A/N This was a little harder to write than I thought, go figure.

HUGE hugs and thanks to my amazing beta saritadreaming. Any errors you may find here are no fault of hers, merely a result of my endless tweaking and inability to grasp basic punctuation rules.

%$#&ing commas...

Disclaimer. I own nada. I'm just playing in SM's sandbox and making her characters do naughty things purely for my own enjoyment (and hopefully yours.)


The Divide

~xo~

Epov

. . . . . .

"Edward. What do you think?" Alice barges into my room as I slip on a fresh shirt, already missing the scent of Bella that clings to the one I just removed.

Bella slept fitfully last night, tossing and turning in and out of my arms and in and out of dreams that seemed to distress her. I'm eager to get back to her, so I regard my pseudo-sister with impatience.

Alice displays a satin dress in one hand and a large three-tiered cake in the other, balancing them with ease and dexterity, both perfectly angled to give me the most flattering view.

I shake my head at her. "Considering Bella has explicitly asked for a present free, event free birthday..."

"Never mind that." She cuts in with a stomp of one foot that does nothing to upset the balance of the cake, or even so much as shift the fabric of the dress. "No one truly wants that on their birthday, Edward. And I'm keeping everything very low-key."

I refrain from telling Alice her idea of low-key and Bella's are two very different things, and slip on my shoes before joining her in the doorway. I press a kiss to the top of her head, smiling indulgently.

"The cake is lovely, and so is the dress. I'm sure Bella will love them both." I'm not at all sure of that, to be honest. Still, a fretting Alice needs to be soothed, and while I'm no Jasper, I do my best.

She follows me down the stairs.

"Emmett and Rose should be here by four... Well, that's a little sketchy right now since the airline may or may not postpone... Oh, never mind." She heaves a weary sound of impatience and dances around me, still perfectly balancing the cake, which on closer inspection I know Bella will object to.

"5 or 5:30," she mumbles to herself. "That still works..."

Esme steps out of the kitchen, an apron tied around her waist. "Oh, there you are, Edward," she says with a bright smile, as though she truly didn't know where I was. An unlikely possibility given our senses, though she does seem distracted... "Does Bella like sushi?"

I realize I don't know a second before Alice replies that she does. I frown a little at that. I don't like not knowing such a simple thing.

"Raw fish is repulsive." Jasper leans against the doorway leading to the hall, watching Alice place the cake on a table in the living room. I glance around, noting the room is decorated with flowers and dozens of unlit candles in glass holders.

"Better than cooked fish," Alice replies to him, turning the cake until she's satisfied with the presentation. I silently have to agree. Thanks to Charlie and his fishing hobby, there is an ever present odour of fish that clings ghost-like to every surface in their house.

I pocket my car keys and flash a warning glance at Alice. "Remember not to go overboard."

Rolling her eyes and fluttering her fingers, she waves me away as I leave the house.

The drive back to Bella's allows me a few minutes to prepare for what I'm certain will be an unhappy greeting. Bella isn't one for temper tantrums or sulking, but she's been in an increasingly sour mood about her birthday all week.

I sigh out an unnecessary breath, wishing the state of unresolved tension that exists between us had an easy solution. I see her birthday as a prize—another beautiful year of human life stretching out before her. She's still safe, still mortal. After my blood-lust nearly ended her life, and then that bastard James nearly stole it again, keeping her safe has proven to be more difficult than I originally thought. Making it worse is her complete disregard for her safety. She's sees her humanity as a negative weight on the odd set of emotional scales she uses to continuously balance our relationship.

Pulling into her driveway, I slip out of the car and move around to the passenger side. She leaves the house with her head down, hiding her expression, which is my only way to gauge her moods given her silent mind. When she reaches my side, I wait patiently till she looks up at me and hide the feeling of sadness at what I regard.

Her eyes are shadowed, with bruised looking rings that attest to her lack of sleep. She's pale and drawn, and I detect both the scent of tears and the chemical components found in Visine. The latter cannot cover up the former.

She offers me a smile and a weak 'Good morning,' which I return, dropping my head to capture her lips in a soft kiss. She tastes like the mint from her toothpaste and her own special sweetness. I draw back with reluctance, grateful to see her smile become genuine as I open the door for her.

She's quiet on the ride to Forks High, fiddling with the strap of her book bag and the untied shoelace she inadvertently dragged through a puddle. She pulls the collar of her sweater away from her neck, twisting it. There's a tiny patch of dry skin on her throat which she refrains from scratching. In turn, I refrain from leaning over and running my tongue over it. She has no idea how delectable she looks. How beautiful. Her restlessness makes me edgy with the desire to pull over and pull her into my lap—kiss her mouth and any other place she'll allow until the shadows in her eyes fade. Until I begin to want things I have no business wanting.

My hands tighten marginally on the steering wheel, and I grit my teeth as she shifts her legs. Giving in to the urge to touch her right now would be unwise. Lately my desire for her blood has been heavily outweighed by the desire for her body, and it's getting harder and harder to hide that fact. I may be over a century old, but in regards to Bella, lately I feel more like an average horny seventeen year old.

I pull the car into a parking space, aware that Bella's mood has not improved with the drive. In testament of that, she reaches for the door and starts to leave the car, nearly before I'm fully stopped.

I reach out, capturing her wrist gently. "Bella, wait."

She turns her head back to me, her expression bland. Her eagerness to get away is betrayed by the one foot she keeps on the pavement, her body still twisted away from me.

"You're unhappy today," I state the obvious. She flinches slightly and shrugs with a fake smile.

"I'm fine."

I'm rapidly learning that Bella is not immune to the feminine language where the words 'I'm fine' are actually code for: 'I'm not fine, and I'm pissed off at you.'

Before I can reply, she tugs free and gets out of the car. In her haste, she tangles her book bag strap in the seatbelt. I can't help but smile as she mutters a low oath, yanking in futility to free herself.

