't installed an alarm system yet.

I quake sluggishly. Each contraction aches to relax in diastole, but I keep working. I can't help it, any more than I can help fluttering at his approach, even though the much wanted and welcome enlivening tortures my wounded valves and so-sore chambers.

Curled on our side in the middle of her bed, Bella sits up just before he turns the handle. She blinks. It's hard to breathe. Tears well up uncontrollably.

Our body is beyond fatigued from my assault, but exhaustion doesn't stop our flesh from kindling a degree warmer at the sight of him. It doesn't keep our sinew from shivering, or our tendons from tensing, or our fingers from curling in her blankets with need to reach.

In the three seconds it takes him to cross four strides, more needs and feelings than I can even begin to process tremor through our circulatory system.

Joy.

Abatement.

Longing.

Fear.

Shame.

Urgency.

Pain.

So much pain.

And the moment he reaches and touches, all of it intensifies, and I cannot for anything remember the last time we felt this alive.

Pulling with his hands and gathering with his arms just as we pull and gather with our own, he drops to his knees as we rise to ours, and we fall together. Grasping. Clinging. Curving around, holding on, pressing completely, utterly, entirely against.

It's unreal to be comforted by something so unsettling.

No one, nothing, anywhere, ever, has harmed us as deeply or unmitigatedly as he has, but his touch calms. His hold soothes and comforts. He's damaged us forever, but there's nothing we want more sincerely, in the whole world, in all of life, than to be held by him.

Our eyes leak.

His thumbs find and take.

Our lungs gasp and struggle.

His palm covers and consoles.

Our arms circle and so do his, and we hold, and hold, and hold without a word.

No apologies.

Or threats.

Or requests or assurances or blame-trading. Just clutching tightly, adhering with every suffering muscle we have all through the night.

She sleeps, eventually. He doesn't. The drugs don't let him, but he finds a kind of rest in our arms, assuagement in our fingers curled in the hair on the back of his neck and our face buried in the bend of his shoulder. Our sleepy breathing evens out his own while he slides his fingers through our hair and strokes his thumb along our temple and cheek and ear.

In their silence, while she sleeps and he tenderly recommits to memory every color, every curve, every little clench of our fingers and legs and lungs, we - his heart and I - never quiet.

Love, his pulse whispers over and over, found and safe and unceasingly grateful.

Love, I whisper back, in harmony and adoration and deliverance.

Love.

Love.

.

.

.

He breaks himself from us before sunup.

I fight the disconnect at first, instinctively, but I know. I know just like our mind and the rest of our girl, that we'll see and breathe and hold him again soon. We went too long without, and the alleviation that only his contact can offer is too cogent for even her to deny.

After she showers, dresses, and guiltlessly lies to her mother that Garrett fixed her headlights, she tells her she's going to spend the day with him.

And the night with Leah.

And goes instead, with a pear she actually eats while she drives, to the dock.

She doesn't blare music.

She doesn't get out.

She tosses the core from her window and pulls her phone from her pocket.

I'm here. she texts, bending our legs up, between our chest and the steering while she waits.

He doesn't reply, but pulls in next to us not half an hour later.

We leave her car for the front seat of the Continental.

The sky outside is completely clouded over, but sunglasses hide our eyes and his.

Love, his heart whispers, while his hand reaches and ours presses and curves and holds fast to it.

Love. Love. Love.

Love, I sigh back while we lean, and he drives, and both of us cling.

Love.

.

.

.

I pump nervously when we turn onto streets that lead to his house. Bella lifts our head from his shoulder. She's wary, less comfortable knowing we're headed there than she was having no clue where we were going.

"They're at a charity banquet in Tacoma," he says hollowly, palming the inside of our left thigh, pressing us closer. "Your secret's safe."

There's spite in his voice, and begrudging that stings wounds that haven't even began to heal.

"Ours," she bites back, remembering her birthday and his refusal to come out with the truth when she wanted. "Our secret."

Not the same, I tell her. Not the same and you know it.

Edward shakes his head as he turns the wheel with his free hand. "No," he disagrees.

