So sorry for the delay on this, and thank you for being patient! Again, I got some review replies out last chapter, but if I missed you, I apologize. If you have a specific question, you can always feel free to PM me.

Thank you to my awesome pre-readers/betas: Twilly, sophiacorgi, LyricalKris, and lellabeth!

All things Twilight belong to SM. Everything else is mine, including any mistakes.

Chapter 21 - At Last

Declarations and kisses don't solve all of our problems. We're not quite sure how to act around each other now that things have taken a turn. I want to be touching her all the time, but I don't know for sure that she wants that. I've become so used to her keeping me at arm's length, as she put it.

That kiss, though… Fuck. I could feast on those plump lips for hours. Days, if she'd let me.

Unfortunately, we don't have days. In less than 24 hours, we'll be boarding planes that will take us back to our respective corners of the country. But I couldn't be more thankful for the time we got to spend with Layla. And reconnecting with Bella... I mean, really reconnecting with her… I never expected this—didn't dare to let myself hope that she still felt something for me.

I smile at Bella as she walks back from answering the door with a pizza box in her hands. Returning my smile with a coy one of her own, she plops the box down on the bed, flips the top open, and leans over to smell it before she grabs her first piece—something she's always done. And the face she makes when she does it… It's one of her sex faces.

It was my idea to order pizza.

We each pull a piece, and after a few bites, she looks at me with a trepidation in her eyes that makes my heart jump. Swallowing thickly, I steel myself for what she's about to say as her teeth sink into her bottom lip. "So…" She puts her piece of pizza down, and I do the same. "Where do we go from here?"

With an exhale, my body relaxes, and I realize I was nervous she'd already changed her mind. It also makes me realize it might be a little while before I can fully trust her with my heart again. And vice versa, no doubt.

"I honestly don't know," I reply with a one-shouldered shrug. "I guess we just… do our best long distance?"

"Do you really think it'll work? I mean, with how much school we still have left?"

"I only have a year and a half left."

"Only," she says glumly.

Leaning toward her, I grasp her chin between my thumb and index finger and pull her in, pressing my lips to hers. God, I've missed being allowed to do that. "It'll be okay. Look at all the shit we've already survived, and we still love each other. We're golden, baby."

Bella laughs because she knows I'm mostly full of shit. It'll take a lot of work, but I know that if we both want it badly enough, we'll make it happen. I can only hope she wants it as badly as I do. Before returning to my side of the box, I kiss her nose, and she scrunches it up in my favorite way. I can't help but sigh. "I've missed this."

"You've missed sharing a pizza with me?" she asks with a teasing smile.

Smiling softly back at her, I nod. "Yeah. I've missed just hanging out with you, doing normal stuff." I take a bite and talk with my mouth full because I'm kind of a pig at times. "Not to mention your pizza-sniffing sex face."

She rolls her eyes. "I do not have a pizza-sniffing sex face." Thankfully, said face breaks out into a smile at the end of her sentence, and we laugh together before she lets out a wistful sigh. "I've missed this, too. But it's my fault we didn't have this sooner."

"Hey, come on. Stop that."

"Sorry," she mumbles, taking another bite.

"Look. I know you're beating yourself up, thinking about lost time. And the lost time sucks. Hard. But I've already been through the angry stage. Months of it. You already said you were sorry about feeling like there was no other way. You said it so many times right after you left, but I wasn't ready to hear it. And you wanted to be there for me, even though you weren't physically there." I lay my palm flat to my chest. "I was the one who kept pushing you and the support you were offering away."

"But it wasn't enough," she responds with fire in her eyes. "I should've gone back. Maybe I should've taken the spring semester off and then gone back, or… something." Her gaze drops, and her eyes dart around the ugly floral comforter beneath us. She looks so sad and lost, and I want nothing more than to take that away.

"You couldn't have gone back to Duke. Not unless you got new scholarships." Picking up her hand, I stroke the back of it with my thumb, and her eyes finally connect with mine again. "It took me a long time to let it go and accept that you were gone, but now… I'm just so relieved that you're here in this room with me and that you still have feelings for me, that I just want us to move forward. I mean, is that crazy? Do you think we can let go of all our mistakes and just be together?"

