I knew he was going to be there.
And because I knew it, I'd prepared for it. I'd given myself several pep talks, reminded myself often that he was nothing more than another wedding guest. Just this morning I'd spent ten minutes discussing the matter with my reflection in the small, cramped bathroom at Charlie's house.
Most of all I reminded myself that I wasn't the same pathetic church mouse I'd been four years ago. I could stand up to this, I could show indifference, and I could go about my life.
I should have known it was pointless, though. Not even if I'd had years…decades…millennia… would I have been able to prepare for the moment I turned my head and saw his piercing green eyes staring back at me.
As it was, I was amazed I managed to stay on my feet.
I heard the buzz of the Mr. Weber's voice but not his words. I was too busy being transported back to high school, and the memories that I'd kept buried in a dark, musty corner of my mind.
Memories of the day he'd saved my life and changed it forever.
I was congratulating myself as I walked towards my ancient truck. I'd made it through another day of high school without calling any more attention to myself than the walls themselves had. A perfect day.
I was just about to climb into my truck, the red behemoth that looked so utterly out of place next to the two shiny, beautiful cars belonging to the Cullen and Hale kids. My cheeks were still the blazing red they'd become when Alice Cullen had said goodbye to me as I'd walked past. She'd always done that, said hello when we saw each other, saying goodbye as we were leaving. I didn't know why; it didn't make sense. And it never failed to make me blush.
The Cullens and Hales were the most popular kids at Forks High. What on earth would one of them keep trying to talk to me?
I was still puzzling that out when I heard the screech of the tires behind me. I turned towards the sound and saw it immediately. Tyler Crowley's van was skidding uncontrollably towards me. I only had time to close my eyes and brace for impact, but it never came. Instead, two soft, warm hands closed around my upper arms, pulling me backwards and out of the way. I barely registered the sounds of the van crashing into my truck...in the exact place I'd been standing seconds before.
Shaking, I turned my head and looked up into the most beautiful green eyes I'd ever seen in my life. "Bella? Are you all right?"
The gathered guests standing en masse brought me back to the present with a jarring crash. The wedding ceremony had come to a close and Angela and Ben were walking back down the aisle, arm in arm. I took my place behind her, leading the other bridesmaids towards the back of the church. As I passed Edward's aisle, I kept my eyes pointed straight ahead. Looking into his eyes before had been like jumping straight back in time, back to when I thought the impossible might actually happen; when I thought that he loved me. I couldn't risk it happening again. Not when we were this close.
But he hadn't loved me. Those weeks were a dream. No, they were a nightmare. I'd spent four years locking it away inside my mind – locking my heart away from that pain – I wasn't about to undo all that damage for a pair of hypnotic green eyes at a wedding.
No way in hell. I was stronger than that now.
I knew she was going to be there. I thought I was prepared for it.
I was dismally, dreadfully wrong.
For a while, I had the intense pleasure of watching her unguarded. There was something wary about her eyes, but her shoulders were relaxed and her smiles came warm and easy. Which could only mean one thing – she hadn't seen me yet.
My eyes drank in every inch of her pale, roses and cream skin, the delicate line of her collarbones visible due to the scooped neck of her maid of honor dress. I had to shove my hands in my pockets to keep them from reaching for her. I must have actually taken a step in that direction, because I felt Jasper's hand close around my upper arm.
"Not a good idea, Edward. Wait until the wedding's over at least."
I would never know if my slight movement caught her attention or if she simply felt the burn of my eyes as they stayed on her every move. I didn't care, and it didn't matter. Because finally, she raised her head and looked at me. For the first time in four years our eyes connected, and held, and I fell backwards into the past.
"Edward. It's getting repetitive. Watching you just stare at her. Go talk to her for fuck's sake."
"Subtle, Emmett," Alice chided, smacking our brother on the arm since she wasn't tall enough to reach his head. "She's timid as a mouse. If Edward just walked up and said hello, I'm pretty sure there would be running and screaming involved. Or, deer in the headlights. Stunned owl. Pick your fave, but it wouldn't be pretty."
