Thank you x infinity to both of my amazing betas, Dawnie and Allison, who got their edits back to me crazy fast.

I don't own Twilight.


Bella. Wednesday.

3:50pm.

My palms were damp, my face hot as I looked straight ahead at my screen and resumed my furious typing, my fingers striking the keys with more force than entirely necessary. Yet again, it occurred to me to hide the clock on my computer desktop; it wasn't helping me relax, that's for damn sure. Ugh, that fucking clock, that I was 100% sure was running slower today than it had, ever. I really should have Emmett look at this.

My to-do list diminished far too quickly: I finished an email to Dr. Jenks while the phone was wedged under my head, smooth jazz slowly killing me as I sat on hold. I needlessly looked back over my notes for the Cullen presentation; it was, of course, already organized and ready to go, as was my style. I made an outline for the next few days. I smoothed the pleats on my brown slacks. I mentally planned my lunch for tomorrow. I re-organized my pen-holder.

Okay, I thought decidedly, it has to be at least 30 minutes later.

I squeezed my eyes shut, fingernails lightly scratching at the wood grain in time with the pulse throbbing in my wrist. There was no doubt: I'd just spent the last 30 minutes – Hell, maybe even 40 minutes – concentrating on work, not thinking about tonight, not looking at his neck.

Well, trying not to look at his neck.

I looked down at the clock.

3:57pm.

Fucking. Clock.

My poor bangs endured another assault as I tugged on them in frustration; I worried that they might be a half-inch longer than they were this morning.

You're being absurd, Bella. I sat up straighter, mentally put on my brave pants and tried to distance myself from my stupid feelings for just a moment. "Human" was turning out to be bothersome; "Unfeeling Automaton" certainly made the day pass more quickly.

You're fine, I weakly reassured myself. I huffed. Tonight is no big deal. You're just…

A complete fucking wreck.

My eyes darted over to look out the window, but I found no comfort there, either. The city was restless today. The world below waxed chaotic, and I could hear it grinding, gnashing beneath my feet. Busy. Crowded. Too many people, too many sets of eyes.

Shit. I swallowed a sigh. Can't I channel old Bella, just for like an hour or so? Old, unflappable, blissfully repressed, Bella? She wouldn't be dealing with this shit. Quite literally; I didn't deal with anything then.

I sighed at the thought. Ah, the good old days.

I took a long swig of water, my hand shaking. I flat out refused to look at where Edward sat, just twenty five-odd feet from me. At him and that damn dark grey shirt… the one that he wore with the black tie I fantasized about wrapping around my fist, the shirt he always rolled up so his forearms were bare, sinewy and hard and fucking all I could see.

My secret forearm porn.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

The entire world – clocks, shirts, the churning city – they were all conspiring to make this afternoon as difficult as possible for me.

Where would we go? For the thousandth time that day, I kicked myself for not asking him more explicitly. I so wanted to trust Edward, to let him lead… but sweet baby Jesus was I struggling. Not having control, not knowing where I was going to be in a few hours…

A few hours.

Oh god.

Tuesday night.

Alice stood tall, (Well, as she could at five foot nothing), formidable, like a general commanding her troops to war.

We once again found ourselves in my room, Alice and Jasper both having abandoned the movie the minute they heard me bound up the stairs. The space between us was comfortable but charged; I was practically vibrating out of my skin from what had just transpired in the kitchen.

A thought occurred to me: when Alice's engagement had broken up, we had spent nearly all of our free time in her room. Night after night had been the same, with Alice hiding under the covers and me doing anything I could to distract her, encourage her, or just watch television and be there for her. Eventually the hole in her heart seemed to heal, the scab giving way to shiny pink skin. Alice emerged better and wiser, and we naturally drifted to our own separate rooms again. However, we always seemed to naturally drift closer to one another when one of us needed it, an involuntary reflex as necessary as breathing.

Lately, my bedroom had been the hangout spot. Though I didn't relish the idea of "needing" anyone, the turned tables did not go unnoticed… or unappreciated, for that matter.

"So I told him good night, and that was it."

My fingers danced along the edge of my top, nervously flirting with the twisted lace. My body felt full, buzzing, seams bulging as I recounted the story of our text-conversation of just an hour ago to Jasper and Alice. Alice, who had begun pulling clothing out of my closet before I had finished, smiling triumphantly but remaining wisely quiet. She obviously didn't want to spook the horse.

She had been staring at the same four outfits for twenty minutes, each laid out at the foot of my bed in their entirety: jewelry in place, shoes placed at the bottom, stocking stuffed underneath skirts. It was slightly eerie, as if four impeccably dressed women had lay down on my bed and dematerialized, their corporeal bodies vanishing and leaving all articles perfectly in place, underwear and bracelets and Jimmy Choos.

