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Our Lives Unbound

Chapter Text

"So, what do you do?"

My gaze flits to another pair of eyes. Clear blue. Cold. There are flakes of mascara and strange purplish smears in creases that have been so desperately hidden away.

I want to run my hands along those creases, to take soap and water to hidden places and to let my lips hover long over the beginnings of crows feet.

I never do.

My hand tugs hard at hair that I probably should have washed, but my double-standards are exceeded only by my capacity for hypocrisy.

And I know it will be another one of those nights. A night when I'll go home alone to a prison of an apartment and a mirror covered in toothpaste and spit to see my hair standing up on one side, the only visible sign of the torture each of these encounters puts me through.

The torture I put myself through.

Shaking the ice and whiskey in my glass, I sigh again, avoiding the sight of the cold blue gaze and the dipping tongue. I try to remember that there are worse fates than blind dates in this large and lonely world.

Because the rings around my eyes and the near permanent state of arousal of my untouched cock remind me I've traveled down the road of isolation in this life, too.

#~~#~~#

For months now, I have been meeting this endless string of women, a blurring rush of diners and restaurants and coffee shops, and all the venues and all the girls have started to look the same.

After a lifetime of hovering in corners, keeping strictly to the walls in every aspect of my life, I had a breakdown, a realization of my need for comfort and for touch. And so I did what I always do when I am beyond my needs and my experience.

I called my brother.

He is now the the guardian and the keeper of my lonely nights, and as it is in so many other aspects of my life, ceding control to him was like an exhale, like a long-held breath finally finding its release. There is a web page, apparently, and a profile with a picture of my face that is charming and handsome, and that scarcely resembles me at all. I know he has concocted banal answers to even more banal questions, and that none of them belie the answers to the questions that would get to the heart of who I am.

Questions about exactly what sort of a sick, lonely fuck I happen to be.

Or, it would appear from the frequent recurrence of the question, what I do for a living.

He calls me each Thursday with the details about another engagement for the following day. Another brush with monotony meant to break up the infinite tedium of my endless days.

#~~#~~#

"So what do you do?"

The eyes are green tonight, but they have a strangeness to them. Contacts. Surely.

I want to take them out.

I run my fingers through my hair again and tug in a way I know I shouldn't.

Because this is always where things go wrong.

I look down, unable to stand the too-bright color of her eyes.

"I w-write," I mumble, the stutter I have spent thirty years trying to master recurring. As it always does.

The response is always the same and it's never enough. There are bubbly words and ponderings, questions about whether or not I write anything she might have read.

She hasn't. Why would she?

It's not as if the swirl of thoughts that only tumbles out of me in my not-quite-rhyming words would appear in the glossy pages of the magazines she professes to adore.

Then this particular girl even goes so far as try to turn my own inner turmoil about not being able to get the words that fall so freely from my hands to leave my mouth into a kink, implying less than subtly that perhaps my words are naughty.

Her too-long fingernails twist themselves around a straw wrapper, making it look like a restraint. I fixate on bubble-gum lips sucking softly at the hollow tube, and I know tonight I'll go home even harder than usual.

And as always, I'll go home longing for hands that are not my own.

But I'll touch myself all the same.

And when I come, it will be silently, and with shame.

#~~#~~#

Another Friday night passes me by.

Another pair of eyes and of matching sets of silverware, another glass of scotch sliding thickly between my lips.

A chaste goodbye at a door in the intricate dance of mutual rejection that repeats itself to the point where my body and nerves are stretched so taut I can scarcely stand it, my solitude wrapping even harder around my empty heart until I am choked, unable to escape or speak or breathe.

I don't even bother to remember the girls' names anymore.

And instead of making connection more difficult, the very anonymity of it makes the loneliness of these trysts with people with whom I have no spark just a little bit easier to bear when they inevitably end without contact or touch.

But just a little.

#~~#~~#

Another night.

Another pair of eyes.

"So what do you do?"

The eyes are brown tonight, the skin around them clean and pale. They're tired eyes. But they're real.

And that simple fact alone pulls me just an inch or two above the numb, the bitter edges of my untouched heart clawing at the cage of my ribs. Desperate for something.

For someone.

"I w-write."

Rose-red lips leap upward over teeth in ivory, parting to reveal just the tiniest edge of wet and pink and tongue. They're chapped lips, slightly torn on the one side where an incisor bites delicately into flesh.

And they're naked. Obscenely so, without a hint of pigment or gloss.

"Me, too."

I startle. "Oh?"

Surprise itself is a shock to me at this point in my life, and I am struck dumber than usual, my brain fogging with the exact same sorts of questions that leave me empty and dismissive when they are constantly asked of me.

But I want to ask them all anyway.

"Yeah," she says, those naked lips forming a wistful grin in teeth and confidence. "In fact, I was sure I would send you screaming," she whispers, as she leans in close, her brown eyes crinkling and conspiratorial. "I, um, I sort of channel people when I write them. And I was writing a very strange man tonight."

My intrigue and my cock both rise as she describes a thought process I'd thought was mine alone, her words and the blood-hot scent of her mouth wrapping around my mind and body equally as I struggle to remember this woman's name.

Betty.

Bekah.

No and no.

Bella.

Yes. Bella, it is.

"What sort of m-mman?" My chest rumbles when I speak, and I am clawing at the walls that surround my head as I seek communion in words.

And maybe, later, in skin.

"He's sort of … sort of a stalker-type. Very obsessive." There's a wet crackle to every 's' in the word obsessive, like a dark and tempting kiss.

How many nights I have longed for the simple seduction of a kiss.

Even a kiss made only of words.

"Malevolently so?"

She ponders, and there's a wrinkle between her brows. "More selfish, really. But if it served his purpose, he could be."

"And what p-purpose is that, Bella?"

She bites into a slice of bread, and the tearing motion of her teeth is more obscene than the most graphic of pornography.

A humming sound pulls me up to her eyes, and they are dark with laughter and sex and double-meanings.

"Why, Edward," she purrs. "Of course it's to get the girl."

#~~#~~#

At the end of the evening, I walk her to her door, and the fluttering touch of my hand against her elbow is a more tantalizing glance with intimacy than any I have known in months.

We pause, a key held softly between tiny fingers, and those warm eyes peering up through the longest, most naked of lashes.

It's the point in the evening where I always run.

But I don't this time, even though the roiling thoughts inside my head want nothing more.

My body – my skin wants nothing less. Nothing less than completion, perfect coupling and a world of pleasure in the dark comfort of the space between her thighs. My cock wants hands and lips and I am humming and alive.

And frozen.

Where I should be bold, I'm mute and shy, and I am cursing myself for having nothing more to offer than wordless grumbles and the shuffling of feet. It is all the worse, because for the first time in all these dark and needy months, I have finally found the answer to the question of what I could possibly even mean when I tell my brother I'm looking for more.

Awkward moments pass until we are well past the point I should either step in and take her mouth with my own or walk away into another night of loneliness in this infinite series, and I can feel the time slipping away, the window of my own reticence and my locked-up, locked-down head closing, and my fists ball up against the boiling sting of my own self- defeat.

Just when I think my chance is shot, though, my body turning away in the full knowledge and shame that I am about to fuck this up, she is suddenly there. And she is leaning closer.

Her breath is hot and wet, a glance of flushed flesh on the sizzling nerves of my cheek, a burning line being painted softly as she drags her mouth to my ear. I hear her rasping breath, my fists clenching.

"Kiss me."

It's a command and it's the only thing that could thaw me.

Hot fingers, buzzing and restless, unfurl to grasp at chestnut tresses, pulling her mouth from my ear. In so doing, I only earn the sharp twinge of her teeth, and it makes me growl.

Then I am falling. Lips and mouths and a secret taste of flesh as I obey. As I kiss. The wet muscle of her tongue tastes the salt-venom of my spit. I fall into the inferno of her lips, untroubled that this is our only point of connection, right up until her body is pressing into mine, soft curves fitting to hardened flesh, and we are so exposed in the shadow of her entryway.

I want her to take me, to strip me bare, and I am desperate for her to fuck me.

As if she can sense it, though, she chooses that very moment to pull away.

Our lips part wetly, her cool fingertips making a brushing line against the slickened corner of my lip.

"Perfect," she whispers, her hand still lingering. I feel like a petted animal, like this is a modicum of approval intended just to tame me.

And I lap it up.

She pulls my fingers from the tangle of her hair, kissing softly at the knuckles, and then she drops them.

The door is open before I can return to my senses, the key twisting with an eerily loud sound of metal on metal, her frame already just an instant from disappearing, and I need to know that she is real.

"B-Bella," I stutter, and again there are lips and a smile.

"Yes, Edward?"

"Mmmay I call you?"

She only makes me wait a moment as she eyes me up and down. I feel like meat beneath her stare, and I do not mind it as her teeth tear hungrily at the raw edge of her lip.

Teeth that I wish were sinking violently into the sinews of my body or marking the tender flesh between my hip and my cock.

"Of course."

I feel naked and ravaged as I lean deeply into the wall, watching the door as it finally clicks closed. My arousal is hot and hard, and I feel like I could come from the most casual of touches, from a breath really.

At that I imagine her lips, my body prone beneath hers as she hovers and whispers and puckers her lips to blow.

I palm myself, shifting the long line of my body only to feel eyes.

She is staring through the glass, her eyes wide and focused intently on my crotch.

Lips part. Tongue. Wet.

She mouths the word, "Perfect," again through the glass.

And then she winks.

And then she's gone.

And I'm left alone with my need and my own sad touch hovering hot above my cock.

Again.

Chapter Text

Another Friday night comes around, and with it the promise of another set of eyes. Another napkin and another glass.

Only this time, they will be eyes that I have seen before.

Wide brown eyes filled with promise and twinkling with intelligence. Eyes that seem to see through me instead of past me and my stuttering mess.

They are eyes that I have seen every night, the entire week long in my dreams.

Especially in the hours spent lying hot and lonely on my bed, my desperate arousal in my hands.

Stroking.

Needing.

Unfulfilled. Even when coming.

When it is finally time, I take the stairs down from my apartment with anticipation instead of dread.

And that, in itself, is a revelation.

As I drive, I think about the awkward rumblings in my stomach when I finally called her, the sweaty aches and my usual uncertainty about speaking on the phone only amplified by everything else.

I remember her voice.