Love, we whisper back and forth while they sit in silent contention. Love.

His parents' house is empty when we pull up and park in the driveway. We slide out his door after him and hold hands on the way inside. Our throat aches with the weight of everything going unsaid, but our hand presses tightly to his and our fingers curl relentlessly.

What could be said?

And why?

What would it even matter?

We're more impossible, more irreconcilable, more absurd and more meant to be than we've ever been. We're further helpless and deeper inevitable than we had any idea we could be. But we're here, and no amount or combination of words in any language can change what's come before or where we're headed.

Behind his closed and locked bedroom door, we take our coats and boots off in just as much silence as we climbed the stairs in. The curtains are drawn, and even though we haven't been here in weeks to know how, everything in his room looks untouched, like he hasn't been here in just as long.

We slip under his blankets fully dressed and fold together in equal parts desolation and love.

His thumbs trace the cuts on our palms.

Our fingers count his ribs too easily over his tee-shirt.

Hours pass.

Sleep comes and goes.

Alice pulls up and spends some time in her own room before leaving again, passing his door both times without a word.

More hours pass.

Our rest is deeper than his coke-sleep, but he drifts, too. We spend all day in his bed, and when night falls, we wake just to shift. Just to go to the bathroom. Just to slip out of denim and curl closer, and sleep more.

A little before five in the morning, while the bodies that carry us finally, finally, finally slip and fall into synchronized deep sleep, we're free to whisper easily. And I hear his heart clearly for the first time in far too long.

It's here. It's with me now. It's comforted and safe in this place, in this moment, but it's fighting tears. Its rhythm is weaker than I've ever heard it. Systole takes too much effort and every beat feels like a bruise.

It's dying.

His addiction is a closed hand around his heart, muffling it.

Killing it.

Bella shifts in her sleep, nestling our nose along the underside of his stubbled jaw. He strokes the small of our back, bending his neck to unconsciously curve closer into our touch.

I wish for shovels to dig myself out, to break free of our body and into his, and pry craving and dependence away from our boy's best muscle. I wish for arms to wrap around his pericardium and lips to kiss his too tightly clenched tricuspid and mitral valves. I wish for mercy and miracles, but all I have is this closeness.

All I can give is my own promised beat.

All I can do is whisper love back, over and over every time he whispers it, soft and sad and completely powerless.

Love, his heart whispers defenselessly, dependently, like the most vulnerable, most pleadingly delicate kiss. Love.

Love, I kiss-whisper back, swearing to never, ever, ever leave. Love.

.

.

.

As days pass, we develop a sort of pattern.

Dusty and Bliss don't see one another every day or every night. Sometimes resentment wins, but we don't go without any longer than we have to.

Bella starts to eat again, but not like before. She eats the health food she's given in order to sustain us and keep us looking more alive. She puts on the exact performance that she has to, while unsubstantial death slowly wears away at our boy, keeping him in the dark as her paramour.

They're more stolen than ever: a shadow and a ghost, half-alive and even-less. Voices go unused more often than not, but my beat and his - more and more muffled all the time - never silence. We carry the most important conversation constantly and consistently.

Love.

Love.

November blows colder and colder. Renee's parents visit over Thanksgiving. Esme calls and tells Bella's voicemail she's welcome, anytime, and that things aren't the same without her. She misses her and loves her dearly.

She calls again on Christmas Eve. Her voice sounds rougher, cry-hoarse and chardonnay-tipped.

"Merry Christmas, Bliss," she says, false gladness splintering despite her effort. "I miss you, baby. We all do."

Bella and I spend all day harrowed out and half-alive, pretend-smiling and quietly counting the hours until Charlie and Renee are asleep enough for us to disarm the alarm and let love in.

There's snow on his eyelashes and in his hair. His too-thin cheeks burn with cold. His teeth chatter and his hands shiver. His whole frame trembles, and no matter how tightly we wrap around, it's not enough.

No matter how hot we run the shower, it's not enough.

No matter how closely we press our body to his when we step inside with him, fully clothed under the water, it's not enough.

