Mark Me One-Shot Contest

Title: Echo

Your pen name: MrzEdCullen

Characters: Edward and Bella

Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended. Rated M

Summary: Love is a force without reason. It's a cycle you can't break. And it's never black and white. Sometimes it's gray... and all-consuming. Entry for the Mark Me Contest.

A little time with you is all that I get. That's all we need because it's all we can take.

Instant Crush, Daft Punk ft. Julian Casablancas.

Bella walks up the last few steps and opens the unlocked door with ease. She finds Edward typing away on his computer, with his dark blue reading glasses about to fall off his face.

He doesn't look up when she sets her camera bag down on the floor next to his shoes. He'll complain about that later. She'll promise she won't do it again. And then she will.

"How was work today?" he asks fifteen minutes after she's been inside the apartment. She has already drunk half a bottle of water, taken off her shoes and lain down on the couch with her stripe-socked feet up.

At the sound of his voice, she stands up, brown locks spilling all over her neck and shoulders. She grins, and like an instinctual pull, Edward looks up at her and grins back. He has yet to find out why she's smiling, but it truly doesn't make a difference to him. Her smile and joy have always been a cord connected to his happiness.

"I pierced a fucking anaconda today," she says.

He chuckles and fixes his eyes on the computer once more.

She walks closer to him, undeterred by his lack of response.

"Seriously, it was huge, Edward."

"Bigger than mine?" he asks, arching his pierced eyebrow at her.

She nods and takes a sip of her bottle. "Much."

"Ouch," he says.

She finishes her water and walks across the living room to the kitchen, stepping hard on the creaking board on the steps that connect one room to the other. She opens and closes some drawers and washes some dirty dishes. Unable to be out of his sight, she goes back to the living room and messes around with the radio. The bracelets on her wrists clink little bell sounds as she moves her arms.

At last, her not-so-subtle noises work and Edward stands up and goes to her, his front to her back.

He places his hands on her hips, and her whole body relaxes. No one would've been able to tell how on edge she was when she arrived. Only him. It's just as well, considering it is only him who's meant to notice.

With slow movements, he brushes her hair out of the way and kisses the back of her neck, where her tiny stars are. She can feel the cool metal on his lips. She licks her own, remembering the taste of silver and skin on her tongue, knowing the masculine sound that escapes him when she tugs at his lip ring with her teeth.

"When are you going to pierce mine, by the way?" he asks, voice low.

The thought of laying him down on her station and prepping him for it, delighting in the way he gets off on the bite of metal, makes her tremble with need.

She has pierced his ears, his nipples, and his tongue in the past. He's shed most of them through the years and has only kept his lip and eyebrow rings—her favorites.

"When I'm the only one who gets to enjoy the benefits," she answers.

The words come out light, meant to be a joke, but they both know the weight they carry. The heaviness of the moment causes his head to fall forward, coming to rest between her shoulders. The brush of his hair tickles her back, exposed by the low cut of her blouse. His eyes fall to the sliver of skin that displays more stars at the end of her waist.

They're not connected to the ones on her neck, but Edward has had fun tracing a path from top to bottom, drawing a line with his tongue. He remembers her skin singing for him. He remembers her breathless sounds.

These are the memories that haunt his mind as he traces the bigger stars with his pinky finger. His hands, dirty from the blue ink of the pen he used earlier, leave a smudge on her. It disappears on her marked body the same way he has lost himself inside her before.

However, thinking of her words eventually pulls him back.

They both sigh, almost at the same time and with the same hurt, before their armors snap in place once more. Bella goes back to messing with the stereo, and Edward sits down again at his dinner table-turned-desk.

"How am I supposed to write about a guy with an apadravya if I don't know firsthand?" he asks, frowning at his computer.

"You could always ask someone else to do it," she says, not turning around to face him. She mouths the words she knows and craves he'll say.

"Never. Only you, Bella."

She smirks, tingling with the heat of his stare on her back. After finding a song, she goes back to the couch. Edward asks her to talk to him, and she tells him about piercing another man's dick.

She pretends she's excited about it.

He pretends he doesn't care.

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No one had ever lied to Bella when they told her that love was hard. That love hurt. When she sat down to think about it, she always pictured unrequited love. Growing up, she had always thought that the only way love hurt was when you loved alone.

Little did she know that love's pain could mean so much more than that.

Nobody told her you could love someone and not like them. Nobody told her you could be in perfect sync with someone else's body and heart, but not with their mind. That sometimes people's philosophies weren't compatible and that it did affect their relationship.

That love wasn't always enough.

"If we stay together, we'll end up hating each other," Edward had said in that poetic way he always spoke, making tragedies sound beautiful.

Bella could do nothing but nod while her tears escaped her. She had no argument, because for once, he was right.

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Bella walks the last steps of the stairs again on Saturday night. The door is halfway open. Edward has friends over, and she finds them smoking and drinking—relaxing, as usual. The standard mess of papers on his dinner table is gone, replaced by empty bottles and filled ashtrays.

The stereo is on.

Edward has an unpierced, unmarked girl on his lap. They drink from the same bottle and smoke from the same cigarette. Her name is something sweet and silly, like Lissa or Luna. Bella has seen her around before.

The guys—Jake, Jasper, and James—cat call Bella when they see her. They give her a bottle of beer and blow smoke in her face. Soon, she's relaxing with them, dizzy and content. Alice arrives with a bunch of new girls, but Bella's cool with them. Alice has good taste.

They drink and dance, twirl and sing. Edward watches but doesn't join.

Bella's too happy to care. Or so she tells herself.

She almost doesn't notice when Lissa-Luna and Edward leave for the bedroom.

She pretends it's not the reason she lets Jake finger her in the bathroom later that night.