And her laugh.

And her yes.

With that resounding sound echoing in my head, I pull my car up outside her apartment. I need to concentrate just to keep from crashing as I do, because there is too much need inside my hands, too much quivering want squeezing thickly at my chest.

She is there.

With hair the color of autumn after a storm, she stands in casual stillness against her entryway, her body both relaxed and poised. I can tell she sees me when the obscene line of her mouth tilts upward, mischief and mystery dallying equally in her eyes.

I open the door and slip from my seat, my feet making dull sounds against the pavement as I propel myself toward her side of the car, moving more smoothly than I would have expected to be able to, given my body's tortured response. The promise of connection, both physical and intellectual, has me throbbing and on edge, too much clumsiness in hands that long to touch as they reach feebly for the passenger's side door.

But then I am whirling, my body spun. She pins both my hands to the side of the car, my back arched against it and I am melting into the honeyed power of her breathing, gasping kiss.

"Bella," I moan, and I am rewarded with her tongue which begs for silence.

Which commands it.

And the thought of her commanding me to do anything makes me so fucking hard.

She pulls away with a wicked smirk, those brown eyes sparkling.

"Been waiting for that all week," she whispers, before rising up on tiptoes to kiss my nose, and I am utterly bewitched.

"Me, too," I pant, and it is with a foreign twitching of the muscles in my cheek as I widely smile.

#~~#~~#

Over the course of the evening, she talks about nothing and everything. What might have been banal details when explained by a stranger with bubble gum lips become the focus of my being when they are offered by Bella. She tells me about her favorite color and her family and the stories that pour freely from her hands.

I drink it all up, nodding and stuttering, asking questions where I can and trying desperately not to freeze up with self-conscious indecision when she reciprocates the act, posing queries of her own. Beside the smooth richness of her voice, offered generously and without reservation, my own twitching, stilted words sound all the worse, and were it not for her smile, I would have crumpled in shame and run by now.

If my own quiet twitching and my silences annoy her, she does not betray that feeling, her voice more than compensating for my lack of one through our entrees and on into dessert.

When she orders for us, requesting one cake and two spoons, I cock an eyebrow, but she is warmly dismissive.

"You know you want some," she says.

I do.

"What if I'd ww-wanted my own?" I manage to stammer, and she laughs.

"You're a big boy." She is speaking over the rim of her glass, her tongue darting out to touch the rim. "You can share."

And I can.

Even though there are two spoons, she takes them both, and with a sure hand and a devilish smile she feeds me, giving me only as much as she sees fit.

I lick up every crumb.

With my eyes, I tell her that I would gratefully devour whatever she would give.

#~~#~~#

We walk the pier that night, and she is a vision with the sea breeze ruffling wildly through her hair. Slowly, so gradually, she begins to turn the tables, asking more and more probing questions, until eventually I begin to push past my stuttering and through the iron locks around my head.

I tell her about my brother and his perfect life and wife. About my parents who love each other and who tried to love me.

But as an object of love I have always failed.

Even with the people who gave birth to me.

"I'm sure they miss you," she breathes, after I explain that years have passed since we have spoken more than casually, and that my brother only calls to tell me he's set me up on another date.

I shrug, because this is hard to talk about.

I push away the people who would get too close to me, at the same time that I wish they would only hold me closer.

It's simply what I do.

As if she senses all the ways I am inclined to push, it is at that moment that she reaches for my hand.

With it, she pulls me toward her.

For once, I can't run or push, for I am held too tightly within her grasp.

And her grasp, while terrifying, feels like safety.

#~~#~~#

Pulling up in front of her apartment, I am drained and full, glowing and satisfied and basking in connection. Neurons fire across long-separated synapses, endeavoring to process what it means to speak to another human being this way. Skin cells ripple, near-choking with the devastating pleasure of even a simple willing touch.

And yet I still want more.

Trying to hold back a desperate plea for her to invite me up and take my body and my need to her bed, I turn in my seat to find her already there. She is closeness and hot breath, brown eyes telling me exactly what she has already decided to do without even a hint of an intention to request permission.

Bridging the space between us, I feel another person's hands in the wreck that is my hair, scratching roughly at my scalp as plump lips settle on my own, teeth ripping at imperfect flesh, and I groan. Her body settles over mine, warm thighs on either side of my lonesome hips, her chest a pressure that pushes all the air out of my lungs and replaces it with lust and uncertainty.

We are twisting and grappling in the driver's seat of my car, elbows bumping and my knees pinned by the gas pedal and the steering wheel. I wonder briefly if she is an exhibitionist, choosing to all but mount me first in her doorway and now in the street, but I decide she can have me wherever she wants me so long as she keeps touching me.

And as long as she knows what she's doing.

"God, Bella, are you ... d-do you … here?" I ask in a haze between pulsing kisses.

She slides her mouth to my ear, burning across my jaw.

"You don't want me," she hisses, her hips lifting up and breaking contact with my cock and I let loose a tortured plea of a snarl.

It's not a question. Not some moment of insecurity or self-doubt.

It's a challenge.

It's her calling me out.

"I w-want you." The weakness of my voice disgusts me. Sniveling. Whimpering.

"Tell me," she breathes.

And then she bites me.

"Fuck," I pant, my hips lifting up into her, a barely glancing touch against the space between her thighs before she pulls away even more, her hands hard and holding the tops of my legs down.

"Tell me."

"I want you," I rasp. "Ssso fucking b-bad."

The long lick down the tendon of my neck makes me spasm.

"More."

I swallow and close my eyes, but her hand is beneath my chin, nails gripping at flesh and forcing my gaze to hers. A shiver ripples through my overheated body and my too-tense nerves and I'm so hard for her, fucking aching, and I don't know if I've ever wanted anything so badly.

Especially because I know in the frustrated, disappointed core of my heart that I can't have it.

That she won't let me unless I become something I'm not.

"W-words," I mumble, my gaze drifting to the obvious line of my erection pushing hard and painfully against my jeans. "I c-c-c-can't."

Her eyes are warm.

"You can."

I gulp. I pause.

I throb.

My parched lips part and I lick at them, as if that moisture will lubricate my words.

Or her sex.

"Fuck," I curse again, pushing her hand away and letting my forehead fall to the soft heaven of her chest as I try to talk. Try and fail. Try and fail.

Failure.

Try.

"I w-want you," I mumble into her breast, softness and warmth and she's so, so close. I want to use the tender flesh as a gag, to keep my mind and body safe from the disaster that is my speech.

But I can't.

She hasn't told me yet that I can.

"How?" she breathes.

"I want - I want to b-be inside you," I start again, cringing against my own feeble rush, but she moans, her breath so hot in my ear and I try to be bold, but I'm still a stammering, stuttering mess. "I wwwant you to fuck me and t-t-take me. To touch me. I want to touch you and fuck you, and I'm scared you w-won't even want to k-kiss me now."

My eyes are clenched closed and I'm breathing hard, fucking terrified and raw, and I realize all at once I've said far too much.

"Edward." There's pressure at my neck again. Fingertips forcing me up and I can barely look to see her and to know she's disappointed or disgusted by me. She whispers softly then, "Edward, I will."

And she does.

Her lips are hot and insistent, her hand reassuring as it moves up from my thigh to my chest. When we part and I finally meet her eyes, they're soft and sweet, the angry challenge gone, as if she knows she's pushed me plenty far. And suddenly she's pulling instead, pulling me into her arms and mouth and I can only imagine her pulling me into the tight heaven of her body and keeping me and making it all alright.

"I told you," she whispers into my mouth. "I told you that you could tell me. And it makes me so fucking hot."

I groan, a harsh and needy sound, and it's as much from her approval as from the pressure of her hips settling back on my cock and the wet sound of her slipping lips.

"Touch me," she finally whimpers against my skin, kissing a hot line toward my ear. Again there's an edge to it that tells me I have no choice, and I love it. I love her taking all the choice from me and pulling me from the prison of my head.

"Where?"

Her hands reply, taking mine and finding her hip and her rib beneath her breast. She presses herself hard into the aching line of my cock at the same time that she ghosts my hand over the fullness of her, pleasure rocking through me.

"Here."

She rubs the backs of my knuckles over the tips of her tits, grinding down harder on me as she starts making the most obscenely perfect sounds, all moans and breaths and want, and I wonder if she needs this as badly as I do.

"Do you like this, pet?"

"God, yes," I manage, as I pull my fingers from her breast to clasp her hand in mine, pressing both to the beating space above her heart.

She pushes at me frantically, moving harder and faster and I feel myself edging so close to something, to the promise of release and elation and something that will feel perfect after the years of succumbing to the shame of my own empty hand.

"Do you like that better?"

My head falls backward as she intensifies the pressure and I know I'm only a few short motions of her hips away from coming, and I want to give in.

"Yes."

"Do you want to come?"

"God, Bbbbella. Yes, yes, so badly."

"Let me hear you," is all she says, and I feel her teeth bury themselves deeply into my neck. When I realize she's marking me, it's over, and I give up and give in, my fingers squeezing hers so tightly as I let the fire rush through me, pulsing and perfection, and instead of empty I feel full, and it's staggering.

I only realize I'm screaming with the sheer pleasure of this high, obeying her request, when she starts affirming, whispering "Yes" and "More" and "Louder" into my ear, and I give her everything.

Everything.

When the fog of orgasm fades, the sticky wet of it seeping through my boxers and into my jeans, I let my head hang forward, my lips meeting the swell of flesh above her breast. It takes me a moment to realize she's still moaning, her breaths growing harder, and the rocking against my spent cock is almost uncomfortable, but fuck if I'm going to ask her to stop.

I lean back and my eyes meet her hungry ones, her bottom lip between her teeth now and her face flushed and I have never seen anything so sexy as this girl when she's about to come.

"Let me t-touch you," I beg, and she nods, but instead of leading the hand that she is still gripping to her sex, she takes it once more to her breast, pushing fabric and cup away to let me feel the creamy bare perfection of it, and even spent, I am so turned on.

"Here," she moans, pinching at the tip with my thumb and forefinger, and I twist at the skin on my own as she hums.

She lets go of my hand then and places her fingers at my mouth. I part my lips, letting her press forward and lapping at her with my tongue.

"Good boy."

I groan around her flesh, looking up into glinting eyes and a sexy, smirking smile. She pulls her hand from my mouth, only to replace it with her own wet lips and we kiss long and hard, and I'm lost.