I make my way at a human pace to her side of the car to untangle her. Securing her book bag, I put it on top of the car before placing a finger under her chin, forcing her to look up at me.

"What is it about birthdays you reject to so vehemently?"

"It's not birthdays in general. Just mine. Just this one. And don't ask; you already know why."

I attempt to soothe her by reiterating the fact it's only one year. I know she resents being older than I am, but my age is a charade, and she knows it. I do not understand her obsession with such a trivial number, especially considering the decades that span our actual age difference.

"Is it just one year, Edward?" she snaps in question, her eyes flashing fire. Her cheeks pinken slightly with her ire, and her scent spikes, sending venom spilling over my tongue. I swallow it back along with my impatience, fighting to maintain the smile on my face.

Bella sighs, her expression morphing to one of regret as she apologizes. "I'm sorry. I guess I just don't feel like...celebrating." She attempts to move away from me. Unlike earlier in the car, I don't allow it this time.

I pull her closer and kiss her forehead, torn between amusement at her pique and sadness at the gulf that seems to widen between us by the day. I know what she wants. I secretly want it at times more than she does. Still, I cannot take her life. She's so young. She doesn't understand how precious human life is. Lately it seems I need to keep her safe, not only from myself, but also her impulsivity.

"Can't we just pretend this is an ordinary day?" she asks, relenting and leaning against me, her body softening against mine in that indescribable way she does that feels like the most precious gift every time.

"No, we can't," I answer, feeling her huff against my chest.

Forcing a laugh, I resist the urge to pull her closer to avoid hurting her with my strength. I feel as if she is slipping away from me, and unfamiliar licks of panic tighten my midsection.

Losing her will destroy me, yet every day we grow closer and closer to having this impasse ruin us. I can see it, feel it, yet I don't know how to stop it. If only she would accept her humanity and stop wanting to destroy her soul by becoming a monster.

"Bella, your birthday is definitely something to celebrate." I try again to cajole her out of her bad mood. The last thing I want to do is cloud the memory of her eighteenth birthday with arguing and stalemates.

I tip her head back up to kiss her, wanting both to be closer to her and to erase the look of misery from her face. I can't stand that I'm hurting her. I always seem to be hurting her. The desperation of that thought urges me to be less careful. She tastes so sweet, and her mouth is so delectably soft and warm. I let myself carefully pull her nearer, striving to balance what I need with what is safe for her.

I can feel her entire body—all her curves and dips and exquisite softness. I think about what it would be like to not have to be so careful, and it forces me to pull back before I get too carried away.

Bella's eyes take on that familiar glaze that always makes things worse. I can taste her desire for more lingering on my lips. It makes me nearly insane with how much I desire her in return.

She watches me. I don't need to read her mind to know she's wondering how I feel. Lately I can sense her questions about us and our physical relationship—or lack thereof—becoming more prevalent in her thoughts. It doesn't take a mind reader to know she's sexually frustrated.

She isn't the only one.

The impasse between us grows.

Her mouth opens as though to ask a question I doubt I can safely answer. Luckily for me, Alice and Jasper arrive, and I see the opportunity open up to clue her in about Alice's plans. I know Bella will be unhappy, but at least it will take her mind off our current circumstances.

I also wonder about the intelligence of replacing one set of problems with another, but realize I have little choice as Alice gets out of her car and heads toward us.

"Alice will be here in a moment," I say, gently brushing a few errant strands of hair out of her face. "I'm afraid she isn't going to allow you to wiggle out of birthday festivities."

Bella looks at me in dismay and protests instantly. I feel torn. It is her birthday; as such, I feel the pull to grant her every wish, even if those wishes are for nothing at all. At the same time, my family is looking forward to tonight. I tell her this and watch as her face falls. She cannot deny them, and she turns to face Alice, wary and resigned.

I begin to feel guilty. Perhaps I should have...

My thoughts are cut off. Amidst Bella's weak protest about Alice's gift presentation, and the knowledge she's obtaining about Emmett and Rose's attendance tonight at the party she doesn't want, Alice's mind goes suddenly, startling blank.

Simultaneously, I hear the approach of several of Bella's human friends. Their thoughts fill in the gaps of Alice's loss of sight. Our plans for tonight come crashing down as I learn of conflicting events. It seems Bella's friends have taken it upon themselves to arrange a party of their own.

Bella is surrounded and tugged upon. Spitefully and immaturely, I find myself tucking her into my side and keeping my arm securely around her waist, forcing her friends to work around me.

As quickly as they babble and confuse Bella, the pieces of the puzzle of Alice's lost sight fall into place. Jacob Black and the Quileutes are involved. We do not know for certain, but it seems Alice has trouble seeing these human/wolf hybrids. How far that extends is a question we might just now be answering. Alice didn't see a threat to her plans for tonight until just now when Jessica, Angela, Mike, and Tyler made the decision to accost us in the parking lot.

A party. For Bella. At La Push Beach. Planned by them and orchestrated by Jacob Black. I growl low in my throat, making the humans nervous and earning a warning look from Jasper, as well as a forced washing with fake calm.

I bare my teeth at him a little and make Jessica Stanley nervous.

I hardly care.

Jealousy swamps me as the adolescent males discuss beer and grow increasingly excited.

Further jealousy swamps me as Jessica demands Bella's attendance. I can feel Bella's musculature, tight and stiff with stress, growing tighter as she looks from me to Alice. I force myself to relax and stroke her back, watching Alice's mind closely. She sees very little except snippets of possibility that bear no weight... yet.

It's all up in the air.

Jessica fumbles through an extension of the invitation to include us, and I regard her coldly, struggling to keep my irritation at being blindsided from extending to the humans around me.

Not just humans. Bella's human friends.

I sigh internally as I see Alice's plans crumbling further, forcing myself to disengage emotionally and view the situation with a more analytical mind frame.

