Lips Like Sugar

by the Dastardly Trans-Continental Prose Society (DTCPS) for IReenH, on her birthday

Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight.

A/N: This one-shot is a collaborative effort written by five of us for the beautiful and talented Ireen H. on her birthday.

Dragonfly336 came to us with the idea to write a round-robin type collaborative story for Ireen H., and we all went, "YES!" So, here we are.

Have a wonderful Birthday, Aja! We love you the way Edward loves Bella's lips!

Writers: BelieveItOrNot, Dragonfly336, dreaminginnorweigen, moirae and thimbles. Huge thanks to our amazing, all-night beta: RaindropSoup


Lips Like Sugar

"Come on, Rose. Don't be a wimp."

My own brave face was as flimsy as a plastic Halloween mask, but I couldn't let her see that. I was a woman on a mission, and if Rose had any inkling of how uncertain I was, she'd be out of there faster than I could blow out my imaginary birthday candles.

"It'll be fun. Expand our horizons."

"I'm not worried about expanding my horizons, Bella. I'm worried about catching a VD from the toilets."

She hadn't even made it through the fucking entrance, and she was already bitching. I love Rose, but Jesus Christ, she can be a drag sometimes.

"Look. It's my birthday, so I get what I want. And what I want is to walk into this dive bar with my best friend, drink myself silly, and listen to some awesome music, so that's what I'm gonna get. Okay?"

The purse of her lips spelled her defeat. With an eye roll, she swept her arm toward the grimy entrance in an after yougesture. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open, a pulse of excitement adding a ridiculous bounce to my step.

The wall of smoke and noise was almost more distracting than the very large chest of the bouncer waiting as we entered. He was a mountain of a man with tattoos decorating both arms and a pair of dimples that could make the iciest nun melt.

"Ladies. IDs please."

He waited expectantly with a warm smile that took me off guard. I thought for sure anyone who worked in a place as ... well ... seedy as this would take one look at us and sneer at how much we didn't belong. Just goes to show ya ... books and their covers … etc., etc. ...

"Okay, Birthday Girl Isabella and beautiful Rosalie, have fun."

Rose snorted, but I thought the guy was sweet. He wasn't my type, but a little cheesy flirtation never hurt anyone.

"Oh, and girls?" His hand caught Rose's arm as he motioned toward the makeshift stage. "Don't let these guys turn you off. The next band is actually good."

Rose pulled her arm away silently, but I could see the beginnings of a blush form on her cheeks. I hid my smirk as I found an open spot at the bar.

The place turned out to be pleasantly unexpected.

"Don't let these guys turn you off."

Blond ringlets swung back and forth in front of the bartender's blue-blue eyes as he finished garnishing my margarita.

"Excuse me?" I turned and passed Rose her Cosmo. She was scanning the crowd and looked slightly dazed. "I'm sorry. I didn't catch that."

Granted, I was feeling a bit disoriented, too. We had been at the bar for more than ten minutes and no one had harassed or groped either one of us. In fact, we had been at the bar for more than ten minutes and Rose hadn't torn into anyone for harassing or groping either one of us. It was a record.

All around, other patrons were doing nothing more than enjoying themselves—drinking, talking, laughing. (Though, no one seemed to be listening to the band.) I couldn't get a handle on the crowd. It was a motley crew of freaks and geeks, stoners and princesses. I couldn't pin anyone down into a type other than having a great fucking time.A few people eyed us with curiosity, but otherwise we had been left alone. It was refreshing, if not confusing. It certainly wasn't something we would expect from our regular hangout.

"I said … don't let these guys turn you off." He leaned on one muscular, tattooed arm on the bar. Who the fuck is Alice? was inked in a flourishing script over his forearm. Tucked amongst the ornate twists and spirals of the letters were tiny broken hearts. "This is the last song of their set and the next band is good." Pushing away from the bar, he added with a cocky smile. "Sometimes strange, but good."