Until I feel movement against my hip.

I break away slightly to look down, her hand disappearing into the waistband of her jeans, the flexing of her fingers clear beneath the fabric as she touches herself.

Before I can begin to truly stare, her other hand is at my chin, grasping roughly and pulling me back to her eyes as she sits back and rubs and flexes against my thigh. She holds my gaze intensely, as if daring me to look down to where I know her hand is dancing across slick, hot flesh. Unable to tear myself away, I just pull harder at her breast and breathe her name.

She responds with mine, a hard gasp that sounds like pleasure and need. When she tenses, it's with her eyes widening instead of closing, and the whole time that she is coming, a rain of obscenities falling from her perfect lips, she is staring at me, holding me.

And I have never seen anything so erotic in my life.

When she is done, she places her hand once more just an inch or two from my mouth, the scent of sex filling my nose, and it's her sex, and I want it. Desperately.

"Please," I beg, and her eyes are dancing, a teasing smile flirting at the edges of her face as she lowers her hand to my mouth, sliding slick wet Bella across my lips, watching as I lap at it greedily before sucking her fingers into my mouth.

"You want to lick it all up next time?" she whispers, and I groan, the image of her pussy hovering over my mouth almost enough to make me hard all over again. I nod, too entranced with her taste and with the promise of more to come to speak.

She pulls her fingers from my mouth and smirks. "You'd better earn it then."

Before I can stop her, she's opening the car door and stumbling out, more graceful than I would have been able to be given my level of dishevelment and satiation.

But just because it's my first non-masturbatory orgasm in years doesn't mean it's hers, and my nervous clumsiness has only been matched so far by her calm certainty.

I look up at her dumbly, the only sign of our activities being her rough hair and swollen lips, tilting upward wickedly.

"Next Friday," she half-growls, pressing one finger to my cheek and then my lips like a kiss goodnight as she rakes her eyes up from my knees to my eyes. "And wear something … nice."

Again I'm mute, nodding roughly and pulling her hand to kiss gently at the palm. When she trails her fingers across my jaw, it feels like she's petting me, and again I don't mind, especially when she then traces the pads of them down my shoulder and arm, our hands lingering long entwined.

"Goodnight, Bella," I finally whisper as her fingertips slip away, and I am missing her touch already.

She smiles and turns and waves over her shoulder. I watch every step she takes to her door, the movement of her hips and ass enrapturing.

But for once I don't feel empty or lonely when she's gone.

Chapter Text

The suit jacket feels all wrong. Stiff collars and scratchy fabric, and even though I know the cut of it is right, there is nothing about it that does not feel awkward.

Like I am stuffing myself into a mismatched and sticky skin.

Still pulling at the hem of the jacket, I ring the bell for her apartment, a trickle of sweat on the super-heated flesh at the base of my neck, and my mind is going in every possible direction. Standing there and shifting relentlessly from one foot to another, I see the infinite array of options, the myriad possibilities for how I am destined to fuck this up. At just the moment when I am prepared to give myself over to my own imminent self-destruction, though, she appears, a vision through glass floating down stairs on dainty slippers, and all I can see is skin and legs and chest.

And eyes.

Such beautiful eyes.

Once the door is unlatched, I reach for it, holding it open as Bella smiles and moves past. Glad for the occupation, I continue to hold it a beat too long as I try to shift my erection in my pants without being seen. But she catches me, amusement sparkling in wide eyes and a smirk revealing glinting teeth.

I drop my hand, feeling heat in my face as I direct my eyes to the ground, but she won't let me.

Her lips are soft against mine as she drags my face to hers, a kiss that is sweetness and nothing more, until her hand sneaks beneath my jacket to brush against me and I stifle a long moan. "All for me?" she mutters against my lips before grasping the length more firmly.

"Yours," I agree. We kiss for another moment, more roughly now as she squeezes me and I let my hand drift to the perfect skin between her shoulder blades, humming approval at the open expanse of back above her dress.

"You look b-beautiful," I whisper against her wet lips, and she smiles before stepping away, grasping softly at my hand.

She is looking down and away as she mutters, "You look pretty damn good, too."

#~~#~~#

I manage to fight back the jealousy roiling hot in my stomach when Bella's lips hover close to the taxi driver's ear, giving him an address so quietly that I have no possible way to hear. I'm jealous of her mouth and jealous of his hands upon the steering wheel, the one place I have ever placed my hands where I have felt like they have been in control. She catches my pout as she sinks back into the seat and rolls her eyes, which only makes me more nervous and annoyed, as she assures me once more that it will be better if I'm not in a position of expecting to be able to drive myself home. Just as I'm about to argue, I'm distracted, though, soothed by with soft hands and softer lips, and we barely come up for air the entire time the cab is driving.

And my long-untouched body feels so alive.

When we stop at a nondescript street corner, Bella finally pulls away, running one fingertip across my lips, and staring at me more intensely than she has so far. I'm paralyzed in her gaze, wondering if my sense that she sees through me is really true, and if it is possible that she likes what she sees, when all I have ever felt is disgust.

Something in her gaze tells me that she does.

And it both excites and terrifies me.

The sound of the cab driver clearing his throat breaks the spell, and before I can even reach for my wallet, Bella already has the bills in her hand, slipping them through the window as she thanks the driver and moves for the door. I want to get it for her, but I'm too slow, cursing myself as I fumble, cool air swirling in through the open door that belies my failure.

And then she's standing there, one hand resting on the curve of her hip, staring expectantly at me.

And what could I possibly do but follow?

She places her hand in mine as we walk toward what I slowly recognize as a club, even though I have not been to one in years. We bypass the line, and even as she is doing things with her fingers over the rough surfaces of my own that make my body stiffen, she is whispering into a burly man's ear, and much like me he cannot resist her. A velvet rope is lifted, a door opened, and then everything is darkness and light and sound.

"Come with me."

With my head ducked close enough to hers that I can hear when she shouts over the music, I place my other hand on the swell of her hip, feeling the fabric bunch slightly in my overeager grip. Somehow, she finds a way through the crush of people, moving smoothly when I am all uncertainty and strained movements, only stopping when we arrive at a little booth populated by beautiful people.

She introduces me, but I don't hear a word, sliding in beside her along the deep leather seat, and she is so close and feels so good. A waiter approaches, but I barely notice, my eyes lost in the smooth expanse of flesh that is her chest, remembering how it tastes and hoping I may yet get to taste it again. Undeterred, she orders something fruity for herself and my favorite scotch for me.

There is conversation, and I follow it the best I can with Bella leaning her entire body into my side, answering the requisite questions about what I do, and even though I want to roll my eyes at the understanding nods, I manage not to. We drink and sometimes there is laughter, but I don't entirely get the jokes, understanding quickly that this is a tight-knit and long-standing group, with a history that is not my own.

Every time I stiffen up, though, Bella is right there, warm hands dancing over the tense set of my jaw or against my chest, quick kisses on my neck below my ear bringing on a fire that burns so much anxiety in its wake.

"Dance with me."

My body is warm and my head fuzzy, my jacket long gone and tossed over the side of the booth, and I already know I've had too much to drink to be able to trust myself or my continual lack of words.

But not quite enough to know how to move.

Not the way that Bella moves.

"I - I d-don't -"

"Yes, you do," she answers firmly, warm eyes holding mine and her finger running teasingly down my ear before a hand settles on my chest to push.

With so much reluctance, I finally stand, feeling her at my side and leading me deep into the throng.

"Like this."

Her hips are attached to mine, naked arms around my shoulders, hot lips at my cheek as she pulls me down to her, and our lips dance more easily than our bodies, but before long I know that they are dancing, too. With gentle movements, she guides my leg between hers and I can feel the heat of her sex against my thigh, my arousal intense to the point of painful as her hand makes a sweeping arch from my knee to my shoulder and into my hair.

"Just dance. Just feel."

"I'mmm t-trying," I breathe as my hands dig and tighten, silky dress and satin flesh both giving to my kneading as she purrs.

"Don't," she whispers. Her hand covers my eyes as she kisses wetly to my ear. "Don't try."

And then she's kissing me again.

For what feels like hours, we stay like that, the music changing in tempo and intensity, and every time it shifts, she helps my tense hips and knees find the rhythm that she desires, her body drawing even closer until we are all but fucking on the dance floor. I draw her skirt up further, needing skin and touch, and she moans.

"Is this how you want it tonight?" She nibbles at my ear as my head is sagging backward, a faint scratch of a nail against the pulse point of my neck. In a movement too fast for my sluggish brain to catch, she turns, and my pants where she has been grinding against my thigh are so damp that I have to shudder, right until she is back, all flesh and warmth and my hard-on pressing thickly into the cleft of her ass. All I can see is the swell of her breast and the exaggerated length of her neck as she turns and twists, whispering wetly, "Or like this? From behind me?"

My hands wrap around her shoulder and her waist as I rub myself into her in a surge of feeling, and I'm convinced that I could come from her command, right here, just like last time, pathetically in my pants.

"Every way," I mumble without stuttering, as I find her lips. "Every single way you'll let me h-have you."

I taste her whisper against my tongue as her arm lifts up, fingernails grasping at my hair as I moan.

"Perfect."

And then we're moving.

My jacket is back on my arms, beautiful people smiling knowingly, and all I can see and feel and taste is Bella, and I want so much more. But I don't know if I can have it.

If I've earned it.

The thought only really strikes me as the cool air outside is slapping sobriety into too-flushed cheeks, but I am too drunk and I can't really think. A number keeps flashing as Bella flags down another cab, and I am twisting my already-tortured hair.

Three.

Three.

Third.

Third date.

There's panic as I remember what third dates are supposed to entail, the memory of Bella's dance-floor foreplay already wreaking havoc with my nerves and the electric line of my throbbing need as I gulp and fight to breathe. Her touches in the back seat of the cab are no help this time, setting me even further on edge and keeping me so fucking hard, and it's been so long since I've been with a woman.

And all but a handful of my few sexual experiences have been desperate, drunken mistakes.

And I don't want to be a mistake to her.

When the cab finally stops, her hand is warm against my lap.

"Come up," she whispers huskily in my ear, and the verb is so reminiscent of the edge I am so close to that I have to shut my eyes to keep control. "Come upstairs with me."