He shakes all the way to his bones. His heart quivers and stutters and stumbles just as badly his words.

"Don't leave me. Don't leave me. God, don't fucking leave me..."

"Shh," we try, pressed together and soaking wet on her mother's bathroom floor, holding onto him with our arms and legs and every ounce of love we're made of. "I'm here. Shhh, you have to quiet down. I'm right here..."

"Get off me," he groans deeply. He grips bruises into our sides while he pushes us with his cries. "I'm going to fucking kill you. Let me go. Let me fucking go..."

We don't.

Not in the slightest.

Not for even a second.

We don't hear from him for days, though. It's unexplainable to our brain, but I know he's not really gone. He hasn't left. He's not dead. He's just away.

Bliss and I spend New Year's Eve at a party with Rose, at her cousin's crowded apartment. Too drunk to see straight without covering one eye, we press our lips to Rose's when she turns to us at midnight. We touch tongues, but we don't mean it. We haven't heard his voice in too many nights and I'm running on next to nothing at all.

I'm scared in his heart's absence. I need it close, constantly.

Stumbling alone to the bathroom, our fingers dial him.

We wander outside without her coat or hat or gloves, and call him again.

We walk a dizzy-crooked line down the middle of the ice-slicked street and call him again, and again.

Tears and snow make it too hard to see between champagne-blurry blinks. When he finds us four lost-blocks later and picks us up from the ditch we've tripped into and settled in, he's cursing.

And lifting.

And carrying.

It's warm inside the Lincoln, so warm, but our fingers are frozen. We can't unbend them when we reach to touch him.

"You're so fucking stupid. What the fuck is wrong with you?" His voice sounds far away, regret-filled, and angry, but he's wrapping us in his coat. He's pressing his hands over our ears and rubbing our scalp and uncurving our sorely-stiff fingers with his stronger ones. He's leaning over us and cupping his palms around our mouth, breathing spearmint-heat across our blue lips, and it's too much.

We pull him closer with unbent, still-so-cold fingers, and we kiss lips we haven't touched with our own in months.

I sigh and hum and melt.

"I'm sorry," Bliss tells him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

He pulls us closer, surrounding us in drug-elated body heat and love, love, love.

"Shut the fuck up," he says in turn, and we do. We don't say anything else. We kiss him again, deeper. He tastes like Jameson and anguish and broken rules. We kiss even deeper, more open, and I love it. It's needed, but it's not good. It's desperate. It's stricken. It's every effort to go backwards.

"I'm sorry," he tells her when they finally break to gasp for air that I and his heart require. "I'm so fucking sorry. I'm always sorry..."

We can see clearer when our eyes open. We see the tears that glass over his and the helpless dependence that blacks out blue we barely even remember.

January is even colder than December.

Edward's gone for days sometimes. Others, he's with us for nights on end. He's nowhere, but somehow always within reach.

Alice and Bliss make polite but unrealistic plans they never follow through with. Our ghost-girl grows closer, as much as half-alive person can, to Rose, and Garrett. She gives into his unquestioning strength and unreserved kindness, and love can tell when she has.

On nights after she's leaned our weight on Garrett during the day, Edward knows it. His heart weeps and groans behind addiction's maliciously tight and fatally weighted hand. His fingers grip and his teeth sink, and he whispers awful, painful, terrible, things.

"You think he's better than me?" he cuts so lowly, sharp between his teeth and the skin under our right ear, pinning us to Bella's bed. He bites down, one hand clamped fiercely tight over our cries while his other cuts off circulation in our arm.

"He's there," he whispers cruelly. "He's always fucking been there."

Bliss shakes our head, pushing, pulling, fighting, denying.

He bites again, further back, under our hairline. He turns our neck under his grip. "You could have that," he whispers, burning up, sharp, sharp, sharp fire. "If that's what you want."

He bites again, under our other ear.

We cry harder. We see stars. We grip onto him with our free hand, pulling him close, close, closer.

He whispers, connecting his lips to our skin and dragging his teeth over open wounds. "If that's what you need..."

His heart cries and cries.

