Disclaimer: (Content and legal) All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Notes: My apologies if I made any errors in regards to ROTC or being in the military in general. I dated a guy in the Army and am friends with/related to a fair number of military guys, but I definitely don't know the ins and outs of the process of joining/boot camp/deployment.

Also, I can't say enough about the incredible couples who deal with deployment and make their relationships work. It's a rough, rough life.

And huge thanks to the lovely lady, Eternally Cullen, who took the time to read this over and tidy up my mistakes.


"Soldier Boy and Naughty Bells"

In middle school when I met Edward Cullen, he was the dorkiest guy I'd ever seen. He was short for his age, but gangly, with limbs that didn't seem to obey his brain's command. In fact, it was like his whole body had rebelled against him. Acne, greasy hair, crooked teeth that needed braces, glasses, a high squeaky voice; the list was endless.

He moved to Forks as a sixth grader the year I started eighth grade. The news that the Cullens had moved to town was all anyone had talked about for weeks. I knew that Dr. Cullen was taking over as Chief of Medicine at the local hospital, Mrs. Cullen had been hired as the head librarian at the public library, they had bought the old Higgins place and were fixing it up, and they had two kids, Rosalie and Edward.

The morning of his first day of school, I'd seen him in the hall getting picked on. The other kids were merciless about teasing him. I didn't actually meet him until later in the day. I was reading in the school library and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when someone tripped over my feet. I looked up in surprise to see Edward sprawled on the floor, his face flushing a bright red before he even had a chance to sit up. He scrambled to his feet awkwardly and stammered out an apology.

"Sorry, I…I didn't see you there," he whispered, his voice squeaking on the word 'there'.

"It's okay," I said quietly. "Why were you running?"

Up close, he was even more awkward looking. Freckles dotted the skin that wasn't covered in acne and his glasses were thick, obscuring his eyes completely. He had a boney chest and scrawny arms. His knobby knees stuck out of his cargo shorts and he had huge feet. He kind of reminded me of a puppy, disproportionate and floppy. Without the cuteness they had.

He smiled shyly, ducking his head as he flushed with embarrassment again. "Um, these guys were…" he trailed off, probably embarrassed to admit that he was being picked on.

"Oh, you can hang out here. They probably won't come in the library. Want half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"

I offered him my uneaten half and he plopped down next to me, taking it from my hand and practically cramming the whole thing in his mouth at once. I stared at him in awe; I'd never seen anyone eat that fast. He chewed for a moment and swallowed, smiling at me with a toothy, peanut butter covered grin. "Thanks."

"Um, you have a little…uhh…" I gestured to his braces and he flushed and pulled a water bottle out of his backpack, swishing the water around in his mouth before swallowing and smiling at me again.

"All gone," I reassured him. "I'm Bella."

"Edward Cullen." He stuck his hand out at me and we shook hands, although I thought it was funny. Kids don't shake hands, adults do. Edward was weird; that was for sure. But he seemed pretty nice.

We spent the rest of lunch talking. I learned that he'd moved from Chicago, had two pet turtles and a snake, he wanted to be a biologist when he grew up, and he really wanted to go to the Amazon some day.

I told him that I was an only child, my dad was Chief of Police, my mom was an English teacher at the high school, and that I'd always wanted a puppy, but my dad was allergic.

I shared the rest of my lunch with him, and checked his braces to make sure there wasn't anything stuck in them again. I was packing up my school bag when we heard footsteps. His eyes widened and he grabbed his backpack, nearly hitting me in the head with it, and disappeared around the shelf of books. A moment later a girl rounded the corner. I didn't recognize her, so I assumed she had to be his sister Rosalie. She was short, and a little chubby, but not fat, with blond hair held back with a headband. She had on glasses, but unlike her brother she was quite pretty. "Hi," she said. "Have you seen my brother?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Who are you?"

She introduced herself and Edward peered around the corner before walking over to us. "I'm right here, Rose."

"What are you doing in here?" she asked. "Were you getting picked on again? Edward, it's the first day of school, how did you manage to make enemies already?"

"It's not his fault," I blurted out. "Those guys are jerks." Tyler, Ben and Mike were jerks; they'd pick on anything that moved.

Rosalie sighed. "I know, I was just hoping this place would be better. He had no friends at our old school."

"I'm his friend," I said, surprising even myself.

He grinned at me, all braces and awkward smiles, and I smiled back. Making friends with Edward wasn't going to win me any popularity contests, but I didn't really care. My best friend Alice and I weren't exactly the cool kids. We weren't picked on like Edward was, but we weren't popular like Jessica and Lauren. I was taller than most people in my grade, and having a cop for a dad and a mom for a teacher meant that people automatically assumed I was a goody-goody. My looks were okay. I was thin and pale with brown hair and brown eyes. Nothing to pick on, but nothing that special either. I was smart, and I'd rather read than play sports, so I didn't have much in common with the other girls in my grade. Ever since fourth grade, it had just been Alice and me.

Alice was downright weird. She loved clothes, but she seemed to have no idea how to put them together without making people stare, and she had coke-bottle glasses and had gotten an unfortunate haircut in sixth grade that made her look like she'd stuck her finger in a light socket. It was much cuter now, but no one let her live it down. She was short and thin, with grey eyes and black hair, not exactly pretty, but not ugly either. Alice was friendly though, and I thought she'd get along with Edward too. I just had to keep her from trying to offer him fashion advice. He didn't need any more reasons to be picked on.

The next day at lunch, Alice, Rosalie, and Edward and I ate together. It wasn't long before we were all friends. From then on it was the four of us who did everything together. It didn't matter that Edward was a boy, and two years younger. He tagged along like an awkward puppy, and we didn't mind.

Edward was very smart, and he skipped seventh grade, moving right up to eighth grade the year Alice and Rosalie and I became freshman. It was hard to have our group split up, and I knew he was picked on even more. His glasses were broken all of the time and he winced a little too often for it to just be from being klutzy and un-coordinated. But by the time he was a freshman and we were going into our sophomore year, things were a bit better for Edward.

He wasn't tall, but he wasn't short anymore either. The acne was fading, the braces were gone, and he got a better pair of glasses. He was still skinny, with a sunken in chest and scrawny limbs, but he joined the track team, so at least he was fast and strong. We laughed at his awkward gait and chicken legs in short track shorts, but he was a good runner, and it was enough to keep the bullies away. They moved on to harassing someone else, and our little foursome of friends made it through high school relatively unscathed. None of us dated a whole lot, and I took Edward to my prom as friends. We had a blast.

Most kids went to hotels or parties after prom. Our after prom party involved cheesy 80's horror movies, Twizzlers and Doritos at my house. Our parents never minded when the four of us crashed at one another's houses. Edward might have been a boy, but he was considered harmless enough, and I'd caught my mom tucking a blanket around him when he passed out on the couch and Alice and Rosalie and I were in sleeping bags on the floor.

Freshman year at UDub was the hardest. Edward was still back at Forks High, and all three of us missed him. But college was fun. We studied a lot, but we also went to parties and drank. We made a lot of other friends, but were still as close as ever.

Rose was now a tall blonde with a great figure and a wicked sense of humor. Alice was dainty and elegant, and although her clothes still made people stare, it was because of how beautiful and interesting they were, not how hideous. I was pretty happy with my looks. I had a nice body, great skin and hair, and an often-complimented smile.

Rosalie met a guy named Emmett in an architecture class they were both taking. Alice fell for a guy named Jasper at a party when he'd held her hair back while she puked.

I dated. A lot. Not that I slept around a lot, I just went out on a lot of dates.

It was fun. I was in no hurry to find someone to settle down with and there were plenty of cute guys around. I had a few boyfriends that lasted several months, and my freshman year a guy named Jared took my virginity. It was fairly anticlimactic and although we dated for about four months, it kind of fizzled out after a while. Undaunted, I kept dating, declared psychology as my major, got a part-time job and finished out my freshman year.

We were all a little shocked by the Edward who joined us at UDub the following year. He was 6'3", still thin, but no longer awkward and gangly looking. His skin was clear, his hair was soft and thick looking, his teeth were straight and even, and his glasses were gone.

"Holy shit, Edward," I said. "Contacts?"

"Laser surgery."

"Wow. I didn't even know you had blue eyes." They were fringed with thick lashes, and were really striking.

"What color did you think they were?" he asked, sounding amused.

"I had no idea," I said. "They're gorgeous though."

His cheeks flushed; an endearing trait that I was so glad he hadn't lost.

College was where Edward really blossomed. He was still shy and a little awkward sometimes. But he made friends and grew a lot more confident. He ran track for the university and did very well.