"We're d-d-d-drunk," I slur, but she shakes her head.

"You are, Edward. I'm not."

"You're nnnnot?"

She shakes her head and licks my neck. "I'm … happy, mind you," she rasps, fingernails teasing at the untucked edges of my shirt before curling my tie around her fist. How did my shirt get untucked? "But not drunk. So don't let that stop you."

"Stttop me?" I mumble dumbly.

"Stop you from coming upstairs with me." Her eyes are all intensity and intentionality. "Because I'll remember this. And I won't regret it."

We're on the sidewalk before I can think to protest more.

And with my lips and hands and feet I tell her yes.

#~~#~~#

When we get upstairs, we don't have sex.

Not right away, at least.

Although I am all nerves and gristle and the steady pulse of blood in the head of my cock, she is sweetness and softly lit rooms and a glass of water and Advil. After sitting me on her couch, she lifts an arm above her head to set a row of pastel-colored paper lanterns aglow, and then she is half-reclined and leaning into me, our hands entwined. With part of my still-swimming mind drifting along to the tones of whatever music she's put on, I struggle just to focus on the feel of hair beneath my hands and the way her whole body moves with my chest as it rises and falls.

I can't remember ever feeling so comfortable and warm. Her voice registers as a quiet hum as my eyes close.

And I gently fall asleep with her sighing contentedly in my arms.

#~~#~~#

I come to in the darkness, and it is a startle to my faintly pounding head to find that I am alone. But still in her home.

"Bella?" I growl, and my hand goes to my head as I try to sit.

"Shh."

My eye is drawn to a rectangle of bright white in the corner of the room, blinking until my eyes can focus to find her in near-perfect silhouette. The dress that nearly drove me mad is gone, but it has been replaced by something worse. A black tank top with a crackling print of a broken heart and no bra. Red cotton underwear with a tiny star.

The silhouette grows larger as she approaches, and, sober now, I am back to a state of painful self-awareness - flashes of her body moving hotly across my vision and the dim echo of the music from the club still ringing in my ears. Standing just before me, she extends a tiny hand to ruffle smoothly through my hair, drawing my cheek to her hip, and I place my hand tentatively on the pale expanse of her thigh. I breeze my fingers across it over and over as she sighs, and my heart and mind begin to race. I grip harder, unsure if I should stay or go, and wondering desperately what it is she wants me to do.

With one finger at my jaw, she lifts my gaze, my chin resting gently on the barely-there swell of belly, and she's so soft. I stare upward, still fighting with all the thoughts that refuse to go away even as her hand is making circles across my face.

"My roommate is home," she says in a hushed whisper. "So we have to be quiet. Can you be quiet, Edward?"

There are few things I excel at more.

Usually.

I nod and let my hand drift up, the edges of my nails toying at the hem of her top to trace over soft skin. "Good," she breathes, backing away. When I am left sitting dumb-founded on the couch, she offers a hand. And finally, gulping, I take it.

Padding silently over the hardwood floors, she leads me to an open door, where the same paper lanterns from the living room cast everything in a hazy glow. Her scent is even more intense in here, and I nearly stagger as she leads me to the side, pushing the door closed with a quiet click before turning to face me. Feeling naked beneath her gaze, I squirm. There is nothing to lean against and nothing to hide behind. Just me.

Me and Bella.

In her bedroom.

My throat is tight and my chest tighter as she closes the distance, my eyes enraptured and my mind at war. Images of my own fumbling inadequacy push themselves through my thoughts, memories of so many nights alone and hot shame at lonely orgasms and too-quick coming and women too polite to express disgust. I think of the two women I've fucked more than once and of near-disasters with condoms and how I never know what to do when their bodies are below me.

I do not know that my eyes are closed or that I have all but stopped breathing until hands settle on either side of my face.

"Stop thinking," she breathes, and she smells so good. "Come back to me."

I open my eyes to soft brown ones, and in them lie equal measures of concern and lust.

"There you are," she whispers as she smiles. And I can't help but smile in return, even as my nerves make my speech all but unintelligible.

"M-my thoughts. I get l-l-llllost sometimes."

"I know. Which is why I'm not going to let you."

"You're nnnot?"

"Uhn-uh." I watch her teeth bite into tender lip, my body hardening as she steps in closer. "No thinking, Edward."

"Nnnone?"

"None."

The backs of my knees are hitting the foot of her bed, and then she's pushing me down. I'm glad I'm sober as she arranges herself around my hips, those maddening red underwear settling over the dark grey of my trousers and the long line of my awakening arousal.

"Here," she urges, shifting me until I lay fully spread out with my head on her pillow before she leans down to untie my shoes. When my feet are bare she places closed-mouth kisses on the tops of each one, and I suck in a harsh breath. Warm hands sweep from ankles over knees to thighs, lingering for a moment on the place I remember was left damp with the silky wetness of her sex when she ground on me, our bodies dancing in a way that mine has never done before.

We're dancing still.

She kisses right there, and then at my hip, little fingers pulling at buttons as she asks with her eyes if this is OK. It's all I can do to nod as her hand moves over my stomach and chest, skin that hasn't been touched in years feeling a fiery flush with every glancing touch. I stifle a groan as my cock pulses, and she almost laughs. For a moment I worry she's laughing at my body, too skinny and too sensitive to such tiny movements of skin on lonely flesh. But she isn't.

"Has anyone ever told you that you're sexy?" she breathes into the patch of sparse hair on my chest and I shake my head. Her lips press over my heart as she climbs up my body, one soft glance of her hips over my length almost ruining me, but then her heat is gone from there, and she's pulling at fabric until I rise and my upper body is bare. "You are. So sexy. From the first time I saw you, I wanted you."

I grab for her hips and groan too loudly and her mouth is on mine, shushing and kissing and it's so erotic and intense as her sex settles too high on my stomach. And even through those little red briefs, she's wet.

"Shhh," she whispers again, long nails tracing arcs over my side and then moving to fiddle at my neck. I'm embarrassed to find my tie still there, and I place my hands over hers, but she grabs them, finishing her work at untying even as she is lifting them and placing them high above my head. Again my mind is whirring, wondering what she's doing and what I should be doing and if I will be good for her.

"Don't think," she growls. "Don't think. Don't move. Just feel." The silk of the tie is between her hand and mine now, and I am one second too late in realizing what she is doing, already bound before I can ask her to stop.

Not that I ever, ever would.

My heart shudders and my cock is set to burst. It's so hot to have her doing this, her hips moving even higher as they straddle my chest, full breasts hovering inches above my mouth as she secures the ends of the tie to her headboard.

"Too tight?"

"Nn-n-n-o," I groan, and it's an embarrassing sound. "Just right."

"Good."

"So good."

Her body lifts then, removing all contact from mine. There's nothing left except a sucking, biting sensation on the shell of my ear, her words slipping wetly past her tongue. "You know why it's good don't you?"

I do and yet I don't, my head shaking numbly.

And then I shiver sharply at her exhale.

"Because it means that I can do whatever I want with you."

Chapter Text

There's a moment of clarity as Bella sucks her way down my body. With bound hands, I watch her, every inch she passes over tensing with a white hot need, sensation blooming in nerves that haven't known touch or lips in lonely years. Breathing hard, I give in and give way, all my anxieties slipping back until there is blissful quiet and calm and just the rushing of silence and slick sucking in my ears.

And for all that I am a wreck of tingling want, my arousal so hot and hard, in that moment there is nothing but peace, sweet relief in the act of letting go and letting myself be whatever it is she needs.

Especially when what she needs seems to be me.

Graceful fingers make firm traces over the light lines of muscle on my chest, dipping with just the slightest edge of a nail into the defined spaces between abs as her full lips close over the arch of my hip. Scraping across the skin draped hot across that bone, she breathes across me as her palm dips lower, until finally she is touching me where I need her to be.

"B-Bella," I rasp, my eyes closing and head tilting back until I am met with a gentle slap across my thigh.

"Eyes here," she whispers, and when I look back down, she is staring at me, even as her lips close over the clothed tip of my cock. In her eyes, there is a question and a promise, a thin crack in the solid veneer that forms her control over me as she waits for a response. Some reaction on my part. Painfully turned on by her tone and even her chastisement, I simply gulp and nod, the warmth of her breath through my pants making me even harder as I struggle to keep my focus.

Softer now, she whispers, "Look at me. Just me."

Again, I nod, straining to keep my eyes trained on her when they are so desperate to close.

"You want this?" she asks quietly. "You'll tell me if you don't?"

"Yes," I breathe, "Just d-don't stttop." I am awash in pleasure when she smiles, her warm hand finally pressing over me, the sensation sublime as a look of determination and quiet confidence settles back down over her face. As she makes the first few, firm strokes, her other hand moves smoothly over button and zipper until I am released for her, cold air on searing skin and freedom from restriction as my erection slaps naked against my stomach. It is dripping, slick and desperate with need, and I groan deeply just to feel her breathe across the dampness at the tip.

"Tell me what you want, pet."

I know this trick from last time, and I know that she will push me. "W-w-w-wwwwhatever you want to g-give me."

There's another slap across the now bare skin along my thigh, and I pulse even at the sting.

"Your mmmmouth," I almost cry. "I w-want your mouth. On me. Fuck."

Her hand pulses on my cock, slickness spreading over the head and shaft, hot fingers and a flick of her thumb where I am so desperate and swollen. "Quiet," she warns, and then I am enveloped in hot and wet, teeth teasing at such sensitive skin, and I am almost carried away. I try to obey her every instruction, training my eyes steadily at the top of her head and trying to keep control over all the sounds that threaten slip out of me, but when I feel the swallowing motion of her throat, I tense and speak out loud, words of nonsense and need bubbling and breaking.

At the first noise to pass my blistering lips, she reacts. As quickly as it descended, her mouth pulls off of me and I am groaning with still-pulsing desire, the hard edge of climax almost cresting, but I am still left wanting, her hand squeezing painfully while the other pinches hard at my inner thigh. "I said quiet." Her tone is admonishment and disappointment, and for all that it is embarrassing, it leaves me even hotter and harder than I was before.

She stands and walks away, and I follow her with my eyes, feeling too self-conscious to speak or beg or ask her why, but then she starts to strip. My eyes widen at lush curves, beautiful flesh. A firm ass and full tits, and then she bends, her back to me and I can actually see the slick, wet pink of her lips with her thighs wide and spread.