Love, I never stop whispering to it, even when his can only murmur it back.

Love, it chokes.

Love, softer than a yawn.

Love, quiet as a leaf fading from green to yellow.

Love, soul-breakingly closer to death than life with every excruciating beat.

Minutes take hours.

Hours last for days.

Days span weeks, and weeks at a time.

In early March, Bliss and Renee go together to Northwest.

We tour and we fill out paperwork. We stroll along sidewalks and through halls we hope to walk again in the coming Fall.

Edward doesn't come over when we return that night. He doesn't call or answer our calls over the two days that follow, and when he does finally meet us at the dock another two days later, Bliss tries to tell him.

"You can't me mad," she says, leaving her car and climbing into his.

"Shut up," he says, racked and desolate. And that's it.

Hundreds more words go unsaid as more days and nights pass, but his hands nor our own deny themselves the comfort of connecting.

Bliss and Dusty cling and linger, but they don't speak.

They kiss eye corners and elbow bends and sternums, but not lips.

They press skin to skin, but don't push together to become one.

They make codependence and desperation and assuagement, but not love. All that's left of love is whittled down to pure knowing, and it belongs solely to the rhythm I share with his heart. The words they have spoken have twisted it. Their hands have marred it, and their choices have poisoned it. Dusty and Bliss have squandered love.

It's ours only now.

Alice's eighteenth birthday comes and goes on the first of April. Bella smiles and wishes her well in the hallway.

"Thanks," somebody we used to know replies. That's that.

Two weeks later, there's an acceptance letter and a housing packet from Northwest waiting for Isabella Swan on the kitchen table after school.

Renee cries. Her smile lines crease crazy high.

Our lips smile. Our eyes look. Our hands fill out and seal and stamp to send back what we're supposed to. We accept acceptance because Bliss makes us.

Hours later, when Edward sees the letter on her, his grip almost shatters both our wrists.

He breaks our skin. He wants to our break bones. He pushes and punishes. He shudders and seethes. He pulls Bella's sleep shirt down and bites so hard, so deeply, I feel like his teeth are finally, finally, finally going sink into me. And I know, certainly as she shakes, surely as he digs, this mark will scar forever. No matter where we go or how long our body lasts, we will carry this mark for always.

More hours stretch.

More days drag.

More weeks blur together, measured in greedy grasps, pitiful tears, exhausted yawns and pale, brittle, too-little-too-late beats. Hands that have held every part of one another, hold palm to palm too tightly, clutching to every single second they're allowed together.

A thousand years pass.

A thousand more.

They speak sometimes, but only little things.

"Hi."

"Hello."

"Good morning."

Never how are you?

Never good night.

Never goodbye.

.

.

.

The Friday afternoon before Saturday's graduation is overcast and cool. It's the middle of May. The sun should be shining warm and bright, but it's hiding from crisp wind behind puffed-up gray clouds.

At school, Isabella lines us up and makes us play along with her pretense as a normal senior, one last day. Our lips smile. Our fingers sign yearbooks. Our arms hug, but it's all just as empty and oppressive as as everything else she makes us say and do and be.

Our lips long to relax. Our fingers want to rest in our pockets until they're allowed to curl and cling again. Our arms fight the need to just hang, because they feel so heavy, just like every part of us.

Bliss is steady on the outside, but the edge she's balancing us on is crumbling, and we're only holding onto threads. We don't look it, but we're unstable at best. We're bankrupt and burned out. Overexerted. Overextended. Over and over and overforced, and we don't want to face this:

The end.

We want to sleep through the next twenty four hours and just wake up where we're supposed to be.

But we can't.

This is it.

This is what everything has come to.

Yawning in front of her closet, Bella stretches our arms as she changes out of today's blouse and cardigan. The movement and the intake of air makes the so-new and never-deeper mark over me sting. Our skin more than misses him. Our hands open and close and want. I'm starving for sacred, slowly-diminishing beats.

Leaving little white lace shorts on, she pulls a camisole over our breasts and stomach, and an oversized gray sweatshirt over that - warm enough for the wind and softly loose enough to be gentle on still tender marks.