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High school was an interesting experience for both Edward and Bella. She had arrived at Forks High in the middle of freshman year. She was the shiny new toy in town, and she loved every minute of it. Filled with life and light, Bella craved people's attention. She liked being celebrated and noticed.

And in the small town of Forks, bright-colored clothes and pink-tinted hair made you stand out. She had everyone's eyes on her, except the ones she wanted: Edward's.

Burdened with the middle child syndrome, Edward wanted the spotlight. With his older brother Emmett finally away for college, and his younger sister Kate still in middle school, he saw his freshman year as an opportunity to be on the receiving end of attention.

But Bella stole his thunder with her loud laughter, and her bigger-than-life personality. She was like a celebrity in the school, and Edward hated her for it.

Everything she did annoyed him, and when Bella discovered this, she pushed all of his buttons. She loved getting under his skin.

She had never stopped.

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The day after the party, Bella has showered and changed and is almost reaching the door when Edward wakes up. He rolls out of bed, naked from the waist up, last night's jeans unbuttoned and falling down. Bella's favorite tattoo, the abstract swan, greets her before she can escape. She zooms in on the ink adorning his right hip. The elaborate swirls that make up the wings reach his ribcage and expand with every breath he takes.

Her mouth waters like a Pavlovian dog at the sound of bells. It makes her bitter, knowing that no matter what happens, she will always recognize his melody.

She can't stop herself from asking about the girl.

"The girl?" Edward mocks her, but only after she's backed away from the steps. He walks her to the kitchen and starts making breakfast.

"Lissa… or Luna. Whatever," Bella says. She pulls on the sleeves of the large men's shirt she's wearing and tightens her grip on her camera bag.

"Let's call her Lissa-Luna," Edward says, joining her on the creaking board she's standing on, "because I honestly don't remember which one it is." He smiles, the kind of smile that is not him. The smile that makes him look mean, when he's not.

Still, the glint of his lip ring makes her swallow.

Flashbacks of his head between her legs, the way his green eyes looked up at her, the way he flicked his ring with his tongue before diving into her, make her step back and away from him.

She promised she wouldn't do this again. Not until they were on the same page.

"I have to go home," she says. He nods and doesn't say anything until she's almost reached the door.

"She wasn't as good as you," he says, touching her in places deeper than her skin. Bella stops three steps away from the door and waits until he goes to her.

It's what she wants, even when she won't admit it to herself. For the second time this week, Edward finds himself holding onto her hips, staring at her damn stars. He speaks to the ones on her neck, lips forming words against her skin, like he has done countless times.

"That's what you want to hear, right?" he says. "They never are."

Bella feels like floating, like turning around and letting him see how fucking exhilarated his words make her. She holds onto her anger instead. Surrendering to what she wants, needs, and craves will satisfy her for a moment that won't be long enough.

"So you'll just keep looking?" she asks, walking a step closer to the door. Much to Bella's relief, he doesn't let her go. Not yet.

"Must we do this every time?" He sighs. The sound is laced with years of frustration that neither of them can escape. They synchronize their breaths and let the tension wash over them.

Edward's still gripping her hips.

"Lissa-Luna sounds like a good name for a character," she says after a few heartbeats.

He smiles. He can't help it. She gets him in ways no one has even come close to. And yet she can't accept the one thing that's keeping them apart.

"It does, doesn't it?"

She nods and takes another step closer to the door. The movement causes strands of hair to fall out of her high ponytail. Edward moves them aside. As much as the tiny stars make him crazy, he can't stop staring at them.

"I heard you last night," he whispers in her ear, tightening his hold on her hips.

"Edward."

"It drove me crazy," he says, inhaling the scent of her shoulder. She still smells like him. Sometimes it feels like his mark will never be out of her body, despite the many walls she has tried to put between them.

"Jake was so fucking smug."

Edward moves his hands upward and pushes himself forward. If she wants to leave, he'll give her a reason to leave.

"He thinks you belong to him," he says. The denim of his jeans is rough on the back of Bella's legs.

"He knows I don't," she answers him, unable to stop the words from coming out of her mouth.

Edward hums, and lays his closed lips on the side of her face. He moves his head left and right, letting her feel the metal of his lip ring. "Does he?"

She shivers.

He brings a hand to her throat and holds his fingers around it. Then he pushes his hips to the small of her back, and she feels him. All of him. "Do you?"

When she moans, he lets her go.

Before she's out the door, Edward's in the kitchen again.

It's still unbearable for him to watch her walk away.

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Despite, or maybe because of, Bella's presence in high school, Edward got exactly what he wanted. His obvious dislike for the new girl, and her constant attempts to get on his nerves, made him famous in school. Everyone knew about their spats during lunch, the name-calling in classes and the silly pranks they played on each other.

Their rivalry was well-known, and soon, sides were being picked.

Edward loved it. He lived for it. And even if he didn't want to take the time to realize it, he owed much of his popularity to Bella. If they hadn't become enemies, maybe nobody would have known him.

But it wasn't long before everyone caught up to the heart of the matter. Edward and Bella didn't really hate each other. They needed each other. They were two sides of the same coin, playing the old-as-time game of revulsion to avoid the obvious outcome.

They fought it, Edward more than Bella. She had been a bit more in tune with her true feelings from the beginning.

It wasn't until Bella kissed him that Edward knew no one had as much power over him as she did. She did it on the last day of their sophomore year, after having spent half an hour taking honey-covered corn flakes out of her hair and clothes. Edward's final prank felt lame in comparison to what they both had done to the other during the last two years.

While she combed her hair searching for crumbs, she could only think of how disappointed she was by his joke. It was almost insulting that he had done something so silly and easy, as if she wasn't worth the trouble anymore.