"You want this?" she whispers, staring back at me from over the curve of her shoulder, two fingers drifting up to tease gently at her clit. And I do. I want to do that. To touch and taste her and make her feel the way she makes me feel.

I nod violently and beg, "Yes," without hardly making a sound.

Naked she stands, approaching so slowly, a sway of soft hips with every step, and I am drawn to the single patch of dark brown hair at the very apex of her pussy, gazing at the sight of smooth skin all around it. Her hand is harsh beneath my chin when she tips my face away from the sight of her liquid sex as she straddles my chest again, the fingers of her other hand still lingering at that perfect, soft flesh as I shift to stare into intense, glazed eyes.

"This feels good," she whispers, the nails of her one hand raking softly over the skin at the edge of my jaw before scratching at scalp, her fingers roughly twisting with my hair as I squeak out my surprise and my delight. And the entire time, I am obsessed with the knowledge that she's still touching herself.

"Llllet m-me," I whimper, my body straining. My cock twitches with the knowledge that were she to shift back by just a few short inches, she could sink down onto me, taking me inside her, my mind stalling as I try to imagine how hot it would be. Even the heat of her from where she is seems almost overwhelming. Dizzying.

Her mouth is a smirking, lilting line, radiating with that mischief I saw in her even back at her curb, and it makes me so fucking hard to see her play with me. "You think you can do better? You think you know my pussy better than I do, even though I touch it every day?"

"Lllet me," I insist, and it's all I can say, my eyes holding to hers as steadily as I can mange to with her hovering over me this way. "Let me lllearn."

"I don't know," she says slowly, wet noises still resonating from her hand at her sex. "Have you earned it?"

"I wwwill," I promise, straining at the silk of my tie and at the wooden slats she has secured me between. "Please."

"Just a taste," she offers, and I murmur my thanks, watching the lusty expression on her face, the plush surface of her lip as it disappears under ivory teeth. Her thighs squeeze my naked chest, her body inching closer until she has to shift to place her knees to either side of my head. Slowly, so slowly, she swipes her sex over my chin, making it wet, and I push up to try to circle the point of it at her clit as she moans, soft and low. "I love your skin," she whispers. "Your lips."

She's over me then, finally, lowering steaming flesh and girl to my mouth, the hot scent of her filling my lungs and making my eyes roll back in my head. Desperate for her pleasure now, I part my lips, my neck shifting awkwardly to try to reach as I graze her with my teeth and she sighs.

"That's good, pet," she urges as I ease my lips over the silky nub of her clit, my tongue tasting, mouth sucking, and I lick up into the heart of her as my lips are spread out slowly under needy, pressing flesh. My upper arms are pushed flush against my ears as she forces her body even further up, and I submerge into an underwater world where her moans are muted and distant, my mouth filled with liquid and my lungs with her scent until I have to breathe through my nose as she rocks over me. It occurs to me as I lick harder that she's using my mouth and my body, and it makes my own need even stronger, a softly rumbling groan fanning out over her pussy lips as she grinds into me, my cock so weeping and hard where it lies against my belly, and I need her to touch me.

With my lips and tongue, I beg, pleading beneath my breath for her to come and for her to sink down onto me and for her to let me feel what it's like to have my dick encased in the heaven of her pussy, vibrations moving through my lips and into her as she eases around and over me.

"Good boy," she whispers again, and it makes me twitch. "Such a good boy." Her whole body leans over me, more and more pressure until it's almost difficult to breathe, and I am choking, swimming in her scent and taste and her honey all over my face, gasping desperately at slick flesh, and then she is pulsing, her body shaking. "Edward. Edward, yes. Yes, eat me," she groans above me and I comply, licking fiercely even as darkness threatens the edges of my vision and I can't breathe.

When she's spent, she lifts up slightly until I can pull in a rasping, shuddering breath, but I'm still surrounded by her, the very air saturated with her sex and her scent. I feel the light tickling of her fingertips playing gently at the tie around my wrists. With wonder, I move my hands, surprised that they aren't numb, but if anything they just feel more sensitive as I reach up to try my best to stroke her skin. Soft fingers continue to tease at the bindings of the tie as she lowers herself down, her sex hovering just above my screaming cock and her lips at my lips, and I know that she can taste herself when she kisses me.

She lifts her face, and for just an instant she's gazing at me so softly.

"You still OK?" she asks quietly, and it's with that same softness in her voice that we started the evening with, the domineering edge she's held as she's been taking me fading. Faltering. And I know that I'm free to ask her to let me go.

I don't, though.

I stare at her and nod, but my mind is incapable of coming up with anything other than, "Please," as my hips rock toward hers almost imperceptibly. I whisper it calmly, without pause or hesitation, no stutter keeping her from my meaning as my mind is sinking even deeper into a space where I am at her mercy completely.

"Please. Please. Please." I whisper it again and again into her lungs, my hips circling without leaving the mattress, without trying to touch myself to her for all that there is nothing I want more that to feel my body taken, slick and perfect inside of her. "Please." I lave over her neck and face and anything else I can reach with my mouth, sucking and spreading her liquid across her skin with my tongue, panting into her ear when she lowers her face down closer to me.

"Please." It's a murmur now, an intensity of feeling and need that surpasses anything I have felt in my thirty years. There's been nothing, absolutely nothing I have ever wanted so badly.

And then it's mine.

"Shhhh," she whispers as she kisses me, plump lips, soft and wet and then heat. So much heat. Inch by inch, her pussy sinks down onto me, taking me, and every step of it is a long, slow climb into a level of ecstasy I have never known as the warm haven of her body surrounds me. I hiss and moan, and all of it silently, bucking up and still letting her ride me, our hands entwined above my head and her breath in my ear, our chests aligned and her hips moving so slowly over me as she takes me again and again and again.

"Yes," she murmurs into my breath, our mouths twisting and tangling, but I'm letting her win. I want her to. "Like this," she whispers as she slides a hand down my naked side to grasp at my hip, giving a gentle tug to show me how she wants me to push into her, and it's so much more intense this way, things building without my leave and I can't seem to focus on anything but what it's like to move inside her and to have her moving over me.

"I c-can't," I rasp, my head shaking, and it's all too good for words even. "I have to."

"Wait," she whispers, thrusting down harder on me, grinding with each downstroke as her palm against my ass keeps my own rocking movements into her short and steady. "Just wait."

Our mouths move apart, hovering now as her forehead pushes hard into mine, our eyes staring intently.

"Gonna make it so good for you, Edward."

I stifle another groan and fight to keep my eyes open and my still-building orgasm at bay.

"T-t-t-ttttoo long," I protest. "It's been too lllong." I gulp and close my eyes against the vision of her body, naked and sweaty and rising over me again and again, but I can't block it out for long. Her fingers squeeze mine painfully as the muscles in her pussy flex around me.

"Here, Edward. You're here with me."

She devours the tortured sound coming out of my mouth with her own, pulling it into her the way she's pulling my body into her own.

"Please," I whisper again, staring up into eyes that are screaming even though they are silent.

"Wait."

For three or four more long, hard strokes of her wet embrace passing over my throbbing cock, she tortures me.

But it's so glorious when she's done with me.

"I'm coming. I'm coming so hard for you," she breathes, staring at me with an intensity that is both frightening and arousing, and then it doesn't even matter any more, because I'm exploding. All the repression and the stress of holding back evaporate with the first hard clench of her pussy around me, and even from beneath her, I begin pounding, focusing on my own hot pleasure, desperate and dirty, and I come in a hot stream, emptying myself into her endlessly.

And the whole time I keep staring at her, as over and over I mouth her name.

#~~#~~#

There are hard, red lines on my wrists when she unties me, and she is quietly contrite when she sees them, kissing at the skin tenderly. I'm so sensitive there where the blood is rushing back from an hour of deprivation that her lips feel like fire to me, only nothing has ever burned so deliciously. Lying there, I kick at the pants that are still bundled around my knees, unsure if it's the point in the evening when I should be taking them the rest of the way off or pulling them back up around my hips so I can leave.

Nervously, I nudge them down, releasing them to the floor before looking up, feeling naked and vulnerable for her.

And asking.

"May I?" I whisper gruffly, holding out my arms.

She bites her lip before she nods and agrees and curls herself into me, the softness of her body fitting to the hard planes of my own like I was made to hold her.

In a part of my mind, I wonder if I was.

For a while, we simply lie together, my own lips humming softly against the warm down of her hair, my fingertips tracing the skin that was denied to me as she took me, and I find myself taking back, now in this quiet, full space between.

With the softest, most glancing of touches, she plays against my skin, tracing circles and shapes and letting just the pads of fingertips and thumbs brush through the light patches of hair there. Questioning eyes and soft lips finally turn up to me, the side of my hand moving to push her hair out of the way so I can see her face.

"Did you like that?" she asks quietly, teasing at her lip, and it's the first time I've ever seen her look insecure.

Tipping her face with my hand at the point of her chin, I dip down to kiss her, chuckling lightly against her lips.

"It was p-perfect," I assure her. Because it was.

I don't entirely realize just how much tension she's been holding in those gently sloping shoulders or in the set of her jaw until it begins to slip away, her relieved sigh rushing hot against my skin as she turns her face to rest against my chest. She speaks into it when she asks her next question, and it's so soft. So tentative.

So unlike the voice of the woman who had straddled and ridden and possessed me.

"Will you stay?"

I close my arms in even tighter around her ribs, grasping the hand that's still been playing at my skin to hold it firmly against my heart. Kissing at her hair, I whisper, "As long as you'll have me."

And as I speak the words, I'm both terrified and certain that they're true.

#~~#~~#

I wake only once through the night, lying on my side with Bella held softly in my arms and turned away from me. We're still naked, and the feel of her body on mine is a heady sensation, my subconscious, dreaming arousal pressing itself firmly against the swell of her ass. Her breathing is loud as she twists slightly within my grasp, pushing back as I draw in my own shuddering gasp.

"Bella," I whisper, my lips finding the fleshy lobe of her ear, sucking at it as I draw her closer to me.

The increase in her breath and the soft moans escaping from her mouth are the only signs that she is awake now as I trail a wetly kissing line down her neck, my hand traveling the distance from her full breast to her hip.

"Mmm," she hums, legs parting and one hand drifting between us till she finds me, hard and waiting.