We haven't seen Edward since Tuesday night.

We were at the dock, where we were supposed to be, where he asked us to be. We waited for over an hour, and when he finally showed, his black eyes were bloodshot and his lids were so red. His too-long hair was hat-matted and unclean, frustration pulled into a sad mess. His clothes were lived in and unwashed, while his skin looked washed out, ashen pale in the quarter-moon light. Scotch and cigarettes and the sting of completely crushed hopes burned our nose when he closed his car door.

Coke stretched his eyes so dark; it was like she was everywhere. Their sex was undeniable. We couldn't look at skin and bones without seeing her all over him.

He was faded, emaciated, scraggy and haggard. One foot in the grave and the other kicking the bucket, he laughed when he saw us. He dropped his keys and rubbed his cry-rimmed eyes with the heels of his hands.

He stumbled. He was drunk.

He was a lot of things.

Bella yelled.

He smiled, but he slurred.

"Baby," he tried, coughing, faltering and leaning back against the side of the Lincoln. "Baby," he started again, groaning through his twisted-tearful grin, still rubbing his eyes. "Baby..." He hemmed and sniffed and coughed once more.

"I'm fucked up, Bliss. I'm so fucked up."

Addiction's grip was too tight. Between the beach breeze, our boy's suffering and our girl's resentment, and both of their misplaced words, I couldn't hear a single beat of his heart.

Help him, I begged Bliss, panicking like a child possessed, pulling frantically at our pulmonary arteries and all our veins. Help him. Help him. Hold him, please. Please. Please.

She clenched and unclenched and reclenched our hands, hating them for wanting to reach out. Our eyes darted and our battered, bruised and constantly hurt feelings that are always there, right under the surface, just waiting, raged.

"Stop doing this to me!" She shouted over the wind. Blood rushed to our cheeks. Our tears burned as they rolled.

"Why isn't this enough?" She extended our arms out as she yelled, then bent them in, pushing our painfully open and empty hands over our chest, over me.

"Why am I never enough for you?" She demanded, pressing harder over bite marks and thin skin and bones like bars.

I shook while Edward coughed harder, sniffed and stood up straighter. He laughed, and it was the saddest, most irreparable, most disconsolate sound ever. Distressed. Suppressed against his will. Abused and destitute.

Past hope.

Past cure.

Past help.

"I tried," he said, his voice brittle and cracking, his hazy eyes searching and searching, but unable to focus on anything but us. "I tried -"

Bella raised our voice from a shout to a scream. "You didn't!" She pointed our finger at him. She cried. "I begged you. I needed you and you fucking left me. You left me! You chose!"

"They were your fucking candles!" He finally shouted back. His voice was hoarse, though, while he pointed at nothing, back toward town. "I just wanted to go home!"

Love is madness.

She struck him when he reached for us, right across his cheek. She pushed when his arms circled our middle and screamed when he gathered us wholly closer, accepting every slap, every scratch, every out of control intention to hurt him in any and every way. She fought until our limbs and voice and angry strength gave out, and the four of us - the two of them, his heart and me - were a mangled heap, gasping and grasping and fragmented in the sand, holding on with nothing left.

And even then, their air intake was too heavy for me to hear my name under addiction's unrelenting hand.

He, Edward, might hurt Bliss. His grip might bruise us and his teeth might mark us, but his heart would never. His heart is the best heart. It's selfless and it's brave, and it's so strong. It's blessed-special. It's important. It talks to me.

It used to talk more, before...

His heart needs me, and I need it.

Just as slowly and as surely as it's dying, I am dying for it.

Every hour.

Every minute.

Every second.

Apart or together, his heart and I are both languishing. I know it, because love is knowing, and despite knowing, despite painfully pure certainty that I cannot ignore, Bella makes our feet step and our features smooth, and she carries on every day with what she thinks has to be done.

She chooses, and I beat.

Mishandled.

Crippled.

And unwillingly.

She breathes out as we leave her room.

