Author's Note: Sorry about the delay. I didn't want to post while the site was having technical difficulties.

Pain on Pain
Written by Coquette

Chapter Seven

When I got home, the first thing I did was wash my face.

I scrubbed the residual tears from my cheeks and didn't shed anymore. The hot water felt so good on my skin that I stripped my clothes off and got into the shower. I breathed in the steam and let the hot water relax away months of tension.

I took my time. Washed my hair. Found some nice smelling soap that Renée had sent me last Christmas. Pampered myself a little. It was time to start taking care of myself. Do things for me. With or without Edward Cullen.

When I emerged from the bathroom an hour later, my hair dried and neatly combed, I crawled into bed and slept.

The numbers on my alarm clock were the next thing I was aware of – numbers that didn't make a bit of sense. I couldn't decide if it was eight in the evening or eight in the morning. I rolled over and yawned, stretching until my toes curled. It took my fuzzy brain a few minutes, but I finally deduced from the elongated shadows in the room that it was evening. Outside, the sun had set. I had slept the afternoon away.

The house was cold, empty – but outside I heard the sound of a car door slamming. A moment later, keys rattled, and the front door opened and closed.

Charlie called up the stairs that he was home.

I sighed when I heard his voice. I'd forgotten to make dinner for him. But that wasn't the only thing bothering me. When I'd heard the car door slam, part of me had hoped it was Edward, coming to talk to me. Part of me had even hoped I might wake up to find him in my bedroom.

I took a speculative look around the room – but no, he wasn't there. My pillow smelled like him, though, and that made my heart hurt a little.

I buried my face in the pillow and lingered in bed, thinking. I'd told Edward to take some time apart from me to think about what he wanted, so it shouldn't surprise me that he would actually listen. But I still wanted him to come. I wanted to know where we stood.

And I missed him. Now that I'd gotten all of that anger out of me, I just really and truly missed him. I wanted to see him. Talk to him. Find out if he was okay. But whether or not that would ever happen was out of my control. I had to let it go.

I sat up in bed and ran my fingers through the tangles of my hair. I felt lighter. Relaxed. Not happy, exactly. But ... more at peace than I'd been in a long time.

Charlie rapped his knuckles on my bedroom door, and he poked his head in. "You asleep, kid?"

"Just waking up from a nap," I said. "Sorry about dinner. I conked out and forgot."

"Don't worry about it," said Charlie, rubbing the back of his neck. "I, uh, sort of already ate. Brought you something home if you're hungry."

"Oh, okay. Thanks."

Charlie cleared his throat, shifting on his feet like he was uncomfortable. It struck me that he didn't typically come to my room when he got home, especially if I was napping or otherwise busy. And he rarely hovered. Something was up with him.

"Everything okay, dad?" I asked.

Charlie rested a hand on the door jamb but didn't speak for several minutes. "Had an interesting conversation over dinner. Why don't you come downstairs and get something to eat. We'll talk about it."

I frowned. "Is it bad news? You don't look happy."

Charlie threw his hands up like he didn't know one way or the other. "Not sure, Bells. Think that decision is gonna be your call. Come down when you're ready."

Charlie left me alone so that I could change out of the clothes I'd slept in. But I was curious as to what had him in such a strange mood, so I dressed and brushed my hair in a hurry.

"Dad?" I called as I clomped down the stairs.

"In here." His voice came from the kitchen.

I found Charlie in front of the microwave – about to blow it up. He had dished out some food for me but had left a fork on the plate when he put it in the microwave. Sparks flew. Charlie cursed and started pressing every button on the display - which of course, only made things worse.

I smirked and helped him locate the problem. "You distracted or something?"

"Or something," he grunted, throwing the slightly smoking fork into the sink. He restarted the microwave, then turned and went in search of a beer in the refrigerator.

While my food heated up, I noticed that there was a new message on the answering machine. I hit the button, and a familiar voice spoke through the small speaker.

"Bella, it's Jacob."

I stiffened – waited.

Charlie's head popped up from behind the refrigerator door. "Was wondering where that kid was."

"Look," continued Jacob's message. "I'm sorry how all that went down this morning. I really am. I didn't want to just ... I mean, it's not like I had a choice, you know? I'll try to explain later. I can't promise anything, but I'm really gonna try. Just ... be careful, okay? And take care of yourself. I'll talk to you as soon as I can manage it. Bye, Bella."