"I want you," I breathe. I don't know if it's the intimacy of waking with her this way or the veil of sleep still hanging over my brain and my body, but I speak freely, no stutter and nothing impeding me from telling her what I need.

When she whispers, "Please," it makes me throb, palming her thigh to lift it just enough so she can guide me, the warmth of her enveloping me.

There's no control and no binding this time. No harsh commands or limitations. Just her and me, and we are connecting. Moving. Drifting.

And as I rub her at the place where we are joined, her breathless pleasure washing over me, it occurs to me that this is something altogether different. Not less or more, but simply foreign to me, the intimacy of it making me reel, everything spiraling, faster and higher.

When we each find our completion this time, we do it wordlessly. Powerfully.

And that in and of itself says everything.

Chapter Text

There's a strange moment as I am waking, a dream of sensuality and hot thighs and of a mouth engulfing me, my mind floating between that world of sensation and a colder reality. For longer than I would think possible, I drift, somewhat aware that it is my own hand closing over the need that has made itself known inside my body, but trying hard to imagine that it is hers.

I can only linger for so long, though.

With disgust and a shudder, I release myself, rolling slightly and wondering how much is real and how much fantasy. On some level, I know there is something different in my body, something softer and less hungry in my need. Something satisfied. Exhaling and breathing deeply, I wince, an inundation of scent washing over me as I clench my eyes still harder against the images that accompany it.

Brown hair. Lips. Bella's flesh glistening and her body over me and beside me, my mouth on her neck as I grip her more tightly from behind.

Overwhelming, impossible pleasure as I tense and moan and come.

And there's a bad moment. A really, really bad one as the bottom falls out, my head pounding and mind racing as I wonder if it was all imagined - if my tortured brain has finally succumbed to its own lonely madness and invented a partner for me. If I am still alone.

I shift and turn, naked in twisted sheets that have gone cold.

And then I stop.

When my eyes fly open, I jump halfway up the empty bed, my spine backing its way up a slatted headboard, the very image of which makes my morning arousal peak even harder, a hot memory of being bound enveloping me as I stare at a room that is not my own. A room that is hers.

A room that proves that everything is real.

For far too long, I sit, deep purple sheets gathered loosely at my waist, trying to absorb and to pound awareness into my aching skull. There in the soft light of what I can only imagine is a fairly late morning, I see the things I was far too busy to see the night before, focusing only on bared flesh and feeling and on the woman who took me inside of her.

And as I look around, she's everywhere.

Bathed in lilac and sunshine, the space is an organized chaos, a near bursting library and a symphony. Around a cluttered desk there lie piles of books and papers, pens and hair ties, and behind it a wall of photographs and art. A sharp contrast to my own empty space and bare walls, I find that all of it looks like her, and that the more I see, the more I want to know her. Staring at a room of life and warmth and color, I realize that I want her to paint and color me, and to throw light into the darkened corners that so few have ever seen.

A noise from somewhere in the apartment jars me, rousing an instinct to hide myself and to flee, but I push it down. I grasp at my aching head as I rise, remembering a pounding haze of pulsing rhythm and our bodies moving, just two in a dense mass of people and everything throbbing and spinning around me. Still stalled by her injunction and her instructions to be quiet, I suppress the groan at the pain and the slightly sick feeling in my stomach as I scan the room for my clothes.

My pants are just where I left them, and I pull them on even though I cannot seem to find my underwear or shirt. The woolen fabric of them is strange against my bare skin, my still-present need tenting it, and there is nothing I can do to hide the long line of me – nothing I can do to will it down when her scent is all around me, images of her and of me and of sliding bodies flashing hot behind my eyes.

Moving quietly, I open her door and step barefoot out into a hallway that, while still feminine and full of personality, is more muted than the space that is hers alone. I pad past photographs and paintings, scanning always for her face, the ache in my chest easing every time my eyes alight upon an image of it, seizing upon the knowledge that I am here and that this is real.

And then it becomes realer still. The hallway opens onto a wide space, the living room I saw dimly beneath the glow of paper lanterns on one side, and a light, airy kitchen on the other. It is there, beside the stove and dressed only in my shirt, that I find her.

And even after having her twice, I still want her.

For a moment I hover, leaning deeply into the wall, my bare skin pressed to its coolness as I fight to calm the inferno, uncertainty and desire, and I don't know how to approach her. As it so often is with her, the question is answered for me; feeling my eyes upon her, she lifts her face from the bowl she is standing over, white chords yanked from ears that are hidden by hair, brown eyes lifting up until they are connected with mine.

Dominant, she was beautiful.

But disarmed, she's even more so.

A flush lights pale, bright cheeks, a secret smile on lips that were so seductive yesterday. Her eyes dart down to look away from me as her blush intensifies and deepens, her arm moving in twisting motions over the bowl once more.

"Hi," she says quietly, my heart leaping.

But I am also sinking, my consciousness falling back through layers of comfort and security and touch until I am nothing but me again, my fear paralyzing, my skin naked and raw, and I don't seem to be able to fit inside of it.

Because in all my drunken fumblings, my awkward couplings back in my years of uncertain youth, I never stayed.

And they never called.

I want Bella to call.

"Hhhi," I wheeze, my thoughts dancing in agonizing arcs between the competing needs for flight and for her warmth, a quiet itching in empty hands to push the hem of my shirt up over her slender hips and to clasp them tightly across the skin between her sides. My fingers tangle with my own hair as a poor substitute, nervous mannerisms resurfacing as I hover and stammer and fail to speak, the words locked up as irretrievably as ever, my throat fighting but failing to make any connection to my aching lungs as a deafening roar grows in my ears.

"Do you?"

The question breaks through the fog, my frozen stare shifting as the world leaps back into focus again. Soft brown eyes are looking up through perfect lashes, a hint of a twist on sinfully naked, rose-red lips.

"Hmm?"

The spoon handle sets itself against the edge of the bowl, her body suddenly in my space. The claustrophobia and the need for distance threaten to close in, but the softness of her touch burns them all away, something quiet and safe surrounding the vulnerable, razor-wire edges of my mind. Slender fingers settle, more tenderly now, on the bare expanse of my chest as her palm presses itself against my cheek.

"Where do you go sometimes, Edward Cullen?" she asks quietly, my heart hammering. And though my distraction and the stuttering blankness of my broken reality should send her running, if anything she just smiles harder and pulls me closer. She leans up and forward until I feel her entire body pressed to mine, her free, full breasts brushing maddeningly against my chest, her soft belly glancing the place where I cannot hide what it is my body wants.

The need for connection my entire being seems to crave.

I find it in her mouth, pressing tentatively against my own, a tiny hint of sharpness as she gathers the full flesh of my lip between her teeth and lets it go. I smile in spite of myself, my arms finally freed from their stiff uncertainty as they fold around the warmth of her body, my hands molding to shoulder and ribs and hip. Pursing softly, I kiss back, pushing back hard at the panic in an effort to just relax.

Until suddenly, the most difficult thing about kissing is the way our mouths curl up in the wake of our glowing smiles.

"Wh-what were you asking me?" I murmur, my nose brushing slightly against the side of hers.

"Blueberries," she says, eyes shining. "Do you like blueberries in your pancakes?"

I scarcely know, it's been so long since I have had them. But there's a scent of warmth there, a certain dancing at the edges of my memory. Fleeting pictures of a table set with care and filled with comfort, a soothing glow of morning covering everything and a taste of seared butter and of bursting fruit inside my mouth.

I nod, finally. "I d-do."

"Good."

Her hand closes softly around my wrist as she leads me forward, standing me in front of a stool beside her counter and pushing slightly until I am perched there comfortably, her hips between my knees. With a look of intent concentration on her face, she lets a single finger drift from my shoulder up my neck and to my jaw before smoothing back the mess of my hair as I cringe.

My hand closes around hers, pulling slightly if self-consciously as I mumble, "S-s-ssssorry," and direct my eyes down, aware as always that I am a mess. The hint of grease that lingers there slides sickeningly between my fingertips as I try to urge her hand away from my unwashed scalp, denying myself the pleasure of that touch even as I am trying to spare her and myself the embarrassment. "I - I p-probably - "

"You're perfect," she assures me, that same soft smile soothing the tightness that continues to threaten my very breath. She places one soft peck against my cheek as she pats my chest, drifting a foot away along the counter toward her coffee maker. She is reaching for a mug already before she turns to me and holds it up, a single eyebrow arching up at me questioningly.

"Yes, p-please."

The coffee is bitter and perfect, its warmth setting me even further at ease as Bella settles back into the rhythm of her work, a calm certainty to her motions that speaks of so many years of practice at feeding the people who surround her.

And on so many levels, she is feeding me.

"You d-didn't have to do this," I manage as batter falls in perfect circles onto a griddle, a sound of popping and of sizzling erupting from the heat, my mouth watering.

She shrugs and turns to look at me. "I wanted to."

It's with a warmth in my chest that I realize that I want her to, too.

#~~#~~#

For months I strode in staggered steps across a desert of disappointment. Drinks and dinners and the taste of ash, anonymous eyes and company that never ascended to communion. I recall false airs and the delicate dance of attraction and rejection, the feeling out of a partner that would never truly be, and all of it underscored by the slow death by deception as I tried to pretend that I wasn't really me.

I remember fake eyelashes and make-up, scents designed to cover up all the parts of a woman that make them desirable to me, my mind and body possessed always by the need to pierce through to the core of it, to push forward and to really see the stranger across the table from me.

Sitting down to breakfast with Bella, scraping small painted chairs across a linoleum floor, there is no veil and nothing to push aside or to pierce through. To my right, she sits, undone hair falling all around the shoulders I've had the chance to kiss, naked lips parting over teeth as she tears indelicately into a meal she made with her hands.

And each moment that we sit beside each other, I wait for the oasis to reveal itself as the mirage it most certainly is, for blueberries to be reduced to particulates and sand. I wait for the ritual of breaking bread to reduce itself back down to meaningless ceremony meant to glorify a god that was never meant for me.

But all my waiting is for naught, each moment passing with but a deeper sense of growing intimacy, soft glances and little touches of fingertips on arms or of knees gently bumping.

Too quietly for all my knowledge of her boldness, she murmurs finally, "I'm glad you stayed."