Downstairs, Charlie's parents have just arrived for their granddaughter's big ceremony tomorrow. When we step down, bare foot and perfect charade perfectly in place, everyone is all hugs and kisses and "it's all finally happening."

"Tomorrow's the big day."

"You're such a young woman now."

At the dinner table, we stomach food that Bella makes us eat and participate courteously in conversations she makes us have. We fit in where we're supposed to. We go along. We play it up, but inside, our stomach is knotted and our ligaments are tense. Our bones are sorely tired, and I'm so deprived I'm misbeating without meaning to.

Bliss swallows it all.

Every part of us hates it, but all signs point to spending the night alone. Charlie and Renee are staying on the fold-out couch in the living room since his parents are here, and we weren't invited to go out anywhere because everyone we know has someone else. And the one we love hasn't responded to our text from hours ago, anyway.

Boy.

It wasn't much; we knew, but still. It was a line. It was an attempt. We broke the three day silence. We tried.

Normally, after dinner, we might sit and talk for a bit, but we'd eventually return to Bella's room. We'd turn music up low or open a book, and feign attention at anything other than everything we actually want. But, knowing that Renee will likely say something about us staying downstairs, considering our company, Bliss makes us stay.

We sit company while the four of them talk over the turned-low television. We continue disappearing just as we have since last October - slowly, secretly, and alone. It doesn't matter that we're in a room full of people. It's like nothing. No one notices, even a little bit.

Until Bella's phone vibrates on the arm of the couch. Then, everyone looks over.

Our girl keeps our expression and our posture at ease as she silences his call, but I won't be so simply overcome. His call like outstretched hand wakes butterflies from days of exhausted, discouraged sleep and makes me beat faster in spite of my meagerness.

When we lift our eyes and smile politely, everyone goes back to talking. Love doesn't leave a voicemail.

But after less than a minute, he texts.

Come out with me.

We know Mom's less likely to say no when we ask in front of company, even if it is just Grandma and Grandpa, and there is no guilt when we do exactly that. There's no hesitation when we lie straight to all their faces, saying we're going to hang out with Rose and Leah. There's no shame as we intentionally sneak and mislead and betray. There's not a single slip or crack in our demeanor. We're flawless. We're refined. And we're going to see him.

Staying dressed exactly as we are and slipping our feet into hot pink Toms that match our hot pink nails, Bella drops her phone into her purse and says goodbye to everyone with a kiss to her grandmother's cheek.

"Not too late," Renee calls on our way to the door.

Our eyes roll behind our sunglasses as we turn the handle. "Love you," is all we call back, and then we're out.

She's not moving nearly as fast as I would be if I had legs and a keys and a car.

She sits in the driver's seat for a moment, fingertip-smoothing out what's left of today's eyeliner. She puts the Rabbit's top down and pulls our clammy-damp-and-too-cool-for-May air-flattened curls up into a loose chignon. She sits back and breathes out, concentrating on moderating me and all our other impatient muscles. With a few measured exhales, she has a handle on the rest of our tissue and tendons, but I don't slow my swiftness.

I won't.

Not until we're in arms like home again.

With an accepting sigh, Bella shuffles her music and turns the Yeah Yeah Yeahs up as she pulls out onto the road.

"I got a man who makes me wanna kill," while we turn toward the freeway.

"I got a man who makes me wanna die," while we switch lanes and pick up speed.

"I got a man who makes the devil pale," while we head straight to sea-soaked wood that keeps our secret ever-safe.

"We're all gonna burn in hell, because we do what we gotta do real well, and we've got the fever to tell..."

Bella turns it down when we exit off onto a winding one-way street. We spot the black cherry Continental easily in the distance. It's the only sign of life for some miles, and sensibly so. The sun is still hiding, as it has all day, but if it was visible, it would be setting. It's too chilly for any sane person to be at the beach now, and it smells like rain.

Edward's leaning against the trunk, black on black on black. No gray. No hat. No sunglasses. Just a half-alive dusty delinquent, smoking a joint while he waits.