Take care of myself?

"Already on it, Jake," I muttered as I deleted the message.

But then I smiled – because the last thing I wanted was to lose Jacob as a friend. The message had given me hope that there was bigger story behind that scene this morning. Still, the jerk had better get ready to do some apologizing. I'd had it with emotional tug-a-wars.

Charlie twisted the cap off of a bottle of beer. "What was that all about? You two have a fight or something?"

I narrowed my eyes at him. "Or something," I said, turning his earlier words back on him.

"Don't be cute. I'm in a mood."

"I noticed. I'm not in trouble, am I?"

"Why? You done anything bad I should know about?"


Charlie wrinkled his nose. Then he leaned in close and sniffed at me, a disapproving look on his face. "You smell like a girl. You dolled up for a reason? What is that - perfume?"

I blinked, completely baffled by his mood. "Um. Soap, actually. Are you ever going to tell me what's going on?"

Charlie heaved a dramatic sigh - then drank half of his beer in a single go. "Edward Cullen came and talked to me today."

My heartbeat faltered for a second, and then started a rapid accelerando. Something warm blossomed in the base of my stomach. It might have been hope – but it was definitely nervousness.

To our right, the microwave beeped. We both ignored it.

"We talked over dinner and a beer," Charlie continued. "Well, I had a beer, and he watched me drink it. He told me some things. Explained some things that needed explaining. And I think you'd be proud of your old man because I only threatened him with my firearm once."

I closed my eyes and groaned quietly.

"But it meant a lot that he would come to me like that. Present himself, so to speak. Apologize." Charlie scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Kid even had on a tie. Can you believe that? I barely wanted to sit next to him, I was so embarrassed. Still, he was trying real hard. I didn't want to give in, Bella. I wanted to drag him down the highway with my police cruiser - you know, by that stupid tie of his. But he had this look on his face." Charlie trailed off, a sadness finding its way to his eyes. "It reminded me of my face after your mother left. God knows, I understand what it's like to lose something you love. And I really do think that kid loves you, Bella. Dumb-shit that he is, I have to admit that much."

Color stained my cheeks, and I looked away.

"You should probably know he's waiting outside to talk to you," said Charlie. "I told him you might not want to see him, and he said that's fine. But if you do, he's out there."

My heart twisted, nervousness and excitement leaving me breathless. Edward was here. On my porch. He'd actually come. I wanted to go out to meet him immediately, but the troubled look on Charlie's face made me hesitate. "Are you going to be disappointed in me if I go?"

Charlie took another long drink from his beer. "Let's put it this way. If your mom had shown up on my doorstep months after she left, I would have taken her in in a second. Asked questions later. So no, baby girl - I won't be disappointed in you. But I want you to guard yourself this time, you hear? Because I can't watch you go through something like that again. I think a second round might do your old man in."

I put my arms around Charlie's neck and buried my face in his warm chest. "I love you, dad."

"Oh, kid," he sighed, patting my back awkwardly. "You have no idea."

Charlie walked me to the front door, arm around my shoulders.

On the moonlit porch, I found Edward, looking like he wasn't certain if he was welcome or not. His hair was wild, his eyes guarded. And bless him, he was wearing a tie – but it was loose like he'd been tugging on it nervously. Though dressed up, he looked every bit as rumpled as he did before, his button-up shirt untucked, the sleeves pushed up past his elbows. In my eyes, he'd never looked more beautiful. Still, it amazed me that someone so strong and impervious could appear so achingly vulnerable at times.

I gave him a little smile - and when he returned it, the hint of sweetness in his eyes made me want to wrap my arms around his middle and squeeze.

Charlie stepped between us and got right up in Edward's face. "I'm watching you, kid. I find out you hurt her? Well ... I'll just let you finish that threat with your imagination. Whatever you come up with, multiply it by fire."

"Yes, sir," said Edward, nodding. "And thank you." He held out his hand to shake with Charlie.

Charlie looked down at the outstretched hand, incredulity obvious in his expression. "Too soon, son." And then, muttering under his breath, he walked back into the house and shut the door.

Edward and I were left staring at each other.

And my heart was about to thump out of my chest.