Bella's heart twisted as she thought of how summer had arrived, and maybe everything would change. She couldn't accept that, and like the force to be reckoned with she had always been, she marched her way out of the bathroom, across the quiet cafeteria, and into the empty parking lot where she had left him. His smirk when he saw her, angry and unintentionally disheveled, was the last push she needed.

She grabbed his sweater, stood up on her tiptoes, and pressed her lips to his. His shocked gasp awoke her deep-rooted need. Edward's body caught up faster than his mind, and he allowed her to lead the kiss. When she tried to pull away, he grabbed the back of her neck, took hold of her wet-honeyed curls and kissed her as hard as he could.

She ignited him. She awoke him. He wanted to consume all of what she offered and feed from it.

So did she.

Bella made Edward question everything he thought he knew, and it sent his world out of orbit.

Neither of them had stopped spinning.

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It's a boring Thursday at the tattoo parlor. Despite the sign hanging from the crystal door that advertises today's offer, it's been a calm day. Summer's winding down, and the college kids wanting to be adventurous are slowly returning to their campus and spending less time by the Californian beach. The amount of sun-kissed skin girls begging for a bellybutton piercing or a butterfly tattoo is less with each day fall gets closer.

It's a blessing for Bella's job as a photographer. The fewer clients she has to pierce, the more clients she can take pictures of.

While left alone and unoccupied, she takes the time to clean around her station and leaves Aro and Marcus to themselves. They're probably fucking, and she has already seen them enough times to last her a lifetime. Aro's the bottom. She never would've guessed.

Thinking about her boss makes her heart twitch with memories of the first time she set foot in Santa Monica. She had arrived on an impulse after leaving Edward in New York. It hadn't been a conscious decision to get here. Bella was just looking to be away from him. If he was right about how they'd end up hating each other if they stayed together, Bella was looking to put as much space between them as she could.

The thought of ever hating, truly hating, Edward felt like winter to her. And she had always despised the cold.

With that in mind, she managed to form a life in the sunshine-filled city. After only a year in NYU as an art student, she had nothing much to offer when she looked for a job. Her old Aunt Irina, who she had been staying with, was pestering her about helping out with the bills. Bella couldn't complain, considering she hadn't even known the woman before she showed up at her doorstep seeking shelter.

It was a miracle that Aro had found her outside a restaurant after her fifth denied job application. The large, tattooed, pierced man gave her a look and decided she wasn't waitress material. That girl with the bracelets, the purple streaks in her hair, and the orange backpack wasn't meant to serve other people's food. So he taught her how to needle them instead.

As soon as Bella started making enough money, she got out of her Aunt Irina's house and moved to a small apartment close to the Santa Monica College campus. With Aro and his boyfriend and business partner Marcus' connections, she got a lot of spare jobs painting and designing silly stuff for party favors or souvenir shops. Through these jobs, she was able to get the money to pay for her first camera and follow through with her passion.

Looking back didn't make her happy, but it didn't make her feel lost anymore. She had found her rhythm and had been dancing to it since.

She owed Aro a lot. He was the reason she had survived, after all. He was also the reason Edward found her. Never in a million years would Bella have predicted that she'd end up working for Edward's cousin, but she thanked her lucky stars for it on a daily basis.

Edward showing up at her doorstep after four years apart was her victory moment.

The memory of that day is bittersweet for Bella: the perfect shake she needs to snap back out of the past.

After cleaning, Bella spends her slow Thursday listening to music and reading a book. She's not into it, but she will finish it.

"Bull, your three o'clock is here," Marcus yells at Bella. She stands up, closes the book, and places it on her bag before opening the door.

The person on the other side is not whom she's been expecting.

Lissa-Luna walks in, stepping aside of Bella, blonde and untainted. An incredulous laugh escapes Bella, because the little bitch actually looks like a book character. The kind of heroine everyone loves and feels the need to protect. With her white and pink sundress, sky-blue eyes as wide as a deer and her scared and trembling frame, Lissa-Luna could be an angel.

And needless to say, that would make Bella the devil.

"Bull?" Lissa-Luna asks, hiding behind her hair.

"Stupid joke. My initials are BS. You know, like bullshit? Aro thought it would be funny. It's also meant to be ironic, because obviously when you hear Bull, you don't picture me," Bella explains, gesturing around with her hands like she usually does. The angel-face laughs a sweet sound and shakes her head. It makes Bella scowl.

"Don't let the irony fool you, though. I live up to the name," she says, and Lissa-Luna stops smiling.

Bella's sick satisfaction at scaring the little girl causes her to swallow the bitter taste it leaves in her mouth.

Jealousy is never noble.

She takes a few breaths to compose herself, facing away from the girl, before addressing her again. With as much decency in her voice as she can manage, she asks Lissa-Luna what she wants.

"I want to pierce my nipples," the blonde girl says. The word sounds dirty on her tongue, and the entire sentence feels like blasphemy. The sweet sound of Lissa-Luna's voice hangs in the air for a few seconds.

Bella eyes her up and down, noticing the lace peeking out of the dress' skirt. She glances at her tight black skinny jeans and red platform shoes before meeting the girl's eyes again. The contrast between them is clear. Edward would have a field day, directing the two of them in bed.

Bella nods and starts aligning the items she'll need on the small silver table beside the black leather chair, where her unexpected client is sitting down.

"I need to see your ID," she says, and the blonde girl gives it to Bella with a shaky hand.

Bella double-checks the date to see if she's old enough, noticing that Lissa-Luna is just Luna, even if Bella won't call her anything else. Her ID reads Deluna Nissen, making Bella wonder the story behind her name and her roots. God, even her names are book character material.