Bella squeezes my hand, and her bottom lip disappears into her mouth for a moment. Her dark eyes shimmer with unshed tears before she shoves the pizza box out of the way and lunges forward at me. I catch her around the middle and squeeze her to me, running my hands up her back while she lays two soft kisses on my neck. "I want that... So much," she says into my skin. "I want to let it all go and move forward, focus on building our relationship. I want you back in my life more than anything—as so much more than my ex who I'm still sort of friends with." Another kiss lands on my skin, sending a slight shudder through me. "I want everything with you." She pulls back to sit on her heels in front of me and hooks her hands behind my neck, searching my eyes. "But I also worry that it won't be enough for you. And part of me feels like, with me being the only girlfriend you've had, you should try dating someone else just to make sure I'm who you want." I begin to object, but she cuts me off with a shake of her head. "But the other part of me can't stand the thought of another girl's hands on you." Her eyes narrow at whatever image plays across her brain.

It sickens me to think that even after all this time, she might be picturing a half-naked Lauren on top of me.

Cupping her face in my hands, I make sure she focuses on me before I speak. I need her to understand. "Bella, listen to me. I went on dates with other girls before I met you. It's not like I completely closed myself off to the possibility of a relationship. I'd just never wanted that until you." A tear slips down her cheek, and I gently swipe it away with my thumb. "I'd never wanted to be around someone as much as I did with you. I wanted you with me all the time, every second. I still do. And if that's not love... then I don't know what the hell is."

Bella's brows pull together, her soulful eyes full of adoration as two more fat tears overflow, and a split-second later, she's pulling at the back of my neck and crushing our lips together. I pull in a deep breath through my nose and splay my hands one above the other across her back, bringing her in as close as possible. I need to feel her body molded to mine more than I need air right now.

She moves her legs to straddle me, and we both whimper as our tongues meet between parted lips. It's been so fucking long. When she tilts her head for better access to my mouth, I slide one hand up her back and into her hair, cupping the back of her head. A grunt spills into her mouth from mine the second her hips move against me, and she hooks an arm around my neck for leverage to grind while we taste each other.

"God, Bella. It's… Fuck."

"Mmhmm," she moans, tilting her head the other way and coming back for more. She nips at my bottom lip before pulling back to look into my eyes for a second. Hers are full of love and mischief and everything I've missed about this girl in my arms. I lunge at her to capture her mouth again, and she slides one hand up under the hem of my shirt, making my abs jump and contract. It lingers there, and her finger glides across my waistband. I growl into her mouth when she flicks at the button on my jeans.

"Stop teasing me, woman."

"Okay," she breathes out, jumping away and off the bed before I even realize what's happening.

"Wh—" Bella whips her shirt over her head. "Oh. Okay." She returns the wide smile that takes over my face, and I hastily close the pizza box before dropping it down to the floor. I get distracted for a moment as she wiggles out of her jeans, but then I jump into action, shedding my clothes and diving beneath the covers.

Bella's tits bounce slightly as she giggles at me, and I watch with rapt attention as she walks toward me stark naked, all pale skin and curves. Long legs and tight pink nipples. Fuck. I give myself a stroke under the covers to help alleviate some of the pressure, but it's pointless. She smirks at me, having caught the movement, and I shrug, opening my arms for her. "You're so goddamn beautiful. C'mere."

Bella's eyes turn soft as she accepts my invitation, crawling under the covers and snuggling into me. I just hold her for a minute with my nose buried in her silky hair, so fucking content to have her with me like this again. The emotion that wells up in me just from feeling her bare body against mine after all this time tells me all I need to know. I will never want anyone else the way I want this girl. I'll never love anyone else like I love her. Not possible.

"I love you," I whisper into her ear, sliding her hair behind her shoulder and kissing her neck.

She sighs one of those dreamy, girly sighs that I only love coming from her. "I love you," she whispers back. "So much."

She has no idea how much that makes my chest feel like it's going to burst wide open.

But maybe it makes hers feel like that too, when I say it.

I can only hope.

When I pull back to look at her face, she's soft-smiling and so fucking gorgeous. I'm kind of dumbfounded, to be honest.

Bella leans forward and teases my lips, stopping just before it would turn into a kiss and barely touching me as she speaks. "I'm yours, Edward. Take me."