I flushed and tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. "Sorry about my dad."

"Don't be," said Edward. "He only cares about you." He studied my face for a long moment, so beautiful standing there with the moonlight in his hair, I couldn't help but wonder if he was real or not. "You look like you're feeling better."

I shrugged and crossed my arms over my chest. "I do feel better. Got some sleep. I'm still tired, but it helped."

"If you're tired, I'll make this quick, then." Edward held out his hand to me.

I drew in a breath and kept it there.

At first, I wasn't certain why I hesitated to accept his hand, but it eventually occurred to me that I was afraid of what he was about to tell me. This could be a repeat of our breakup for all I knew. But I had asked for this talk, hadn't I?

I let the breath I was holding ease out of my lungs. It left my throat dry, aching. "Where are we going?" I asked.

"Just out a ways," said Edward, hand still extended toward me. "Charlie's listening at the door. And I'd like to show you something. Will you come?"

Reluctantly, I held out my hand and let him take it within his own. Drawing closer to me, he squeezed my hand and stared down at me with those eyes that made me forget things.

I was scared to death. But I followed him.

Hand in hand, Edward led me toward the woods. Overhead, a smear of stars spanned the sky, and the moon blazed on the horizon. But once we stepped under the canopy of trees, we lost every bit of light.

I couldn't see after that, but I trusted that Edward wouldn't let anything happen to me. He guided me around every obstacle, his arm coming around my middle if I needed a little extra help. I knew he could hear the way my heart thudded when his fingers curled around my waist, lingered on the small of my back, but he never mentioned it.

I squinted in the gloom and saw a dim, flickering glow up ahead, lighting up the trees like a ghostly movie was playing in the distance. When we drew near, I saw a small clearing in the trees. There was a blanket stretched out on the ground. In the middle of the blanket, strangely enough, was a single chair. Candles peppered the ground, shielded by glass containers that wouldn't cause a fire if they tipped over.

The candles in particular made me uncertain. They made the entire scene appear romantic, but I didn't want to read more into the situation than absolutely necessary. That was dangerous.

As I stared at the clearing, something tugged at my memory bank. I stumbled to a halt, suddenly unwilling to take another step. I realized that it was the exact same place where Edward had broken up with me. I looked up at him, and I'm sure he could tell from the look on my face that I wasn't happy with his choice of location.

"I don't mean to bring up bad memories," he explained. "I'm trying to give you new ones - better ones - to replace the old. Will you trust me?"

I hesitated, wavering on my feet. "I want to trust you."

It was the only answer I had. I didn't know if I trusted him. Not with this, anyway.

He didn't push me. But as I stared up into his eyes, wreathed in fire from the light of the candles, I could see that he wanted this very much. That was probably the only thing that encouraged me to go along with it. After all, he'd listened to me earlier this afternoon - even after I'd thrown things at him like a child. The least I could do was allow him to do whatever it was he had in mind.

I took another deep breath and nodded my consent. We sidestepped the candles, and Edward guided me toward the chair, indicating that I should sit in it.

"Why is there only one chair?" I asked, feeling a bit strange.

"I didn't want you to be uncomfortable while I talked," said Edward. "There's so much to say." Then to my surprise, he got down on both of his knees in front of me and enclosed my hands between his.

I shook my head, embarrassed. "Edward, why are you...? You really don't have to do that."

Edward didn't appear to have heard me. Eyes closed, he brought my hands to his lips and held them there for a long time. His cool breath weaved between my fingers, tickled every nerve ending of my skin, until I could barely sit still.

"I'm sorry."

The words were spoken so softly, I barely heard them over the quiet stirring of leaves overhead.

Edward lifted his chin up, my hands still cupped between his, but he didn't look at me. He shook his head as if something had agitated him. "All I've thought about this afternoon is how inadequate that phrase is - I'm sorry - but it's all I can say right now. I don't have any excuse for my actions. I have reasons, but I can't claim any real justification in them. So I'm left with nothing but an insipid apology. I messed up, Bella, and I'm so sorry."

I freed one of my hands and brought it to his face. "Edward..."

"Please don't try to comfort me," he said. "It just makes it worse when you're so sweet after what I did to you." He pulled my hand away from his face and kissed my palm.