Jasper sat in my desk chair, long legs kicked up on my bed, artfully shuffling a deck of cards between his hands as he shifted his gaze between her and me. He was inexplicably wearing a tie over his t-shirt, shredded dickies fluttering around his knees. I noticed that he was sporting another set of too-small socks, but this pair had ducks on them; I wondered if he kept forgetting to bring his own on purpose. The smile on his face was warm and genuinely excited as he poked at my leg with his big toe.

"Bravo, Bells. Way to grow a set," he said happily. He adjusted his tie as he asked, "And where is he going to take you on this date?"

"Well, he didn't exactly tell me what we were doing," I answered slowly, "but I'm sure whatever he comes up with will be fine." My voice was firm and confident; I betrayed none of the nerves that I'd been struggling with since I came upstairs. Nevertheless, I crushed the delicate fabric between my fingers.

"Huh."

"What?" Jasper asked, looking at me curiously.

"Well… I mean, I'm sure he'll pick somewhere… out of the way, right? Appropriately away from the office, where there's little possibility of someone seeing us?" Jasper raised his eyebrow, but I continued. "Because, you know, that would be awkward. To see a co-worker, I mean. We'd have to explain ourselves…. I hope he'll think of that." I ran my finger around the edge of my phone. "Maybe I…"

Alice raised one hand, never taking her eyes off the clothes. "Knock it off. You're going to talk yourself out of it if you keep this up, and you want this. So stop."

"Yes, I know, but…"

Alice's eyes flashed to mine, glittering and potent. Her look threw silent daggers that sliced through my rambling. I fell silent. She was right; I had given up the right to be wishy-washy when I told him I was ready.

And I was. Right or wrong, I was ready, and damn it I was excited, too.

"It's gonna be great, Bells," said Jasper. He sat up, his long torso leaning forward, elbows planted on knees. "Think of it this way: worst case scenario, you get discovered, Charlie freaks out, fires you both." He paused thoughtfully, completely oblivious to my horrified expression. "No wait, that's not the worst. The worst might be if the Big One hits the west coast, the ground opens up and swallows us all. Hmm. Actually, that might solve some stuff, huh? No chance of getting caught then." He tapped his chin, the picture of deep thought in duck-covered socks. "Nah, nevermind. Far too unlikely. Worst case, you get fired."

"Best case scenario, however, you remember what a penis looks like," Alice chimed in cheerfully.

"Very helpful, guys, thanks," I groaned. Jasper chuckled and gave my leg another hard poke.

"I've decided," Alice finally announced. She looked at me proudly and pointed to her choice: smart brown slacks with a gold shirt; wide-necked and sleeveless, lose around my waist but fitted on my hips. Bronze peep-toed pumps with a gold bow, simple black earrings, brown jacket to go over top.

"Alice," I said, the surprise evident in my tone, "that's… modest." I nodded in approval.

"But you lose the jacket for the date," she demanded. I rolled my eyes.

"Well, I must say, it's about damn time, Isabella!" Jasper declared cheerfully. "I'm so stoked for you. A date. I knew ya had it in you."

I cast a deliberate look at Alice, who was putting away the dismissed clothing, then looked pointedly back at Jasper. "You're right, Jazz. I'd definitely say it's about damn time."

Jasper let out a cough and glanced at Alice, who was unaware. Steel grey met brown and he shrugged and chuckled as I smiled. He was too damn cute.

He stood up and gently took Alice by the arm. "Are you done yet, Versace?" She giggled and let him lead her out of the room, apparently not mindful of the late hour. I wondered how much longer he would stay.

Interesting.

I rolled over on my side, snuggling down into my covers, for once not using them as a cocoon against horrible thoughts. I felt different. I had given in to my desires, accepted that what I felt for Edward was real and unavoidable, if doomed for failure. The acceptance was oddly freeing, and now I was committed to at least trying not to screw this up… even though I was ninety-nine percent sure that was exactly what was going to happen.

I was genuinely excited.

I slept easily that night, dreamless and deep.

Wednesday.

Ding.

From: Edward Masen.

I pulled in a ragged breath. I was already worked up and using all of my concentration to keep my face stoic and my knees from bouncing under my desk… and simple e-contact from him was enough to set my heart racing.

How has your day been?

Well, Edward – may I call you Edward, fucking finally? – It's been impossible. I can't stop twitching. I have to keep reminding myself to breathe. I might pee my pants in anticipation. How 'bout yours?

I sighed.

Fine, thank you. How about you?

I watched him type his response, the muscles in those goddamn forearms twitching and rolling beneath pale skin.

Long. It always seems longer when you're anticipating something.

My teeth found my lower lip, and my fingers hesitated.

Yes, I typed. I know what you mean.

His small smile made the knot in my stomach simultaneously loosen and draw tighter.

Do you like Italian? Have you ever been to Aro's?