I look up into eyes that are ringed by fatigue yet which still are sparkling, hope and restraint all mixing. There's something different to her this morning, and even with the inches that separate us it is palpable to me, something I sense like I do my own tenuous satisfaction. It is something softer than what I have seen in her before. Something more in need of careful handling and of gentle touch.

Uncertain as I am, I reach out a tentative hand, my fingertips drifting over the soft line of her tiny wrist. And I marvel at the strength held in such small bones.

"I am, too," I manage, speaking slowly and carefully, letting the strength she has always shown begin to seep into me.

She nods and ducks her head, biting and chewing, my pulse rising slightly with the heady motion of her throat as it bobs and swallows.

Focusing dimly on the plate before her, she clears her throat and sets her fork down as if it weighs as much as all the trouble in the world.

"Edward, I just - about last night," she says slowly, and she swallows once more. "I feel - like I should apologize."

My own fork hits the table, the clang ringing dully in the part of my brain that can still hear. In the back of my mind, I am prepared for the pain, so hot and so expected in my sternum as it blazes upward. But I am completely unprepared for the numb.

Rejection and regret have always come to me in silence, and I don't know how to handle them in words.

"P-please, Bella," I whimper, my body shoving back as my feet fight for purchase, only there is none to be had. "D-d-d-dddddon't. Just, just d-don't."

"I feel so terrible for taking advantage of you that way." There's vulnerability and a shaking something undermining her tone. Plaintively, she turns those soft brown eyes back up at me, a hand pulling firmly at my wrist to keep me from leaving.

Not that she needs to, boggled and frozen as I am. I choke repeatedly, words forming and retreating until all I can do is parrot back the words that were spoken to me.

"For t-t-t- … For t-taking ad-d-vantage?"

Her hand pulls away and her eyes swiftly drop. "I knew I should have stopped or slowed down. Something. Anything, really, but you were so … so sexy when you let me take you like that. It was such a rush, and you seemed so into it. Everybody else - I've never - I just - "

The vulnerability on her face is terrifying as she pleads, "I don't want to scare you away, Edward."

I struggle to focus, but as I do, it is on all the wrong things.

"Ev-Ev-Everybody elllse?"

Her cheeks alight, a blush like fire.

Her voice, so deep and so self assured, shrinks. And even in the body that was so lithe and powerful as it hovered over me, she curls inward and becomes so small. "Before. Ages ago, really. Anybody else I've ever just been me with … they always run."

And it occurs to me that my whole life, I've been running.

But somehow, sitting beside her, it feels like I've finally gotten to the place that I was always running to.

"I - I - I'm nnnnot r-running."

"Maybe you will." Glassy eyes glance up at me.

I know that, the day before yesterday, I might have silently agreed. I'm not lying when, softly but certainly, I assure her, "I won't."

My hand pulls away from her slackened grip as I finish pushing back. But it's only because it feels so right to fall silently to my knees.

I take her shaking head between my hands, staring up at her pleadingly. "Lllet me," I whisper, and it's an echo of all the nights I've spent with her before, but it's also the sound of something new. "Llllet me know you.

"D-don't decide for me. Orrr ap-pologize to me. Llllet me let you t-take me."

Something smirking and flirting dashes across warm eyes as she starts to unfurl, her hand stroking comfortingly at my scalp once more. And I don't decide for her either. Not this time. Gulping, I let her show affection for me.

It's so much harder than letting her take me, though.

"You were really OK with everything?"

I can feel my own eyes darkening as her uncertain face morphs in my mind into one of perfect calm, her hands twisting at fabric and my flesh as she makes me her own.

"Mmmore than OK."

I think for a moment as I let one hand trace the softness of her jaw while others drifts to settle on her knee. "You were OK w-with evvverything, t-too?"

A real smile finally pushes all the lingering uncertainty from those lips, and she leans forward, her mouth pushing just once against my own.

"So much more than OK."

"Even when I w-woke you up?"

She blushes hard, as if the memory of that moment of tenderness unsettled her more than did pressing her pussy to my captive face. Still holding my gaze, though, she nods. "Definitely then."

She stands and pulls me with her until I hover above, our arms each encircling the other, hers firm about my neck as I wrap myself purposefully around her waist. A subtle caress of fingertips on skin at the top of my shoulder lowers my mouth until I am just an aching inch away from her breath.

"You want this?" she asks one last time.

"All of it," I mutter fervently. The feeling and the fucking and the soft words over breakfast and coffee. The edge to her voice as she bends me and takes her pleasure from me. The kisses in the moments after we are both undone.

The relief against everything that has ever come before.

She looks up at me with eyes that I could swear can see right through me. "Me, too," she whispers, her words so intense they feel like burning, so much of the dead wood around my heart withering before the heat of her conflagration.

"Edward, I want all of you."

Chapter Text

Bright sun and staring eyes seem to follow me as I cross the few feet from the parking lot to the door. Like a cartoon caricature of myself, I pull heavy sunglasses and a hood over the parts of me that are uncovered, knowing it only makes my every movement more conspicuous. I can't stop though, the idea of being bare here in this errand simply increasing my normal nerves and all the trembling in my aching limbs.

I can never stop.

Every Sunday, I look just like this; denied a way to pray the way that normal people do , I take the day of the Lord to add more sin to the list of things for which I would repent.

And then I shudder as I imagine someone extracting my penance of me.

A door opens and a bell chimes, my body safely hidden behind darkened glass as I avoid the too-friendly, intrusive welcome that always accompanies me here. Safe in a world of perverts and sick fucks and yet completely vulnerable at the same time, I take my usual route through the shop, disgusted fingers flipping anxiously over glossy pages and DVDs covered in the most vile sorts of art. Looking, always looking for something real.

Something like what I left on Saturday morning.

Instead of slick magazine pages covered in obscene photograph beneath my fingertips, I feel Bella's skin, soft and perfect as I pulled my shirt away from her lilting curves. I remember the taste of her mouth and then the feel of it on me, kneeling naked in a shower as she washed and bathed me and sucked me, my back held taught against the tile.

I shudder, my cock twitching uncomfortably in my pants as I close the pages in a huff.

After Bella, I know that nothing I find here will be real. That the secret shame of my previously unknown need is not so secret now, and that the anonymous ways in which I have desperately fought to push it down will seem all the more hollow when indulged in alone. Silently. Unsatisfactorily.

I am at ends, my world thrown into disarray through touch and sound and quiet confirmation and through the breathy repetition of her name. Routines I have spent the better part of a decade cultivating to drown the world of need I cannot bring myself to name crumble to reveal the bare skeleton of my not-quite-life, and all the empty spaces I have left in between. Spaces she fills with shared whispers over coffee and the warmth of her hand in mine beneath a table, quiet smiles and little looks held in soft brown eyes. Gaps she seals with the scent of sex and her and with the feel of my wrists caught up in silk and restrained with her words as she plunges herself down onto me once more.

Reeling, I turn, knowing this particular routine will never work the same for me again. The dirty edge of the magazine bounces off the shelf as I release it, wanting nothing of its artificial sexuality to touch me or to taint my vision of what I might really need, now that I've held it in my shaking hands. My heels leave black scuff-marks on the waxed tile, my retreat is so swift as I close my eyes against what has placated but never sustained me.

It is almost as swift as my stopping, my whole body seizing at an image of glinting metal, imagined lines across my wrists feeling raw in memory. I want them rawer still.

Glancing around, I change course, my feet and my desire, hot and burning now, leading me down an aisle I have never been able to talk myself into traversing before. So many times, I have seen it in the shameful lenses of my mind's wandering eyes, though, perched naked beneath a sheet, in my bed and alone, and I know the way instinctively. I gulp past bits of pink fluff, pictures of women in the sorts of chains that are meant to do nothing more than to idly titillate, none of it doing anything for me until I make the tricky mental slip, accidentally imagining our places switching.

Imagining myself again, willingly helpless and fastened securely to her bed.

My fingers twitch as they slide over shiny surfaces in chrome, rejecting each one in turn, wincing softly at pink and purple, and even at a black and crimson trim in feathered plumes. Disgusted by silk and fur, I almost run again, but there's a sick twisting in my lower abdomen, a curiosity I've not yet filled. Not in my thirty years. And not in this moment.

A lust.

For steel.

Leather.

A hard pair of cuffs, black leather fastened by shining studs and thick, silvery links sits at the bottom of the shelf. Bending, I let my fingertips run over the short chain between the two, my eyes clenching tightly for just a moment as I allow myself to imagine them around my own wrists. I try to convince myself that this is necessary, this indulgence in scarcely spoken, whispered fantasy, as I decide in my mind if they will fit, sizing them up against both the dimensions of my limbs and the scale of my expectations.

My stomach sinks and twists to realize that I am being so foolish as to allow myself to expect anything at all.

I pick them up against my better judgment, my eyes falling on a twin pair that is slightly larger as I do, and I make my way to the counter with them both before I can allow myself to think again.

The man who works the register is one who knows me well. As well as any stranger with whom I have never spoken before could, that is. "This all?" he asks, but it is with an eyebrow raised and a meaningful glance out of the corner of his eye toward the shelves that carry my more typical fare.

I nod, my mouth dry and my gaze pointed studiously at the floor as I feel my skin swiftly heat and flush. The man chuckles and mutters, "Nice," before he pronounces my total. In the single word, I hear his assumption, a shiver traveling the long arch of my back to know that even amongst this sordid crowd, I am the deviant. The exception.

My wallet opens, my wrist consciously blocking the identification card peeking through the window in it as I rifle through the billfold; I am not so foolish as to pay him in anything other than cash. As I grasp them, I find that the bills themselves feel dirty in my hands, as if they know what they are about to be exchanged for. I take my change with a pathetic murmur of thanks, my throat numbly closing.

The brown paper package held securely in my hands, I emerge back out into sunlight where I cover myself once more. And then I take myself and my shame and my restraint back to the dark corners from whence we came.

#~~#~~#

All week long, Bella throws my life into even further disarray, the carefully tucked, pressed edges of my practices and habits unraveling, and for the release of the stitches from the fabric of it, I feel freer. As if the things I have put in place to keep my wandering thoughts and my lonely need in check have really been penning them in.

As if binding my body and my will has unbound my mind.

As if opening myself up to contact has exposed all the parts of me I didn't even know I had allowed to become closed.