"So, what then? He's going to keep mooning after her like some lovesick girl from now 'til graduation? Grow some balls, man, she might just surprise you."
"Hi, Bella," Alice said loudly when the object of their conversation approached to get into her truck, no doubt to shut Emmett up before he made even more of an ass out of himself.
I watched her from behind the sunglasses I habitually wore outside and saw her entire body jerk as if she'd stepped on a live wire. I realized then that Alice's prediction of running and screaming wasn't far off the mark at all, not if she reacted like that to a simple hello.
I was just about to give it up for the day and climb into the Volvo when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. A car was speeding and skidding towards Bella's truck...towards Bella. And Bella was staring at it like Alice's deer in the headlights.
I acted before my heart had a chance to beat its next. I darted around the back of her truck and pulled her free. We stumbled a little, but I managed to keep us both upright. Then I looked down into her warm, melted chocolate eyes and I knew I was lost. Somehow, in the midst of that frozen moment, I managed to find my voice enough to speak.
"Bella, are you all right?"
And the weeks that followed her near-miss were nothing more than time out of mind, a fantasy made real. The happiest dream… until I'd turned it into a nightmare.
"Did you see him?" Angela asked softly.
We were back at the altar, posing for pictures. The more she asked, the harder it was to keep the smile plastered on my face. But I managed it.
"Of course I saw him, Ang," I huffed. "The hair sort of draws the eye. It always has." Damn him.
"Are you going to talk to him? To any of them?" Her voice was a little breathless.
"Not unless there's absolutely no way around it." I know how I sounded. The damned quiver in my voice made me sound as strong as spun glass. Because this was the first time I'd seen him in four years. Since the day he proved beyond doubt that the future I thought I had was nothing more than a house of cards. And I was still having trouble acclimating to that fact. Give me another few minutes, and I'd be fine.
"I dunno, Bella, he's never struck me as the sort of guy to sit around and wait to see what'll happen. I'd start preparing myself now if I were you."
"What do you mean?"
Angela laughed. "I might have been getting married, but I wasn't blind. I could have been wearing moose antlers for all the attention Edward paid me. And any man that focused means to confront things, not stand in the crowd then disappear into it. You ask me? It's not a matter of if you're going to talk, but when."
The photographer shushed us a moment later, and we both fell silent. I wanted to deny what Angela'd said, but there was a growing pit in my stomach that said otherwise. Because she was totally right about Edward. He wasn't the type to skulk around and leave things undone.
When the photographer finally released us, I managed one last smile for Angela and started back towards the aisle, intent on nothing more than the reception and a very large, very cold, glass of white wine.
I should have known it wouldn't be that easy.
Later I'd congratulate myself for the fact that my feet didn't falter once out of their stride. I'd be even prouder that my face remained blank and impassive and my voice was flat, almost bored.
With nothing more than a nod in his direction, I squared my shoulders and walked right past him. I'd made it three steps before his hand closed around my upper arm like a vise.
It took everything in me to not do something incredibly stupid. Like shriek, or scream, or melt, or sigh, (all of which felt pretty right to me). I knew I couldn't react at all. No matter how strong the urge.
With a strength I didn't know I had, I kept my entire outward appearance completely cavalier. I thanked God, repeatedly, that he couldn't hear the chaos going on inside me – like my pounding, traitorous heart that was trying to fly apart in joy that Edward was here, that he was touching me again.
Instead I dropped my eyes to the hand that was gripping my arm then slowly raised my eyes back to his. I hoped he'd get the hint, because I was pretty sure speaking was beyond me now.
If I spoke, I'd break, and then God only knew what would come spilling out.
I both rejoiced and mourned when he released my arm from his grip. Before either emotion could show up on my face, I turned and stalked away.
I wondered once if he could read minds and I found myself thinking that again now. How else could he know just what to say to stop me cold?
Because I wasn't an idiot, I kept my back to him. I'd give the appearance of listening, but that was all I could manage. It wasn't like he deserved anything more.