I watched his face, mesmerized by the ever-changing stream of emotions I saw there. Anger for one moment, then frustration, then sadness. Then he looked up at me finally - right in the eyes - his gaze bolder than I'd seen since he'd returned to Forks.

"You came to my house earlier today and asked me to let you say what you needed to. And I'm so glad you did because I needed to hear it. Now I need to get some things out, too, Bella. That's difficult for me. I've got everyone else's thoughts in my head - sometimes I forget my own thoughts aren't as accessible to my loved ones. Sometimes I forget I have to let people see what's going on in here." He tapped his forehead. "That they don't know unless I tell them. There's so much I didn't realize you were mistaken about, Bella. And I realize that's my fault.

"I need you to understand how precious you are to me - how much I love you. You need to know that I lied to you when I said I didn't want you. Bella, I can't see straight for wanting you. That's something that hasn't changed from the second I laid eyes on you."

I turned my face away in reaction to his words, unable to hear them. My hands started to shake within his.

Edward smoothed my hair back, away from my eyes. "I hate that you don't believe me. But that's my fault, too, isn't it? Do you even understand why I left?"

I shook my head, still not looking at him.

"Maybe if I explain what I was thinking, you'll see how much I really do care about you, Bella. Like I said before, I don't have any excuse for walking out on you like that, but I do need to set some things straight. I think you know what triggered this whole mess, but it's really been going on for much longer than that. The incident with Jasper on your birthday just served as a wakeup call - that one day, associating yourself with me was going to get you killed. Or worse. From the second I met you, I've brought nothing but danger and pain into your life."

My eyes flew back to his face. I opened my mouth to protest - because what he'd just said wasn't entirely true - but he touched his fingertips to my lips before I could speak.

"Look at the situation through my eyes, Bella. Not yours. What would you do if the tables were turned? What if I were the human, and you were the monster? Would you bring me back to your world? Around the other monsters, hoping and praying I won't be killed - but knowing it will eventually end that way? What would you do if it were me?"

I stared at him, suddenly doubting things I was so certain of a moment ago. I thought about how much I loved him, and how much it frightened me to even think about him in any kind of danger. What would I do to keep him safe? Would I leave him? Was that really the reason Edward had left me in the first place? Was Alice right when she'd told me that everything Edward had done was rooted in love?

"I don't know what I would do," I replied quietly.

Edward gripped me by the arms, eyes pleading with me. "I still don't know what to do. I was wrong to lie to you, Bella, and I was wrong to leave you without explaining all of this before. But the problem remains. Do you know that Alice sees you becoming a vampire one day? Do you have any idea how much that terrifies me? Not because I don't want you by my side, but because of everything you would lose - your soul being at the top of the list. So what do I do? Stay with you, and either doom you to death or to a half-life like my own? Or stay away from you, and hurt you to save you? I still haven't made up my mind. On one hand, I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my non-existence with you. On the other, I feel incredibly selfish for even considering it.

"Just ... try to understand what it's like for me, Bella. Try to imagine searching your whole life for someone. I'm sure you've been there, had those moments, but you're only eighteen. Now multiply that by more than four, and you'll be closer to the number of years I've been alone. I'm not telling you that to lessen what you feel - I'm telling you so that you can understand how precious and rare you are. I've searched for you for so long, but I had no idea that when I finally found you how much you would come to mean to me. Or what I would be willing to do to keep you safe. I don't think I really understood love before you. You are literally part of me. I would rip myself apart in a second if it meant saving you. I would rip us apart - for you."

I considered his words, trembling within the firm grasp of his hands. "Are you trying to tell me you're going to leave again?"

Edward shook his head. "I've already promised you I wouldn't – not unless you ask me to. This has to be your decision, Bella, because it's your life and death we're talking about here. Your soul. And mine - because if you go, rest assured I'll follow right after you. I've told you my fears. I've told you what Alice has seen. Is that what you really want? Please consider the cost before you answer. The future could change in an instant, and suddenly Alice might not see you as a vampire at all. She might see you on the ground with your throat ripped out instead."

"People die, Edward. When it's my time to go, at least I'll have had however many happy years with you. I'm at peace with that."

My response seemed to hurt him somehow - his face crumpled like he wanted to cry, but he simply wasn't able to follow through with actual tears. "That's your decision, then? You still want to be with me, even after everything I put you through? Even if you lose yourself in the end?"