After sterilizing the needle and the rings, Bella meets Lissa-Luna's curious eyes.

"It'll hurt," she says, giving the angel-faced girl a last chance to back out. Lissa-Luna lowers her sky blues to stare at Bella's bracelet-covered wrists before settling down better on the chair. She gives a small nod and a deep sigh.

Bella admires the girl's resolution, wondering if she's one of those girls who gets off on pain. The thought brings a small smile to Bella's lips and makes her heart race. Edward loves the sting of the metal. It's almost comical how her thoughts always land back on her dirty writer.

Once her thoughts are in that place, it hits her. Lissa-Luna's presence doesn't feel sudden anymore. It's actually the most obvious thing in the world.

"Did Edward put you up to this?" Bella asks, narrowed eyes, heart in her mouth.

Much to her dismay, the blonde girl smirks. On her face, written plain as day, are the memories of her time with Edward, much more recent than the ones in Bella's mind.

"How do you know Edward?" Lissa-Luna asks, with a face too innocent-looking to be genuine. Bella knows she remembers her from the party. It's obvious the intention behind the question is not of the simply curious kind. She twirls a lock of her hair and smiles at Bella, trying to establish her position in Edward's life.

It might as well be a slap in the face.

There are no angels here.

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"She told me she liked me because I was so white, and I decided I wasn't sticking my cock inside her racist vagina," Edward joked to his friends one Friday after school. Senior year was coming to a close, and everyone was getting giddy and excited.

Ben's basement had always been the place to go to for a mellow good time. With his comfortable old couches, the flicker of light, and the blankets on the floor, it was the perfect chilling spot for the troublemakers.

"I mean, can you guys believe this chick? I'm so white? What kind of shit is that?" He went on, making everyone snort and giggle, hidden in a cloud of smoke.

Bella laughed with them as she sat down between his legs, knowing exactly who he was talking about. They had chosen her together, after all.

When he caught her smiling, he kissed the back of her neck and tightened his hold on her waist. The small gesture was both a thank you and a reminder.

Only her.

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On Friday afternoon, after a last meeting with his agent, Edward walks to Bella's apartment. His hands are full with two grocery bags. Listening to the music blasting in his ears, the shiny wrapper of Bella's favorite chocolate catches his eye. He bites his lip ring, trying to stop the smile from forming on his face.

The closer he gets to her place, the faster his heart beats. If he weren't used to it by now, he'd poke fun at himself and his reaction. Instead, he laughs out loud, earning a few weird looks from the people walking close to him.

He pays them no mind, because as soon as he zeroes in on Bella's door, the world around him disappears. A few more steps and he's in front of her apartment. He manages to fish his key out of his pocket, holding onto the bags with one hand.

He finally gets in, and just breathing her air lifts him up. He put his key back in his pocket, takes off his earphones, and shuts off his music. He places his cell phone on the breakfast bar, then goes around unpacking the groceries. He leaves the chocolate bar out.

"Why are you here?" Bella says when she finds him drinking one of the beers he bought. He smiles with the bottle still in his mouth. He takes in her purple shorts and her blue tank top. The tattooed garter around her right thigh is begging him to bite it. He hates that he still doesn't know what that ink tastes like.

Edward takes another sip of his beer before making a smart-ass comment about buying her food. Bella doesn't thank him, yet she eats the sweet treat.

They stay quiet, sitting down next to each other on the couch.

He studies her for a moment, her brown hair with the blonde highlights on her too-long bangs, her dark pink-painted nails, the rise and fall of her chest.

She locks her eyes with his and asks again.

He chugs the last of his beer before answering her.

"I haven't seen you in weeks."

The liquid he just drank is cold, but the feeling inside him is not.

Bella tries and fails to contain the smile his exaggeration brings to her face. It hasn't been weeks. It's been nine days, not the most they've gone apart, but still long enough for the ache inside of them to intensify. Their need is a constant companion in their lives. Edward and Bella have never been able to escape that, no matter how hard they've tried.

"That's not an accident," she says.

"Bella," Edward starts, attempting to coax her defenses down.

"Angel-face was at Aro's yesterday. I pierced her nipples. Have fun," she says, standing up.

She doesn't have to explain the new nickname. Edward catches up immediately. Their minds work in similar ways, which is both their curse and their blessing. He throws his head back and laughs.

"She did?" he asks after his laughter dies down. "I was joking when I told her that. She knows I won't see her again." He shakes his head, messing with the cuffs of his dark blue dress shirt.

"Edward," she says, placing her hands on her hips.

Edward's eyes linger there for a second. Then he stands up.

"What? I told you she wasn't as good as you."

Bella sits back down, irritated but pleased.

"She was too tame. She didn't curse even once," Edward says, catching her eyes. She turns her face away before he sees her smile.

"I'm sure you can find someone else," she says, looking back at him. The challenge in her voice makes Edward hard.

"I know," he says, joining her again on the couch. He pulls her to his lap and kisses her cheek. She trembles. "That's why I'm here," he whispers in her ear while tangling both of his hands in her hair.

Bella licks her lower lip, but pulls away when he attempts to close the distance between them.

"Don't," she says.

And he doesn't.

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It would be difficult for anyone to explain Edward and Bella's relationship, considering there aren't many people who would understand it. That's exactly how Edward saw it.

He wouldn't be bothered to make excuses for himself to anyone. Not when his whole reason for being knew him and his darkest secrets. She was the only one who mattered.

And he certainly didn't feel like there was something wrong with him or worth explaining.

Edward considered himself a product of today's society, of his parents' comments while growing up. "You'll be a ladies' man," they'd always said. His aunts and older cousins called him "heartbreaker in the making."

He grew up believing that wanting more of everything and anything in life was okay. He was taught to never settle.