"I'm sorry." His quiet whisper came from right behind me, too close behind me. I could feel the warmth of his breath against my cheek, melting away what little strength I had left.
I wanted to turn, to throw my arms around him, to forgive him, to beg him not to leave me again. Anything. Everything. But I'd done that before, I would not do it again. I wasn't the pathetic little girl he'd saved, I wasn't the clinging little fool he'd had to shove aside to be able to breathe again.
He'd made sure of that.
So rather than answer like the Bella I'd been, I answered as the Bella he'd forced me to become.
I turned and looked straight into his deep, green eyes and sneered. "Yes, you certainly are sorry."
I spun on my heel and stalked away from him as the tears flowed freely down my cheeks, safe enough to give way to my emotions now that he would probably leave me alone for good.
"Ouch. That's gonna leave a mark, isn't it?"
I stopped staring at the place Bella had been and whipped around to face my brother's girlfriend. Rosalie.
She had the smug look she always wore, but there was something else just below the surface. Fear? Regret? No, it couldn't be either. Rosalie did not fear, she caused it. And she most certainly didn't regret. That would require a conscience and I still wasn't sure that Rosalie had one.
She'd probably just had some bad fish last night or something.
"Piss off, Rose. I'm really not in the mood."
"I don't get it, Edward. You've had some of the most beautiful girls in Seattle beating down your door and you're turning them away. Hell, Tanya would turn jump through hoops for you to simply say hello to her, but you act like she's got the plague. And for what, for that?" She waved a hand towards where Bella had just been standing and snorted. "For the little mousy? You need more than that, Eddie," she simpered, sidling up to me and patting my cheek in what I'm sure she thought was a soothing gesture.
It didn't soothe, however; it only pissed me off further.
I wanted to scream at her, to rail loudly that she'd been the reason I'd broken things off with Bella – her and the evil little whispers that hit straight at my deepest fears. I opened my mouth to drop a little of that misery at Rose's feet, but just as quickly I snapped it shut again.
I wouldn't let myself go down that road. I might've been young, but I was still responsible for my own actions. No matter what had been whispered in my ear, I listened – and I let it prey on me.
I made the decision.
And I let Bella go. Hah. Let her go? I didn't just "let her go" – I all but kicked her out of my life. I listened to her pleas and still turned away. But I never forgot what she said. Even four years later, I could still hear her voice echoing in my head.
"Did you ever love me?"
"There are lots of different kinds of love, Bella."
It wasn't like I lied; like I'd outright said I didn't love her. I snorted. I could no more have said that with a straight face than I could have grown wings and taken flight.
"She just drew the wrong conclusion," I said to the empty corridor, both hands coming up to try and scrub the misery off of my face.
At least I'd thought it was empty.
"Talking to yourself? Isn't that the first sign you're losing it? Oh wait." She stopped and shot me a glare "You lost it years ago. When you turned into the biggest jerk in the history of forever."
"Hello, Edward. Long time no see, brother dear. Christmas, wasn't it?"
"You know damned well it was Christmas."
"Actually, I don't. You spent almost every minute of your visit either in your room or the music room. The only time you spoke to any of us was when Mom guilted you into dinner Christmas Eve and presents the next morning." She paused in her tirade to draw in a deep breath before continuing. Apparently she'd saved this up for awhile. "If I remember right, you spent a grand total of, what, four hours with us the whole five days you were home? What was the point? Why even bother coming home if…"
She stopped and her entire demeanor changed in the space of a few heartbeats, from belligerent to comforting in zero point three seconds. That was my baby sister, all right.
"Oh, Edward. You came home for Bella, didn't you?"
My silence must have been answer enough for her, because she continued speaking without waiting for me. "She went to visit Jake, Edward. She…well, Charlie must've told her we were coming home for Christmas and…"
"…and she lit out of there like her ass was on fire rather than be in the same town as me, yes, I know. Charlie told me." I stopped, then snorted. "In almost those exact words. He said it better; however, as he had his hand on his gun and an 'I know where to hide the body' look in his eyes."