Eyebrows raised, I took a huge gulp of my drink and nodded. "Thanks," I said, licking salt from my lips.

"'Course, darlin'."

The small, smokey space filled up quickly, and the margaritas slid down easy. Halfway through her second Cosmo, Rose had relaxed enough to lose her tense look of suspicion. By her third, we were having real fun—exactly what I had wanted for my birthday.

A squealing microphone interrupted my particularly hilarious impression of our co-worker Mike. Three loud taps echoed over the heads of the people packed tightly around us, and someone plucked randomly at a mandolin. Voices dropped to a conversational tone, and then:

"Hey … we're Midnight Sun."

I hadn't heard anything but what Rose and the bartender had said to me since we'd left the bouncer behind us, but something about that caught my attention. Something I recognized. Hey … we're Midnight Sun.Good God, that voice slid down my ribs to my stomach and settled right between my legs.

The beginning of a familiar tune drifted over the speakers and through the crowd. I couldn't quite place it, but again, something was tickling at the back of my brain.

"Is that …"

Then all effort to figure it out ceased because that voice—rich like agave—began to sing:

"She floats like a swan ...
Grace on the water ...
Lips like sugar ...
Lips like sugar ...
Just when you think you've caught her ...
She glides across the water ...
She calls for you tonight ...
To share this moonlight ..."

"I can't see …" I bounced a few times to my tiptoes, but the people surrounding us towered over me.

"Oh. My. God." Rose craned her neck, straining to see the stage. What was left of her fourth Cosmo sloshed over the edge of her glass. "Are they doing a bluegrass cover of Echo and the Bunnymen?"

"Ladies …" came the bartender's drawl from behind us. "Sit yourselves up here."

I started climbing onto the bar when Rose caught my arm. "Not on that filthy thing."

"Hey," the bartender said, arms outstretched in a shrug, the last two letters of "Alice" curling around his arm as if barely hanging on, dirty rag in hand, "I wiped it down for ya."

Rose's feet were planted to the ground as if roots had grown from her toes. I gave in on trying to tug her up. My view was clear; her loss if she wanted to look at the backs of a bunch of bobbing heads. And me? I couldn't take my eyes off the lead singer, his head bowed over the mic, his hair falling over his forehead. And that voice ... Something stirred inside of me. Something old and almost forgotten.

It couldn't be.

With the next words, he lifted his head, a hand pushing back at his hair, and I nearly fell off the bar. My face in one hand, Rose's shoulder under my other, I groaned. "Oh, no. No."

"What?" I slid off the bar.

"What?" she asked again, stepping up on the edge of a barstool. And then she saw, too.

"Oh, God, Bella. Should we go?" Her arm fell over my shoulder as too much reality sank into my head, slow and thick, like oil seeping through water.

"No. No." I forced a smile. "It's my birthday. I'm not getting run off by him. Again."

But his voice was vibrating through me as if trying to become a part of my pulse, and when I closed my eyes, all I could see was his face. A face I hadn't seen in nearly two years. The "I know you better than you know yourself" eyes, the "I don't care about anything" intentionally messy hair, the "you know you want me" smirk. And I did. I wanted him. More than anything. But that was so long ago. I'd moved on. I could handle this.

After his set, I'd walk right over to him, tap his shoulder and say "Hello, Edward" as if greeting an old friend. As if he'd never had my heart. As if my heart really was all one whole piece again. My own.

"Get me a shot. Tequila."

I feigned smiles and laughter and chatter while my head spiraled through memories. There were Saturdays in the park, holding hands like we were something real. There were Sundays at his place, his roommate always gone—our clothes never on. There was me wrapping my arms around his waist saying "I love you," too soon, maybe. Was a year together too soon?And there was Edward, panicked and stuttering and walking out of the park. I'd been too devastated, too humiliated to go after him.

Saturdays came and went. Sundays, too. Until the day Edward showed up at my door. Two months too late. I shut it.