Edward even dated a nice girl named Libby who lived down the hall from us. She was quiet, but very sweet and friendly, and she fit into our group well enough. They dated for most of his first year, but broke it off at the beginning of summer. Edward had taken enough Advanced Placement classes and a couple of summer semester classes that he was nearly at Junior status when the rest of us were.

He was going into Engineering and seemed happy with it, when he dropped the bombshell on us. We were all hanging out at the apartment Rosalie and Alice and I shared. The guys were over and we'd been watching movies and drinking. Edward took a swig of beer and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

"I'm joining ROTC," he said, like he was discussing taking out the garbage. But I was sitting close enough that I saw that small tremor in his hand.

"You're WHAT?" Rosalie said, disentangling herself from Emmett and turning to Edward.

"I'm joining ROTC," he repeated.

"But, why?" Alice asked, peering at him from where she was perched on Jasper's lap.

"Why not?" he asked, taking another sip of beer.

"What the fuck, Edward? This is totally out of the blue. I don't understand," Rosalie said.

Edward leaned forward and set the beer down on the coffee table, resting his elbows on his knees. "It's just something I feel like I need to do," he said quietly. Edward had always been someone who thought things through carefully, so I knew if he was telling us, he'd probably already made the decision after long and serious consideration.

"Did something in particular prompt it?" I asked him and he nodded.

"I've been reading all these articles about the war, and I just feel like I could do good there. I want to be a soldier, Bella."

"And you've already decided this?" Rosalie asked bitterly. "Without discussing it with any of us, without talking to your family first?"

"Babe," Emmett said softly, gently grabbing her arm to keep her from going anywhere. "Let Edward explain."

"Please, Rose, it's important to me," Edward pleaded.

"I can't even talk to you right now," she said, pulling out of Emmett's grasp and stalking across the room to her bedroom and slamming the door. Emmett sighed and followed after her, taking a moment to quietly tell Edward that he was proud of him for his decision. Edward smiled gratefully and thanked him before standing up and going out to the balcony of the apartment. Everyone stared after him, in various states of shock and I sighed and followed him, knowing he probably needed to talk to someone. I shut the sliding glass door of the balcony and saw Edward leaning on the railing, his head bowed.

"Hey," I said softly, placing my hand against the middle of his back. He sighed, but didn't respond otherwise. "You're serious about this, huh?" I asked.

"Very." He finally spoke. "I don't know how to explain it, Bella, I just…I feel like this is something I have to do. Like, it's a calling." He turned and looked at me, his eyes meeting mine.

"If it's what you think is right, we'll support you."

"Rosalie won't," he said bitterly.

I hesitated. "Rosalie is hurt that she's just finding this out now, and that you didn't tell her earlier."

"I know." He sighed. "I just…I had to be sure it was what I wanted."

"She's probably scared, too," I added.

"Scared?"

"Edward, this country is at war right now, if you become a soldier, you will get deployed. You could die. We're all scared. None of us want to lose you."

"I hadn't really thought of that."

"You hadn't thought about the fact you might actually be deployed?" I asked incredulously. It seemed totally out of character for him to not consider all of the facts.

"No, I knew that. I just hadn't thought of how it would affect the rest of you."

"Edward, we all care about you. How can you think we wouldn't worry about you?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know…I just didn't even think about that part of it."

"I know. Just realize that this is because we care."

He nodded and was silent for a long while before he finally said, "Do you think I can't do it?"

I shook my head immediately. "Edward, if you want it, you'll be the best damn soldier out there and I can't think of someone better to be an officer. You can do anything you put your mind to."

"Really?"

"Really."

"I was just afraid people will make fun of me for wanting to do it. I'm still kind of a nerd." He laughed awkwardly.

"Edward, you're so much more than that. And I honestly believe that you'll be great at it," I reassured him. "I don't really like it, but it's only because I'll miss you and be worried about you."

"I know." He turned to face me and put his arm around me, pulling me against his side. "I'll miss you, too. But I need to do this."

"Then I'll support you," I said quietly.

I stood there for a long time, tucked under his arm, listening to the sound of cars driving by on the nearby street and muted voices talking in the distance.

He sighed eventually and pulled back. "I want another beer, you want one?"

"Yes please."

He disappeared inside for a short while and reappeared with a six-pack of beer, a package of Oreos and a bag of chips. We sat out on the balcony for a couple of hours, drinking and talking about Edward's plans. Like I'd suspected, he'd done his research and excitedly told me about the opportunities he'd have to use his engineering degree in the Army. I couldn't deny that I hated the idea of him joining, but there was no way I'd try to hold him back from something he seemed to want so badly. Once Edward made his mind up, there was no going back.

When we were both buzzed, slightly sick to our stomachs from the food, and yawning every five minutes, I stood up. "Come on, let's head inside."

He nodded and gathered up the trash.

Everyone had disappeared by the time we went back inside and I tugged him toward my room after we'd finished cleaning up. "Come on, crash in here with me," I offered and he readily agreed.

He brushed his teeth and stripped down to boxers and crawled into my bed. He fell asleep before I was even ready for bed and he was taking up three quarters of it when I joined him. With a muttered curse and a heave I managed to push his dead weight aside and slip under the covers. It wasn't the first time Edward and I had shared a bed, and it probably wouldn't be the last.

In the morning I woke up to him lying on his stomach, snoring, with his arm thrown over me.

"Damn it, Edward," I swore and he woke up and blinked at me.

"What?" he asked sleepily.

"You're crushing me," I complained and he rolled on top of me. I should have seen it coming; he loved to drive me crazy.

"Oww," I whined. "You're too heavy on top of me. And ugh, is that your morning wood digging into my thigh?"

"You like it," he muttered against my neck.

"I do not," I protested, but I didn't really mind it either. Edward's gradual transformation from dorky kid to cute adult made me a little confused. Although I couldn't deny that a small part of me wondered what it would be like to kiss him, I had no idea if he even found me attractive. I was attracted to him, but I couldn't really imagine doing anything about it. He was Edward. We were best friends and I wasn't sure it was worth risking that.

~SB&NB~

Edward and Rosalie finally talked, although it took her a couple of days to even speak to him. They had it out, arguing like only siblings could, but she eventually admitted that she was worried about him, and hurt that he hadn't included her in his decision making. They had always done everything together, and I thought the fact that he was finally doing something on his own for the first time was what hurt her the most.

With minor grumbling on her part, she conceded that he should join, and after talking it over with his parents, he was an official member of ROTC. It was strange to watch his gradual transition from floppy-haired, skinny college student to a fit, short-haired soldier-in-training. I almost cried when he walked in the door to my apartment and I saw his hair for the first time. I was the only one home at the moment, although Alice and Rosalie would be home from classes soon, which meant that Jasper and Emmett would be on their way as well.

"You hate it," he said when I stared at him in shock.

"Um, no?"

"You don't sound very sure of that." He seemed worried and I realized that he was probably looking for some reassurance. I stood up from the couch and walked toward him.

"Hmm, it's just really different," I said. "You look older, and more serious."

I reached up and touched it tentatively and he bent his head so I could inspect it. The hair was short and prickly-soft, an intriguing combination of textures and I found myself absolutely fascinated by it. "You're still cute," I said.

"I'm not cute," he scoffed and stepped away from me, throwing himself down on the couch and reaching for the remote, quickly changing the channel away from what I'd been watching.

"Are too," I protested. "And give me that remote."

"No."

"You are cute, Edward." I shook my head in amusement, wondering how he could not see how attractive he'd become.

"No, I'm really not," he snapped. "You don't have to be condescending, Bella."

"I'm not being condescending," I protested. "I am sure there are plenty of other girls out there who would agree with me."

He sighed and sat up. "Well, none of them are lining up around the block to be with me, so I have to conclude that you're delusional."

I stared at him in shock. "You really don't see it, do you? Every time we go out as a group, girls check you out. There have even been a bunch trying to hit on you, but you always brushed them off. I thought you weren't interested."

He blinked at me in surprise and then shook his head. "If they were hitting on me, I had no idea."

I chuckled. "Aren't you oblivious then? Trust me Edward, it happens all the time. And give me the damn remote."

I lunged for it and he fell back onto the couch, my body covering his. I stretched forward, but his arms were much longer and I wriggled futilely against him trying to reach it. He tauntingly held it away from me with his left arm; while the right reached down to tickle me. I shrieked in surprise and launched myself up his body, nearly kneeing him in the groin and causing my boobs to smash into his face.

"Fuck, you're smothering me, Bella," he muttered. I could feel the heat of his breath through the thin fabric of my t-shirt and I shivered at the feeling. The distraction worked though, I was able to wrestle the remote from his hand. I turned to launch myself off the couch, but Edward managed to latch onto me and I landed on my back on the floor with Edward hovering over me. He managed to catch himself in time, so he didn't land directly on top of me with all of his weight, but it caught me by surprise and I hit my head on the carpeted floor beneath me.