"Jesus, Bella." Damn, she's good. She said those exact words to me the very first time we had sex. Fucked. Made love. Whatever. I have no doubt we did all three at once because it was beyond satisfying on every level, every single time.

Patience is out the window. I roll her underneath me and kiss her for all I'm worth with my hands buried deep in her hair. We feed each other our moans and groans, grinding hard against soft, soft against hard. She hooks her legs around my calves, trapping me against her.

I'm loving being caught.

"Did you… bring a condom?" Bella asks breathlessly.

"Yeah. There should be... one in my wallet." I can't stop kissing her. And sliding against her. And loving her.

She runs her hands down my back and grabs two handfuls of my ass. "Unf, God. Get it. Please."

Why didn't I get it before we got into bed? Idiot.

Once I'm back on top of her, protection in place, I watch her face intently as I slide inside. Her eyes fall shut as her mouth falls open, and a sound comes out of her that I haven't heard in so fucking long. It's almost a whine, but it's that fuck-it-feels-so-good whine she does that I could never get enough of.

Once I've sunk in as far as I can go, she opens her doe eyes and watches my face as she squeezes my dick, no doubt seeing it crumple with the pleasure that shoots through me. "Fuck, baby."

"Yes," she breathes out, tilting her chin up. "Fuck me."

Planting kisses on her jawline, I slide one hand down her back and cup her ass, tilting her hips up and grinding against her. "I'm going to do so much more than that." Shifting back, I capture her lips again before plunging back into her and swallowing her gasp. I keep every inch of our bodies pressed tightly together as I rock into her, chest to chest, stomach to stomach.

Bella accepts everything I give her with the sexiest moans and sighs. When her nails scratch down my back, I hiss and slam into her, pulling an almost-scream from her mouth.

"Yes. Let me hear you. God, I never thought I'd be inside you again, baby." With a responding moan, she wraps her legs around my waist, bringing me in even closer, allowing me in even deeper. "Fuck," I groan. "You feel amazing."

"Mmhmm," she whimpers.

Her slick heat envelopes me again and again, and I'd give anything to make this night last forever.

Bella hooks her arms under mine, her hands over my shoulders, and it feels like she can't get close enough, like she'd crawl inside me if she could.

It's exactly how I feel.

Swirling my hips on every thrust hits her in just the right spot, and she encourages me by grabbing on to my ass again with both hands.

"Mm, fuck. I love you so much," she murmurs into my neck before pressing her lips against my skin.

Our bodies are slick with sweat from the heat we've created under this comforter. My breaths gust into her hair as I continue my long, deep strokes into her, working to bring us both sweet release.

"I love you, Bella. Oh... fuck," I groan. "Touch yourself, baby."

My hand is still on her ass, keeping her as close as possible, but she manages to wiggle one of hers between us. Then she does something I must have blocked from my memory because it was so fucking fantastic, and I didn't think I'd ever feel it again. She scissors her fingers over her opening, applying pressure to each side of my dick every time I'm not balls-deep in her. I know her hand is also applying pressure to her clit, and within seconds, we're both grunting into each other's open mouths, teeth nipping at lips, and fingers digging into flesh. I'm so far gone in the intense pleasure, I couldn't even tell you my own name right now.

Lifting my head just in time, I watch her face as she falls over the edge, her eyes squeezed shut and mouth wide open but no sound making its way out. She's so fucking gorgeous in the way her body shakes through her release, and I can't hold back anymore. My thrusts grow choppy as I drop my face back to her neck and empty myself before collapsing on top of her, completely spent.

Swallowing harshly, I roll off of her, scooping her up with me and tucking her in to my side.

For several minutes, we just lie there, our panting breaths gradually returning to normal. Bella rests her hand on my stomach, and I play with her fingers, my mind racing with thoughts of how this will all turn out.

There's a heaviness around us, like what we just did means everything, and I feel like it does. I feel like I won't lose her again. I can't. It would end me.

Bella's sniffle makes me turn toward her, and I frown at the tears spilling out of her eyes. "Hey, hey, hey. What's wrong?"

"It's just…" She sniffles again, swiping at her cheeks, and her voice shakes as she continues in a rush of words. "I've been missing you so much, and being with you like this is just unbelievable. I don't know how I'm going to survive leaving you again. I…" Her panicked eyes lock with mine. "I really do love you. You know that, right? I just couldn't handle everything back then. I never wanted to leave you. And I don't want to leave you tomorrow either. Please… I'm…" Tears streak down her cheeks again, and I wipe them away with my fingers before pulling her into a tight hug, her head tucked under my chin.

