Bella and Edward stay close. Neither make a move to part from the other's embrace. Weeks have passed since the incident with Jacob, but lately actions tend to happen in slow motion. Her kisses last longer. He pauses, taking the time to appreciate Bella's ability to dedicate herself to the things she cares about. It may seem unfathomable to Edward that he tops the list, but he no longer questions the strength of his relationship. Uncertainty lingers in many aspects of their lives, but for the most part, the universe around them finally seems as if it's settling down.

She's safe. Jacob has yet to make bond, and even when he does, the implications of violating the resulting restraining order would dull in comparison to Edward's retaliation. Whatever it was he intended on doing to Bella in the hallway that day, he failed. He secured his fate, the fate of Embry & Black, by committing one fatal mistake.

"You know, I probably wouldn't have looked twice at a hobo if I knew my neighbor was so hot."

She's still the same Bella.

Edward pulls back but maintains his hold. "Oh yeah? Think he'll take you off my hands?"

He's still Edward.

"I'm just fucking with you." She smiles. After everything that's happened, it's amazing they can still make each other smile. "But seriously, if he didn't have a girlfriend…"

"Knock it off, babe."

"Alright, babe." She seeks any sign of amusement in his eyes but comes up empty. "Seriously, will you ever be able to take a joke again?"

"Probably not." At least he's honest.

"It's over now," she assures him.

A somber silence falls between them. As Bella's mind explores violent what-ifs for the thousandth time, Edward's fingers trace invisible circles beneath her shirt. He's spent too much time thinking about that day. Too many things could have gone wrong, and he always considers the worst. Who wouldn't? Even in hindsight, the thought of what Jacob might have done had he made it into Bella's apartment undetected is terrifying. Edward wasn't there. He couldn't have saved her. Luckily, someone else had.

His voice is scratchy. "Just… thank god someone else was home, right?"

A cell phone saved Bella. Jacob may have prevented her from using it to seek help, but when he threw it against the wall, he didn't account for the building's cheap construction. He had no idea a neighbor like James would be home to investigate the noise, first with curiosity and then, concern. What followed was the adrenaline rush James had sought ever since returning from his last tour in Afghanistan. Six foot four and eager to help a neighbor in desperate need, James faced little resistance as he tackled Jacob to the ground.

Whatever scheme he had concocted, it wasn't well-thought-out. Jacob hadn't taken interference into consideration. He had no backup plan and no way to recover from the loss of the upper hand. James possessed the strength and ability of a trained militant. It was as if a Ken doll tried to pick a fight with a GI Joe.

When Jacob finally realized he couldn't win, he tried to run. He didn't make it very far. James' girlfriend had been quick to call the police, and though their response was slow, James had the means to subdue him. As Jacob finally exited the complex, handcuffs shackled his wrists.

"I love you," she says.

Bella is no longer afraid of vulnerability. She doesn't fear the intensity of her intimacy with Edward.

"I love you more," he replies.

It's probably true. Though once unwilling to admit the depth of his feelings, Edward loves Bella fiercely. Holding back his affection seems unfathomable now. At one point Edward had been his own worst enemy, but now, every kiss, touch, and whispered affection serves as a satisfying reminder of his commitment to Bella.

They're quiet for a beat before he speaks again. "So, what's next?"

"What do you mean?"

"You won the settlement. You're pretty much all set. You could quit the foundation, start a frozen yogurt franchise, maybe take in another hobo—"

"Yeah," Bella hesitates. "About that."

"Well?" he asks. "What about it? Have you already picked out my replacement? The neighbor already has a roof over his head, so he's out. You know, there's that old guy who always hangs out on near the platform on Washington and Wells. I'll bet he hasn't washed his balls since September."

"You're one to talk."

"I don't have to wash my balls. My girlfriend does that shit for me. She's really good at it too."

"Think so?" She teases, "Well, when I take him in, I'll be sure to tell him you said that."

"Bullshit. We're keeping that secret between us."

"I'm sure he can infer."

Bella drapes her forearms over Edward's shoulders. His hands find her waist as she touches her lips to his. She kisses him once, smiles widely, and kisses him again. Every movement of her tongue causes his hands to grip her waist a little tighter. He pulls her closer and savors the moment—her lips, her touch, and the feeling of her body against his. It takes every bit of self control he's learned in the past six months to pull away.

"I shouldn't have interrupted you earlier."

"It's okay," she says.

"What were you going to say?"

"Is it crazy if I don't want any part of it? The money, I mean."

"Crazy? Maybe," he responds, "but it's also exactly the kind of response I would expect from you."

"Don't get me wrong. Going after Embry & Black was the right thing to do. And it felt good to win—probably too good. But I didn't do it to exploit my weaknesses as a female. It doesn't feel right to take advantage of being taken advantage of, but that's exactly what I'd be doing if I kept the money."

"Ever since we met, you've always talked about wanting financial stability."

"No, you've got it wrong. I've always wanted to be self-sufficient. Maybe you haven't noticed, but there's a difference."

"Hey, I'm working on it."

She calls him out. "Living in your parents' rental house and going back to school on their dime. I'm not sure if I consider either of these things working on it."

"I try to mooch off my girlfriend, but she doesn't ever take the hint."

"That's funny. You haven't let me pay for a meal since the night your guitar was stolen."

"Oh, you've paid." He grins. "Just not monetarily. Speaking of which, you owe me for lunch." He reaches for the button on her jeans.

"Nice try." She swats his hand away, rolling her eyes. "So here's the deal. I'm giving half of the money to the foundation—a donation in our fathers' memories. And with the rest, I'm buying a house. Your house, actually. I made Esme an offer this morning, and she accepted."

"Are you serious?"

"Yep. Now, normally in this circumstance, you'd be forced to vacate the property. But since I have a soft spot for the homeless, I think I'll let you stay."

He grins, realizing the meaning behind her words. "You're moving in with me."

"I'm allowing you to continue to live in the home I've purchased for myself."

"You're moving in with me."

"Fine. I'm moving in with you. Happy now?"

He nods, intent on proving his elation through a kiss. "But are you?"

"Extremely." And she is.

"Then maybe we should get married."

The excitement vanishes from her face, and suddenly she's very serious. "Really, hobo? Don't press your luck."


a few final words...

The post date for The Gap on FFN is October 9, 2012, but I began writing the story earlier that year when my husband and I lived on separate continents. Wow. A lot has changed since then. I had a kid. Then we had another. For the time being, we live on separate continents again (boo!), but this time I'm taking care of two children, one of which is almost exactly the age of this fic. If you've been with me from the beginning, thank you. I never imagined people would actually like this story or that it would get a fraction of the response that it did. There were long periods between updates at times, and I'm sorry for that. Sometimes, I had writer's block. Other times, I was just busy participating in real life. Sticking with me probably wasn't always easy, but I love you for it.

If you're a new reader, thank you. In hindsight, I probably would have done ten thousand things differently in this story. I hope that you liked it anyway. I believe revision is an important part of the writing process and I can't wait to dive into The Gap for a second time with a shiny red pen. Will I ever publish this story? With major changes, maybe, but it'll stay up on FFN for now. I can't make any promises about the future, but I'm also not naive enough to think I'll ever be able to completely rid the Internet of it. Save it. Share it. Or delete your link because you thought it was the worst story ever. Whatever—that's okay too.

I wrote this story for my friends. I wrote it with the idea that maybe someday I'd have more friends because of it. If you've hit me up on Twitter, sweet! If you haven't, don't be afraid. I'm not crazy, or at least not all of the time. I'm slowly migrating to a new account, and it may be best to follow me there. ajacobwrites.