The padding was minimal and my teeth rattled and I nearly bit my tongue. "Oww," I cried out and Edward looked down at me with a concerned frown.

"Are you okay?"

"No, I'm not okay! I just smashed my head on the floor and nearly got crushed by you." He reached down and slid a hand under the back of my head, holding himself up on his elbow and other hand. He gently massaged the back of my head for a moment and I sighed in relief as the eye-crossing pain receded. I reached up and put my palms against his chest, intending to push him away.

Instead, I felt the firm muscles of his chest under my hands and the warmth of his body. His blue eyes were staring down at me, still concerned. We both hesitated a beat too long. I was struck with an inexplicable urge to draw him close instead of push him away. He swallowed noisily, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat and then wet his lips. His tongue was pink and soft looking as it trailed across his bottom lip. I sucked in a breath, completely bewildered by the sudden question of what his lips would taste like on mine. I blinked in confusion and the sound of the door opening and the noisy chatter of our friends broke the moment. The sound abruptly stopped and then I heard Emmett laugh loudly.

"Huh, didn't know you two were hooking up."

I sighed and pushed Edward off of me. He rolled to the side and threw his arm over his eyes, his cheeks coloring from embarrassment.

"We're not hooking up," I scoffed, and sat up. I brandished the remote at Emmett and hopped up. "We were fighting over the remote and I fell off the couch and hit my head."

I changed the channel with one hand while my other hand came up to rub at the back of my still sore head.

"Yeah, you'd have to be brain damaged to sleep with Edward," Emmett said.

I rolled my eyes and wondered if I did have a concussion. The moment between Edward and I had been very strange.

"Fuck off," Edward said to Emmett and flipped him off. He stood up like he was going to leave, but I reached for him.

"Ignore him," I said quietly. "And remember what I said earlier about girls being interested in you."

He gave me a skeptical look, but he didn't leave, and we settled back on opposite ends of the couch. I picked a movie to put on and our friends settled around us in the living room. The evening continued like always, take out for dinner, movies on the television and hours of good-natured teasing. Edward was unusually quiet though and I wondered what he was thinking. I didn't push him though, because Edward was not someone you wanted to push. He never talked until he was ready, and the more you pushed, the deeper he dug in.

I was quiet myself, thinking over the strange, tension-filled moment between us.

Edward had always been my friend, and I was just now beginning to see him as more than a boy I'd grown up with. Edward was becoming a man, and a rather attractive one at that.

~SB&NB~

Over the next semester as Edward progressed through ROTC and we both finished our undergrad degrees, I couldn't seem to put that day from my mind. Now that I'd seen another side to Edward, it was impossible to un-see. I couldn't forget that he was an attractive guy that I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to kiss. I began to notice just how many girls checked him out when we were out. It didn't matter where we were, what we were doing, or how he was dressed; girls flocked to him.

And he was oblivious to them all. He was friendly, and a little shy with them, which just seemed to make them try harder. I had also discovered that flirting with Edward made him incredibly embarrassed. Maybe I should have been a nicer person, but it was just so much fun to see his cheeks turn pink. Especially as his features matured and he lost the sweet boyish look he'd had.

The funny thing was, he flirted back with me. In fact, Edward and I flirted a lot. I never knew if he realized just how good he was at it. I seemed to be the only girl he really flirted back with. The problem was, I didn't really know what I wanted. I was sure that my idle curiosity was a nothing more than physical attraction and curiosity. I was dying to know what it was like to kiss Edward Cullen.

So, I ramped up the flirting, touching him at every opportunity and practically throwing myself at him. It didn't do a bit of good. He was oblivious, uninterested, or too terrified to make a move.

One night, we sent about a thousand innuendo laced texts back and forth and at one a.m. he finally decided to come over. I dressed in tiny little shorts and a thin t-shirt with no bra. He stared at me open-mouthed when I met him at the door to the apartment to let him in. I leaned in to give him a hug, letting the tips of my nipples brush against his hard chest.

We spent the whole night sitting on my bed talking. I let my body graze against his. He gave me a backrub; I ran my fingernails across his scalp. And he fell asleep with his arms around me, but beyond that…it didn't go anywhere. I could have made a move, but without further confirmation of his interest, I felt like I was going to either scare him off or ruin our friendship.

Instead, I gave up.

Time passed quickly as we finished up our undergrad degrees. Senior year was filled with grad school applications for some of us, and job interviews for others.

When a cute guy at work named Jake asked me on a date, I said yes. He was fun, and he made me laugh, and he was good enough in bed. I wasn't in love with him, but I liked him a lot. He got along with my friends, but we didn't make anything official. I was in no hurry to settle down and although I liked Jake, I wasn't sure he was the kind of guy I wanted to settle down with. I went on a few sporadic dates after that, but no one else piqued my interest either.

Graduation was a blur of mind-numbingly boring ceremonies and crazy parties. I had landed a position at University of Washington's Graduate Program of Psychology. Rosalie and Emmett got jobs working at the same architecture firm in Seattle. Alice was off to New York in the fall for a year-long internship at a well known house of fashion, and Jasper had decided to follow her. He was a CPA and it wasn't hard to find jobs in that field anywhere in the country. Edward would be going to basic training in August.

We all made the most of our summer. It was idyllic for a couple of months. We all spent as much time together as possible. But as our time together wound down, we clung to each other harder; wanting one more trip to the bar, one more time watching movies, one more night of laughter.

It was hard when Edward went off to basic. Weeks without talking to him felt strange; I'd never gone that long. I wrote him a couple of letters, and he responded. His familiar looping scrawl was comforting. He complained about the heat, and that he was exhausted all the time, but I could hear how happy he was. How eager he was to begin his career as a soldier. I felt adrift without him. I could barely remember a time in my life before Edward existed, and it was the first time I couldn't just pick up a phone and talk to him whenever I wanted.

I cried hard when Alice and Jasper left for New York, our group finally splintering. Jake tried to comfort me, but he had never really understood our group dynamic. For almost four years it had been the six of us, and with Alice and Jasper moving across the country and Edward at basic, we were down to three. Emmett and Rosalie had a work and personal life that was completely separate from me, and I felt completely alone as I moved into a one-bedroom apartment and began my life as a grad student.

~SB&NB~

When Edward returned from basic he was shockingly different looking. His face looked older, his body was tightly muscled, and the biggest shock was the way he carried himself. He had a bit of a swagger now when he walked, shoulders pulled back instead of hunched forward. Edward was a man. It gave me a strange feeling to see him like that.

But, he smelled the same when I hugged him. And he blushed just as furiously when I wolf-whistled at the sight of him shirtless. He was still my Edward. Just bigger and manlier. Sexier.

Jake pushed me to date him exclusively but I was unsure. I liked Jake, but every time I pictured a future with him, it just felt off. Thankfully, he wasn't obnoxious about it and once I told him I needed some time to think he backed off. I just wasn't really sure what to do. It wasn't that I hated the idea of a committed relationship, but I was more and more sure I didn't want it with him.

We had a few months before Edward was deployed. When he got his orders, I cried. The idea of Edward going off to a war-zone scared the crap out of me. The thought of possibly losing him made my heart clench and my stomach ache.

One night in early October just a few weeks before Edward was supposed to leave, I was in my room studying when he pinged me with an instant message.

SoldierBoy: You there?

NaughtyBells: Studying, but yeah, you need something?

SoldierBoy: I've been thinking

NaughtyBells: About what?

SoldierBoy: My mortality

I set my book aside, all pretense of studying officially over.

NaughtyBells: Jesus, what the hell, Edward? I mean, I get it, but you're really worried about that?

SoldierBoy: Yeah. I mean, it's just weird to think I might never come home again

NaughtyBells: It's awful to even consider

SoldierBoy: I don't mind dying for my country, but it makes me think of all of the things I haven't accomplished yet. There's so much I haven't done, you know?

NaughtyBells: Like what?

SoldierBoy: I dunno, life I guess.

NaughtyBells: You're going to have to be a little more specific than that

SoldierBoy: It bothers me that I've never had sex

NaughtyBells: Really?

SoldierBoy: Of course it bothers me.

NaughtyBells: No, really you're still a virgin. You and Libby never…?

SoldierBoy: Nope. I would have, but she was pretty religious. Wanted to wait.

NaughtyBells: Wow.

SoldierBoy: I just kinda hate the idea of possibly dying without having experienced that

NaughtyBells: Yeah. Afraid I can't help you out with that.

SoldierBoy: Why not?

NaughtyBells: Are you serious?

SoldierBoy: Totally

NaughtyBells: Uh, there are a lot of reasons, Edward

SoldierBoy: But what if I go off to war, still a virgin?