As Alice hurries us inside moments after the last bell rings, avoiding Bella's probing about her lapse in psychic foresight, I realize I need to allow Bella the human experiences I keep saying are so important.

It seems we won't be spending her birthday together after all.

. . . . . .

"So... let me get this straight. You're having a birthday party for Bella, but she's not coming?"

Alice glares daggers at Emmett who seems bemused by the story we've told him. He reaches out as though to touch the cake that was absurd before, considering only one person would be eating any, and is even more so now that no one will be eating any. Alice slaps his hand away.

"She might be here. Later."

"Might?"

"Yes, Emmett. Might." Alice adjusts the cake—again—and sighs.

"So you don't know?"

Rose makes a low growling sound in the back of her throat. "Emmett, she already told you, she doesn't know."

"I know, babe, but what the fu..."

"Emmett!"

"Sorry, Esme." He looks up with a small grin, pretending sheepishness before he looks over at me.

"And you? You just let her go to La Push with those dogs?"

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I only barely refrain from cursing myself. It wasn't easy to convince Bella to go to that party, but at the time, I felt like I was doing the right thing. Practicing what I preached, etcetera. Now? I'm ready to scale the walls in growing unease and misery. It isn't helping at all that my family is wandering around the house unsure what to do now. Alice's psychic visions remain blank concerning the situation, affording no insight and no peace of mind that I did the right thing.

"Emmett, they are her friends. I couldn't very well forbid her from going." I don't tell any of them that I hardly needed to forbid her. She was more than willing to forgo the party all on her own. I practically pushed her out the door and forced her to go. A fact I'm all too aware of as I think about the dangers—of which there are too many to list.

Emmett doesn't reply, just frowns and shrugs. He doesn't need to say anything. I can read the thoughts in his mind as he contemplates the little we know about Sam Uley and the few others that reside on the Reservation who've recently transformed into shape-shifters. He hopes the treaty and the peace that exists between our coven and their tribe is enough to guarantee Bella's safety. He only knows one thing; no way in hell would he have let Rose go. He thinks I'm an idiot. But again, at least he refrains from saying it out loud.

Rose snidely wonders why she allowed Alice to guilt her into coming home for this.

I was just beginning to relax and enjoy myself away from all the stupid drama of Edward and his little human. Now here I am, right back in the middle of it...

Esme ponders both the dilemma of all the food she'll need to get rid of and her concern over me. She's picked up on the tension between Bella and me.

My poor boy. He's been alone for so long. He deserves to be happy. This situation between them is so complex and difficult. Tonight should have been a happy night...

Carlisle keeps his mind focused on a patient he's treating at the hospital with a difficult wound that won't heal. It's a sure sign that he's keeping his thoughts to himself, most likely in an effort to avoid judgement.

Perhaps Mr. Salinger would be a good candidate for that new drug trial...

Alice frets about the blank spots in the future and worries about Jasper, who as of late seems to be struggling even more than normal with our diet.

I should convince Jasper to go hunting. I'll tell him I'm thirsty. I know we just went yesterday, but it couldn't hurt...

As for Jasper himself, his thoughts aren't ones I'm particularly willing to dissect. He's noting my anxiety and discomfort, but only as an aside. I have a moment of wondering if perhaps it's a good thing Bella isn't here tonight then instantly feel guilty. Jasper has come a long way. He deserves my trust, regardless of the many thoughts that focus on his thirst and frustration with his current diet.

Slowly, one by one, the room empties as my family drifts away in search of more entertaining pursuits.

I'm grateful for the silence—limited though it is—and pull out my cell phone.

My thumb hesitates for only a second over the redial button before I once again call Jacob. Bella won't be happy that I'm keeping tabs on her evening. I justify my actions with the knowledge that she'll be even less happy if I break the treaty by checking on her in person.

. . . . . .

"Bella's drunk?" Emmett laughs, tossing the X-box game controller on the coffee table a little too hard, cracking the plastic case. He pays it no mind, too intent on me and listening to the phone conversation I'm having. I stand up and move away from him, feeling my temper rise.

"I'm bringing her home," Jacob tells me. He sounds as though the concession of this phone call bores him.

"No. I'll meet you at the border, and I'll take her home." I stay in control of my anger and keep my tone matter of fact, though inside I'm furious. Not because Bella has been drinking. It's a normal rite of passage for a teenager, and I knew there would be alcohol at the party. What I'm furious about is the situation that Jacob put us in. If he hadn't chose to meddle and set up this night to make it impossible for Bella and I to be together, I'd be with her now, making sure she was safe.

As it is, I don't know how much she drank, or what she drank, or if anyone took advantage of her being vulnerable in that manner.

"Whatever, man." Jacob hangs up rudely.

I growl a little in my throat as Emmett looks at me curiously.

"Everything okay?"

"It's fine. I'm going to meet him, and then I'm taking Bella home."

"So...party's off then? Alice will be bummed." He picks up the game controller again, frowning at the crack in it. His thoughts and the thoughts of the others in the house tell me Alice isn't the only one. As I leave, I wonder what got into Bella. She's normally rational and controlled.

. . . . . .

It takes only minutes to drive to the border because I break several major motor vehicle laws in the accomplishment. As a consequence, I arrive before Jacob and Bella, giving myself more time to think about how this entire week has been.

Bella being unhappy about her birthday is a direct result of her being unhappy with me and our current situation. Insecurity niggles at me, and it's such a foreign feeling, I have no knowledge of how to deal with it. Since meeting Bella, I'm forever being thrown into new territory when it comes to emotions—love, desire, jealousy, fear, frustration. I feel them all acutely. They mingle together and make it difficult for me to sort out my thoughts, something that should be impossible for one of my kind.

I know what she wants.

I know what I need to absolve my conscience which abhors the idea of destroying Bella's soul.

There is no common ground in between.

I hear the sound of Jacob's car approaching long before I see it and pick up on his thoughts almost simultaneously. As though he knows I'm here and listening, his mind seems to be playing his encounters with Bella over the night on a loop.