Nerves abruptly flared bright white in my stomach. I almost laughed at the irony. Yes, I knew Aro's. It was delicious, quiet, and on my way home, so it was definitely convenient for me. But I had been there recently, for a lunch. A business lunch. With clients. It was highly unlikely that anyone would be there to see me, see us, but…

I shook my head. Stop being paranoid, Bella. Don't ruin this yet. I needed to be okay, be calm…

I enjoy Italian and yes, I do know that place.

Great. His smile made my chest flutter, momentarily offsetting the bubbling doubts in my stomach. I have to leave now and stop by a client's office, but would you be okay with meeting me there, when you get off work?

I swallowed hard, irrational fears and unlikely scenarios playing out unwelcome in my mind: Mike stalking by, shark smile and beady eyes giddy with this new bit of information. Or Charlie – even though Charlie would have absolutely no business being in my neighborhood – looking through the front window, standing and staring, scowling. Pink slip in hand, even. Or Carlisle and Esme! Oh my god, what if Carlisle and Esme wanted to go out for a nice dinner, and they thought hey, how about we try that nice little Italian place we read about on Yelp…

Stop. It. Now.

I'll meet you there.

Edward stood up. He pushed his sleeves up a little higher on his arms, and in that simple motion I found that suddenly, ridiculously, my suit jacket was way too tight, too hot. Stifling.

He shot me a secret sideways smile as he walked away, through the lobby. He might have sped up just a little bit as he passed Jessica's desk, barely meeting her ravenous stare as he waved distractedly. I couldn't be sure, but I wanted to think so.

I exhaled, trying to find solid ground beneath my heels. And goddamnit, I couldn't help it: my eyes honed in on the clock, drawn like a magnet:

4:08pm.

Dear Jesus.

Aro's was a modest establishment, clean and quiet, if a bit cheesy; tall faux-columns stood against the walls like toy soldiers, plastic grapevines draping down from the tops. However, the food was amazing and it had been a neighborhood staple for years.

As I approached the restaurant, my eyes were unwillingly scrutinizing every car I passed, trying to see if I recognized any of them. Charlie had driven the same classic Oldsmobile 442 for the past thirty years, and the Uleys drove enormous trucks, I knew that… but I had no idea what the Cullens drove. Or Dr. Jenks. Or any of my fucking clients, for that matter… why would I? I'd never had to avoid them before.

I swung into a spot across from the restaurant. My hands were white as they gripped the steering wheel. I willed myself not to sweat, and not to hate myself for obviously being unable to go on a goddamn date without freaking out.

Please relax, my internal voice was begging. Please don't ruin this before you even step out of your car… I pressed my forehead against the steering wheel. Why are you doing this, anyway? You could just as easily go home…

That's when I saw Edward sitting on a bench in front of the restaurant, under the awning, out of the soft drizzle. His elbows were resting on his knees, long body pushed forward, hands clasped together as if in supplication. His sleeves were still rolled up, but somewhere along the way he'd lost the tie, and I could barely make out the promise of pale skin through the gap of undone buttons. Voyeuristically, I watched him through the wheel as he leaned back quickly, bringing both hands to his hair; he raked them through the impossible curls, which were copper in the fading light.

My mind went silent, the tumult quieting the minute I saw him. He was really there. This was really happening.

Edward was an oasis; the eye of a storm. The rest of the world spun on and on; a hurricane with wind that rattled windows as the sky boomed commands, but Edward stood alone, untouched. For a moment, I almost believed that he existed wholly for me, to give me the courage to get out of that goddamn car.

I reached for the door handle, but paused in mid-grab. Debated. Agonized.

In one quick movement, I shrugged off the jacket. I knew if I wore it into the restaurant, I might not have the courage to take it off. For Alice's sake, of course.

The water was cold against my bare shoulders as I cut a path across the street, through the soft sheet of rain, toward the restaurant. I focused on him, refusing to turn my head and look around. There's no one there, Bella. Just look at him.

The minute Edward saw me, a wide smile spread across his dazzling face. I felt a twist in my chest as I drew closer to him, my excitement warring and winning against the absurd urge to hide.

He stood as I approached and stopped directly in front of him. We locked eyes, my head craning up to meet his gaze.

We stood there, staring at one another in the middle of the sidewalk, two statues with identical hesitant grins. The rain fell softly, tapped on the awning overhead and cascaded from the edges in gentle waterfalls. Everything around us was washed in soft grey – the sky, the clouds, the hustling, faceless people – all except his eyes, which leapt out at me green and fresh, like new leaves.

And in that frozen, perfect moment, I wasn't Ms. Isabella Swan. I was a woman, awkward and excited, on a first date. I wanted nothing more than to lose myself, whatever I was, forget everything except him and what he did to me just by standing there.