Because of mutual friends, I'd ran across him at a party or two, and each time, as soon as my eyes landed on him, I turned and walked out. I ran away. Not this time. Not tonight.

Fuck it. Fuck him.

I gestured for another round, and two more shots of tequila landed in front of me. I knocked Rose's hand out of the way when she reached for one—pouring them down my throat in quick succession. Her mouth opened, before her lips pressed together and she shook her head, touching my forearm. I shrugged her off, annoyed by the understanding—and the pity—I could see in her hazel eyes.

Bolstered by Señor Patron's peculiar brand of courage, I climbed onto a stool and planted my ass back on the bar. The spikes of my heels clattered against the lacquered paint as my knees bounced involuntarily. Maybe from nerves. Maybe in response to the percussive beat.

The band was good. Though, I suppose that shouldn't have surprised me. He always was good at every-fucking-thing—except commitment. God, what a cliché.

My eyes wandered over him, cataloguing the differences in his appearance. His shoulders seemed broader, more square; his jeans were definitely tighter; and his hair was longer, darker—like he hadn't been spending much time in the sun.

There was something else though, something harder to name. Something in the tone of his voice when he introduced the band members mid-set. Something in the way his fingers clawed through his hair and the way his knee bounced between songs. Singing, he was lost, absorbed, like he'd dissolved into the lyrics. Speaking, though, without the music bracing him, he seemed … shy, lacking in confidence.

It unsettled me. The boy I knew thrived on being the center of attention, lived to make people laugh and stare. What the fuck had changed?

The band took a break, and I tapped the bar beside my thigh for another drink. The bartender slid me a glass of water. I looked at him over my shoulder and rolled my eyes.

He shrugged and poured another shot. "Take it easy, sweetheart, y'hear?"

I was about to flip him off and tell him to mind his own fucking business when the mandolin started to pluck out a tune I recognized almost immediately.

"No." I shook my head. "No."

I couldn't move. The melody hung heavy in the air, trapping me where I sat.

He knows I'm here.I could feel it—hear it—as he strummed.

Girls screamed. Guys hollered. I stopped breathing.

That song.

"Just before our love got lost you said
'I am constant as a northern star.'
And I said 'Constantly in the darkness
Where's that at?
If you want me I'll be in the bar.'"

No.

Suddenly, I was furious.

How can he? How can he play this fucking song? Here? With all these people watching?

As soon as he started singing, though, all the breath left my body. The sound of his voice, so beautiful and filled with longing, transported me back in time. I could almost smell the smoke from the bonfire that night on the beach. The night that changed everything for me.

I gently swayed to the music, feeling the effects of the tequila spreading through my body.

I closed my eyes, absorbing the lyrics, remembering when he sang them to me for the first time. The night I had realized I was falling for him, just months into our relationship. His voice had flowed through me, sparking phantom echoes of his carefree laugh as we played in the surf that day. The playful glint in his eyes. Ending the night wrapped up in ourselves, watching the stars as he sang in my ear.

I felt a small smile playing on my lips, and I opened my eyes to the soulful gaze I knew so well. Soft sand gave way to the hard wood of the bar beneath me. Then, a smirk spread over his face and my smile instantly fell. All the hurt and frustration rushed back. I couldn't handle this. At all.

I jumped off the bar and heard Rose call my name behind me as I pushed my way through the crowd. It was getting harder to breathe, my chest hurting with the effort. There were too many people.

I slammed into the door, forcing it open with a bang. I drew in a deep breath of the cool summer night air, noticing that people had turned to stare. Beyond caring by that point, I walked down the sidewalk a bit and stopped, leaning against the building. Closing my eyes, I tried to calm down when I vaguely heard commotion from the direction where I'd just come.

Footsteps sounded on the concrete, steadily coming closer. I figured Rose had come to find me, until I heard the voice that haunted me.

"Happy birthday, Bella."

Crescent moons cut into my palms as my hands clenched into fists. It stung. But not as much as the sound of him saying my name after all this time. That pain was all the worse for its teasing sweetness. Like nectar from a poisonous flower.