Through his reminiscence, I see much of what has transpired. Not that anything I see or hear is helpful in understanding what drove Bella to overindulge. And it's apparent she's definitely overindulged. More guilt pricks my conscience as I realize she's more troubled and upset than I realized.

Ignoring Jacob's memory of sitting beside Bella next to a roaring fire, holding her hands and warning her away from me, I get out of the car as he pulls to the side of the road.

Despite her inebriated state, Bella's heartbeat and respiration are healthy and strong. She gets out of the car on her own volition. Another good sign, though she is unsteady on her feet. Her eyes are slightly glazed, but her smile is beatific. I can't help but return it, sliding my arm around her waist, which is as much as an excuse to touch her as it is to keep her steady. Dropping a kiss on top of her head, I thank Jacob for bringing her home, finding it easier to be magnanimous now that she's back with me where she belongs.

He makes no effort to hide the spike of jealousy he feels at seeing the way she curves her body into mine, trying to get closer.

"Sure thing. I'd do anything for Bella. She knows that."

I feel Bella stiffen a little, and I'm pleased to note she's not so befuddled by alcohol she fails to notice Jacob's jibe. I'm less pleased to feel her pull away from me, something flashing in her eyes I can't decipher. The pleasure she felt at seeing me seems to fade, taking my relief with it.

"Bella, I'll call you and bring your truck back for you tomorrow. You've got my number if you need me in the meantime, okay?"

I bristle at Jacob's hinting there might be some reason she might need him. I've seen enough in his mind to know that he thinks I'm too possessive and intense. Even if he doesn't yet know for certain what I am, it's clear by the signals I'm getting that the time is coming when Jacob won't be so easily able to discount the legends of his tribe. His instinctual dislike of me is stronger than ever.

Narrowing my gaze in a way I fully intend to be intimidating, I drop the polite act and assure him Bella won't be calling nor needing anything. If it wasn't for the fact that I can't be on Quileute land, I wouldn't allow him to bring her truck back for her either.

Before Jacob can decide if he's afraid of me and the look I've levelled on him, Bella pulls further away and thanks him. It's clear she's trying to end our encounter, no doubt sensing my thin patience.

Uncharacteristically, Bella spins in two graceful circles as she hums quietly on her way to my car, losing her sandals in the process and seeming oblivious to her bare feet. I bring them to her, making sure she's tucked securely in her seat with seatbelt fastened before taking my place behind the wheel.

She thanks me sweetly, her eyelids growing heavy as I turn up the heat and pull back onto the road. Taking her hand in mine, I kiss her palm, then her knuckles, inhaling the burn of her scent and relaxing for the first time in hours. She's safe. She's with me. I know we have much to work out, but for now, as she falls asleep, this is enough.

. . . . . .

The drive and the sound of Bella's kitten-like snores are peaceful but all too brief. She awakes the second I pull into Charlie's driveway—where I note with relief that he isn't home from the station yet—and her mood turns decidedly sour.

She refuses my help getting out of the car and almost falls. When I try to help her up, she glowers, though the effect is lost when it becomes apparent she's struggling to focus.

I might find her adorable if I didn't understand that her alcohol intake is opening floodgates better left dammed.

Ignoring my suggestion that she go upstairs to ready herself for bed, she stalks to the kitchen. She opens the fridge door then stares at the contents blearily.

"Are you hungry?" I ask, sifting through my knowledge of alcohol consumption, trying to decide if it's better if she eats or not. Food might settle or aggravate her stomach.

My question snaps her out of inactivity, and she closes the fridge door, spinning to face me a little too quickly. I reach out to steady her, but she steps away, nearly dropping the soda can in her hand.

Giving her no choice, I use my superior speed and reflexes to snag the can, making my way to the cupboard to secure a glass to fill with the repulsive beverage. It hisses and spits its sugar laden chemicals on my hand as I place it on the table where she's managed to sit, choosing to ignore the chairs.

She chooses to ignore the drink as well, reaching for my shirt instead. Taking a fist full, she drags me to her, a feat she accomplishes because I allow it. Pulling me between her slightly splayed legs, she smiles endearingly, heat dancing in her eyes as she bites her lower lip.

If she had any idea how sexy I find that innocent little action... Well, suffice it to say I don't want her to know, even as I growl internally. I suppress the need to free her flesh from her teeth and suck on the succulent little grooves that are embedded in her pink skin. However, I can't resist sliding my hands around her waist.

Reaching up, she tangles her fingers in my hair, tugging down, until I'm close enough she can arch slightly and press those lips to mine. I can smell oranges, vodka and beer on her breath, but her unique sweetness explodes out from under those unpleasant taints, making me groan and pull her closer as she willingly opens her mouth under mine, welcoming the invasion of my tongue. I shouldn't kiss her like this, ever. I most certainly shouldn't kiss her like this when she's sitting on Charlie's kitchen table, firm, warm thighs splayed on either side of my hips, delicate, pretty feet bare, and nearly as drunk as a skunk. Whatever the hell that means.

Finding a new hidden core of willpower and morality—because the old supplies are running low—I pull back, gently pressing her legs together and moving to a chair to sit.

"Would you like some Tylenol?"

She blinks at me, my movements a little too quick for her current state to keep up with.

"What? No! What I want is for you to come back and kiss me like that again."

"Not tonight," I tell her, striving to sound teasing and failing. Instead, I sound exactly how I always seem to sound as of late. Like I'm chastising. Like the moral police of a day and age long since past. Like a parent and not a lover. It bothers me more than she knows that I must act this way to ensure her safety and my sanity.

I know I failed at keeping things light when her expression falls and takes on the hue of hurt I'm becoming too acquainted with.

She slides from the table and heads into the living room, her movements jerky and angry even when she stumbles and bumps into the wall in the hallway. Her hands tremble a little as she opens the cabinet where Charlie keeps a few bottles of alcohol. I debate stopping her for all of a second before I reach out to take the bottle of amber liquid away.