"I'm glad you came," Edward said softly. His smile was sugar, pink cotton candy; I wondered if he would melt on my tongue. His hand lifted and raked his hair, came to rest on the back of his head and tugged at the curls. A nervous gesture? No way.

"Me, too." My voice was little more than a whisper, but he heard me.

"Bella!"

A voice to my right made me jump, heart stuttering, breath dying in my throat. I quickly turned to face my unwitting saboteur.

"I thought that was you!" I was met with a smiling, oblivious face. It one of Alice's regular clients– Charlotte, I thought? I'd made her acquaintance once or twice. She was walking backward away from our unmoving figures holding a take-out bag, her long red hair bouncing around her shoulders. "I'm so sorry, I'm in a wicked hurry, I just had to say hi…" Her words were pushed together as she pulled on her door handle. "Good to see you, Bella!" She waved cheerfully and climbed into her still-running car.

I watched as she drove away. My hands felt oddly numb as my eyes finally did an unconscious sweep of the area, darting from side to side. I didn't see anyone else that I recognized… but I hadn't seen her, either. She had found me.

I turned my gaze back to Edward, but I felt tighter now, exposed and on alert. My face grew hot, and my shoulders were tense, the muscles in my legs and arms now bunching tight. I wanted to enjoy this, to be with Edward without worrying or fretting or planning, without being me for just a few hours… but I couldn't help what I was, what my body wanted to do.

"Shall we go in?" I hadn't even realized that Edward had moved to open the door until I heard his voice and felt the blast of warm air that came from within the restaurant. I looked at him, at the door he held for me, but didn't move. I swallowed once, hard, as if I could rid myself of the sudden flash of anxiety I was having. Charlotte had seen me; anyone else could be in there.

Unlikely, Bella. Stop it, please. Just go inside, be normal for once…

I gave Edward a tight smile and took a step forward… but he surprised me when he shut the door before I could pass through it. I looked up at him, confused. Edward's eyebrows were furrowed, his mouth cocked thoughtfully.

"You hate this, don't you?" he asked gently, his green eyes traveling my face.

"Wha… what?" I stuttered. My face flashed hot again, confusion and adrenaline mixing in my blood, making my heart thud frantically beneath my breasts.

"This whole thing. Being here… you're nervous." He licked his lower lip, absentmindedly raking his teeth over the skin, and even through my hot, twisted nerves my breath caught in my throat; that soft bit of flesh, wet and pliable, trapped between hard white teeth…

I'm losing it already. And we haven't even sat down yet. Fantastic, Bella.

"No, I like this place, honestly…" I wanted him to believe it, to see my intentions were normal, and Edward laughed, left hand attacking his hair again.

"But I asked you to come straight from work, without time to decompress… What you do is stressful, and you look so tense. I should have thought of that." He sighed and looked down, shaking his head gently.

I ached to correct him. To tell him that this was my fault, that I was the one who was impossibly flawed and this place would have been perfect for someone who had the ability to function as a normal woman… like someone with whom he should be on this date. Someone fun and carefree, who wouldn't care where they went.

Clearly, not me.

"No, it's not you," I admitted softly. I wanted to run away, feel the rain run down my stupid bare shoulders and soak this gold shirt that I felt completely ridiculous in now, flashy and clingy, because I had ruined the date before it had even started. I wanted to disappear, so Edward wouldn't feel like he'd done anything wrong. I wanted…

Edward lifted his head, and his surprising grin stopped my shame-spiral in mid-turn.

"Ms. Swan, are you all that hungry right now?"

My stomach was a solid, heaving mass, a hard ball of knotted wire. It occurred to me that my body might actually outright reject the introduction of food at that moment.

"Not really," I admitted. I could feel my confidence dropping, disappointment flooding my lungs. "So I would totally understand if you wanted to reschedule," I added for his benefit. I wouldn't want to force him to be with someone who was so obviously uncomfortable with… everything. My hands were clenched in tight fists as I studied my shoes: painted leather, silly gold bows. My toes peeped out through the tops. Just pathetic. All of it.

But Edward laughed. "Not a chance I'm letting you get away," he said. I peeked up at him, and he was watching me, body ducked down slightly as if trying to catch my eyes. His grin was mysterious.

"Would you care to go for a run with me?"

My head snapped up to fully meet his gaze, and my heart soared into my throat. I stared at him as, once again, he succeeded in stealing my breath.

"Yes." My response was automatic. Once again, Edward had known exactly what I needed. What my body craved, the comfort I reached for. I already felt so much better, my fingers now curled lightly into loose balls at my sides. "That sounds… perfect."

Edward's smile widened. "Great! What would you think about following the trail around Lake Union?" He raised an eyebrow. "Unless that's too far?"

I stifled a giggle, muscles now loose, brain nearly giddy with relief. The run around Lake Union was about 6.2 miles, nearly a perfect 10k. I could do that in my sleep, but he didn't know that.