NaughtyBells: Oh come on, that's such a terrible line!

SoldierBoy: But is it working on you?

NaughtyBells: No comment

SoldierBoy: Ha! It is. I knew it.

NaughtyBells: Why me? You know you could get just about any girl you come across.

SoldierBoy: You're the only one who gets that I'm too damn shy to make a first move. I met a girl about six months ago and I liked her, but every time it went any further than making out, I froze up. I need your help.

NaughtyBells: I can't be the only single female friend of yours who'd be willing to help you out.

SoldierBoy: Are you willing?

NaughtyBells: I'm considering.

SoldierBoy: C'mon, don't you want to be my cougar?

NaughtyBells: I'm only two years older than you!

SoldierBoy: But vastly more experienced.

NaughtyBells: Are you calling me a tramp?

SoldierBoy: Hell no. What I'm saying if there's one girl I'm friends with who I actually feel comfortable begging for help with this, it's you. What am I supposed to do? Ask some chick who hits on me at the bar? I think a girl like that would eat me alive. It scares me, Bella.

NaughtyBells: You think I won't eat you alive?

SoldierBoy: I think I trust you to show me what to do without making me feel like less of a man for asking for help.

NaughtyBells: I appreciate the confidence you have in me. Is this really that big of a deal to you?

SoldierBoy: Yeah, it is. Please, just think about it.

NaughtyBells: I'll think about it.

NaughtyBells: You know I'm dating Jake though.

SoldierBoy: Not exclusively though, right?

NaughtyBells: No. But he wants to be…he's a good guy…I don't want to mess that up. I don't know.

SoldierBoy: Well it's not like you need to announce to him what we're doing. And it can be one last fling before you settle down.

NaughtyBells: I don't know that I am going to settle down with Jake

SoldierBoy: Well, either way, consider it, please.

NaughtyBells: Like I said, I'll think about it.

I did think about it. For days. It wasn't that I wasn't attracted to him. That certainly wasn't the problem. In fact, there was even something really appealing about the idea of being Edward's first. But I didn't want to make things weird between us. We'd been friends for so long.

By the weekend though, I'd finally decided to go for it, risks be damned. I sent Edward a message saying yes and he responded enthusiastically.

SoldierBoy: You're awesome, Bella. Thank you.

NaughtyBells: Just promise me that things won't get weird between us. I care about you too much to let this mess up our friendship.

SoldierBoy: I care about you, too. That's why I want it to be with you. I could go pick up a girl in a bar, but I'd feel weird and I'd get awkward and shy, and I would hate that I didn't even know her. You're the perfect person for this. I won't let it get in the way of our friendship, I promise.

NaughtyBells: How about Friday night?

SoldierBoy: Sounds great. Is it corny of me to say I'm excited?

NaughtyBells: A little, but totally understandable

On Friday night, I felt jittery and anxious. I made and unmade the bed three times before I decided to leave it made. I had dressed and undressed half a dozen times before finally deciding on a short pair of denim shorts and a black v-neck t-shirt. I wore a black bra and panties, plain except for a small bit of black lace. The sundress, and satin and lace lingerie I'd put on earlier felt like too much.

I couldn't decide if I should leave the light on or off, before finally turning on the lamp on my desk and shutting off the overhead light. I debated for a while, but eventually I decided that candles seemed cliché and kind of cheesy, so I didn't light any. I picked up a book and read the same page over and over before a knock at the door startled me. I answered it, my heart beating my chest far too fast.

"Hey Edward." I motioned for him to follow me through the apartment and into my room. I closed the bedroom door behind me and then turned to face him. He was wearing loose fitting cargo shorts and a grey Army t-shirt. His hands were in the pockets of his shorts and he shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. He was just as nervous as I was, if not more so. The confident swagger was gone, replaced with the familiar hunched shoulders and awkward posture.

"Hey, it's all right." I took his hand and led him over to the bed. I sat down and patted the spot next to him. The bed sank beneath his weight and his knee jostled up and down as he shook it anxiously. "Don't be nervous."

"But I am." His voice was so deep now, and such a contrast to the scared boy that was peering out at me from his blue eyes.

"We don't have to, if you aren't sure…"

"I want to. Really. I am just so afraid of messing up."

"There is no messing up, Edward." I said softly. "Other than maybe throwing up on me, there isn't anything you can do wrong. Let's have fun with this."

"Okay." He stared at me, willing me to make the first move. I sighed and scooted back on the bed before lying down. I held out my hand to him and he came to rest at my side. His lips were just inches from mine. I could feel his body shaking slightly next to me and I brought my hand up to touch the back of his head. His hair was buzzed short, and I let my hand run across the prickly softness.

I lifted my head just far enough to let our lips touch and he sighed against my mouth as if releasing a breath he'd been holding for too long. His lips were hesitant at first but slowly followed my lead. He kissed me softly and tentatively at first, but as he gained confidence, it grew deeper.

He came to rest on top of me and I wound my arms around his shoulders. I could feel his heart beating quickly against mine and I brought one hand down to caress his back. I shifted a little and he settled between my legs, hard already. He gasped and closed his eyes, his lips parted at the feeling.

"Jesus." He groaned. His forehead rested against mine and I could feel his warm breath as it left his lips. He was hard against me, nestled right between my legs and I had to resist the urge to grind as I pushed against him a little.

"Does that feel good?" I asked quietly.

"Yes, I don't think I've ever been so turned on in my life." He pulled back to look at me and his jaw clenched tightly. I ran my fingertips along his jaw and his eyes closed for a moment.

"Take off my shirt," I whispered. He sat up far enough to slip it off and surprised me by burying his face in my cleavage.

"I've wanted to do that for so long. You have the most amazing tits," he said once he lifted his head sheepishly. I laughed softly.

"You can take my bra off, too," I told him and rubbed the back of his head encouragingly. He hesitated but sat back, pulling me up with him. He reached around me, his trembling fingers fumbling with the clasp.

"I can't get it," he said, sounding frustrated.

I reached back and guided his fingers the best I could. His grin was triumphant when it finally unhooked. He sat back on his heels, and his hands came to the top of my shoulders. He gently brushed the straps from atop my shoulders and when the bra fell forward he removed it from me, his eyes glued to my chest.

His eyes never wavered as I slipped my hands under his shirt and pulled it off as well.

Edward had always been thin, and his ROTC training had sculpted his body over the last few years into lean muscle.

Basic training had bulked him up. He was built now. He had broader, more defined shoulders and arms, nicely shaped pecs, and an utterly lickable eight-pack. His cargo shorts sat low on his hips, the waistband of a pair of grey boxer briefs peeking up over the edge.

I could see he was breathing more quickly now and he licked his lips as his hand reached out to touch me. He began at my shoulder and trailed his fingertips across my collarbone and down to the valley between my breasts. I slowly sank back onto the bed, and he leaned forward to hover over me. He braced himself on one elbow off to my right side and his hand trailed further down and then to the side to rest on my hip.

He glanced up at me, his apprehension clear on his face. "Touch me, Edward," I encouraged him. "Kiss me, anywhere. However you want."

"Okay," he whispered. His lips hesitantly touched the skin between my breasts and I arched against him.

"That feels good," I encouraged him again. His hand moved to rest just under my breast. He lingered there for a while and I took his hand to move it to cover the nipple.

"Please, touch me." I whispered.

"Like this?" He hesitantly brushed his thumb across the nipple and I moaned. His thumb was slightly rough and warm and I arched up into his touch, wanting him to know how good it felt.

"Exactly like that."

He spent the longest time running his fingertips across my breasts, watching the way the skin tightened. He seemed to like it when my skin broke out in goose bumps and I shivered. I wasn't surprised by Edward's slow, methodical exploration of me. He had always been a careful, deliberate person. I wondered though if some of it was nerves. I was just about to say something to him when he lowered his head and his lips joined his fingers on my breasts. I shuddered against him and clutched at his head as his mouth worked over me with the same thoroughness.

I reached down and unbuttoned my shorts, sliding them down my legs and tossing them off the bed. I left my panties on and shifted restlessly on the bed as Edward's gaze lingered on the vee between my legs.

"Edward, please," I begged.

"Tell me what to do next," he whispered.

"Touch me. Touch my pussy."

His fingers trembled against my stomach as they moved lower. I parted my legs and Edward's fingers dipped underneath my panties, grazing lightly against my lips. I let out a shaky breath, unbelievably aroused by his slow exploration of my body.

He delved a little deeper with his fingers and murmured against my mouth, "You're really wet."

"That's because you're really turning me on," I said, gasping when he pushed lightly into me. His movements were steady, but still a bit tentative. I took his hand in mine and guided it a little higher. I shuddered when his fingers grazed over my clit.