My spine locked, drawing me up tall and rigid. I gathered what breath I could, stalling for time and fortifying my defenses.

"Edward."

I didn't turn. I couldn't look at him—not yet. I couldn't let him see the longing writ so clearly in my eyes. The hurt. I couldn't let him know how much he meant to me, even after all this time. I couldn't let him see me cry.

"You didn't have to run away."

He was closer. Close enough to touch me if he reached out. I imagined his breath hot on my neck and shuddered. I ignored his jab at my cowardice and forced my tears back. This was ridiculous. I wasn't going to hide. I wasn't going to let him know how much this hurt.

With a quick push, I was off the wall and facing him. I was proud when the words came easy, my voice absent of the tremor I felt lingering inside.

"It's hot in there. I was just getting some air." He stepped forward. His eyes flicked over me like a scalpel, flaying my defenses and exposing my heart.

"I'm not talking about tonight." His breath came in trembling gasps, and his eyes were dark—haunted. I wondered how he could possibly look as desperate as I felt. "You didn't have to run away from me."

My voice stuttered in my throat, then rushed out in a horrible rasp.

"You ran away from me."

How does he have the fucking nerve to accuse me of leaving? I wasn't the one who fled at the first sign of real intimacy. I wasn't the asshole who bolted when things got too intense. That was him. That was fucking him.

His eyes fell, and he looked like I punched him in the gut. Good. I wanted him to hurt.

"I know. I'm sorry."

But sorry wasn't enough. Not after all this time. Not after exposing myself so absolutely and getting nothing in return but a silent phone and an empty bed.

"I was stupid. I didn't understand. Until you were gone—I didn't realize, Bella."

He looked so broken, for a second I forgot myself and stepped forward to take him in my arms. It was a feeling long-dormant but so familiar—the desire to comfort, to touch. I stopped myself in time, remembering my anger and pulling my hands back at the last second. The gesture did not go unnoticed, and the look of longing that passed over his face felt like a mirror to my own.

"Bella, you were—you are—everything."

My mouth dropped open; it moved to say something,but not much more than a squeak would come out. Edward was already shaking his head, and I knew it. I should've known. He was panicking all over again. My mouth closed. I swallowed, squinting my eyes into a glare.

"I shouldn't have said that. Or ..." He took my arm. My gaze fell to his hand. "Fuck it. I said it."

I lifted my face, but before our eyes met, his lips crashed into mine and it was all back. Everything. Just like he said. Everything. Lips on lips, the way they moved, the way his tongue found mine and demanded everything from me, shooting need through my stomach like lightning.

My hand reached his chest to push him away, but instead I held on, fisting his shirt, pulling him closer, dominating the kiss. My fingers drifted up over his shoulder, around his neck, weaving through hair, holding. A sound came from his throat as he took my hips and pressed me against him, his arms slipping all the way around me, arching my back, bending me so far back. We both stopped for breath, heavy breaths. He brought me back to an erect position.

"Bella." His whisper fell over my face, brushing my eyes closed, entering my mouth, becoming a part of me. He pushed hair around my ear. Repetitive touches, soft as air. Opposite of the way he'd kissed me, the way we'd kissed each other. "Bella."

"What am I doing? What are we doing?" I dropped my head into my hands.

"I don't know, but—" he lifted my chin "—don't hide from me."

"What's going on? Tell me what's going on!" He held my face, the pads of his thumbs wiping below my eyes, sweeping away damp streaks I didn't know were there. "I don't know. I saw you, and I just—I … I lost it. Couldn't make sense of anything, and didn't want to." Taking both of my shoulders into his hands, he squeezed, bending to my eye level. "I've never been able to stop thinking about you." He squeezed harder. "Every time I've seen you since then, I've let you get away, but not this time. Not this night, Bella."

"Stop saying my name like that."

He smiled. He fucking smiled. He knew he could still get to me.