"That's a great run. I live in Queen Anne about a mile away from the bottom of South Lake Union Park."

Edward beamed. "Perfect! I live by Rogers Park, about two and a half miles from there… I'll drive home, change and meet you there in, say, fifteen minutes?"

I nodded happily. I honestly couldn't wait to run. With him.

He fell silent, and once again his hand found his hair. "Can I help you to your car?" he asked, a bit sheepishly, and I was touched by his chivalry. I was definitely not used to it, as I was clearly demonstrating with my red cheeks. I saw Edward glance down to them, and smile.

"No thank you, really, I'm right there." I looked into his sparkling eyes, and smiled back him, tentatively. "I'll just meet you there?"

"I can't wait." He backed away before turning and walking briskly to his car. I watched his retreating figure and admired him once again, his shoulders pistoning in turn under grey fabric, his firm ass moving in rhythm with his quick steps. The man had an ass worthy of epic poetry.

Yes, he's got a great ass. What the hell are you still standing around for?

I think I might have broken the sound barrier when I made it home in less than five minutes. Practically jumping out of the car while it was still rolling, I stumbled upright before launching myself up the front steps. Don't twist an ankle, Carl Lewis, I thought happily as I threw open the front door. I felt giddy, pumped. Ready.

Alice's head quickly popped up from the couch, face clearly startled, and then Jasper's from other side. Alice mouth opened as if to say something, but Jasper simply smiled at me and turned his attention back to the television. As I rushed past them I saw that Jasper had Alice's tiny ankle in one hand, and was now struggling to hold on to her now-squirming foot while she tried to twist to look at me.

"Bella? What's going on?" she called out at me.

"No time to talk, everything is great!" I responded as I slammed my door. I yanked off the clothes and jewelry, flinging them to the bed as I pulled out running clothes. I was fully dressed again in probably less than sixty seconds.

Hastily, I appraised myself in the mirror above my vanity: my flushed cheeks, my curved lips, my wide, dancing eyes. I looked energetic. Alive. I tried not to dwell on the fact that I hadn't donned my typical loose capris and race t-shirt to run, but rather I had chosen a tight, breathable running tanktop that happened to hug my breasts and waist, and a pair of short jogging shorts that Alice had once said made my legs look, "about a million miles long." My hair was in a messy ponytail, shoulders and neck bare, and in the privacy of my own room I allowed myself a smile, huge and luminous and naked and vulnerable.

I'm okay. I'm going to be okay.

I mentally high-fived myself as I slipped my iPhone and key into my pocket before bolting out of the room.

Go big or go home, Bella. It's time.

"Damn it Jazz, let me go!" Alice was insisting. I hit the last step and saw Alice struggling to twist out of the death hold Jasper still had on her foot.

"Let her alone, Alice Brandon. The woman is clearly in a hurry!" He laughed at her squeal of protest. "Have fun, Bella!"

Thank you, Jasper! I thought as I flung open the door. "Bye guys!"

It was only about a mile to the park, and I easily made it in the eight minutes I had left. It was a nice warm up for me; I felt my body relax into the steady rhythm that it knew so intimately, the movements my muscles had memorized. I took a deep breath of the cool evening air, thrilled at the turn this night had taken. The light rain didn't chill me, but rather was a welcome contrast against my overheated skin. My bare legs scissored knowingly across darkened cement.

Thank goodness I shaved today, I thought cheerfully. I smiled into the wind blowing past my face.

As I approached the park, I saw his silver Volvo and knew he'd beaten me back. I was a little impressed by his ability to navigate Seattle traffic. I looked around the grounds for him, nerves flaring slightly in my stomach, as they always did when I knew he was around; my entire body anticipated seeing him.

I finally spotted him near the water, facing away from me, idly stretching.

My feet dug into the ground as I came to an abrupt stop. I gasped.

It was him. From that first night I was running. No doubt about it: the same white t-shirt, stretched taut across hard back muscles. Same basketball shorts that fluttered around his knees, short socks punctuating hard, knotted calves. His hair was dry now, but it wouldn't be for long… I shivered.

And his tattoo. It was still daylight, and even though the sleeve of his thick shirt covered most of it, I could still see color dripping from below the hem: a streak of curling red, wrapping around his left bicep, green and white and black spilling out onto his skin from the pure white fabric. I licked my lips and tore my eyes away.

It was him I saw, both that night and in my dreams. The thought flew wildly around my head as I approached him.

I cleared my throat. "I hope you haven't been waiting long," I said lamely. He always spoke first… I vowed to try and converse more. One of the many, many things I wanted to work on with him.