"Shhh. I know, Bella. You don't have to explain or apologize anymore." I kiss the top of her head and say the next words against her hair. "I'm so fucking grateful for you, do you know that? For what you just gave me, for having your heart again."

Bella throws her arm around my middle and squeezes me. "You've always had my heart, Edward. Always."

The burst of warmth in my chest makes me smile, and I wrap my body completely around hers, cocooning her and holding on for dear life.

How the hell am I going to say goodbye to her tomorrow?

After I take care of the condom, Bella and I lie there, wrapped up in each other for some time, and my thoughts eventually drift to Layla and the fact that we haven't really talked about the visit at all. I know Bella's thoughts have got to be as chaotic as mine are about it. Not quite sure how to bring it up, I finally just blurt out that I still can't believe we got to see her—and on her first birthday, no less.

Bella takes a deep breath, and I loosen my hold on her. "I know," she says. "I just wish it could've been for longer." She drops her forehead to my chest. "Y'know, like… forever." She lets out a soft laugh at herself, pulling back to look at my face.

My sad smile matches hers. "Yeah. Forever." I plant a kiss on Bella's forehead and sigh, resting my hand on her hip. "She really is incredible," I say with an amazed shake of my head, still not quite believing this morning actually happened.

"I can't believe we made her," Bella agrees, finding my hand and curling her fingers under mine where they rest on her bare skin. "Isn't that just the craziest thing to think about? We made a whole person who's going to be out there, making her mark on the world." The wonder in her dark eyes radiates from her, the pride for our daughter and whatever she'll accomplish in the future shining in their depths.

"It's unreal." My eyes are fixated on Bella's far-away look, and I squeeze her fingers. "I'm so glad she's going to know us."

Her mind seems to come back to the present, her gaze focusing on me again. "Me too. It was tough to see her and hold her, knowing we'd have to leave again, but it was so worth it."

"It really was," I agree.

"And seeing her so happy… I know we made the right decision for her, even though it hurts like crazy. And I'm so grateful that we could both be here."

I hug her to me again. "God, so am I. For several reasons."

Bella's sweet laugh brings a smile back to my face, and in this moment, it feels like nothing will wipe it away.

At 2:23 a.m., I wake up with a raging hard-on, and lo and behold, the previous evening wasn't a dream after all. Bella's here next to me, completely naked, and I wake her slowly with my fingers and tongue, reveling in her little hums and moaning into her flesh when she grips my hair. Thank God I went out and bought more condoms last night because as soon as I've gotten her wet enough, I'm inside her again. It's fast and hard, needy and possessive. It's everything we feel as our impending departure closes in on us.

After another couple of hours of sleep, Bella wakes me up with her mouth surrounding me, and then she rides me hard until she's screaming my name to the ceiling and digging her fingers into my thighs. She collapses onto my heaving chest, and I hold her tight to me, willing away the tears burning my eyes.

Nine o'clock finds us still in bed, limbs tangled together and in total denial about the California sun shining brightly through the window.

"Do we have to go back?" Bella asks, planting a kiss on my chest. "Can't we just stay in this hotel room forever?"

Sighing, I play with the ends of her silky hair. "I wish."

After dragging our feet for another hour, we finally make our way to the bathroom and shower together, getting in our last intimate touches before we're separated again.

The hour-long drive to the airport feels much shorter, the time slipping away from us way too quickly. We spend it with our hands clasped together as much as possible.

A ball of panic begins growing in my chest as we get closer to the airport, and I feel my palms getting sweaty. If Bella notices, she doesn't say anything. When we're close to exiting the highway, I finally get out the thought that's dominating my mind. "I don't think I can go in with you."

Bella's head whips toward me. "What? Why not?"

"I just… I don't think I can say goodbye to you in there." I heave a deep breath and try to get my thoughts in order. "I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, but… Last time I had to do it, it just about killed me. I remember it feeling like I would never see you again. And then you didn't come back, and…" Trailing off, I shake my head, feeling my eyes sting.