"Edward."

"You do things to me. Even when you weren't around. But in the flesh? I have no chance. I'm fucking mush." He bent his knees like they lacked the strength to hold him up, and he was smiling like he'd never been happier and I still couldn't believe him.

"Are you drunk?"

"Are you?"

"Probably."

"I've got to finish the next set. You won't leave, will you?" He checked his watch. "I gotta—I gotta get back. But we're unfinished, okay? Unfinished."

He turned to walk back into the club, looking over his shoulder a few times.

"Cullen?"

He stopped.

"Seedy joint you play at."

He laughed and jerked his head in a motion that said "Come on. Follow."

I followed.

It was too dark inside, and my eyes took time to adjust. I searched for Rose—all around the bar, the bathroom, the dance floor. I found her in the least likely place, in the arms of that huge bouncer who checked our IDs. I covered my laugh. I guessed I wasn't the only probably-drunk one.

Edward's voice interrupted my thoughts, and I tried to make my way through the crowd to a place where I could get a view.

He wasn't three lines into the song before I heard "Fuck it." Stepping away from the mic, he said something inaudible to one of his bandmates, handed the mandolin over, and jumped straight off the stage, stalking through the sea of people, right over to me.

He grabbed my hand like I was his. And I was. I might as well admit it to myself; I was a gonner the second I heard him say, "Happy birthday."

In fact, I could still hear it ringing through my ears.

"Let's not think. Let's just not think for a second, okay?"

"Okay." I was tripping over my feet to keep up with him. We passed Rose and the bouncer. Edward stopped and tapped her shoulder.

"I'll get her home."

She looked at me; I nodded.

"Well, then. Happy fucking birthday to everyone." She put her lips back on that guy.

Edward and I glanced at each other and laughed. And it was so much like before, how we could look at each other and just laugh.

"Do you know him?"

"He's all right. He's safe." Edward dropped my hand to throw his arm over my shoulder.

Edward. He had his arm around me. I stopped to pinch myself.

At the curb just outside the bar, a group clambered out of a taxi, and Edward held up a finger, asking the driver to wait.

"My place?" He asked me. "For drinks?"

"We've had drinks. Let's just call this what it is."

"And what is it?" I didn't answer. He did.

"This is me not wasting any more of my life without you." Facing me, he took my fingers. "This is me not letting you go. This is me not being an idiot." He kissed me. He kissed me all the way to the side of the taxi.

He opened the door for me.

"How's that for what this is?"

"F-fine."

"Then hop in." I kissed his smirk away and then hopped in.

Was this crazy or was this a second chance? Maybe this was sanity at its most unrecognizable.

This was crazy.

Elbow against the door, fingernails to my lips, I smiled.

Edward answered the cab driver's greeting of "evenin', folks" with a gruff recitation of his address. The street wasn't five blocks from mine. Like tumblers in a lock, realization snapped into place.

"Wait …" A weird feeling crept up the back of my neck as I inched forward in the seat, turning toward him. "'Every time I've seen you since then ...'?"

Edward's eyes jumped in a manic dance, landing on every surface of the cab but never on me.

"You live close to me … You see me?"

He fell back onto the pleather seat of the cab with a squeaking thud. With his eyes closed, he said, "I see you almost every day."

Out-of-body—that was what I felt. The weird feeling on my neck shot hot and electric into my head. The tips of my ears, my chest, surged. It scorched my heart—reduced it to ashes. I fell back into the seat next to him, and we sat in silence as the street lamp light washed over us like yellow-orange heartbeats. I had no words, and all the carefree lust I had been feeling just moments before bled right out of me—cold, down, down, down through my stomach, my legs, and out of the bottoms of my feet.

But then his hand curled around mine.

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."

The cab slowed, and Edward sat up, his fingers still gripping my hand. A smile played across his lips as he pulled his wallet from his back pocket and handed it to the cab driver. "Give yourself a five dollar tip," he said, his eyes never leaving mine. My gaze drifted away from his and back again. I watched as the cabbie pulled a ten and five from the wallet and slipped three ones from his own wad of cash back into the bill fold.