Edward turned, and when he saw me his movements visibly stalled. His eyes made an immediate journey down the length of my body. His gaze traveled over my neck, exposed and nude, followed the curve of my breasts and down my stomach where the shirt wrapped me like a second skin, past the flare of my hips and found my bare legs. It was way more flesh than he had ever seen from me – Jesus, more than I had seen from myself in a while – and I felt my skin tighten under his gaze, suddenly more than aware of how little a shirt with a built-in sports bra did to mask erect nipples. My blush must have been blinding. His look did not strike me as rude, however- perhaps because you can't ogle the willing – and he quickly found my eyes again.

He cleared his throat, too. "Not at all, I just got here."

We stood for a moment, shuffling and glancing, eyes drinking in newly exposed skin and unfamiliar cuts of fabric. "So… should we begin, then?"

Yes. Let's begin.

"Let's go," I agreed. He turned and began down the path and I fell into step next to him, allowing him to set the pace. His legs were so much longer – one pace of his was almost two of mine – but I kept up with him readily, settling in to a nice, easy cadence.

"Now you tell me if I'm going too fast," Edward said, breaking the silence. "Those legs of yours are having to work pretty hard to keep up with me."

My head swiveled up to look at him, my immediate reaction slight annoyance. But he was watching the path, that crooked smile set on his full lips. He was teasing me.

"I definitely will." Nervousness bubbled and raw energy sang through my veins, but I felt steady. Right. And even feisty. "And you please let me know if you get too tired. It must take a lot of energy to heft all that weight around." I sped up just a little bit, to prove a point.

Edward's laugh thundered next to me, and I hid a smile. Relief rushed through me, flooded my lungs; through all of the fretting I had done today about where we would go, who would see us, I hadn't realized until right then that I'd also been worried that the easy conversation, the seemingly natural ability to converse with him that we experienced at the baseball field had been a glitch. A temporary condition, never to be found again. But now, running beside him, it was still there. Glowing and pulsing between us, this bubble of safety, of light and warmth, a flowing current that picked right back up again where it left off.

Running with Edward was bliss. My feet danced swiftly across the ground, readily finding rhythm that he gave me. I felt free and confident, sure in my actions. Of course, he had no idea what running was to me and what it had meant to me in the past: accomplishment and pride, then punishment for crimes I was born to commit, escape, comfort and strength that nothing or no one else provided. But with Edward, the action was intimate, sustaining. We moved through the gentle misty rain together, panting softly, our bodies growing hotter with each step.

We made small talk as we ran, about our work day, clients, the news. A careful mix of professional and private. He told me about Emmett and how ridiculous he looked whenever he had to sit in a cubicle. I giggled at the thought of humongous Emmett, who according to Edward was also a serious runner, sitting in a tiny prison with cloth walls. I told him about Alice and how physically she was the exact opposite of Emmett, but I had heard stories that she had made male clients three times her size cry and mused that it would be pretty funny to see them race. Edward laughed.

"I'd like to meet your Alice," he said carefully.

I looked up at him for the first time in a few miles, and my pounding heart had nothing to do with the run.

Edward was soaked. His white shirt was plastered to his chest, hard lines defined clearly under wet cotton. With every stride his pectoral muscles bounced, flexing and straining beneath the dampness. The shirt stuck to his flat stomach, trim waist twisting gently in time to his steps. His skin was wet with sweat and rain, polished marble, cheeks slightly pink against the cold air. His hair – oh god of all that is good – it was getting wet now, curls dampened and wild, lying against his forehead, curling at his neck.

It was every fantasy I'd had of him since that night, and he was right there, within reaching distance. I almost lost my stride as I drank him in, and my tongue darted out to seek moisture, knowing his neck was wet enough to quench my parched mouth… I wondered if he tasted salty or sweet right then, or both, like warm rain or salted caramel. Perhaps his skin would be hot under my cool lips, burning as I nibbled and licked…

Holy shit, you're going to goddamn come if you don't knock it off. The thought wasn't that far off; the repetitive stride was causing a delicious friction between my legs, and I was throbbing, aching. I struggled to form a complete thought that wasn't x-rated.

"I don't think I could prevent you from meeting Alice at this point," I said honestly. "She's a little… persistent, and she will definitely insist on meeting you now." Shit. Assuming much, Bella? "That is, if you want to, I mean. Meet her. In the future. Not like you have to." Oh god shut up shut up shut up… I bit my tongue harshly, trying to stop the rush of words. It occurred to me once again how out of control he made me feel. How dangerously nonchalant I was with my words, where they were once so carefully rationed out.

Edward chuckled. "I have to meet her. I've seen her at the bar with you, but I still kind of doubt she's real." He then heaved a dramatic sigh. "That is, if we ever finish this run."

Hmm. "Pardon?" I asked, shifting my gaze sideways without moving my head. I could see his coy smile from the corner of my eye.