There was no traumatic experience to explain him. There was just life.

As much as Edward hated making excuses for his preferences, he always found a way to justify himself that made it seem like he was in the right and the rest of the world was wrong. He'd reply with a dismissive comment, or a teasing remark meant to be funny but charged with honesty.

He did have a point when he asked about the rules of relationships. Who invented them? He surely wasn't the first person questioning this, and he obviously wasn't the only person in disagreement with monogamy.

He had encountered functional polygamous couples that were happy and content.

Most of that happiness, though, came from not giving a fuck about what the world thought.

Edward did give a fuck.

And his entire world, Bella, didn't approve of or share his ways.

It was a horrible situation for both of them, and sometimes Edward's guilt threatened to eat him away.

In college, Edward's issues with monogamy and commitment went out of control. The parties, the girls, the constant arguing—it was all too much for Bella to handle. He knew that if he kept her around, he was going to lose her forever. And if he didn't, he was scared to find out what part of her would be strong enough to survive his ways. Maybe it wouldn't be the girl he'd fallen in love with.

So he broke up with her.

It wouldn't be the first time a couple of high school sweethearts decided to end it once they got to college.

But Edward had underestimated Bella. He thought he knew her so well that he forgot the games she liked to play. Hell, his girl was a master at them.

Yes, Edward broke up with her, but Bella left the fucking city.

She outdid him, because that was what she always did. He shouldn't have been as surprised as he was.

However, his shock was secondary to the pain inside his chest. For a few months after she left, he could almost feel his sanity slipping out of his hands.

Not knowing where she was, what she was doing, how she was doing or who she was with, drove Edward to the edge of depression.

It was like his body couldn't function without her around.

If it were a game—and it had been one for a long time—she had won.

For four years, he was content with letting her win. He had put her through enough. He thought that time would heal them both.

Then his cousin Aro called, and in ten minutes, his bags were packed.

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"Edward's novel comes out next week," Alice says while she lights her cigarette. The two petite girls are getting dressed in Bella's bedroom.

Bella smiles, her heart swelling with pride at the reminder. His dream is finally about to come true. Being a published author at twenty-six is quite the achievement, even if Edward already considers himself too old to be groundbreaking.

She used to feel guilty when he said stuff like that. She had found out he had left all of his contacts and a possible publishing deal back in New York.

If he hadn't decided to go after her, maybe this would be his second or even third published work. The man wrote all the time and he was damn good at it. She was his number one fan.

A pillow thrown at her back makes Bella snap out of it. Alice makes the statement again while stepping into her high heels. Only this woman would wear heels to an outdoor event she'll be helping out at.

"I know," Bella says, tracing her wrist.

"You're going to the party on Saturday, right?"

Two days from today.

"It's just going to be a small gathering."

Bella nods and contains the urge to snort. She bought her dress months ago. She eyes her wrists again before slipping on her bracelets. The cool metal slides on, burning her with the reminder of what she doesn't have.

She'd rather have long, ink-tinted fingers wrapped around her, holding her down while she comes.

Aware of her company, Bella sighs and whispers away her memories. She smiles at Alice and urges her to hurry up.

Alice does without voicing her thoughts.

Bella leaves Alice in the room while she fetches herself a glass of water to take her birth control pill. Without the knowing eyes of her friend, Bella allows a sad sigh to escape her. She thinks of all the crazy nights she's had without Edward and how empty they've left her.

No one is ever enough.

"I'm ready," Alice says, joining Bella in the kitchen. Bella nods at her and regains her composure.

Smiling, arm in arm, the girls leave to the wedding Bella will be photographing. It'll do her some good to hide behind the lens for a couple of hours. Even if watching two people promising forever to each other is the last thing she wants to do.

Bella's mind has been a mess for a few months. It's all Edward.

The echo of his voice was painful in Bella's heart.

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When Edward arrived that rare rainy day at the door of her tiny apartment, he was in her arms in an instant. They jumped into bed together right away, but soon it became clear that things hadn't changed. Bella still hadn't accepted that part of herself, or Edward, that made her feel conflicted. Surely, there had to be something wrong with her to love Edward the way she did, to accept the things he'd done.

After weeks of sex, scream fests, and long talks, they came to the conclusion that they couldn't be out of each other's lives completely. So they decided to stay friends, even if being friends wasn't what they wanted.

The subject of being together was a typical focus of conversation between them. Especially when their need got the better of them and they ended up tangled in each other every few months.

The last conversation Edward and Bella had about their status happened the first Sunday of April, and it hadn't gone anywhere.

The same lines were spoken.

"How long is this going to go on this time?" Edward asked, side-eyeing her while she smoked a cigarette. He was picking up trash from the party he had thrown her as a celebration for getting one of her photos bought by a magazine.

She didn't answer, blowing smoke out of her lips with her back to him.

Edward finished cleaning up while she lounged on her couch. She had shed the tight yellow dress he had bought her for a big, black t-shirt. No underwear. He could see it all every time she moved.

"How long until you give in?" he asked with the confidence of a man who knew his prey. Again. He didn't say, but they knew. The past was on his side.

History was bound to repeat itself.

He crawled on top of her, caging her on her back.

"Do you still want to fuck around with other girls?" she asked, tugging his lip ring with her fingers. He moved away.

"I don't want to."

She sat up, kicked the side of his leg.

"I just want to have the freedom to do so without it affecting our relationship," he said. She knew this.

"Are you hearing yourself?" She stood up, annoyed, messing with the red tips of her hair.

"You're only so enraged by this because you know that deep down, it doesn't bother you at all. We've had fun in the past, remember? Jessica? Cristina? Jonathan?" he asked with a smirk.