Alice dropped her head into her hands. "Could you have screwed this up any more completely? Did you think that going straight to her father might not have been the wisest move? That maybe I could have helped, even Esme might've had a better chance."
"No, Alice. I got myself into this mess, I've got to get myself out of it."
"I don't know how. She pretty much hates you, has since you dumped her and its done nothing but fester and grow for the last four years. At this point, I don't think she'd spit on you if you were on fire."
"Just telling you how it is. She was my best friend for a while. Then you fucked things up so badly she couldn't even look at me anymore, thanks again for that by the way, you jerk. Point it, I know how stubborn she is."
"So do I, believe me. But I'm not going to let a little thing like her concrete head get in my way. I'm going to fix this. I'm going to get her back."
Alice regarded me, her head cocked to the side. "What makes you so sure?"
"Because I've tried living without her, and I can't do it anymore. I won't. Not without knowing that I've done everything humanly possible to make things right again."
My little sister was still looking at me seriously. I don't know what she saw in my expression, but she closed the distance between us, rose on her toes and kissed my cheek.
"Good luck, Edward. You're going to need it. As many wounds as you gave her? I'm amazed she never bled out."
I should have known better than to congratulate myself. I should have known that just because I hadn't seen Edward since our little disaster in the hallway that it meant he'd gone home or gone away or just decided to be decent and leave me alone.
I also should have known that he'd wait to strike until I was relaxed, at peace, and completely unaware.
I was just considering a second glass of wine when I felt his hand on my shoulder. I didn't even have to turn to look. Four years and countless life experiences behind me and I could still pick his touch out of a crowded room.
Before I could really wind up and start berating myself, though, he took the touch one step further and spoke. The cheater had even moved closer so I could feel the warmth of his breath on my skin. Worse, I now knew for dead certain that my mind hadn't warped reality at all over the past few years. Edward really did smell just that good.
"May I have this dance?"
And, of course, he couldn't have chosen a fast song. This one was slow, just a guitar and a single male voice.
Say no. Say no. Say no. SAY NO.
But I couldn't get my mouth to form the words, couldn't get breath enough in my lungs to speak. My muscles were not listening to my commands to turn and run. My mind was the victim of a bloodless coup, as my heart took over and raised my hand to place it in his.
Then my traitorous heart raised my eyes to his and for the first time in four years, it beat without pain. It beat, then it flew, the pulse fluttering against my breastbone and jawbone, as it welcomed its mate home.
The voice on the song broke through, and I heard the soft, pained male voice ask a single question. "Would you save my soul tonight?"
Traitor tears matched my traitor heart, and spilled down my cheek. Edward's hand, the one not burning a hole through the fabric at the small of my back, raised towards my face. He turned it, using his knuckles to wipe away the tear tracks, his knuckle sliding softly along my lower lip. A shiver ran over my entire body and I did nothing to stop it.
I didn't speak, I couldn't. The song behind us spoke so eloquently it was enough to fill the silence, and my heart was too busy drinking in every bit of the sight, smell and feel of him that words were not possible. He was here. I was in his arms again. Some gear had been snapped back into place and set the world on its proper course again.
Then the male voice stopped singing, the song moved into an instrumental bridge, and Edward's voice filled the silence.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. You have no idea. I've caused you such pain. I know there's no possible excuse for my behavior, but know that I've regretted my actions that afternoon every day since. If I had the power, I would go back and erase it, call it back, and hold you for-"
I cut him off. Somehow I'd found the ability to raise my hand, and the sanity to not plunge it straight into his hair to pull him closer.
Somehow, I found the strength to step away.
"Don't, Edward. Just don't. Words don't erase it, and apologies this late are empty ones. You can't go back in time, that's a cheap comment and it's beneath even you. What's done is done."
Almost as if the song was timed perfectly for us, for this moment, it reached its crescendo when I finished speaking and the singer belted out "I will stand by you forever."
I looked at Edward, felt the traitorous, torturous tears on my cheeks again, but let them be as my mind fought back and wrenched control away from my heart.