I took note of all these things: the act of pulling a wallet from one's pocket, the act of paying for a taxi. But everything was spinning, spinning, spinning.

I was in a cab.

With Edward.

At his house.

I hadn't seen him but five times in two years, and he'd seen me almost every day?

"You two have a good one," the driver said, pressing Edward's wallet back into his hand. The humor was evident in his voice as he waggled his eyebrows at me.

"We will," Edward returned, still watching me. He shoved the wallet back into his pocket and reached to open the door.

As I scrambled out of the taxi, my hand still caught in his, the fire that had started burning so brightly back at the club was stoked again. When Edward closed the car door and laced his fingers tightly through mine, I felt it everywhere.

Everywhere.

His fingers folded over my hip and pulled me close. Leaning in, he pressed his forehead to mine. His lips ghosted across my cheek and slipped over my mouth. My legs liquified. I was boneless.

"Lips like sugar," he murmured, catching my top lip lightly between his teeth. The tip of his tongue swept into my mouth, before he said it again, making it clear he'd been singing to me from the moment he'd stepped on stage.

My eyes closed, and I sank further into his grip—my mind wiped blank. I was all feeling—his lips and hands on me. It felt as good as it had before everything between us had gone to shit, and I never want to let that go again.

"You see me almost every day?" I asked against his lips.

"Every day." He pulled away slightly, bringing a hand up to my neck. "At the bus stop, crossing the street, at the store. I've wanted to …"

I pressed my fingers to his mouth, shaking my head. No. I didn't want to pick over this tonight. I didn't want to sift through what had been keeping us apart.

"Remember? We're not thinking. We're not thinking …"

"Right."

Before I could blink, he was leading me up the cobbled path to his bungalow—a tiny, yellow clapboard place that I could only take in in flashes because just the shape of him in front of me was so distracting: his hair, defiant as ever; the broad curve of his shoulders; and God, that ass.

I started to giggle—actually giggle. The tequila was still coursing through me, so I could have blamed it on that, but the truth was I was intoxicated on him and in this crazy moment I had found myself. Not twenty minutes before, he was walking off stage just to be with me. Then we were standing at his front door, and I was already undressing him in my mind? Was this actually happening?

"This is funny?"

"This is fun."

"It is."

His smile, the best one, the one that made me tell him I loved him, lit his face up. In a less inebriated state, I might have let that lead my brain down a dark path, but instead I let go. I wrapped myself up in it and threw myself at him.

We were through the door and tangled up in each other before he could kick it closed behind us. He gave me the nickel tour, hands lost in my hair as he guided me backwards through the dark.

"Living room," he mumbled against my mouth while I tried to keep steady on my feet. He wasn't giving me time to think. Good. "Kitchen. Bathroom."

At the end of the hall, he hesitated. My back was to the wall, inches from what I assumed was his bedroom door. His gaze raked over me, and my skin prickled—scalp to toes.

"Say something now." His eyes landed on the hollow below my throat, and his hand followed. With infuriating gentleness, the pads of his fingers trailed along my collarbone—reverent and featherlight. "If you don't want to do this, say something now."

The whisper-thin strap of my dress tipped and fell, a casualty to his teasing touch. I didn't move to right it. And I didn't speak.

Instead, I fumbled behind me—my gaze trained on his—and achieved my goal at last, twisting the knob and pushing his door open. The responding curve of his mouth was a dirty leer, the glimmer in his eyes a benediction. "Oh, thank God." Instead of moving us through the doorway, he surprised me by dropping to his knees and pressing his face to my belly. Hands clenched around hips, nose buried in thin fabric, he took great gulping breaths that left me dizzy and anxious. His wandering hands did nothing to quell my nerves as they trailed under the dress and hooked into my underwear. I tried not to squirm as he pulled the fabric down, drawing flames along my flesh where his fingers skimmed down my legs. My pulse pounded in my ears as I kicked first the panties, then my shoes, aside.