She thought back to all the different partners that had joined them in bed. Her mind went to all the girls she'd chosen to bounce on his dick, knowing that after they were done, Edward would always crawl back to her, inside her, because she was what he truly wanted and needed.

They had a lot of good memories to choose from.

Jonathan. The guy she asked him to touch while she watched.

Bella's face flushed as she remembered. For as much as Edward took, there was no one as giving as him. Not in life, not in bed—not when it came to her.

"And yet as soon as I barely look at someone," she whispered.

"You do that out of spite, Bella," he said, walking toward her and taking her in his arms. She shook.

He was so calm and collected, while she felt like exploding. It had been six months since they'd been together. She was suffering withdrawals.

"Because it's unfair!" she said, allowing her tears to fall. "You're getting everything you want, and I'm just getting pieces." Bella felt hysterical, the alcohol she drank during the party catching up with her. She was lying, being over the top. Bella closed her fingers into a fist, almost feeling all the parts that formed Edward's puzzle.

A long time ago, he had bared himself to her, placing in her hands his heart and soul to do with as she pleased. She knew there wasn't a part of him that she hadn't held.

"I am who you want. That's the thing. You don't need anyone else to be happy," Edward reminded her, wiping her face clean before kissing her forehead.

"And you do."

"I don't."

"Then stop."

"So that I can fuck it up by kissing a girl one drunken night? Come on." They were back to square one. That always got Bella to shut up, because in a twisted sort of way, she could understand his logic. Because there was a part of her that had come to terms with it all.

He took her back to the couch and rocked her until her crying stopped.

"No sins as long as there's permission," he said, searching her face, waiting for her to say the following line.

"That song is old, Edward. Grow up."

Neither of them said anything for a minute, holding each other tightly as the glint of the night reflected in their faces. Eventually, Edward stood up and carried her to her bed, telling her he loved her all the way to her room. He took her shirt off and wrapped her in warm blankets, kissing her closed eyes before standing up.

"More. I've always loved you more," she whispered to the dark room when he was about to leave. He stopped by the door with his hand on the doorknob and his head down.

"When it happens, you're going to ask me if they were worth it—if they were worth losing you—and the answer will always be no."

"Then give yourself to me," she said, sitting up. She didn't pull the sheets around her, letting her hair tease her naked breasts instead. He looked. Of course he looked.

"I'm already yours," he said.

Then he closed the door.

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.

Edward and Alice don't know the meaning of small parties.

The author's house is brimming with people when Bella gets there. It's not one of Edward's usual crazy get-togethers, but it feels chaotic just the same. There are people everywhere, holding glasses of wine and flutes of champagne. Everyone's dressed to impress.

Lissa-Luna's not here.

The music is a playlist of mellow songs, perfect for background noise.

Bella's white heels click-clack on the floor when she makes her way inside. Edward's beside her before she's taken off her red leather jacket.

"You look like a fucking fairy," he says, eyeing her white knee-length dress. She smiles and kisses his cheek, leaving a red stain on his shaven face. He grabs her wrist; she's not wearing any bracelets today. He kisses the soft skin with a smile. When his lip ring touches her, she allows herself to enjoy it for a few seconds, looking into his green eyes. They're vibrant with happiness, hooded with lust.

He lets her go, but she doesn't, holding onto the lapels of his black jacket. He looks so good. Hiding his surprise, he smirks while his heart races—hoping, wanting, expecting.

She hugs him.

"I'm so proud of you," she says with the biggest smile.

He soars under her approval, wrapping his arms around her waist, lifting her off her feet for a few seconds. They stay embraced for a moment before someone whisks Edward away.

She finds herself a glass of champagne, content with letting him shine. The spotlight doesn't hold any interest for her anymore. Not when she already owns Edward's attention. He sure isn't shy about showering her with it.

He meets her eyes across the room every chance he gets. He makes sure she sees him biting his lip, fingering his eyebrow ring, fixing his cuffs. All the things that would get her hot and flushed.

It works.

As much as Bella loves Edward's intelligence, kindness, and immense love for her, she's attracted to his body, too. So much sometimes, that it takes all of her restraint and a lot of space between them for her to be able to resist him. He looks elegant and dangerous tonight, wearing all black. He even changed the silver rings that adorn his face for black ones.

Sleek and sexy, temptation made person.

She's restless.

They both are.

Edward can't stand the fact that she's shown up dressed as a demure princess in unassuming white. It makes her stand out more than it should, more than he can bear.

She looks ethereal. The perfect contrast; the light to his darkness.

Trying to concentrate on the people talking to him, Edward grips his glass of water tight in his hand. He sees her talking to someone they have both slept with. She laughs at something the girl says, playing with the ends of her hair.

He watches her, letting the hurt in his chest overcome him for second.

She's here.

She's here but not mine.

The people in front of him wrap up the conversation, and he smiles at them without true emotion. Only fake politeness.

He searches her face again, and when she sees his hollow expression, she mouths, "Are you okay?" He nods but doesn't smile.

She walks toward him, avoiding people in the way until she reaches him with the excuse of wanting a picture.

They take at least ten, his hand on her waist, hers on his chest, until her touch soothes some of the tension out of his body.

Edward shouldn't feel this sad and incomplete on such a happy night.

But he needs her.

And he hates not being able to indulge her. He can't bring himself to have just a half of his other half. It's all or nothing.

She's been keeping a lock on her true desires, terrified to let them out, even when she knows he would take and love it all.

He already does.

The party starts to wind down after several congratulatory toasts are made. The apartment is almost empty, but he can't see his glowing fairy.

"You left," Edward says, when he finds Bella in the kitchen. She's about to respond, but he speaks again. "You fucking left." The hurt tone of his voice catches Bella off-guard. In that moment, she knows he's not talking about her leaving the party area. His mind has gone to that night she left New York.