"You didn't, Edward. You never stood by me. Never intended to. You never loved me..." I stopped speaking when my voice broke and knew I'd reached my limit. Every store of strength I had was used up, every ounce of resolve spent.
Because the pain in his eyes was more than even I could bear.
I wouldn't let myself believe it was the mirror of my own.
I turned, leaving him alone on the dance floor; just as he'd left me alone in my front yard that horrid afternoon. The symbolism wasn't lost on me.
I made it all the way to the far edge of the reception, the only place free of people before I felt in composed enough to do some damage control, shore up a few walls, remind myself just why running straight back to him was a very, very bad idea.
Mostly I just wanted to have a good, long cry. The kind I'd denied myself from the moment he'd walked away.
None of that was to happen, however. I might have put myself out of reach of the reception attendees, but I hadn't escaped Alice. I snorted. Was there such a thing when it came to Edward's little sister?
"Hello, Alice," I said before she could speak.
"Hi, Bella. I wasn't sure if you'd talk to me. But when I saw you run off, I knew I had to..."
"Had to what, Alice? Defend your brother? I know you feel the need, but there is no defense for what he did."
Alice snorted. "Defend him? Hardly. I'd rather kick his skinny, pale ass to Seattle and back. He was a complete bastard to you, Bella."
I didn't know how many more shocks this day could hold. But I was starting to reel from them so badly that I had to sit down.
"But. You went away, too, Alice. When he..." I stopped. Broke up with me? Destroyed me? Told me he never loved me? Each worked and I couldn't give voice to any of them. I let the silence speak instead.
"I didn't think you'd want to have anything to do with me either, Bella. Or at the very least that I'd remind you of him and make an already painful situation hurt even more."
I was surprised to hear a catch in her voice and looked up. There were tears sparkling on her long, dark lashes. "It hurt so much, Bella. Like I'd lost my sister, not just my friend."
"I felt the same, Alice," I heard myself whisper from behind the hands covering my face; and covering the traitor tears that were once again coursing down my cheeks.
Then her arms were around me, my head was on her shoulder, and we were crying into each other's dresses, making a mutual mess of our makeup. We tried to let the tears heal years of pain. No one was more surprised than me when it started to work; and I felt a little of the tension around my heart ease.
When the worst of the storm passed, I looked into Alice's red-rimmed eyes and nodded once. I even managed a small smile. It might've been four years, but I still new that look. "Tell me before you burst open with it, Alice."
She held my hand while she spoke, and I tried to listen with an open mind, and an open heart. The latter was a little more difficult. She told me about the changes in Edward after the van incident, the way he smiled more, went back to playing piano again. Like I'd brought him to life, she said. I didn't know about that, not having a great store of Edward knowledge from before the van, I just knew that I'd never been happier in my life. That his smile could brighten even a rainy Forks day, and that when he'd left, even Phoenix hadn't been bright enough to make up for the loss.
Eventually, I found my voice. "So what happened, Alice? If he was so happy, then why? What did I do?"
"You didn't do anything, Bella. Nothing. Except maybe choose a spineless jerk for a boyfriend. One who had no idea how to fight against the power of suggestion."
I stared at her for a while, completely confused. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Alice sighed. "You never got to know Rosalie very well," she said, then snorted, "and believe me, that's something to be happy about. Unlike me, stuck with her forever as I'm married to her twin brother. But Rosalie always has A Plan. Or, rather, she has Her Plan. And woe betide anyone who gets in the way of that plan."
I may have been meek, but I'd never been stupid. "And I got in the way of one of her plans?"
Alice smiled grimly. "Yes, you did. She wanted Edward for her best friend, Tanya. Thought it would be perfect. She and her BFF married to brothers and raising their little bitch babies together. Hell, the pair of them had the double wedding all planned out. Then you caught Edward's eye, and then the accident almost happened, and Rose's grand plan was in the dumper." The glee in Alice's eye over this was unmistakable. "Course, Em knows now what Rose did, and he's never going to marry her for causing his little brother pain like that, though she's still trying to change his mind on that one…"
I had to actually hold up my hand to stop her insanity. "Back up a second, Alice. You've got that backwards. First the van almost hit me. That's when Edward noticed me."