She glares at me. Beneath the anger, her hurt is all too apparent and raw.

"Not a good idea," I reprimand gently, tucking the bottle back away.

"You're not my parent, Edward."

"I'm not trying to be." I tuck my hands in my pockets to keep from reaching out for her, dragging her in my arms, and kissing her until neither of us can breathe. I'm the only one who can get away without oxygen, I think ruefully.

"You'll only make yourself sick. I don't think you want that."

"Oh, that's right. You make my decisions for me. I forgot, silly me."

Her uncharacteristic snark surprises me.

I gesture back to the bottle. "By all means then. Just don't say I didn't warn you when your body rebels."

She glares harder, angrier because I refuse to rise to her obvious bait. Crossing her arms over her chest, she ignores my invitation to do as she wishes. For the millionth time, I wish for the ability to read her mind as the silence stretches out between us.

She sways a bit then slaps my hand away when I reach to steady her.

"Did you know that Jessica and Angela and Ben and Mike are all...doing...having...you know?"

I look at her questioningly, though I have an idea of what she means.

"Horizontally bumping and grinding." She waggles her eyebrows and wiggles her fingers at me.

Curtailing the desire to smile at her muddled question that implies everything from homosexual mating to a group orgy, not to mention her odd use of slang, I incline my head, curious as to what brought the question on. Rarely does she ever ask for insight into my telepathic knowledge.

She continues to glare at me, so I nod warily.

Her mouth drops open.

"To be accurate, Bella, I know that Mike and Jessica are...engaged in intimacy. Angela and Ben..."

"They're doing it, too," she interrupts. "Everyone is."

Unsure what she wants from me, I regard her warily, dreading where this conversation most likely is going.

"Not everyone."

Her eyes narrow. "Oh, I know. Take you and me. We definitely aren't. I feel like the last virgin over the age of sixteen in Forks," she says in bitterness, ignoring her knowledge that I happen to hold the title of the oldest virgin in Forks. "I'm probably going to die a virgin, though, right? Guess it doesn't matter." Her slurred speech conveys the hurt underlying the sarcasm.

A light blush ignites her skin. I can't tell if it's from irritation or embarrassment. She flops down on the sofa, her expression growing sad. I join her, urging her to lay back and put her feet on my lap. She does so, staring at me morosely.

"We've talked about this," I remind her, careful to keep my tone soft and non-accusatory.

"Correcssson," she slurs tiredly around a hiccup. "You've talked about it."

"Bella." I can't keep the censure out of my voice and she frowns, pulling her feet away and getting up. I reach out to try to keep her with me. Spinning away, she avoids my touch and returns to Charlie's liquor cabinet. I don't try to stop her this time as she opens a bottle and adds a generous amount to the glass of cola she brought with her from the kitchen. Instead of drinking it, she stares at it.

Her sudden laugh surprises me.

"Mike thought you were gay. Did ya know he did that?"

I'm glad she doesn't drink what's in the glass. It's becoming more apparent by the moment that she's had plenty already.

She laughs again. More of a giggle as she shakes her head at me. Despite the laughter, the hurt in her eyes burns me.

"I couldn't even say you weren't, 'cause how would I know?" She's runs her words together, giggling some more. Again, I ignore her baiting.

"You're tired, and you're going to have a hangover tomorrow, love. You should get some sleep."

Ignoring me, she picks up her glass, spilling some and not noticing. Her eyes narrow. She looks more like she's suffering from eyestrain than angry. Again, I would find her adorable if my sexuality wasn't being questioned.

She sucks some of the spilled drink off her thumb. I'd be lying if the sight of her lips closing around her pale flesh didn't imbibe thoughts in my mind that would definitively answer any question about my sexual inclinations. The part of my mind where I keep all fantasies locked at bay, nearly opens to spill a wealth of dirty thoughts, all involving Bella on her knees before me, that lush little mouth engaged in...

"Mike thought I was going to get breth, birth...birthday sex. Isn't that funny?" She sways a little, her eyes closed, a small smile tugging at her lips.

"Mike thinking about you in that way is far from funny," I growl, losing my temper for a brief moment at the thought of Mike making such a comment to her. Lascivious little bastard.

"I bet he'd give Jessica birthday sex." She giggles. "Maybe that's what I should have asked you for." She makes her way toward me, her smile mischievous. Before she reaches me, the smile fades and she falters, stopping only a few feet away, her sudden confidence wilting. She blinks at me, shaking her head. "I know. Dumb thought, right?"

I can only helplessly watch her as her face falls at my silence. I struggle with what I'm doing to her. My constant denial of what would normally be right and healthy between two people in love is eroding her already shaky self-esteem. Nothing I can think to say would be right or helpful. A new flash of anger replaces some of the hurt in her expression. I might feel grateful if I didn't realize it's all just a front.

She looks down at the drink in her hand before raising the glass to take a large gulp. Coughing against the burn, she laughs some more, the sound bitter. "Oh, well. Thank goodness for massaging, detachable shower heads." The volume of her tone is low. I wonder if she knows she spoke that thought aloud, even as a spike of arousal so strong it threatens to destroy my willpower slices through me at the image she just evoked.

Bella, my Bella, in the shower, water cascading down her skin, the detachable shower head in my bathroom at home in her soft hand, the spray directed...

God damn it.

I get to my feet and hiss. The urge to leave the house rages at me. I should get away from her before I lose my mind, but I can't leave her like this.

She looks up, and her skin turns ghost-like pale before just as quickly erupting in a dark red blush.

"Oh, my god, I didn't mean that. It was a joke. A bad one. We don't even have a detachable shower head." She fumbles though her explanation, swaying a little on her feet. "Forget I said that, okay? I mean, I don't. I've never..." Hands shaking, she puts her drink on the table and hugs herself, clearly mortified.