"You asked me to," she says, taking a deep breath to hide the pain in her voice. He hadn't. Not in so many words, but that was how the break up had felt.

"You should've said no," he says, looking at her. "God, I wanted you to say no."

They stare at each other, riding the waves of the pain coursing through them. Silence falls over them and Bella can't stand it. His green eyes are on fire, and she feels overwhelmed. Her heart is beating fast, hard, and everything is falling to place inside her. She fights it, but she knows.

So does he.

She's about to collapse on herself, to fall in his arms, when someone walks in.

"Do any of you know the photographer who took those pictures? They're beautiful," a woman named Angela says, gesturing to the living room's walls.

Edward manages to smile with pride.

Their masks are placed back on their faces slowly but surely, and they join what's left of the party once more.

It's a challenge for both of them to sit on different sides of the room, while their friends joke and drink.

They manage, until at last, a few minutes past midnight, everyone's out.

Bella closes the door behind Alice while Edward disposes of some garbage. He enters the living room just as she slumps against the door, weak.

"Edward," Bella says, breathless, clutching her neck. He's at her side in a second, catching her before she falls apart. Grabbing the hem of her dress, he pulls it off of her, leaving just her shoes and underwear on. He hoists her up against the nearest wall and drops on one knee. His teeth are on her inked garter right away.

She arches her back and pulls the strands of his hair. The sting of his lip and eyebrow rings makes her shiver.

Edward slides Bella's underwear down, kissing the uncovered skin, then resting back on his legs. He feels humbled on his knees, looking up at her. He's undeserving of the look in her eyes. Still, he's selfish enough to bathe in it.

Bella joins him on the floor and takes off his jacket, then his shirt, tracing with her fingers the boat tattoo that covers his shoulder and half of his arm. She can feel the tremor that courses through his body.

She owns him.

He helps her take off the rest of his clothes without rush, until at last there are no more layers between them.

She holds his face in her hands and lays kisses on his chin, his lips, his eyelids. He grips her naked right wrist and rests his lips there. She can feel the tear that escapes him.

Bella inches away from him to search his eyes and manages to catch the next one. Away from the world, secluded in the darkness, staring at each other, feeling their heartbeats, this is the moment they've been waiting for.

Now they're truly naked.

Edward stares at her lips, hesitant to close the distance between them. She meets him halfway and presses her lips to his, feeling the cold metal of his lip ring. He holds her face in his hands, kissing her soft and slow.

She sighs.

He grunts.

They soar.

And they haven't even started yet. Bella stops the kiss, clawing at his back, grinding her hips against him, desperate, needy.

He stands up, carries her to his room and lays her on the bed, taking in her hair strewn around her face. Her skin looks inviting, flushed with the softest pink he's missed so much. The garter on her thigh and the small silver rings on her nipples make him want to write odes on her skin.

Tonight, he'll find the way to do so.

Edward leaves her on the bed for a second, and the condom box on top of his bookshelf catches his eye. He ignores it; there's no use for it. They've always known how careful the other is, given their sexual lives.

Reaching for his cell phone, he plugs it into the speakers in his room. The strong chords of Closer by Kings of Leon start playing.

Stranded in this spooky town…

Bella's eyes water.

Crawling on top of her, he kisses all of her, writing poems with his touch.

She's the most perfect prose to him.

He traces words of love on her wrist and forearm, tattooing her skin in a way that burns her. Those stupid bracelets she wears all the time are a poor replacement for this. No type of needle could ever come close to Edward's lips.

They don't make love.

They don't fuck.

Their touches are innocent, meant to reassure and rediscover.

Edward urges Bella to lie on her stomach. He kisses her from shoulder to shoulder, across the rain of tiny stars on her neck that signify their star-crossed love. It was her "fuck you" to him, making him think that they were meant to be together for only a flash of a moment.

She had had them done one evening after a fight, during the summer before college.

Edward worships them now, loving the way they play hide-and-seek with her hair.

Trailing his index finger down, he tastes the ones on the small of her back: her apology, the counterpart to the sailing ship on his shoulder. He caresses each point of the big nautical stars that meant he was her home... her safe harbor. And that she was always going to lead him back to her.

He spends long minutes tasting those.

He brings his hands lower, to her newest addition: the garter. Its thick lines simulating black lace hug her skin, making her look even more enticing than she already is. Edward could swear she'd had it done just to tease him. He'd be right.

It's been driving him insane for months.

He nips the back of her thighs before he kisses the back of her knees. She sighs, and smiles into the pillows.

Bella can tell Edward's holding back, so she rolls over and sits up. He startles when she touches him, but then surrenders to her wandering hands.

She takes her time, taking inventory of his body the same way he did hers. She also kisses the tattoos on his skin: the ship on his shoulder, the black abstract swan on his hip, the intricate writing feather on his chest.

He immerses himself in her touch, groaning his pleasure each time her tongue swirls over the ink. Edward tangles his hands in her hair, high on her presence and her love.

It feels wrong that she's laying down all her love on him. He's already taken too much.

With gentle movements, he gets her on her back again. He kisses her slowly, with teasing licks, until she moves her face away to beg him.

There is no shame in her need. She writhes under his touch, surrendering to the sensation of bliss he brings out in her.

Edward knows her inside and out. The darkest, dirtiest, and unknown parts of Bella had been displayed and exposed to Edward a long time ago. He knows her to the core of her being. It's liberating for both of them.

"Edward, please," she says one last time, pushing him down.

He wastes no time, burying his face between her legs, circling her wrists to hold her arms still.

He licks up and down her folds, biting her. His lip ring dips into her, edging the line of pleasure and pain. He looks up at her, green eyes dark with desire and love. His tongue moves inside her without breaking eye contact.