"Right there," I gasped. "That's my clit. It's really, really sensitive. You did a great job, touching me and making sure I was wet. You don't want to just start out with the clit; it can be kind of uncomfortable sometimes."

"I read that," he muttered, not meeting my eye as his face turned red and his fingers stilled. "God, I'm such a nerd."

"No." With my other hand I grasped his chin and guided it until his eyes met mine. "Edward, there's nothing wrong with doing a little research first. It's way hotter to have a guy who wants to please you than someone who only cares about his own pleasure."

"I hadn't thought about it that way," he said, sounding mollified.

"So, show me what else you learned," I coaxed him.

He began to move his fingers again, circling my clit gently at first. I let my hand rest on top of his, guiding him to show him what felt good to me. He was an eager student and I moaned under his touch.

"Alternate between touching my clit and putting your fingers inside of me," I gasped. I threw my head back when he slid a finger inside of me, unbearably aroused. His movements gained confidence and I let my hand fall to the bed beside me so he could touch me without guidance.

"Keep going, I'm getting really close. Add another finger."

Two fingers slid into me and he circled his thumb over my clit in a way that made my eyes cross and a strangled moan leave me. "Just keep doing what you're doing and I'll come."

A determined expression came over his face and he continued to thrust into me with his fingers while teasing my clit. My thighs clenched, tightening against his hand and I hovered right on the edge of orgasm. One of my hands clutched the sheets beside me while the other one went to my nipple, gently plucking at it. Edward lowered his mouth to the other nipple, taking it into his mouth and sucking just as my orgasm hit. I cried out loudly, my back arching off the bed as I ground against his fingers. "Oh, oh God, Edward, that feels so good," I gasped.

As I slowly came down from my orgasm Edward lifted his head and removed his fingers. "I can't believe how hot that was to watch you come like that," he said quietly.

"You did that, Edward," I reminded him and he gave me a boyish grin, incredibly pleased with himself.

I wiggled out of my panties and reached up and kissed him, feeling the rough-soft texture of his short hair under my hands. He groaned with pleasure against my mouth as my fingernails scraped lightly over his scalp.

"Does that feel good?" I asked and he nodded, kissing me again. His kiss was hungry now, his hands roaming more confidently across my body. I felt his cock against my thigh, hard and insistent. I knew he had to be unbearably aroused right now and I wanted to take the edge off before he fucked me.

I pushed him back and he fell to the bed with a groan of frustration. I sat back on my heels and slowly unbuttoned and unzipped his shorts. He was so hard underneath, his cock straining against the thin, stretchy fabric of his boxer briefs, a damp spot at the tip. He helped me as I pulled the shorts off of him, tossing them on the floor. I rubbed him through the fabric of his underwear first, sliding my hand up and down his length. He twitched under me and his abs tightened. His eyes were closed and his lips were parted.

"Fuck," he whispered and I gently worked the underwear over his hips and jutting cock. When they joined his shorts on the floor I reached down and wrapped my hand around him. He was a nice length and thickness and I felt him twitch in my hand. He groaned. "Fuck, Bella…"

"How does it feel?" I asked.

"Your hand is so warm," he gasped.

I ran my thumb across the tip, feeling the sticky wetness gathered there. I kissed down his jaw and neck, making a wet trail on his chest with my mouth. He shuddered and buried his fingers in my hair as I let my body stretch out alongside his.

"Would you like to feel my mouth on you, Edward?"

"Yes," he gasped. I felt his cock twitch against my thigh and I gently pressed against him, drawing a deep groan from him. My hand trailed down his stomach, feeling the fine, soft hairs there as I made my way down to his cock again.

"I'm going to take your cock in my mouth and suck you off," I whispered against his chest. "You're going to feel so good."

I pulled back as my hand reached his cock and the moment my fingers wrapped around it and gently tugged, he gave a strangled gasp and it pulsed in my hand. Come spread over my fingers, dripping down onto his thigh and he groaned, throwing one arm up over his eyes. I gently worked his cock, feeling it twitch as he shuddered with small after-shocks of pleasure.

"I'm so embarrassed," he muttered.

"Hey, don't be," I gently chided him. "That's totally natural."

"It's embarrassing."

"Edward, stop it," I said firmly. I lifted my hand from his cock and reached for tissues to clean us both up. He finally lifted his arm from over his eyes and met my gaze when I was done. "I wanted you to come quickly."

"Really?" He rolled onto his side and I lay down beside him. I scooted closer, wanting to look him in the eye.

"Yes, really. If you come quickly now, you won't come as quickly later, when you're inside me."

"Okay," he said quietly, still not completely convinced, but at least less outwardly embarrassed.

"Now, I bet it won't take long at all for you to get hard again, either." I slithered down his body, pushing him onto his back again as I swiped my tongue across his cock.

He groaned as I licked and sucked him and he was hard again in a matter of moments. I slowly released him when he was panting and gripping the sheets with white-knuckled fists.

I sat back and his eyes opened and he met my gaze. "Did you bring a condom?"

He nodded eagerly. "Want me to get them?"

"Them?" I asked, teasingly trailing my fingers across his strong thighs. "Were you expecting to have a lot of sex?"

"I figured it was better to be prepared," he said, his cheeks coloring slightly.

I grinned. "Good. Now get one."

He rolled over, stretching to reach his clothes where they were strewn on the floor. He sat up with his shorts clutched in his hand and fished out a strip of four condoms from the cargo pocket. He tore off one and put the rest on the bed, tossing his shorts to the floor. He held it tentatively, as if he wasn't sure how to proceed from there.

"Do you know how to put one on?" I asked.

"I think so." He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat.

"Put it on then," I instructed him. With shaking fingers he did, and I watched him carefully to make sure he was doing it right. When he was done, I straddled his knees and he fell back onto the bed.

"Now, this is not a fun part of the conversation, but you should always make sure you and your partner have talked about birth control and health. It's awkward, and it sucks, but it's really important, I know you know that." He nodded and I continued. "I'm on the pill, and I get tested every six months, just to be careful. I've never gone without a condom, so it isn't a huge worry, but better safe than sorry."

"Okay," he said. He gently ran his hands up my thighs and I smiled at him.

"Now we move on to the fun stuff. Is it alright if I'm on top of you, at least at first?"

He nodded and swallowed hard, his eyes huge, a combination of nerves and eager anticipation in his gaze. I leaned down and kissed his taunt stomach before shimmying up his body to hover over him. "You ready?"

"Yes."

I gently grasped him in my hand, lowering myself over him, my eyes never leaving his as I slid down. His expression was one of pained pleasure and his hands tightened on my thighs. "Fuck, Bella, you feel so fucking good."

"You do, too," I moaned, beginning to rock over him. I moved slowly at first, enjoying the look on his face as I slid him in and out of me. I reached down, lightly resting my hands on his stomach. I gently traced the line of his abs, feeling them clench under my stomach.

"It's so good," he gasped. "I can't even…"

Although his voice trailed off, I knew exactly what he was trying to say. There was something indescribable about the first time you had sex. The first time your body found pleasure with someone else's.

I understood why men were so enamored with taking a girl's virginity. There was something powerful about knowing you were the only one to touch someone like that. You and you alone had brought them that kind of pleasure. Edward would certainly move on, but I would always be his first.

"Edward," I said softly and he took a deep breath, opening his eyes. "One really great thing about this position is that it leaves your hands free to touch me."

I gently lifted his hands from my thighs, guiding one to my breast, the other to my clit. It took him a moment to coordinate his movements, but when he did, my eyes crossed in pleasure. "Oh god, Edward that feels so good," I panted, leaning back and resting my hands on his thighs behind me so I could get more leverage.

When I was right on the edge of coming and I could see the strain on his face from holding back, I stopped. "Roll over," I said breathlessly.

He slipped out of me as we repositioned ourselves, but once I was on my back he didn't hesitate to slide between my parted thighs and thrust into me again. He was awkward and a little erratic at first and I wrapped my hands around his hips and gently guided him.

"I'm really close, Edward," I said. "If you keep fucking me like this, with slow even strokes, you'll make me come."

He nodded; sweat beginning to form on his brow as he moved within me. I wrapped my legs around his, tilting my pelvis and rocking against him. My hands clutched at his shoulders and his jaw clenched as I got closer.

"Almost there," I gasped.

He dropped his head, the muscles in his arms contracting as he moved. I encouraged him to thrust a bit faster and I heard his breathing pick up. "Bella…" he said between clenched teeth and I knew he wouldn't last much longer.

I pulled him down against me with one deep, forceful thrust and threw my head back as I came loudly. My body clenched around him and his thrusts grew short and erratic until he trembled against me, his face a mask of agonized pleasure. "Oh god, so good," he gasped before collapsing on top of me, panting and sweaty. I ran my fingernails gently down his back and he shuddered before falling to the side.