I go to her, and though she tries to flee, I hug her close.

"Stop," I mutter against the strawberry scented warmth of her hair. "Don't be embarrassed. You don't have to explain anything to me."

I know she's never. Or at least I think I know. We're too alike, and I believe she's waiting—for me, for us. If she did, it would be fine. I'm not anywhere near as moral as she thinks I am. The thought of her finding release at her own hand makes me insane with desire. The secret fantasy section in my mind is filled with images of her doing just that. Only on my bed, while I sit on a chair and watch. And God knows she deserves that kind of pleasure. I almost wish she would ease herself.

She pushes away from me suddenly. I let her go, though it hurts to do it.

"No; you know what? I'm not stop... stopping, Edward." She jabs a finger at my chest, and I draw back just enough she won't hurt herself. Her eyes flash with anger and glisten with tears that threaten to overflow.

"I mean, what are you going to do later, you know in ten years? Supply me with sex toys? Bring me a human to... screw?"

Attempting to jab me again with her finger, she nearly unbalances herself. Sighing, I place my hand over her mouth, unable to keep from smirking.

"Bella, you are going to be very embarrassed tomorrow. Perhaps you should try and quit while you are ahead." Her words affect me more than I can show, for it's the truth I don't know what will happen in the future. I've convinced myself that I will stay with Bella as long as she is happy. The second she wants more, I'll let her go. But I know—because I am not a fool, no matter how much I feel like one at this moment—that doing so will only destroy us both.

Keeping Bella human means she will live like a nun with no faith and no vocation. I am aware of how unfair that is to both of us. I just have no idea how to find a better solution. Condemn her to immortality and its sins, or trap her in humanity that will be desolate and empty of so many of the joys humans experience.

She draws herself away from me, her tears spilling down her cheeks now. "Fine, I will go to bed. But not because you're telling me to. I'm going to bed 'cause I'm... tired." Her chin quivers, though her expression is stubborn.

She waves off all attempts to help her until she nearly falls down on the stairs. I catch her and pick her up, expecting her to demand I set her down. Instead, she curls into me, sniffling and hiccupping, nearly asleep by the time I get her in her room. I pause in the doorway, brushing a soft kiss against her tear damp cheek.

"Don't be mad at me," she whispers forlornly.

"I'm not. I never could be," I tell her gently, truthfully.

"I'm mad at you, though."

I smile despite myself. "I know."

She exhales tiredly, her body growing more relaxed in my arms.

"Do you need a human minute?"

"No."

She's asleep before I can even lay her down on her bed.

. . . . .

The night passes slowly. I sit in her rocking chair and watch her sleep. Her words and questions torment me. The future, already so uncertain, looms before us. I can see it through her eyes.

I thought we would travel the world. I thought I would give her wonderful experiences. I thought I could somehow make up for the things she would miss out on by keeping her with me, by showering her in gifts, and trips, and love.

Bella has never wanted gifts. Travel would please her for a time, but the world is small, and she is a constant little thing who would crave roots and a place to call home.

Love can be an empty, cold thing if it doesn't fulfill the needs of those who receive it.

I'm losing her. I know it. I can feel it.

I can't stand it.

I won't survive it.

Worse.

I fear she won't survive it, either.

. . . . . .

Bella sleeps late. Luckily, Charlie is up and gone before dawn, despite being home late himself. Lucky as well that he chose not to look in on Bella in his haste to secure the best fishing spot. The entire room carries the aroma of alcohol, and I'm tempted to open the window. Instead, I continue to sit and wait for Bella to wake up. The inevitable confrontation to come nags at me.

In my mind I've written out dozens of lectures and arguments in favor of her staying human.

As Bella stretches on her bed and groans—grudgingly wakening to what is no doubt a severe headache—I realize how inadequate my arguments are in the face of her determination to relinquish her life and soul.

Unable to resist, I say good morning in a loud, cheerful voice. She peeks out from behind her tangled hair, looking like a cranky hedgehog.

"Not really," she retorts hoarsely, attempting to rebury herself in her blankets. She notices her state of dress, and asks if I put her to bed. I removed her shoes to make her more comfortable, but otherwise left her as she was.

"Yes."

She kicks back the blankets and pushes her hair from her face. Noticing the glass of water and Tylenol I left on her nightstand table, she makes a grateful sound in the back of her throat before draining the glass. She swallows the tablets dry, ignoring my censure to be careful of drinking too much too fast.

"My stomach is fine," she tells me in a snippy tone. "My head, on the other hand, is not."

"I hear that's a common complaint with a hangover."

She ignores me, rising from the bed cautiously, wincing a little at the light and the motion. Before she can leave the room for the safety of the washroom, I attempt to take the bull by the horns and tackle the storm coming our way. I can read in her body language the tension she's feeling. She's wary, perhaps expecting a lecture from me. It bothers me that lately our relationship has taken on this odd role with me being less her boyfriend and more her advisor.

"Bella, I'd like to talk about last night."

She looks at me, her face an open book, a contrast to her silent mind. I see exasperation and frustration. And then I see fear. She tries to mask it.

"What about?" She swallows hard. "Did I do something, say something...?"

"Well, let's see." I smile laconically. "You asked me if I knew Angela and Ben were having sex—actually your exact words were 'horizontally bumping and grinding'—but that's not important."

Her skin erupts in blush as she closes her eyes and groans a little in mortification.

"You also stated you were most likely the last virgin over the age of sixteen in Forks, and wondered if that mattered since you were obviously going to die a virgin as well." My tone is light, but I can feel the slight sting of hurt lingering on the surface of my emotions.

I leave out some of her more colorful comments, watching as her mind begins to fill in the blanks I've left. Her blush deepens.

"I'm sorry, Edward. I didn't mean..." She bites her lip, and I interpret the words she's left unsaid.

She didn't mean to be hurtful. She did, however, mean most of what she said.