"That's my decision," I said. "For better or for worse. I love you, Edward."

He sighed, sounding relieved and pained all in the same breath. "I guess I'm going to have to come to terms with that, then. But I'm not going to lie - I hate it. I hate that I can't have you and keep you safe at the same time."

"You're going to have to let that go, Edward. Or you're never going to find peace."

He still looked troubled, but he nodded, accepting my words. "Do you ever think you can forgive me for this whole mess?"

I gripped his tie and pulled him closer until our foreheads rested together. "I forgave you once I was done throwing pinecones at you."

We both laughed a little at the memory, and some of the tension leaked away. Edward slipped his arms around me, pulling me to the edge of the chair until his body was between my thighs. "And will you finally accept that I love you?"

My smile faded, but I didn't wince at his words this time. Didn't deny what he'd said. But his it still didn't make sense to me either. "I don't know why," I whispered, still holding onto his tie like he'd slip away if I let go. "I've never understood it."

"Hush," he scolded gently - nuzzling me, fingers inching up the sides of my ribcage. "I never want to hear you say that again. I'll prove it to you if you won't believe me."

I shivered at the feel of him, pressed in so close to me. "How?"

He pulled back to look me in the eyes. "You'll see," he said, a hint of a smile on his lips.

I moved off of the chair like my body had a mind of its own. His strong hands were ready to catch me as I straddled him, and he eased me down onto his lap. Pulled me tight against him and kept me there, safe.

"You'll see," he whispered again, rocking me gently back and forth.

I sighed and buried my face in his shoulder, his tie still weaved between my fingers.


"Charlie is about to come looking for you."

Edward's voice stirred me out of an almost dreamlike state. My body was so relaxed against his; it was almost as if we were a single entity rather than two separate parts. I was content, unwilling to move, but I had a picture in the back of my mind of Charlie wandering out into the woods with a baseball bat. Nothing good could come of that.

I rubbed my face against Edward's shoulder, breathing deeply of his scent. "But I don't want to go." I sounded like a two-year-old and couldn't muster the strength to care.

He chuckled at my whining, busy tracing little patterns down the length of my spine. "I should probably stay on your father's good side. Charlie wasn't easy to win over this afternoon, and he's just waiting for me to make a mistake. Let's put his mind at ease. Besides, we have all the time in the world to hold each other. I'm not going anywhere."

In the distance, I heard the front door of the house creak open and the sound of my father's boots clomp across the porch. "Bella?" Charlie called, his voice closer than I thought it would be.

Shoulders slumped, I sighed. Edward rubbed my back encouragingly and helped me to my feet. He left me standing there for a minute, and I watched as he went from candle to candle, extinguishing them all until we were left in the dark. Shivering, I waited for him to come and claim me.

When his fingers brushed my hand, I followed.

Charlie eyed us both suspiciously as we neared the house. He seemed particularly displeased when he noticed that we were holding hands, but he didn't say anything about it. There was nothing he could really accuse us of. Edward had been smart to approach Charlie when he did. Otherwise, this transition would have been much more painful.

Edward walked me to the door, and we turned to face each other like we were at the end of some awkward first date. I wanted him to kiss me – wanted to ask him if he was really ready to end our evening – but what could I do with Charlie standing there, his fingers itching for a weapon?

"It's bedtime, Bella," said Charlie. "Say goodnight, and come in the house."

But I didn't say goodnight to Edward because that would imply that I wanted him to leave. I could only hope he understood the look in my eyes.

Edward brought my hand up to his lips for a kiss. And then he nodded at Charlie, turned, and slipped off into the night, hands buried deep in his pockets.

Hopes crumbling, I leaned against the door jamb and watched as Edward disappeared from sight. Charlie rolled his eyes, guided me inside, and shut the door.

Charlie harassed me surprisingly little once he had me in the house. Honestly, I don't think he wanted to hear about it. I excused myself to get ready for bed, exhausted even after I had napped that afternoon. The weariness went deeper than physical fatigue; I was emotionally drained as well.

My feet were heavy as I trudged up the stairs – so heavy that I stopped half-way to remove my shoes. I carried them the rest of the way, feeling the weight of isolation on my shoulders. I already missed Edward – wished that we'd had more time before he'd gone.