We both took a moment to let our breathing return to normal and then I gently nudged him. "Hey, just so you know, once you start to get soft you'll want to pull out really carefully. Hold on to the base of the condom if you need to."

"Okay," he muttered and did that, turning aside to grab some tissues to clean up with. He threw it in the trash beside the bed and handed me the tissues so I could do the same. When we had both cleaned up, he flopped onto the bed beside me and looked into my eyes. When he'd initially asked me, I had wondered if it would feel strange being with Edward like this, but it wasn't strange it all. I felt comfortable, even though we were naked in bed together.

"Thank you," he whispered. His eyes were so soft and sincere, so grateful.

I smiled at him. "You're welcome."

"Did you at least…enjoy it?" he asked, his eyes sliding away from mine to stare at a spot over my left shoulder.

"Of course. Couldn't you tell?" I gently touched his arm and scooted closer to him, wanting to reassure him.

His jaw clenched. "I wasn't sure if you were just…being nice."

"Edward, I don't do 'nice'." I grabbed his jaw and tilted his head so I could see him better. He finally met my gaze.

"You're sure?" he asked, sounding young and vulnerable all of a sudden.

"I'm sure. Besides, if I faked it, how would you learn?" I asked.

"That's true. So you mean, I really made you…" His voice trailed off.

"Yes, you did. You made me come."

His face broke into a smile. "That's awesome."

"You're cute."

"Thanks." He rolled his eyes and fell back onto the bed, his eyes still locked on mine and

I propped myself up on his chest.

"One more lesson." His eyes lit up. "Uh, not of the physical variety," I clarified.

He pouted and I laughed and continued. "I'm not saying I'm easy to get off, but it's rare that I don't. Not all girls are like that. Some might need more help. I know it'll seem awkward at first and she may have a hard time telling you what she needs. But pay attention to her body."

He nodded and bit his lip. "There's one more thing I want to try actually."

"What's that?"

"Um, I want to go down on you."

I blinked in surprise. "Oh. Um, sure."

"I mean, girls like that, right?"

I chuckled, "Yes, we do. Or at least most of us do."

"So, can I?"

"Uh, sure. We should maybe shower first though. I probably taste like latex right now."

"Oh! Ok. Did you want to go first?" he asked eagerly.

"We can shower together. We have seen each other naked you know."

"I know, I just didn't want to assume…"

"It's fine." I said and stood up. "Let's get in the shower."

He followed me and I turned the water on, letting it warm up for a minute. We were both naked and I shamelessly eyed him. Over the years I'd seen Edward shirtless a thousand times but it was unbelievable how different he looked now. His biceps and shoulders were so muscled, and his chest and abs were sculpted. The v at his hips pointed down toward his cock and his thighs and calves were firm. He had a light dusting of hair across his chest, arms, and legs. Despite the fact that I'd just had an orgasm I found myself licking my lips at the sight of him. I could hardly reconcile the man in front of me with the boy I'd grown up with. Edward was so fucking hot.

He pulled the shower curtain closed behind us and then looked at me expectantly, his shoulders tense, and his expression uncertain.

"Remember, no weirdness," I teased him and he laughed, relaxing a little.

"Sorry, I'm not trying to be weird."

"I know." I reached for the body wash and grabbed the poof, squirting a little on it. "Here's another lesson. Girls love to be touched, especially after sex. It makes us feel like you care about us more than just as a means to get laid. Even if you aren't in love or don't want a relationship, it's nice to be held and touched. Sometimes touching someone else just feels good. Always be honest about your expectations about what you want with a girl. It's okay if you just want sex, but you have to be very clear about that."

"Okay," he agreed.

"Sex should never be cold. There's nothing wrong with really wanting to get laid, but at least make her feel appreciated and respected." I paused for a moment, thinking about our earlier conversation. "You know, I'm glad you came to me instead of just finding some chick at a bar."

"Really?" he asked, relaxing even more.

"Really. I'm glad I could teach you. Show you how to be a good lover." I stood up on my tiptoes and kissed him softly. "Was it everything you thought it would be?"

"More." He grinned down at me and all of a sudden he was my Edward again. My goofy best friend. Sex had changed things between us. There was dynamic that was just a bit different. But it wasn't bad, and I didn't regret what we'd done for a minute. If anything, I felt closer to him.

I scrubbed his body and he sighed and practically purred under my touch. And he was very thorough when he took over and scrubbed me. His hands were strong but gentle and by the time he was done rinsing me, I was a puddle of goo for him. "You're so good at that," I moaned, leaning back against his body.

"Thanks." He rested his hands lightly on my upper arms and his chin on the top of my head. "One more stupid question. Am I…am I big enough?"

"Dear god, you're 6'3". How much bigger do you need to get….oh…" my voice trailed off when I realized what he was asking. "You're a great size Edward. Definitely big enough."

"Thanks. I know it's dumb, but I needed to know," he said a little sheepishly.

"I understand. Just remember, within a certain range, it doesn't matter what size you are as long as you care to try to please her. I mean, I won't lie, two or three inches just isn't going to cut it for most girls, but technique is more important than size."

"And was I okay?"

I turned to face him and chastised him gently, "Edward, you need to stop worrying. You were good. Very, very good for a first time. You just need to be confident. Confidence is sexy."

"Confidence is sexy." He repeated after me, squaring his shoulders. "Yes."

We quickly finished showering and got out. He took my hand when we left the bathroom and pulled me back into my bedroom. He gently pushed me onto the bed. He moved between my legs and without hesitation touched his lips to the wet flesh there. I moaned, pleased with his sudden aggressiveness. "Yes, Edward."

He wasn't particularly skilled, but he was incredibly enthusiastic and willing to follow my guidance. A shift of my hips, a nudge with my thigh, a whispered word and he did exactly what I needed. And when he used two fingers inside of me and he lapped at my clit like it was the best thing his tongue had ever encountered, I came hard.

I cried out loudly and he continued to lick me until it was pleasurable almost to the point of pain. I gently pushed him away, my chest heaving and my body covered in sweat. He fell on the bed beside me, his mouth still covered in my arousal. He wiped at his face and shot me a grin I'd never seen before on Edward. It was sexy, and a little cocky. A smirk designed to disintegrate panties and make girls week in the knees.

A fleeting thought crossed my mind I struggled to breathe again. I guess it was a good thing I was laying down and not wearing any panties, then. I almost giggled out loud at the thought.

"So, how did I do?"

"Mmm, really well. You're good." I snuggled closer to him and he wrapped an arm around my waist.

"I wanted to be good for you."

"You were. And very confident. Do you think you'll be able to make a move on a girl now?" I asked teasingly.

"I think so," he said.

"Good."

Edward rolled onto his back and pulled me with him so I draped over his chest. "You know, you really should be a therapist."

"A therapist?" I asked, not sure where he was going with the conversation. "I am going to be a therapist."

"No, like, a sex therapist."

"Ha. Right." I chuckled and shoved at his chest.

"No, I mean it. You're really good at teaching without making me feel like an idiot for not knowing what I'm doing."

I swallowed hard; really glad things had gone so well tonight. "Good, that was my goal."

We lay around in bed for a little while, just talking. We mostly talked about his deployment. He was nervous but eager and I suspected most soldiers in his position felt the same way. We both drifted off to sleep mid-conversation, wrapped around each other.

~SB&NB~

In the morning I woke up with Edward on top of me, crushing me into the mattress. Unsurprised, I shoved him away and woke him up. He responded by tickling me, and I shrieked and tried to retaliate. I had no chance against him though. He was so much stronger than me and he had me pinned to the bed in moments. He kissed me quickly and then sat up, laughing as I lunged up to tackle him. Despite the fact that we were still naked and in bed together, it felt like every other time he'd stayed over in my bed. Well, almost.

Despite my initial plan to just have sex with Edward once, he was hard, and I was horny. When he reached for the remaining condoms on the nightstand and held one up, I nodded. His second time was even better than the first. I let Edward run the show, with minimal guidance. I tried to convince myself it was just a final test to be sure that Edward was ready to go out into the world. I just wanted to be sure that he'd be good for the next girl he wanted to sleep with. Or at least that's what I told myself, but a nagging feeling told me that wasn't the whole truth.

Instead, I forgot about everything but Edward's body thrusting into mine. And when we both came, Edward breathing my name in my ear while I loudly cried out his, I knew sex had never felt so right.

He hugged me close after and thanked me again. Neither of us moved for a long time, but eventually he groaned and got out of bed, frowning down at me. "I should probably go. I promised my parents I'd come home today and spend the rest of the weekend with them."

"Okay. Say hi to them for me, k?" I asked, sitting up in bed.

"I will."