She took my hands in hers, the grim expression replaced with a softer smile. "No, Bella. He noticed you the day you arrived at the school. But you were so standoffish. We didn't know if you were shy or just a loner, and he didn't want to bother you if you'd rather be let alone. Why do you think I kept saying hello all the time? I was hoping if we became friends, it might help him get his head out of his ass. Apparently, that feat took a skidding van."
My mouth twitched at the fierce expression on her little pixie's face; and then I was laughing. "Oh, Alice, I've missed you so much."
When we were finished with round two of the hugging and crying dance, we wiped the traces of water-run mascara from our cheeks. My heart was already pulling me away from this reunion, wanting another pair of arms, another shoulder to cry into, but I wanted all my answers this time. I needed to know it all before I took another step.
"So, what did Rose do then?"
Alice shrugged. "She did what Rose does best. She played on every fear Edward had about you, poked at the bruise you could say."
"I don't understand. What fear could he have had about me?" And why didn't he tell me what it was? Why didn't he tell me?
"She kept telling him that you were only with him because you felt grateful about the accident. Kept quoting rescuer/damsel statistics at him, telling him little stories about doctors and patients, fireman and those they rescued and so on. It didn't seem to matter how many times Jazz or Em, or even I told him that she was full of shit, the damage was done, the seed sown. And it grew and festered until..."
"Until he felt he had no other option but to break up with me," I answered her, the last pieces of the puzzle falling into place. "To do it in such a way that I wouldn't linger under what he thought was hero worship."
"He hasn't been the same since that day, Bella. It was like he died that day."
"I know," I said. And I did. Because I hadn't felt alive since that afternoon, why would it have been any different for Edward?
"Alice, will you excuse me for a moment?"
My eyes were already scanning the reception, seeking out the flash of bronze hair, the straight line of his shoulders. When I found him, I didn't even wait for an answer. Somehow, I didn't think she'd mind.
I wanted to run across the crowded dance floor. Run and elbow people out of my way, calling his name as I did so. It felt right, like this was the way it was supposed to happen. But because Angela was my friend, I kept my approach to something more befitting the maid of honor rather than a stampeding bison.
He was watching Ben and Angela dance when I got close enough to call his name; unfortunately, the music was too loud for him to hear me. I tried again, with the same lack of success. I'd just called his name a third time when my heel caught in the hem of my dress and I stumbled forward.
It was almost fitting that I crashed right into him.
"Bella?" His voice was soft, strained, almost incredulous.
"You're not dead," I said stupidly. "Neither am I," I added, just to increase the stupid quotient.
He just looked at me. He stared at me like I'd taken leave of the last of my senses, but his arms were locked around me like long-fingered vises. I could struggle, and I did, but I couldn't move.
That was actually a good thing, though, because I didn't want to move. I wanted to stay where I was, locked in his arms and staring into the deep green depths forever.
"Bella?" he asked softly.
"Just answer me one question," I said, forcing my voice to be steady when all it wanted to do was quiver.
"Anything," he said, his eyes so wide as he looked into mine they looked in danger of popping clear of the sockets.
"What did you mean, when you told me there were different kinds of love?" He tried to look away, but I wasn't having any of that. Shaking thought they were, my hands rose and cupped his face. "Please, Edward, I need to know."
He blinked a few times and I was amazed to see moisture rimming his deep green eyes. "I didn't know how do to it, Bella, even thought I knew I had to. And no matter what I planned, I couldn't lie to you about that. So when you asked if I loved you," he paused, then took a deep breath before continuing, "I answered the only way I knew I could while still sounding even remotely truthful. I gave you a non-answer and..."
"...and you left me," I finished and almost winced from the pain in his eyes.
I stayed where I was, in his arms and in his eyes. "Can I ask you just one more?"
"Of course," he said softly. I could see the confusion in his eyes, see it war with the same happiness at being together that was welling up in me.
"Did you ever love me?"
His hands came up to cover mine. "Oh, Bella. I never stopped. I was—"
Whatever he was, I never found out. Because suddenly, he was kissing me and I was kissing him.