"I mean, this pace is great and all, it's just a little… leisurely." His voice was dripping with good-natured sarcasm, and I knew he was trying to provoke me. "Which is fine and all… I have no problem running at your speed, I just…"

But I was already sprinting before he finished his sentence, my legs driving hard into the ground, breaking the smooth surface of formed puddles as I pulled away. I heard him coming behind me, and I knew his long legs would close the gap quickly, so I jumped off the path, ducking under a tree and cutting through bushes before I met with the worn trail again. I was very familiar with this route, knew where I could cut through to shorten the course. I laughed as I heard his surprised, "Hey!" behind me, and I kept going, relishing the feel of endorphins pumping through my veins, my limbs crying for the speed, the release. We'd already gone almost five miles, and I was great, more than great, flying high on excitement and adrenaline and him.

Edward was suddenly right behind me, and I slowed deliberately; I could hear his breath, just slightly louder than before, and my smile was slightly smug.

"Was that better?" I asked sweetly, my voice even and pant-free.

"That was… fine," Edward said, obviously trying a little bit to keep his words smooth. "If you want to slow down now, for your sake…" I took a few sprinting paces again, and Edward laughed, "Okay! We can slow down now for my sake." I settled back down to his side, and we both caught each other's eyes and laughed.

I felt… amazing. I could get used to this.

"You're like a cheetah over there," Edward said, the awe in his voice embarrassing for me. I shook my head, hid my cheeks. "How do you do that?"

I could see the parking lot now ahead of us, and I felt a little sad that we were almost done. I slowed down just a little bit more, suddenly afraid of what would happen next. We would go to dinner, probably? Or would he just want to go home, to shower and change? I didn't want this to end… shit, should I ask him if he wanted to grab something to eat? And would that be ridiculous with both of us covered in sweat?

One thing at a time, Bella. Answer his question first.

"I've been running since high school," I said. "It feels… natural. I feel most at ease when I'm running." I was exhilarated; I had an opportunity to tell him something about me that I was truly proud of, something I had never gotten to tell anyone besides Alice. "In college, I was on the University track and field team my freshman year."

"Really?" Edward sounded impressed. "I want to hear about it." My chest felt full, bold courage pushed at my margins, warping my tight borders. I wanted to tell him more.

"It was actually really cool…" I started, and, holy hell, I didn't cringe at my usage of such a juvenile word, so non-professional. Casual. I mean, if I used it in real life, why wouldn't I let him hear me say it? I wanted Edward to know the real me… and I was already thinking way too much about one word.

I pressed on, not really noticing that we were in a particularly muddy part of the path. "I tried out on a whim one day after class, and I made the team." Edward was watching me intently, and I was encouraged, feeling more in-control of the situation. I felt a little cocky, even. "I had always been a decent runner, especially endurance length races, and so…"

I had been doing so well. I was relaxed and pliable, arms swinging and heart thumping. I was pleased that I was able to talk so freely about a subject that had a lot of negative memories attached to it. I was sharing. I was pushing my safety zone…

I was not paying attention to the child on the bicycle until I was practically on top of him.

I saw Edward's eyes widen, green flashing with alarm as too late I turned my face forward just in time to see the boy, probably about six years old and wearing a Mariners cap, looking up at me with an equally surprised expression. He'd ridden into the path, and I was on a collision course.

"Look out!" Edward cried while simultaneously shifting his weight toward me. Just like before, I felt Edward's hands wrap around my waist, encircling me almost completely. He jerked me backward and sideways, narrowly missing the kid as he passed through the path, unharmed. I, however, was thrown off-kilter and my feet slipped on the wet ground, making my legs fly out from under me, my momentum propelling me forward.

I was going down… and I was taking Edward with me.

Holy shit, I had time to think as the ground rushed up to meet me. It's like a fucking three stooges movie.

But Edward, ever the gentleman, once again thought to save me. He was still holding me around my middle, and he twisted us in mid-air so that he was situated to take the brunt of the fall.

We hit the ground with a wet slap. As he had orchestrated, I landed mostly on him, with only my right knee connecting hard with the ground. He, unfortunately, was an entirely different story. He was laid out flat on his back in the cold, wet mud, white shirt now the color of used coffee grounds. His arms were holding me carefully away from the dirt.

The kid cried out, "Sorry!" as he rode away in a hurry.

This all took place in less than five seconds.

No. No way.

I shook my head, hard, but I didn't wake up. I didn't come back from a day-dream. The cold and wet and humiliation were crisp and real. My brain slowly faced reality.

I was now completely frozen, lying safely on Edward's stomach. His hard, flat stomach. An utterly inappropriate time to be noticing the firmness of his abs, but I think my shocked mind could only process one thing at a time and I really didn't want to acknowledge that Edward was lying on the ground, covered in filth, solely because I was a complete dumbass and almost took out a first grader because I was too wrapped up in telling my self-serving story to watch where the fuck I was going.