But apparently, I was going to have to be patient. Mature.

I did not want to be patient. Or mature.

I threw open my bedroom door like it had done something to offend me – and found Edward waiting for me inside.

My shoes hit the floor with a thud. "Oh, thank God. You're here."

Edward chucked as he approached, reaching past me to close the door. "Careful now. Charlie will hear. And then he'll try to shoot me, and we'll all have a lot of explaining to do."

I smiled up at him gratefully, love for him swelling up in my chest until I wanted to burst from it. It was too much to deal with – overwhelming in its intensity.

"I'm glad you came. Can you ... will you stay?" I stammered. "I mean ... if that's what you want. There's no pressure, one way or the other."

I blushed and looked down at the floor, feeling strangely embarrassed to ask him to stay the night with me after so many months. It felt like I was assuming too much – because despite the picturesque scene in the woods, not all of the pieces of our relationship had fallen back into place. He hadn't even kissed me, and I was already planning a sleepover.

Pleasure warmed the edges of his smile. "I didn't want to assume the invitation was open. I'm very glad to hear it is."

Silence settled between us, thick and meaningful. I was suddenly aware of how close he was and how nervous that made me. It reminded me of last year, before we'd declared ourselves to each other – both of us dancing around uncertainties, wondering what the other was thinking or if it was all right let our eyes linger too long.

"So what happens now?" I asked, timid and self-conscious.

Edward reached out to catch and stray lock of hair. He tucked it behind my ear and said, "Why don't you get changed for bed? You look tired. Maybe I could..."

I looked up into his eyes, cheeks burning.

"... stay and hold you while you sleep," Edward continued, moving closer still to me. "I've missed that. Would it be all right?"

Before I could answer, he leaned forward and traced his lips across my hairline.

"Um. Yeah," I managed to gasp. "That would be all right."

Was he kidding?

Edward kissed the top of my head and released me. "Go change. I'll be waiting."

I swayed on my feet for a second but eventually remembered how to turn and move again, my movements as stilted as a robot with a program glitch. I didn't want to leave to go change into my nightclothes, but I obediently walked to my dresser and fumbled around in one of the drawers for something to wear. I had a difficult time concentrating on the task, mostly because Edward lingered behind me, apparently just as unwilling to part as I was.

The feel of him so close to my body made me a little irrational.

I took a deep breath ... and started to undress. Right there. With Edward standing behind me.

I tugged my t-shirt over my head, and by the time my jeans hit the floor, I was trembling. I felt like I was in someone else's body, someone far bolder than Isabella Swan. But I wanted this. I unfastened my bra with shaky fingers, grateful that I was facing away from him so he couldn't see how the blush on my face intensified a million-fold. I grabbed a tank top from my dresser because it was the first thing I saw, then quickly pulled it over my head, smoothing it down to cover my nakedness.

I closed the dresser drawer and turned to face Edward, wondering what on earth he must be thinking.

His face was almost comical as he blinked down at me wordlessly, eyes wide, fists clenched at his side. His mouth was open like he wanted to protest.

But he didn't protest. And he was definitely looking.

Needing to do something to break the tension, my hands went to his throat to loosen his tie. That snapped him to attention, and he stopped me, covering my hands with his own. "I don't think that's a good idea," he said, shaking his head like I had proposed something obscene.

"I don't want to have sex, Edward," I said, my voice bolder than I expected. "So relax if that's what you're thinking. I just want you to be comfortable." Freeing my hands from his, I tugged on the knot of his tie again.

Some of the tension went out of him, but I could see the wheels turning in his head. He let me finish what I was doing, regardless of whatever it was he was thinking.

Eyes locked with his, I slid the tie slowly from his shirt collar. The motion brought our bodies closer together.

Edward's throat worked. "Bella..."

I placed the tie on my nightstand and then started on the buttons on his shirt. "Yes?"

"I can't do this. Be this close to you. It's going to be like yesterday, when I brought you up here and I-"

"No, it's not."

Once I had his shirt undone, my fingers slipped inside on their own volition, finding his waist and pulling him closer. My breasts, soft and free beneath the thin fabric of my tank top, pushed up against his icy chest – but Edward was the one that shivered.

"What if I slip?" he asked quietly.

"I'll tell you to stop if you try."