I put on pajama shorts and a tank while he dressed. I walked him to the door, hugged him goodbye and kissed him on the cheek. He wrapped his arms tightly around me and buried his head in my hair before pulling back to look in my eyes.

"Thanks, Bella. You have no idea how great last night was."

"I think I have a pretty good idea," I said softly and reached up to touch his cheek. "It was for me, too. Be safe, okay? Come back home please."

"I will."

We stared at each other for a long moment before I reached up and kissed him on the lips. "I mean it. Come home, Edward, promise me," I begged. "Don't do anything crazy or stupid, please. Be safe."

He nodded and hugged me tighter.

"I will," he promised me. He squeezed my hand as he let go and I sighed and closed the door behind him when he left. I went to bed that night missing him already and worried sick about him coming home safe.

Alice and Jasper flew in for a few days so we could all spend time with him before he left. We were all in tears when we said our final goodbyes to Edward, although the guys tried to hide it. Edward kissed my forehead and held me close, our fingers reaching for each other even as he walked away, his back strong and straight, his walk confident. He turned to look back me one last time, his blue eyes intent on mine. The last thing I saw was a half-smile before he disappeared.

~SB&NB~

It was hard having Edward gone. He had been such a part of my life for so long. And I had no way of coping with the worry about what would happen when he was deployed.

Jake and I got together a few days after Edward left. He tried to cheer me up but when he went to kiss me I pulled back.

"What the hell, Bella?" he asked, frowning at me.

"I…I dunno, Jake. I don't think I can do this anymore." It felt strange all of a sudden to have Jake kissing me. Despite the fact that we'd been seeing each other for a while, it didn't feel right. Why was it that the night with Edward seemed so much more natural? I wondered.

"Do what?"

"Be with you." I looked away, but not fast enough to miss the look of disappointment that crossed his face.

He sighed and sat back down on the couch. "This is about Edward, isn't it? Something's changed."

"That's part of it," I admitted, not quite sure of what was going on.

"I've never understood why you weren't together already. Honestly." He shook his head. "You've kind of acted like it for as long as I've known you."

"I don't know," I said. "It just never really went anywhere before…"

"And now?" He asked, frowning.

"Look, I don't want to hurt you, Jake. Let's just leave it at that."

He sighed and ran a hand across his hair. "You know I care about you, don't you?"

"I do. And I care about you, too. I never meant to lead you on…"

He nodded glumly. "I know. And you didn't. But it still hurts."

"I'm sorry."

"I know you are. Maybe you're right." He sighed heavily. "If you change your mind, I'll be around."

He stood up and looked at me seriously. He held out his arms and I hugged him, a little shocked at how easy it was to say goodbye to someone I'd been seeing for so long. I'd never loved Jake, but he was a good guy, and I was relieved that although he seemed disappointed, he didn't look heartbroken.

"You're too good to me," I said, feeling incredibly guilty.

"Yeah, probably," he said and chuckled. He kissed my forehead and let me go. "If it's what you want, I hope it works out with Edward."

"Thanks, Jake. I hope you find someone, too."

In desperate need of a conference with Alice and Rose, I invited Rose over and we Skyped with Alice. It wasn't the same as having both of them there, but it helped.

"So, what's this conference about, Bella? You were so mysterious," Alice asked.

"Just needed to talk to you two about something." I sighed and looked over at Rose. She was perched on the edge of the bed and she shrugged at Alice.

"I know nothing either, Alice," Rose said and turned to me. "Obviously there's something huge going on."

"Uhm, I kinda slept with Edward before he left," I admitted. "And I broke up with Jake yesterday."

"You broke up with Jake?" Rose said and Alice shushed her.

"Forget that. I knew it wasn't going to last. You slept with Edward?" Alice said. "I mean, I always thought you two would be good together, but what in the hell prompted it?"

I told the entire story to both of them and it was almost comical the way they both shook their head at me. "Did you really think it wasn't going to change things?" Rose asked.

"I don't know," I sighed. "Maybe I wanted it to change things. I just…fuck, I have no idea what I want."

I turned and looked at Rose. "You know if anything is going to happen, I'm going to have to be the one to initiate, your brother may be good at a lot of things, but willing to put himself out there for a relationship isn't one of them."

She agreed, after wincing at my comment about him being good at a lot of things.

~SBNB~

Edward and I talked as much as we could, but it wasn't easy. And there was something new between us. A flirtatiousness that was charged somehow, electric tension that suffused every interaction we had. We both felt it, I was sure of it, but of course he never said anything. Months passed and I grew used to dropping everything the moment I saw him online. Sporadic emails and IM conversations really weren't enough, but I made do.

Just shortly before Christmas, he told me he'd be coming home on leave in January. I was bummed that I wouldn't be able to celebrate Christmas with him, but thrilled that I would get to see him before his deployment was up. Of course, I couldn't help but think about what happened the last time he was home. I finally summoned the courage to ask him about it one night on IM.

NaughtyBells: So what happens when you come back on leave?

SoldierBoy: I dunno, what do you want to have happen?

NaughtyBells: That's such a cop-out, Edward

SoldierBoy: What is?

NaughtyBells: Answering a question with a question

SoldierBoy: Alright, fine. Just promise me you won't get weird

NaughtyBells: Why would I get weird?

SoldierBoy: Just promise

NaughtyBells: Fine, I promise, I won't get weird

SoldierBoy: Of course I really want to see my family for a few days, but I'd kinda like to spend the rest of leave with you, if that's okay

NaughtyBells: Why would I get weird, of course I want to spend the time with you!

SoldierBoy: I'm not talking about us spending it going to the zoo

NaughtyBells: *laughs* what you're saying is you want to fuck me when you're home on leave

SoldierBoy: Well, can you blame me?

NaughtyBells: No. I just don't want to make things weird

SoldierBoy: I don't either, but I miss you, and I can't stop thinking about you

NaughtyBells: I can't stop thinking about you either

SoldierBoy: Can I see you?

NaughtyBells: Um, when you're home on leave?

SoldierBoy: Well, that too, you never really answered me

NaughtyBells: Yes, we can get together when you're home on leave

SoldierBoy: Are you dating anyone right now?

NaughtyBells: No

SoldierBoy: No more Jake?

NaughtyBells: No. We ended things.

SoldierBoy: Can I ask why?

NaughtyBells: It just…I dunno, it didn't feel right

SoldierBoy: Oh

NaughtyBells: What do you mean about seeing me? You're not being very clear.

SoldierBoy: Um, right now.

NaughtyBells: Like on Skype?

SoldierBoy: Yeah

NaughtyBells: Are you trying to get me naked, Edward?

SoldierBoy: No?

NaughtyBells: Liar

SoldierBoy: Alright, fine. I'd love to see you naked right now, but I mostly wanted to see your face. I miss those brown eyes

NaughtyBells: Damn it, I can't turn down a sweet request like that

SoldierBoy: Woohoo! Naked

NaughtyBells: I meant the request to see my face

SoldierBoy: Damn.

NaughtyBells: Silly boy. I am about to head to bed actually, but how about I email you a pic of me that Rose took a few weeks ago? And no, I'm not naked in it.

SoldierBoy: I'd love that

NaughtyBells: Give me a sec

NaughtyBells: Alright, sent

SoldierBoy: You look beautiful

NaughtyBells: You're just trying to butter me up so I'll send you naked pictures

SoldierBoy: Guilty as charged. Is it working?

NaughtyBells: *laughs* no, but nice attempt

SoldierBoy: It was worth a shot

NaughtyBells: *sighs* I miss you

SoldierBoy: I miss you too. I'd give just about anything to watch a movie with you right now

NaughtyBells: That sounds perfect

SoldierBoy: Fuck, I have to go. Take care

NaughtyBells: You, too. Be careful, please

SoldierBoy: I will

NaughtyBells: I won't say goodbye, I'll say later instead

SoldierBoy: Later

A few days later I was talking to Alice on the phone about my conversation with Edward and she laughed at his request for naked pictures.

"I'm not sending him naked photos, but I was wondering, what if we do something else? What about pinups?" I suggested.

"Like 1940's style?" she asked.

"Exactly. How fun would that be?"

"It would be fun," she admitted. "Let me see what I can come up with."

Alice was coming home in a couple of weeks anyway, so she got to work planning the pictures. While she was home for Christmas, we took a day and she had me dress in a variety of pinup style outfits with my hair and makeup styled to match. She somehow managed to rig up a white backdrop over the curtain rod in the living room and we had an impromptu photo shoot. I couldn't believe them when I saw them. They were very cute, flirty and suggestive, but not trashy. I wouldn't care if he showed them off to the guys in his platoon.

I packaged the pictures with socks, gum, hard candy, playing cards and some toiletries. Waiting for him to get them was the hardest part. His email made it all worthwhile though.