Oh. Sweet. Baby. Jesus.

"Well." Edward spoke first. I continued to sit immobile on top of him, staring dumbly down at his face. He was looking up at the sky. I was focused on a smear of mud on his right cheek that ran down his face, over his ear, disappeared into his hair. Edward's eyes rotated to mine, and his smile made the mud a curve along his face. "We should call Cirque du Soleil. I think people would pay to see that."

"I…" Both of my hands were pressed to his chest, and my eyes darted back and forth between his. I was too mortified to even enjoy our proximity. "I am so, indescribably sorry." I shook my head and pushed away, scrambling shakily to my feet. I held out a hand to him and he took it, hoisting himself off the ground.

"Oh god," I moaned miserably. He was a mess. His entire back was caked with wet mud, shorts soaked with it. His legs were dirty disasters, and his hair – oh god his poor hair – it was matted flat to the back of his head. He was filthy, and it was all because of me and my big loose fucking mouth.

But Edward laughed as he rubbed his hands over his arms, trying to scoop off some of the thick goo. "I haven't been this dirty in a while!" he said brightly. There was no hint of anger in his voice, no annoyance or frustration.

My hands twitched out to him, wanting so badly to help, to touch him, but I retracted them just as quickly; I didn't want to make things worse, like I inevitably would. Edward glanced at me and must have seen my stricken expression because he smiled and me, and it was insistent and real. "Hey, seriously, don't worry about it. This is not a big deal."

"You're all muddy!" I stated the obvious, my voice nearly shaking. I felt deflated. I couldn't believe what I had done.

"Hey, you got it a little bit, too," Edward said, gesturing to my leg. Sure, enough, my right leg was streaked with mud where it had hit the ground, but nothing like he had. I shook my head, and when I looked back up at him he was inspecting the damage on himself again. "Hmm," he hummed thoughtfully. "I can't get back into my car like this, so I'll probably have to go home, shower, then come back…"

I was miserable. Not only had I basically shoved him into a mud puddle on our first date – if he even wanted to call it that at this point, since my insecurities had almost ruined it before it had started – but now he had to walk an extra two and half miles home covered in drying, disgusting mud.

To top it off, I had successfully brought this attempt at a date to an abrupt and awkward end.

I would have expected nothing less, Isabellasneered.

"Oh, I can't tell you how sorry I am," I said again, but it felt so insignificant. My one consolation: he can't possibly hate me more than I hate myself right now, I thought.

"I…" Suddenly, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, before it had time to filter through my censors. "I live less than a mile from here. At least come get cleaned up first, so you don't have to walk home like that."

What?

"Un-unless you'd rather just go home," I stammered, "which I would totally understand…"

Edward's crooked grin made me feel even worse, because of how much I loved it. Why was he smiling at me like that when I'd just destroyed the good time we were having?

"Are you sure that you wouldn't mind? I might get this crap all over your floor…"

"No, please." My mind was reeling from what was coming out of my mouth, and I questioned briefly whether somehow I had actually hit my head on the way down. "I just… I want to try and make it up to you."

"That sounds great, thank you." Edward nodded, and I nodded too, mimicking him in my panic. "But really, you don't have anything to make up to me." His green eyes pierced me, and I tried to hide the chill that ran through my body. "It's not always your fault, Ms. Swan."

I had nothing to say. He was trying to make me feel better, but I knew whose fault it was. On numb legs I started to walk in the direction of my place, and Edward followed next to me, still trying to chafe as much of the mud off of himself as he could. I swallowed hard and concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other as I assessed the situation.

Edward was covered in mud because I had tripped him like a complete moron.

I had just invited him to my house.

To, of all possible things, take a shower.

Holy. Fuck.


Only one WEEK between updates, my friends! Woohoo!

FYI: chapter 12 is written and almost beta-ready, chapter 13 is outlined in detail. We're on a roll, kids! (And lemme tell ya: I'm VERY excited to get ch. 13 out to you. Just sayin. *zips lips*)

400 reviews! I can't believe it. And I've had so many story alerts and story favorites recently, too! Thank you all so so much for the reviews, PMs, and tweets. LOVE THEM, and LOVE YOU.

You all had some amazing suggestions for one shots… ya know the #1 POV requested? Charlie! Now that is intriguing, I hadn't even thought of doing that… but I have some ideas now!

Side note: I am going to stay away from the Edward POV one shots… for now. There's a really good reason for it. Stand by. =)

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Chapter 12 coming sooooooon. 3 Thanks a million, I'm so grateful you're all here.

- ahealthyaddiction

Also, do yourself a favor and check out the wicked awesome Fictionista Workshop's WitFit challenge. You get a prompt a day for the whole month of December, and the goal is to challenge yourself to write something without editing, no word minimum. Seriously, take a look… the whole website is pretty rad.

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