When we get out and walk to him, and his eyes find ours, I flutter. I don't have cheeks, but if I did, they would blush. If I had a bottom lip, I'd bite the corner of it, and had I lashes, I'd bat them like a sweetheart because I love, love, love when he looks at us. He's the only one that really sees us for all that we are and loves us still.

Even when we're un-made-up and bitter-spirited.

Even after we've locked him out and turned our back and ignored his call.

Even though we're thinner than ever and our nerves are shot and we've made every plan to keep dragging him through perdition for another four years.

Even with knowing full well all the things we've said and done and been, he still loves. He still needs. He still wants all that we are, always.

I listen closely for his heart as we approach him. I can't hear anything but the breeze and our own footsteps, though, no matter how near we get. He blows smoke up as we come to stand in front of him, and he offers us the joint. When Bliss shakes our head, he takes one last hit and flicks it away.

His pupils are drug-dark, but his clothes and skin and hair are clean. He's high, but he's not stumbling or slurring. He's not calm; we can see the chaos in his eyes, but he's composed, collected and in control.

There's no hi, or hello, or any other little words exchanged, just the steadily fixed set of his jaw and our carefully pressed together lips as he turns, opening the passenger door. We get in without much of a second thought, and he slides into the driver's seat a second later, turned more to face us than to drive.

He reaches, and not wanting to fight, so do we, and only then, only with the doors closed to the rest of the world and shaky-shelter wrapped around us do I finally, finally, finally hear his heart.

Love? It seeks and pleads, weak as an anemic newborn. Love? Love?

I slip and surrender apart, opening, wanting to flow out to him as our bodies fold together.

Love, I assure and soothe and swear with whispered-soft cadence. Love. Love. Love.

There's no sun to watch go down, but Bliss and Dusty embrace and lean and breathe as light fades to dark. They wrap around and press together and surround while the wind outside whistles and waves lap. They hold fondly and closely and quietly while an hour glides by entirely too quickly.

Half in his lap, half curled up, Bella shifts our weight, trying to work the pins and needles out of our arm. The Lincoln is spacious but our position is awkward, and there's nowhere to really go with the steering wheel behind us. But we don't want to move for anything, so we settle back down to endure the small price of being pressed so close to our soul's light.

But he knows. Or maybe he feels it, too. Either way, he rubs his fingers along where they rest between our shoulders, and tilts his head when we look up.

"C'mon," he says quietly, motioning behind him.

Not wanting to get out or even open the doors, they climb over the bench seat one at a time. There's much more room here, but they press closer still. Edward lies on his back, and we lie right on top of him. Stomach to stomach, Bliss lays our left ear directly over his heart and drifts while comfort and make calm.

Love, his heart pulses, skinny and tenuous and fragile as a flickering flame.

Love, I pulse in soft symphony. Love.

Love.

Love.

They shift throughout the night, turning onto their sides to face one another. He bends his right arm for our head to rest on and wraps his left around our side, loosing the tie from our hair while our leg drapes and curves around his waist. He bends and unbends his fingers in our strawberry blonde, rubbing their tips along our scalp and stroking fallen strands back from our face as we swim in and out of consciousness.

He swims through sleep, too, though not as deeply as our mind and other muscles do. He slides his thumb along our temple and cheek, and brushes his lips against our forehead. He lets his eyes close, and in the softest, stillest, most silent part of the night, in the sacred solace of shared diastole, I hear it:

His heart, talking to him the way I sometimes talk to Bliss.

It's just as stifled by his habit as my own name is, but I hear it. I don't know if Edward hears or understands it, anymore than I know if or how well Bella hears or understands me, but I can't help shivering. I understand his heart's whisper with acutely, searingly sharp clarity.

In their stolen, secret, sort-of sleep, their hands find each others between our chests. Our fingers curl between Dusty's, and his arm that's under us, cradling our head, bends, bringing us closer.

I tremble.

Love? I tremor, terrified and unbelieving, desperate and unwilling to believe what it's saying. Love? Love?

Love, his heart vows with each beat, truly and sincerely and soothingly as a prisoner can. Love. Love.

But between every tortured and muffled thump of my name, I hear it, telling him to let us go.