Bella squeezes my hand and then pulls it to her mouth to kiss my knuckles. "It's okay. I understand." She places our joined hands in her lap. "It's not a goodbye anyway, right? It's just a 'see you soon'," she finishes with a soft smile.

Some of the tension leaves my body. "Right." Nodding my head, I take a few cleansing breaths and signal to exit the highway. "God, it's good to hear you say that."

At the curb, I turn the ignition off and get out with Bella. After pulling her small suitcase from the trunk, I step over to where she's leaning against the car and press my body to hers, cupping her face in my hands. "So…" I stroke my thumbs over her cheekbones. "Winter break. You'll pick me up in Seattle?" A friend of mine is driving home to Washington and has mentioned wanting to carpool with someone. I texted him before we left the hotel, and he's stoked to have a driving partner.

I swear it's fucking serendipity.

Bella nods. "As long as Sue will let me borrow her SUV, yeah. My poor truck wouldn't make it."

"Ah, the decrepit behemoth." I smirk at the indignant look on her face. "I'd love to see you in that truck someday. I bet you look sexy in it."

Bella gets on her tip-toes so she can speak into my ear, and I bend down to meet her halfway. "I'd love to fuck you in that truck someday."

The semi I was sporting goes absolutely rigid against her stomach. "Shit, woman." I reach down and adjust myself, and she giggles. "You're evil."

"Aww." She mock-pouts at me, moving her hands to the back of my neck and pulling me in for a kiss.

The way my body reacts to just a simple kiss from this girl blows my mind. It's like these little frissons race along my veins as her lips pull at mine and our tongues taste each other. Pressing her even tighter to me, I run my hands down her back until I reach her ass and give it a good squeeze, making her moan into my mouth.

Breathing heavily, I slow our kiss down and murmur against her lips, "I think you better go... before I rip your clothes off and take you right here against this rental car." I press my forehead to hers, needing these last moments of physical contact with her. Tears begin slipping down her cheeks, but she nods and then tucks her face up under my neck. I hold her for another moment, failing at keeping my own tears at bay.

When she sniffles and shakes her head against me, I move her back by her shoulders and grasp her chin, tipping her face up. "Hey." She opens her watery eyes and looks into mine. "Winter break's only a couple of weeks away. It'll be here before we know it."

Bella nods again, even though we both know I'm lying. It's going to feel more like a couple of years after having just reconnected with each other and having to be apart again. But it is what it is. I'll take whatever I can get in this situation. And I know now that she's willing to give me everything. Unfortunately, logistics stand in our way right now.

"I'm going to miss you so much," she says, her arms tight around my neck now. "Even more than before, if that's possible."

"I know what you mean." Sighing into her hair, I squeeze her so hard, her feet lift off the ground. "I love you so much."

Her hot breath tickles my neck as she exhales against my skin. "I love you too."

"See you soon, right?"

Bella nods and sniffles, pulling back from our embrace. "Yeah. See you soon."

I watch her walk inside, rolling her carry-on behind her and wiping under her eyes. My heart clenches in my chest as the doors close behind her, and I have to keep reminding myself that she loves me and that I'll get to spend Christmas with her in Forks.

A smile ghosts over my lips at that thought... until I remember that her father carries a gun and probably still wants to shoot me. With a gulp, I slide back into the car, turn the key, and head to the rental return area. My flight's not for a couple more hours, so I don't have to rush.

Shaking off thoughts of Bella's father aiming a shotgun at my nuts, I laugh a little in disbelief at the turn of events of this weekend. It's absolutely surreal.

I steer into a parking space and pull out my phone, firing off a quick text to Bella, telling her again that I'll miss her and to be safe. And then I call Emmett, because I just can't wait any longer to tell my best friend the news.

"Dude," I say as soon as he answers. "You'll never guess what happened."

"A lion jizzed on you."

"Fuck you," I reply with a laugh.

He guesses the right answer too quickly for me to have my fun, but I can't be upset. I find myself laughing as I listen to his excitement for Bella and me, the sheer number of times he says 'dude' a good indicator that he's ecstatic. He's already staking his claim on being best man in our wedding, and he shushes me when I tell him he's getting ahead of himself. Even Rose joins in, telling me Em cheated because she already got the same phone call from Bella.

The goofy smile doesn't leave my face the entire flight home.

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