No shame.

None.

When she comes, she thrashes under him. Closer is playing on repeat, and her screams mix perfectly with the music.

He makes her come again just to hear the sounds she'll make.

Breathless, she twists her fingers in his hair and forces him up.

He tugs on her nipple rings with his teeth before entering her. Edward feels held down by the significance of the moment. He's shaking, waiting for more tears to come, but they don't.

"It's okay," Bella says, when he doesn't move. "It's okay."

He buries his head between her shoulder and her neck, kissing a path up and down as he moves in and out. She wraps herself around him, raking his back with her nails, biting under his jaw, testing his self-control.

Edward grunts and turns her around. He grabs her hair and licks the stars on her neck before pushing her down. He moves slowly, allowing her to feel every inch of him.

She bites her lip raw. He pulls her hair until it stings, and she releases the sounds she's been holding back.

The slower he moves, the louder she screams. That hasn't changed.

He moves inside her, his chest on her back, feeling the tremors of her body. She pushes up, whimpering before Edward catches on.

"I want to look at you," she says. Watching Edward fuck is a religious experience. She's been deprived of it for far too long.

He complies and lets her roll to her back.

Once he's inside her again, he moves faster, watching himself go in and out of her. Bella watches too and delights in the way his body moves with precise determination. His muscles flex with the movement; his skin is covered with sweat, and his ink glows in the moonlit room.

He smiles when his eyes meet hers again. The way she looks at him, with awe and admiration, disarms him. Then she smirks, tightening her legs around his waist. His eyes roll back and his pace accelerates.

"Is this what you wanted?" he asks, thrusting harder.

Her silent cry is his reward.

"I can't," she says, thinking there's a limit to her pleasure. She loses her voice mid-sentence, breathless and desperate, ruled by the fire of their passion.

She arches her back and presses closer to him, wishing his tattoos would brand her.

"I can't," she repeats, when her pleasure borders on pain.

"I've got you," he whispers, before she comes for the third time tonight. Bella trembles underneath him, spent and vulnerable.

Her brown eyes are glazed and unfocused. He kisses her face and slows his movements down to prolong the night. Bella finds his mouth, nipping him lazily, coaxing a smile out of him.

With a smile of her own, she tugs on his lip ring until it hurts.

It's the last thing he needs, and with a pained sound and a last hard thrust, he comes. Edward shudders in her arms, resting his head on her chest as he rides his orgasm.

Even with the rippling tremors of pleasure running through his body, his mind is shattering.

They lie there, content for only a few minutes. Bella's guilt makes its way from her toes until it takes hold of her throat, cutting off her air.

She's found herself here again. It seems the two of them really are inevitable.

"Please don't leave. Please, Bella. God, please," Edward says, holding her tight to him. He begs and pleads and kisses every inch of her skin, frantic and hopeless.

She feels his pain as raw and honest as everything he is, everything she loves. It hurts in the point of every little star he kissed.

"Bella, please," he says in a broken voice. The tension in her body feeds his desperation to make her see.

But she won't. Not yet, at least. Not today.

Neither of them will ask the other to change, even though change is exactly what they want.

"Please," he says again. She smiles and kisses him, and he knows he's lost her.

Love isn't fair, and here they are. After all the time that's passed, they're still each other's pick of poison. And they'll drink until there's nothing left.

Edward responds to Bella's forceful kiss, matching her passion, trying to strip her to the core again, but her armor is back in place. He feels it in the way she kisses, dirty and misleading, all lust and no love.

She bites his lip ring, tugs his hair, pushing his vulnerability back and away.

Until at last he does, smirking at her the way she hates.

She breathes a relieved sigh.

.

.

.

.

On Sunday morning, he wakes up alone with the taste of his pain on his tongue. The ache inside his heart draws unpleasant needles through his chest. He's tempted to get another tattoo just to quiet his body's protests.

Bella walks out of Edward's apartment, away from the magnet that's calling her back with every inch she puts in between.

Her heart is racing. Her skin is tingling. She's high on his touch, lost in the sound of his breath on her ear, drowning in the movement of his body.

It hurts to walk away.

Her name on his lips, falling like a prayer, tugs at her heart.

He sounded broken. She broke him.

It doesn't feel good. She doesn't feel like a winner.

When Bella gets to her place, she smiles, knowing that by this time he's probably standing by his door.

Edward walks the final steps out of his living room, last night's memories firing up his skin. His ink burns with the heat of her touch.

There's no sign of her in his apartment, except that everywhere he looks, he can see her. Hell, he can still feel her. He picks up her underwear from the floor with a smile forming through his despair. He can't help it, knowing she walked past them, knowing she saw them, knowing she left them.

Walking to the kitchen with a lighter heart, he makes some coffee and finds his glasses. Back in the living room, he turns his dinner table into his desk again and sits down with his notebook and pen.

He writes until his wrists hurt. Allowing his emotions to rule him, he writes about love, pain, guilt and loss. His words rush out of him faster than his fingers can catch up. With Bella's touch still fresh on his skin, he pours everything he's ever felt into the pages of his notebook until he's sure there's nothing left to say.

It doesn't make sense, but it doesn't have to.

He rereads the last sentences before closing the notebook, realizing he's used the final page.

Taking a break and a deep breath, he searches for his cell phone. Standing on the creaking board, he dials her number, leaving ink stains on the screen.

It rings once before she answers.

"I still want that apadravya, Bella," he says, gripping the delicate lingerie in his right hand.

A few streets away, Bella cleans her old analog camera. Her fingers are dirty.

At the sound of his voice, she smiles, eyeing his black jacket on her couch.

"I still want to give it to you, Edward."