"I never should have said those things to you," she tells me quietly, looking regretful even as I can see a part of her is glad she spoke up. I wonder how long she's been thinking and feeling these things.

I stand up and make my way to her, cupping her chin and brushing a kiss across her lips before stepping back.

"Charlie left early to go fishing. I'll go downstairs and make you some coffee and something light to eat if you'd like to take a minute for yourself. Then perhaps we can talk?"

I can see her warring with herself, perhaps wanting to retreat back into her shell of silence about all these matters. Her chin lifts, and she regards me carefully for a moment before replying, "Yeah, talking would be good."

I leave her to clean up and gather her thoughts, working quickly and efficiently in the kitchen. I continue to discard ideas on how to fix this, how to make her see reason.

When I return to her room, Bella is just finishing her shower. I settle onto the bed to wait for her, hoping for the best, stealing myself for the worst.

She enters on a wave of scented air. Her hair is damp, curling around her face and shoulders. She's donned sweat pants and a tee-shirt, obviously aiming for comfort and having no intentions of leaving the house today.

Joining me on the bed, she lets me set the tray across her lap. Her fingers gently touch the napkin I folded into the shape of a rose, her eyes glistening as she looks up at me.

"I love you."

And just like that, this all feels easier. I'm still terrified. Still worried that I'm going to lose her, but in this instant, with her soft proclamation spinning its web over my emotions, I realize that I will fight to keep her. Even if that means not fighting at all and giving in to every one of her demands.

"I love you," I reply. "Talk to me, Bella. Tell me why you drank so much last night? Why you didn't call and come back to me when you said you would?"

"Will you listen to me if I do?" She can't keep the tremor out of her voice. "Don't shut me down, please. Just... hear me out."

Fear is such a strange emotion for me, but I feel it run through me, sharp and raw. If I lose her now, after waiting so long to find her, I know I won't ever be the same.

"I'm listening." I somehow manage not to beg her to stay with me. I've told myself over and over again that no matter what, I will respect and honor her wishes. If she wants to be free, I will fade into the shadows for her. I won't ever be able to fully leave her, but I can be a ghost, someone she won't see while I watch over her, always.

I wait as she sips her coffee, struggling to compose her thoughts. Then she begins to speak, and I do as I said I would. I listen.

More than just listen. I absorb her every word and emotion, attempting to do what is so foreign to me: relinquish control and let go of my attitude that I must protect her, even from herself and what she wants.

I hear and feel her pain. She paints a picture of our future as I am trying to mould it, and through her eyes I see the holes in our canvas. Holes so big we won't be able to help but fall through them.

I see that it's my eyes that have been clouded over. Not hers. By keeping her human, I will take away her humanity. I will force her into a box and give her a half-life.

My heart aches for how I've refused to see how unlikely happiness would be in the future for either of us.

It changes everything.

It changes nothing.

No matter how I hate the picture she's planting in my mind. No matter how much I agree with her theory that by keeping her human I'm setting us both up for future heartache, I still struggle to justify taking her life.

What I want most of all for Bella is choices. And time to make them.

And still... oh, how she breaks my heart—how I long to give her everything she asks for.

"I shouldn't have said the things I did last night, and I'm truly sorry, but even that stuff is true, Edward," she says quietly, beseeching me to understand. "You want me to stay human, and yet you tell me you don't think we can ever possibly be together in that way. Maybe that doesn't matter to you. Maybe you don't want me..."

Instantly, I cover her mouth with my hand. "Don't ever say that. You have to know it isn't true. I do want you, very much, but I won't risk your life."

She pulls her head back and pushes my hand down, shaking. "Don't you see? That makes it worse, Edward. That I'll never know what it feels like to have sex is awful enough, but knowing that by staying human I'm ensuring you will never know, either, is worse. I want that with you, Edward. And ten years from now, when I hurt and ache because I've never been touched or made love to, what will that do to us? Think about it!"

I watch as she breathes raggedly, struggling for control and exhausted by her efforts to make me see her point.

"I have thought about it, Bella." I touch her cheek softly, beseeching her in return to understand me. "Over and over again, but I can't give you what you want. I can't snuff out your life..."

"But don't you see? You already are!" Her head drops, her shoulders slumping in defeat. She doesn't bother to hide the tears she can't contain. The salt-sweet scent perfumes the air, making the burn in my throat worse, though I pay it no mind. "I can't live without you, Edward. Whatever you decide, I'll be here, but this life you want for me, it's not a real life. It's just us, waiting for the inevitable moment when you can't take the charade anymore."

"What does that mean?" I hiss angrily as she tries to avoid looking at me, tipping her chin up and forcing her gaze to meet mine.

Her voice is soft, tinged with something too close to hopelessness for my liking. "It means, Edward. that I know it's only a matter of time before something happens. Maybe another James, or maybe just something stupid like a paper cut on my finger in front of Jasper on one of his bad days. Sooner or later, something is going to happen that you can't control or protect me from, Edward. You know I'm right!"

Her words hit me hard. I think of that time with James, my terror and fear at the thought I could lose her. I think of my kind, and the many that are evil or lacking any attachment to humans beyond food sources. I think of Jasper and his daily struggle. I tell myself I trust him, that I trust Alice to, at the very least, see if he loses control, but the truth is I wonder and worry about Bella being near him—daily.

The helplessness I feel swarms me. I reach for her, the thought of losing her making me desperate, irrational.

She is everything.

I kiss her with every ounce of desperation I feel, trying to convey so much and failing. I need her closer.

With ease I lift her until she is on my lap, her thighs on either side of mine—then dangerously, I pull her closer still. The intimate contact snaps the last threads of my control. When she opens her mouth on a soft gasp of surprise and pleasure, I take full advantage. Our kisses are normally so restrained, but there is nothing restrained about this one. Her taste is divine, and I can only think for a moment to be grateful that she has enough self-preservation to keep her tongue in her mouth, because mine has no such compunctions.