Where did all the air go?

I was lost in the feel of his hands and his mouth—fingernails scraping gently along my calves, teeth nipping at the inside of my thighs. Suddenly, my mind was empty of everything but his hot breath working closer and closer to where I wanted him. Where I needed him.

Then his mouth found me and everything disintegrated. The walls crashed and tumbled to the floor, the ground trembled and cracked, and I—I was falling into a vast, swirling ocean. I was low, low down, sinking into beautiful black water, and I didn't care if I never resurfaced.

It's too much. It's not enough.

His mouth was doing all the glorious things I remembered so well, things I had ached to feel for so long. Nothing came close to this, to the particular talent of his tongue. My mind rebelled, overwhelming me with the bittersweet nature of it all. I felt bereft of all the moments missed, the days passed, the time absent of his touch. But the hurt of that absence couldn't overshadow the glory of this feeling—this bottomless perfection.

Too soon it was over, my body trembling as I crested and burst with a cry, surfacing lazily to reality's shore as he took my boneless body in his arms.

"Jesus, I missed that."

He carried me to his room, kicking the door open and laying me gently on his bed. The clock on his nightstand glowed red, numbers splitting and doubling as my eyes fought to regain focus.

Eleven forty-seven. Still time for a birthday wish.

I registered the rustling of clothes being removed—first his, then mine—and I smiled in anticipation. He found my mouth, and the smile eased into every inch of me. Every particle.

Wish granted.

I loved the weight of him. I loved the feel of skin on skin. I loved the way we fit together—even before we were truly together—and I grasped at him, feeling needy and untamed and desperate for more.

"Please."

The chuckle I expected never materialized. Instead, a low groan sounded from the back of his throat, and I tamped down my ballooning pride. He was there, right there, and I raised my hips up in invitation—in command. He took his orders to heart, and with a quick thrust, I had him all.

I didn't know what the morning would bring. I didn't know if he would run away again, or if perhaps I would. I didn't know if I was asking for too much when I told the universe this is what I want. This is all I'll ever need. But it didn't matter. I had this moment. I had him in my arms, and it was enough. For this moment, it was enough.

His hips pressed against mine but remained still. His arms braced, muscles straining. His breath, hot and damp on my neck. My name dragged from his throat, his voice hoarse and aching.

My back arched as he waited, hips against hips, his chest pressing against mine with each intake of breath. My skin flushed, blood and lust coursing through me. Every nerve, every synapse reawakened. A live wire, crackling, sparking.

My fingernails found his back, scrabbling, crazed. "More. Please, more."

He drew back slowly—too slowly, torturing me—before his hips slammed forward, pushing my cry from deep in my belly and out into the atmosphere.

His rhythm was hard and steady—a new tempo for a dance we'd danced so many times before. Familiarity and newness. Recognition and coming home, overlaid with discovery and the searching out of new secrets.

I rose to meet him, but it seemed this wasn't enough for him because he took my hips and held on, pounding into me, pounding. And I might have dug my fingernails into his skin, or bit his shoulder or cried out, and I might have done it all at once.

"Bella, Bella." His jaw clenched tight, my name slipped from between his teeth.

The coil in my belly tightened again as pleasure twisted me higher.

As suddenly as he'd started going for it, he slowed and his arms wrapped around my back and he just went slow. His lips were nothing but a breeze wherever they touched me, but so hot, leaving a brand on my skin in their wake.

"Edward."

We'd done it all before. We'd made love slow and soft, we'd fucked in desperation and in anger, and in a desire, in a need that we knew could never be met.

And this, tonight, was all of it—aside from anger. There was no anger anywhere. I smiled into his shoulder. I kissed it.

He lifted off me to duck his head and kiss my breasts, still pushing in and out of me. And then his lips met mine again, and "You're so soft" grunted from his mouth. "Always been ... so soft."