Edward growled with disapproval. "I'm leaving my jeans on."

"Deal. But lose the shirt. I need to feel you close tonight."

Pushing away from him gently, I walked toward the bed. I tugged the covers back and got in, turning around to look at him. It was one of the few times I had caught him unabashedly staring at my body. I'd seen him look before, but he was too much of a gentleman to ever truly ogle. From the look on his face, I'm not even sure he knew he was staring, much less what gentlemanly behavior was supposed to be.

I didn't understand what made him want to stare, but I let him. Invited it, even. My body belonged to him if he wanted it. It was his to look at, touch, kiss – whatever he wanted.

Edward shook his head as if coming out of a daze, and he tugged his already unbuttoned shirt off. He let it fall to the ground, and then slipped his belt from the loops of his jeans.

My lips parted at the sight of him – hard lines of muscle softened by the moonlight filtering in through the window.

Now it was my turn to stare.

After he took off his shoes, he started for the bed – and I was suddenly nervous again. I was still sitting up, but when he drew nearer, fingers trailing a path toward me on the mattress, we melted down onto the bed together.

I settled back onto the pillow, and though Edward moved over me, he didn't lower himself down. His hands explored my body like he wanted to memorize it, starting at my face, pulling a gasp out of me when he dragged one of his thumbs across my lower lip. Then he moved slowly down the length of my neck, where my pulse hammered away, and across my collarbone. He skirted around my breasts, fingers barely grazing the sides of them as he moved downward. Finally, his hands found my hips, thumbs pressed into the divots beside my hipbones.

And I trembled beneath him – afraid to move or speak for fear he'd stop.

His eyes moved to the small line of bare skin showing between the hem of my tank top and the top of my panties. He molded his hands to my side and slid them upward, taking the tank top with him. He pushed it up to the underside of my breasts, and I shivered when I felt the coolness of his breath on the bare skin of my belly.

"You are so beautiful," he whispered, eyelashes dark against his pale skin.

I stared at him – because he was the beautiful one – as he lowered his face to the soft swell of my lower belly. He kissed me there almost reverently, and it was all I could do not to writhe beneath the gentle pressure of his lips on my abdomen.

He lifted his head up and parted my thighs with his knee, lowering his body down on top of mine. Ever conscious of not hurting me, he put most of his weight on his elbows, moving his forearms under my back, cradling the back of my head in his hands.

Nose to nose, we laid there and took each other in.

It took me a while to get comfortable with that level of intimacy, but he was patient and waited for me to relax in his arms. He wore the sweetest of smiles on his face as he gazed down at me – and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why someone like him would look at someone like me that way.

But it was difficult to deny the things I read in his eyes. It honestly felt as if he were attacking some barrier in my brain that was still resisting him. It took me a while to figure out what it was.

I remembered the words he had whispered to me out in the woods.

You'll see …

I was starting to see it.

I couldn't look away from his eyes – couldn't deny the truth that radiated down at me through that adoring gaze.

Edward loved me.

Plain, old me. Human. Flawed. The one with the too-soft belly that he'd just worshipped with his lips. For some reason I couldn't fathom, he loved it all.

Tears filled my eyes, obscuring my vision, but he didn't move to comfort me, even when the tears began to stream down my cheeks. I think he knew that I wasn't really sad.

He just waited. Held me. Loved me with his eyes until I couldn't get away from it.

I clung to him and whispered, "I love you, too."

Edward's smile deepened. "I'm glad we cleared that up."

And then he lowered his face to mine, thumbs wiping away the wetness on my cheeks, and kissed me.

The End.

Author's Note: I was originally going to end this story with sex – all nice and slow and gentle and hot. I thought about it, even tried it out, and I do think I could have made it work. But I just ... gah ... I couldn't do it and still be true to the characters. Go read Yes, Please or Spiral Static if you want some E/B porn. ;D

Oh, and I need to give credit where credit is due. Charlie's line - Kid, you have no idea - is from an episode of Gilmore Girls. One of my favorite lines from that show ever. I didn't intend to just nab it like that, but once I wrote it down, I couldn't bring myself to rewrite it. Sorry, Lorelai.

Hope you enjoyed the story. Thank you so much for taking the time to read.

If you have a moment, I'd love to know what you thought.

See you again soon,