A small part of my mind listens for my phone, half dreading half pleading for Alice to see if I'm making a mistake. If this ends badly, I will never forgive myself. As the phone stays silent, I realize there is no stopping this save the last stitch of morality in me.

I won't make love to her. Not tonight. Not like this.

That doesn't mean I intend to stop. I will take this as far as possible. As far as Bella and the last shreds of my common sense will allow.

My hands find their way under her shirt, her soft skin like the finest silk. I want more—more of her skin under my hands, more of her, period. The cotton shreds under my eagerness. I'm greeted by the sight of her flushed expression and the smooth perfection of her skin. Her bra is a startling black lace with a tiny pink bow between her breasts, the contrast between its coloring and her ivory flesh the most decadent thing I have ever seen.

"I can't lose you. Not ever, Bella." I don't know if I'm justifying my actions or pouring out my fears. It hardly matters. She rocks against me, and there is no way she can believe I don't want her now. My body proves that absolutely.

Her soft whimper of pleasure hits me hard, spiking my arousal through the roof. I have never heard that sound from her before. I want to hear it again, and again, and again. I will never be satisfied now with not hearing that sound.

I press my mouth to her neck as she rocks against me, my mouth so full of venom I can't trust myself, yet neither can I stop. I want this; I want her, too much.

The pressure of the last few months heightens everything. It takes no act of intellect to realize we've been careening towards this moment for weeks. She needs this.

God, I need this.

Her hot hands move under my shirt, and I realize what she wants.

Tit for tat, I think vulgarly, then I can't think at all as her hands touch me, gliding over my chest and abs.

Her heat is searing, and I want more. I have to have more. Ignoring the clasp of the delicate bra she's wearing, I tear it open at the front and let my eyes devour her. She's too aroused to be embarrassed and lets me look my fill.

"So beautiful, my Bella. You are so damn beautiful."

I let my fingertips and lips explore her as she shudders above me.

I'm careful.

I'm not nearly careful enough.

My phone stays silent.

I don't think I'll answer it if it rings now.

Bella makes a mewling whimpering sound, frustrated and needing more. "Don't stop. Please, don't stop."

I free her from her pants and then my own, though I make no conscious thought to do it. I only know I want to feel her as close as possible.

My resolve not to make love to her wavers. I want her, badly. Her aroused scent is heavy in the air. Against the thin cotton fabrics that protect the last scraps of our innocence, I can feel that she is wet for me.

For me...

She rocks harder, and I lift myself against her to find the best angle. Bella's head falls back when I come in contact with her most sensitive place. My own sensitivity takes note of everything. Her thundering, rapid little heart, beating so hard I'd almost fear for her if I didn't know what it meant—her damp, perfect heat and softness, opening for me.

She's seconds away from climaxing and nothing, not a ringing phone, nor fear for her safety, not even moral compunctions instilled in an age long past, will stop me from making sure she gets there.

When she cries out, I'm prepared to rock her through it, and to relish the perfection of her being lost in pleasure. I'm not prepared for my body's reaction to that lush little cry, or the way her body glides faster against mine. A flush races down her neck to cover her breasts in soft pink, her nipples pulling tighter. The sight makes me lose all control. I have only enough sense to throw my head back as the blinding pleasure of orgasm ignites a desire to bite her that is more about primal urges than thirst.

I want to bite her to mark her as mine. A mark, which as surely as the scent of me and sex clings to her, would be a clear warning that she's taken.

As I begin to come, I lock my body into immobility, and then I can't think of anything except the way this feels.

It's so much more intense than I ever thought it would be. Indescribable.

Bella sags against me. It's pure instinct to catch her, to pull her closer and hold her in the afterglow. My quiet heart aches with the love I feel for her. As she catches her breath, I whisper things she cannot hear. I can only hope she knows the truth in her heart.

"I love you, Isabella Marie Swan. More than I can ever convey, I love you. You are my heart and my soul, my conscience and my salvation, my life. I ache to give you everything you ask of me. Everything, love. Give me time, Bella. Let me love you for now, just like this. Trust me. Believe in me. I will find my way to give you everything you ask for. Just give me time, my beautiful girl. Just give me time."

She can't hear me, but she turns her face and brushes her lips over mine, exhaling gently as I lay us down and tuck her head beneath my chin. She's relaxed and warm, yet I secure the blankets around her anyway. There is no way I can let her go right now. I need her close, and I sense she needs the same.

We don't speak, though I know her mind is spinning. I wait for her to tell me how she feels, what she thinks, my impatience to know tempered by the beauty of what we just shared.

I smile against her hair at that thought. Who knew the fumbling of two teenaged virgins could be such an amazingly, exquisitely beautiful thing?

I feel an answering smile against my neck as she lifts her head to kiss me there. Apparently she knew.

I chuckle lightly and wait for her censure, sure that she is about to tell me she's always trusted me. Instead, I feel her smile fade away, and her arms attempt to hold me closer, weak though they are. I feel her touch everywhere, the strength that doesn't show physically all too apparent in her clutch.

"Promise me," she whisper-pleads, "that no matter what happens, even if you decide to keep me human, you won't ever leave me."

That she could ever think I would breaks my heart even as I realize that somehow, before this night we were headed down the very path she fears. My arrogance, my assured ego that I know what is best for her, that I have some right to make her choices, is apparent to me now.

I lift her from me and place her gently on her side, rolling until we are face to face. My fingers trace a gentle line down the countenance that has become more precious to me than life itself as I strive to find words I can speak out loud. A way to give her the reassurance she needs without empowering her to push for the things I need time to ready myself for.

"I promise no matter what we decide," I swear softly, "I will never leave you. We'll choose our path together. No matter what our future holds, for however long a time is meant for us, be it decades or eternity, I will always be with you."

I seal the vow with a kiss, certain that no matter what comes in the future, we are strong enough to face it together.

~~xo~~


Thank you for reading.

Aleea