Bella,

I know I should thank you for the care package, but all I can think about right now is the pics. Fuck, how did you know that the retro look totally does it for me? I was completely speechless when I pulled them out. The guys are totally jealous. There are quite a few wives and girlfriends getting similar requests this week, but I'm the lucky guy who got them first. Besides, none of them could possibly be as beautiful as you are. The one of you saluting is my favorite. It's the first thing I see when I open my eyes and the last before I close them at the end of the night. You have no idea how hard some days are here, and your picture makes each day a little easier.

Tell Alice that she's a genius, and she's welcome to take any and all future photos of you. Not that I'm demanding more, but of course I wouldn't turn them down. FYI.

I think about that night we had together a lot. Sadly I have very little time and privacy to do a damn thing about it, but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, hot and sweating and aching for you. Do you think about it?

When I am home on leave, I put myself in your hands again. I want to learn everything I can about your body. I can't be content with just being mediocre for you. You know me; you know how I get when I find something fascinating. And you fascinate me.

-Edward

p.s. Merry Christmas. I wish I could spend it with you.

The minute I finished reading it, I typed a reply.

Edward,

I am glad you enjoyed them so much. I actually had a lot of fun doing them. I had no idea that you'd like the style as much as you did, but I guess I know you better than I realized.

It gives me a funny little thrill to be your pinup girl, and if it makes even the smallest moment of your day easier, it makes me happy. I worry about you every day, and I actually have a picture of the two of us on the bulletin board over my desk. It's the one of you from when you got back from basic. I think Rose took it. You're in the grey Army t-shirt with your arm around me, we're both laughing and I'm trying to steal your dogtags. It's my favorite one.

I miss you so much, it's crazy. Merry Christmas.

-Bella

~SB&NB~

Shortly before Alice and Jasper were ready to head back to New York, she cornered me in the kitchen at Rosalie and Emmett's place. We were having a small, low-key New Year's Eve party. It would have been perfect with Edward there.

"What's going on with you and Edward?" Alice asked, hopping up on the counter. "Have you figured anything out?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "And no, not really."

"Okaaaay, what do you want to have happen with Edward?"

I sighed and took a sip of my drink. "I don't know the answer to that either."

"Alright, you two are best friends, right?"

"Yeah."

"And clearly you are attracted to each other and have great chemistry in the bedroom, yes?"

"Yes."

"Have you thought more about a relationship?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I have. I just am so afraid of screwing things up. What if we don't work out, Alice? I can't lose Edward as my friend."

"I know," she said sympathetically. "But imagine if it did work out."

I took a moment to picture it, but the funny thing was, being in a relationship with Edward probably wouldn't be that different than what we had now. I already worried about him when he was away, missed him when he was gone, and enjoyed every moment we spent together. A relationship would make those feelings deeper and more intense, but wasn't that a good thing?

I had a similar conversation with Rose a few days later, and she encouraged me too.

"I know you, and I know my brother. You two are perfect together and we've all been wondering how long it would take the two of you to end up in a relationship. Give it a shot. I know both of you are worried about messing with your friendship, but I really think you can make it work."

~SB&NB~

We spent nearly every moment of his leave together; a good portion of it in bed. Edward was like a boy with a new toy and he was intent on discovering every facet of it. Being on the receiving end of his fascination was a little overwhelming. On the last day before he left, I had to remind him that we didn't actually have to try every single position that had ever been discovered all in that week, but he disagreed.

"I don't know how long you're going to keep humoring me," he said. We were sweaty and spent, my head hanging over the foot of the bed and Edward was draped across me.

"Humoring you? What are you talking about?" I gently shoved him away and he fell onto his back. I propped myself on my elbow and looked down at him.

"You know, when you get sick of me practicing on you. When you find someone else."

"Edward…I wasn't even thinking about it like that, I swear. I don't know how to explain what we're doing, but this isn't just some pity fuck, I promise. I really like being with you."

"You sure?" he asked and I nodded.

"I'm sure." I looked down at his chest, unable to meet his eyes. "I kind of think maybe we should consider more, actually."

"More what?"

"Um, like, more of us. Like, I dunno, dating or whatever."

"Really?"

"I've been thinking about it since the first time. I just didn't know how to say anything. I didn't know if you wanted something like that."

"I hadn't thought about it," he said, and I felt a pang of hurt in my chest.

"Oh."

"I mean, shit, Bella, I've always known you were out of my league. You're my best friend, and I knew we'd always have that. But you're so gorgeous; I never thought I'd have a chance for anything more with a girl like you. So I figured I'd enjoy the time I had and consider myself lucky that I had that at all."

I stared at him in shock. "You're the smartest, sweetest guy I've ever met. If I hadn't been so afraid we'd mess up our friendship I would have said something before. I'll admit I didn't really think of you that way much until you suggested we sleep together, but once we did, I couldn't think about anything else. Edward, any girl would be lucky to have you. I've been afraid that when you come home you'll realize how amazing you are and finally see the girls falling at your feet all of the time. I'm afraid you'll discover you can do much better than me."

He laughed and tugged me close. "You've always been my ideal, in one way or another. No girl was ever as kind or as smart or as pretty. Do you think you can deal with the military thing?"

I shrugged and propped my head on his chest. "I'm doing it either way. Either you're my best friend or my boyfriend, but either way it would be devastating if you got injured. One way or another, I'll be worrying. At least if we're together I'll know you're coming home to me."

He nodded and pulled me close. We didn't really talk more about what we were or what we wanted. But when he kissed me goodbye before he left, he said, "I need to think about all of this, Bella. You know I care about you, I just need a little bit of time…"

It didn't surprise me that Edward needed some to process everything; it was just the way he was. I could be patient.

As we talked in the remaining months of his deployment and counted down the days until he would be home, I was hopeful.

~SB&NB~

In the week before he was due home I felt so anxious and eager it was like I couldn't stand to be in my own skin. Once I saw him, though, it all melted away.

He looked different again; tanner, older, even more handsome. But it didn't matter. I'd loved that skinny, geeky little boy I first met. And I loved the gorgeous man in fatigues who was anxiously searching the crowd for me. The minute our eyes met, I took off running. Our bodies slammed into each other hard enough to knock the air from my lungs and his arms wrapped around me like a vice.

"I missed you," he whispered against my hair. "I missed you every day."

"I missed you, too." I cried against his shirt.

"I came home to you," he said gruffly. "I came home for you. Do you know what I'm saying, Bella?"

I nodded.

"Not to be your friend, or the guy you slept with."

"I'm yours, Edward," I promise. "I think I've always been yours."

"I love you, Bella," he said quietly, cupping my cheeks in his hands, his thumbs wiping away the tears.

"I love you, too, Edward, so much."

His mouth devoured mine, tasting, reuniting, claiming. In the background I heard our friends cheering and I laughed against Edward's lips. He bent his head, touching his forehead to mine and we took a long minute to reconnect. To adjust to the way both of our worlds had shifted. My best friend had become my lover, and now he was my boyfriend. I had no doubt that someday he'd be my husband. Somehow, I just knew.

It was going to kill me every time he was deployed. There were would be sleepless nights where I'd worry that I'd lose him. But I loved Edward too much not to be willing to deal with it.

My soldier boy had come home to me.


A/N: Big thanks to all of the lovely people who voted for and reviewed this story. And to the judges. I was quite blown away by the fact that it won second place.

Also, keep an eye out because I have three other contests I entered this summer. Mix n' Match, Taste of the Forbidden, and Slash/Backslash 4.0 are all ones I entered. Go check them out!

Please, please, think about contributing to the lovely fandom fundraisers I've taken part in as well. I submitted one-shots for three fundraisers. Here's a little taste to hopefully entice you:

Fandom for TwiFan G: "Love From Key West" - Edward and Bella Cullen's week-long vacation revives their struggling marriage. The sun isn't the only scorching thing in the Florida Keys.

Fandom Fights Leukemia and Lymphoma: "A Taste of Isabella" – "To say I was obsessed with Isabella Swan was an understatement. I dreamed of her, fantasized about her, would have gladly torn off my limbs to get the chance to kiss the hem of her apron."

Eighteen-year-old Edward Cullen moves to London to attend culinary school, and get a taste of his long-time crush. The mouth-watering, much older BBC star chef, Isabella Swan, is known for her string of romantic entanglements with younger men. Can Edward convince her to stop sampling and sink her teeth into him?

Fandom 4 Colorado: "Three Truths" - Bella Swan's unrequited love for Edward Cullen is a joke amongst their fellow vet students at Colorado State. He's never returned her feelings for him, until a horse he's caring for finally succumbs to cancer, and he realizes that she's the only thing that can comfort him.

These are all really wonderful causes to support, so please, if you can, contribute.