I didn't know who made the move or if we made it together.
It didn't matter.
His hands were everywhere, in my hair, on my arms. Our lips were locked together, breaking only for quick gulps of air. I heard a few moans, some soft sighs, at least one whimper. Just as I didn't know who'd started the kiss, I didn't know which of us was making the sounds.
Again, it didn't matter.
Our mouths and bodies fused as if no time had passed. The music of the reception, the mutter of voices and clink of glasses, all of it melted away as I fell into his kiss. We could have been behind the bleachers again, waiting for Emmett to finish at baseball practice, sneaking a few moments alone as we had so many times during our all-to-brief time together.
In the throes of my recovery and rebuilding of myself after Edward had ditched me, I'd worked tirelessly to forget as much about him as I could – how his body felt against mine, the smooth texture of his lips, the way he tasted. I thought I'd done a thorough job of exorcising such memories from my mind.
I'd been dead wrong. There was no forgetting this.
No forgetting it, no escaping it. Every kiss, every touch I'd endured since Edward left had left me with nothing but an emptiness that clawed at me. I hadn't let it stop me, and I'd become adept at faking responses. I wasn't going to sit in a corner and dry up, I was going to experience life, and sex, even if it left me cold.
What I felt now, however, was as far from cold as the equator from the poles. Heat radiated from every place his body touched mine. And as it spread, the heat grew, burning its way through my veins until there was nothing left but him. It wasn't painful, this searing heat; it was familiar.
"Edward," I rasped as our lips broke apart for needed oxygen. I didn't think I'd be able to form a coherent thought, but I tried anyway. "I…I don't…I can't…I…."
I regretted my inability to speak the second his eyes widened and his grip on me eased. He was taking a step backwards as my brain regained at least some control over its higher functions. The hand in Edward's hair tightened, the arm around him constricted. He was stronger than me physically, hundred pound weakling that I was, but I still managed to keep him with to me.
"Bella?" he asked, clearly confused. Given the mixed signals I was sending, I couldn't exactly blame him.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "I need a second. I'm having trouble getting my brain to work." I smiled, and he relaxed a little in my arms. After another deep breath, I tried again. "I tried to forget you. I tried to find what I felt with you with someone, anyone else. It never worked, and now I know why."
"Why?" His voice was nothing but a whisper in my ear, one that sent shivers down the length of my body.
"Because from our first kiss, from our first touch, I've been yours. You marked me, changed me, made me a part of you from the very beginning," I managed to free my hands and brought them up to cup his face. "I will always be yours."
No matter my struggle to find the right words, I must have managed, because his lips were on mine again, his hands in my hair. He kissed me until we were pressed against each other, weak and panting from lack of oxygen.
"Now it's my turn to ask you something," Edward said. His forehead was pressed to mine, our bodies swaying slightly to the soft music from the reception.
"Anything," I answered, drinking in his warmth, his scent, the unreality of where I was.
"These experiments, when you tried to find what you felt when I kissed you?" He kissed me again, long and slow, as if I'd forgotten in the last few minutes what his lips felt like.
"What about them?" I answered huskily, reaching up one shaking finger to trace along his warm, smooth lips.
"You'd better tell the lot of them that your experimenting days are over."
"Mmmhmm," he murmured against my cheek, kissing his way down my throat. "I promised myself if I ever managed to even come close to having a second chance with you, I wasn't going to leave alone long enough to give you any shot at rethinking that decision."
"We have a dilemma then," I said in as serious a voice as I could muster.
"We do?" he asked, and I thought I heard a note of unease in his voice.
"Mmm," I hummed in answer, rising on my toes, an impish grin spreading across my face. "I promised that if you ever got near me again, I'd kick you in the…"
I never got to finish. His mouth was on mine again. And mine was on his.
We still had loads to work out, conversations to have – I knew the tears weren't over and neither was the shouting. But none of that mattered. We'd make our way through it all – happy, sad, mad – and we'd make it through that together.
As it was always meant to be.