He shifted his weight, and I felt his long fingers digging into my thigh, pulling at my leg, wrapping it around his waist as his rhythm sped and began to falter.

"Oh, fuck, Bella." The words were whispered, awe and relief in his voice.

Nonsense words slipped from my lips, and more, more, more. Suspended, balanced on the precipice, anticipating the fall.

And I fell.

Pulsing, surging, white-hot. Eternity and all the universe squeezed into a few short seconds.

When we emerged from the fires, we were made new, refined. The past—all the wasted time, the missed opportunities—burned up, smelted away, like dross from a lump of gold.

Edward pulled back, allowing only a whisper of space between us. His eyes still ablaze, his hand found the curve of my cheek. "Never again. I'll never let you go again."

My eyes stung a little, joy and contentment trying to force their way out of my body. I nodded; my throat closed over.

His lips touched my forehead, my nose, my lips, sealing his promise. "Never again."

He gathered me into his arms, and my head came to rest on his chest. I slung my leg over his, getting as close as possible, but he seemed to pull me in closer. His fingers ran through my hair, so familiar, like the last two years never existed. I could feel his steadying heartbeat echo through my body as it lulled me to sleep.

In those nearly incoherent moments between wake and sleep, long-ignored memories of Edward and me played through my mind like old home movies. Wind whipping, cold sea-air, the hoarse barking of seals. Looking out at the green-gray bay, fog obscuring the view of hills and Alcatraz in the distance, I'd climbed up the wooden rail, ignoring the rules. Edward pretended to push me over the edge, and even though he had his fingers digging so firmly into my waist they almost hurt, I screamed and jumped down and shoved him away.

We were laughing.

This small, older woman came over to us, looking at Edward with a threat in her eyes that actually scared me. She put her hand on my arm, asking me if I was okay.

I said that I was, and she asked: "Are you sure? Are you sure?"

Again, I said that I was.

Still, she followed us for a while.

I had no idea what she'd planned to do if I had needed her help, but she seemed pretty confident she could take Edward down if necessary.

She trailed us into the candy store and the T-shirt store and the kite store.

Edward and I kept easing sly glances around store racks and other people to check if she was still there—and she was, with her little shoulders hunched over. It cracked us up every time we spotted her.

"I think she might kill me," Edward had said. "I need protection."

"I'll protect you." I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed all over his face right there in the store. His eyes blinked closed, a drunk-looking smile on his lips."Poor baby."

—::+::—

My back was hot.

I moved slightly to get some reprieve. Something held me in place. I started to panic until the previous night flashed through my mind. I took a deep breath, calming myself, as I realized that these were Edward's arms around me.

My mind, however, decided it was time to play twenty questions. Should I have done that last night? What's going to happen now? Am I forgiving him too easy? Do I forgive him? How much did I drink last night?

All thoughts were effectively erased when he pulled me into him and I felt him hard against me. His mouth found its way to the crook of my neck, and I flushed hot all over. I pushed back against him, letting him know I was awake and willing.

He took my breath away as he entered me. We were silent this time. Hands all over my body, tight, holding me to him. On my neck, over my breasts, down my stomach, lower. We moved together like we never missed a beat. There were no explosions this time, just a gentle crest, his arms wrapped around me so tightly, as my body trembled.

He turned my head to his and kissed me so reverently I could feel his apology. I twisted toward him, our bodies flush, the kiss building and building, as if rebuilding us. Would it be enough? When he finally pulled back, I felt him looking into my soul.

"There's something I want to tell you that I never got the chance to say." His finger swept down my nose, over my lips to my chin, lifting my face, his lower lip against my lower lip. "I love you, Bella."

I remember the refrain of this song.

Even when Edward didn't know the words—even when the band stopped playing, packed up and went home—my heart couldn't forget the tune.

"I love you, too."


A/N:Happy birthday, Aja! We had the best time writing this for you! Seriously. The Best!

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