She calls me on Tuesday, my face burning at just the sound of her ringtone in my empty space and at the thought of the package hiding in the deepest recesses of my closet beside the collection of pornography I have rejected in her wake.

She suggests coffee, and the sheer normality of it makes me light-headed, too much air in my lungs, and I nearly laugh. I accede and meet her in a cafe near her apartment where we each sip at steaming cups and mostly stare, as if in disbelief that each has consented to be here.

When she touches my hand, I feel my breath stutter worse than my voice.

And when I kiss her, softly and almost embarrassingly tenderly, she shines a smile at me that lights things that had grown darkened and dusty in the untouched corners of my chest.

Coffee on Tuesday turns into lunch on Thursday, my speech catching on my useless lips as I extend the invitation shakily over the phone. She shows up at the sandwich shop dressed in light colors that speak of a quietly confident femininity.

And that, in and of itself, speaks so deeply to my body.

We greet each other with awkward smiles and a soft kiss, a knowing glance of her eyes to my hardness between my hips, and a smile as the back of her hand traces me teasingly. The round swell of her bottom swings seductively in front of me as she leads the way to a booth, where we sneak furtive looks at each other over open menus. The presence of a waitress interrupts our game of silent seduction and coy admiration, and reminds us of the point of meeting in the broad light of day instead of slipping, skin to skin against each other, but always in the dark.

Instead of staring at each other, this time we talk. With each word out of her mouth, I feel mine grow more secure, the stutter that has forever bound me to the burning stake of my mind loosening as it always does when I am relaxed.

Or happy.

Lingering long after any of the other lunchtime patrons have gone, we compare tastes in music and books and television. Unlike our second date, we steer clear of the more difficult subjects of family and of connection, but I feel that looming too on the horizon. Along with other things. Stories of pasts and romances.

And sex.

My stomach begins to turn, my face falling at the thought of having to sift through those crumbling ruins of my life.

In my distraction, I crumple a napkin hard inside my hand, my tension hidden completely beneath the cover of the table, or so I think. Bella sees it though, unwarranted as it would seem from the casual tenor of our conversation, and her expression is slightly confused but still tender as she strokes at my other hand.

And my gratitude for both her kindness and her touch are almost my undoing.

When we finally leave, it is with a lingering uncertainty, a temptation to retreat to one of our apartments or the other. In the end, I merely let my fingertips drag gently across her cheek, flashing a smile that is suffused with all the warmth building in the unexplored and lonely regions of my chest.

She's the one to pull at me when I make a motion as if to go, a husky whisper of, "Don't turn away from me until I've said goodbye," and a kiss that sets a burning fire to every yearning inch of me.

A kiss that speaks of so, so much more.

"See you tomorrow," she murmurs against my lips as she straightens my collar, lifting up on tiny heels to fix my hair. I let her.

That night, in my bed alone, I picture her with her hands drifting from my collar to my neck, a duality of so-soft fingertips and a too-firm grip as she yanks my head straight back, her body sliding over me in my mind the way my slickened palm does in reality. The dirty shame of the act fades away, knowing that what I am fantasizing about could actually be reality, the real memory of the look in Bella's eyes as she sinks down on me helping to keep the guilty, unworthy feelings at bay as I chase something more.

Something real.

Grunting, I come into a wad of Kleenex and fight to keep my hips and shoulders tethered tightly to my bed.

But restraint is hard to come by when inside, I feel like soaring.

#~~#~~#

I drive up to her building for the fourth Friday in a row to find her standing outside her door. Her body is wrapped in a dress that absolutely screams of sex, and the very vision of her ripe curves and steady legs reminds me of all the ways we have not touched each other this week – of all the flesh that I long to explore and that I hope so desperately she will choose to reveal to me.

She waits for me to open the door for her before she kisses me, and it is with one knee placed up on the seat and one foot on the ground that she pulls me down to her, her legs spreading and my arousal weeping when she brushes it once with her open hand. I jerk and twitch at the increasingly familiar gesture, a motion that seems as practiced as a wave to her – as if it her way of saying hello . I pull back to find a half-smirk of enticement and promises of later shining visibly on hungry lips as she licks them, releasing my tie and letting me go.

It's a different tie than the one I wore for her last week, but the sight of it wrapped around her hand still makes me so, so hard.

We drive the darkened streets as I ruminate on night and day. On laughter and companionship and sated lust – all things that I so long believed had never been intended for me. It strikes me as no accident that all week long we have been pushing our boundaries on everything except the last of these, meeting openly and in places full of light. As if the sunlight pouring in on our conversations will distract us from the things we lust for in the dark.

As if we both know that there has to be more to this than the pressure of her thighs against my hips and squeezing tightly around my jaw.

When we arrive at the restaurant that she has selected, she waits for me to come around to her side of the car and let her out, and there is something perfect in the tenderness of her hand in mine and the feeling of her weight leaning into my body. I follow with my palm ghosting the curve at the small of her back, so close that I can feel the heat of her skin, but just far enough away that I don't go mad.

By my own low standards, we make comfortable small talk, something sparkling both in her face and in my devastated heart. Something brighter than the twinkling lights above our head. Something closer than all the stars.

As we talk and eat and drink, I grow more comfortable still, until the contrast with every other date that I have ever been on becomes ridiculously stark. My face heats embarrassingly on more than one occasion when she intimates that we have been spending more time together than she has been accustomed to spending with the men in her life. And while I am uncomfortable about the reference to her past, there's a giddy elation in my spine.

I have never been the man in a woman's life before.

In all honesty, I have never really felt like a man at all when I've been with a woman before.

Still keeping our discussion to the safer edges of things, we talk about the few parts of our week that we haven't hit upon already, drifting slowly to the web of words we each endeavor to spin. She makes a flippant comment about being tied up with work commitments, only it comes out all wrong, and my cock inflates at the misplaced implication, a cough building hard inside my throat until I can't push it down.

"Are you OK?" she asks as she presses a napkin into my hand and I reach for water. I nod and grunt, remembering that this is important to prove that I am not actually choking even though my lungs feel full of fire.

When I am finally in control of myself again, I manage, "You just sssurp-prised me."

She quirks an eyebrow upward, but I cannot mistake the unusual flash of uncertainty that crosses her face, nor the implication in the double meaning of her words. "You don't ever get tied up? With work, I mean, of course."

"You know I d-do," I say, my arousal rising even higher at the continued pursuit of this innuendo. The tone of my words gritty, and even I am surprised by the seductive timber of them in my ears, and by the gasp that escapes her puckered lips when she hears.

"You like that, do you?" she breathes.

I hold her eyes levelly, my voice unconsciously dropping even lower as I repeat, "You know I do."

It is uncomfortably hot, the air crackling with a static charge, too much friction although we are barely even touching.

There's just the tiniest hint of doubt in her voice when she speaks again, even though her gaze remains firm.

And I want to take that doubt from her. To drown it in my mouth and suck it from the hot skin of her breast.

While on my knees.

"Still?" she asks, her voice breaking once. "You haven't changed your mind?"

"No."

"And you know I like doing it to you."

"I d-do."

Our server distracts us, shaking the thickened quality of the air until we are returned momentarily to our senses, but I am now firmly on edge, my body taut. When we are left alone again, I find that the full, pink pout of her lip plays just a bit more flirtily with the rim of her wine glass as she speaks, the edges of all the words we exchange feeling hotter, sweatier than the ones we traded in the brightness of daylight.

Or even the ones we traded just a few minutes before.

A single plate is placed between us, but I am too distracted to bother glancing up at the girl who lingers at our table. Bella ignores the server, too, claiming both forks in just the way she did before, feeding me a bite at a time. Chewing slowly, I fix my eyes on her mouth, thinking the way her tongue licks crumbs of cake off of a dessert fork is so innocent it must be a sin.

And then eyes full of desire stare up at me from under blinking lashes.

"So my roommate is gone for the weekend."

At the same time that she speaks, the point of her shoe makes its way up my calf and thigh until I can feel myself dizzying at the subtle pressure against my balls.

"Oh?" I choke, lowering my hand to stroke gently at the skin around her ankle, tentatively reorienting it and angling my hips to place her toe to the swollen head of my need.

"You know what that means, don't you?"

I shake my head even though I do.

She dips her pinky into a soft puddle of cream at the edge of our dessert. After sucking the tip of her finger into her mouth, she whispers, "It means I can make you scream just as loudly as I want to."

#~~#~~#

I linger beside the car for a moment after she takes my hand and joins me on the sidewalk. Kissing softly at her neck and gripping her hips, I know full well that I am stalling, but it's hard to concentrate when she hooks her leg around the back of my knee and pulls me harder against her body.

"Come upstairs with me," she purrs into my ear, my hand sliding from her hip to the back of her thigh, edging under the fall of her skirt to find soft flesh leading up and up and up.

My mouth continues to kiss a long line from her neck to her shoulder and back again, parting wetly over the hollow of her throat as she tips her head back. I hide myself in that soft skin of her neck, breathing deeply of her hair.

Knowing full well that I can't bear to look into her eyes.

"I g-g-ggggot you s-something," I stammer, shaking lips closing once more against her skin as I cringe, both at my words and at my tongue for its near constant betrayal of everything I feel.

"Oh?" I hear the way her lips smack and part, curiosity and something just ever so slightly tentative to her voice's quality.

"A g-ggift. If you'll hhhhave it."

If you'll have me.

"I don't usually like gifts." She lifts my head, our noses rubbing as she kisses me. "But for you I might make an exception."

"P-please."

She smiles, an expression that's strangely leering and sexy.

"Come."

I almost do.

With the brown paper package grasped inside my hands, I lock the car and follow her up her stairs, feeling vaguely aware of the memory of doing this once before. Only it's different when my head isn't reeling. Opening the door, she steps inside and bids me to close it behind her. Setting down her things, she makes no pretense of anything, striding back toward her bedroom without a look behind her.

The string of paper lanterns casts the same shining glow that I remember. I gulp and shift the uncomfortably tight line of my cock when I see her, sitting on the edge of the bed where she reawakened my senses the week before, leaning back on arms that are locked at the elbow and staring at me expectantly.

Hovering still at the doorway, I take in everything as if I have never seen it before. On some level I haven't, because this is the first time I have ever been convinced that it all is real.

And I just hope it won't be the last time she invites me to join her here.

I loosen my tie and take shaky steps toward her, the crumpled edge of the bag a mess of worried lines beneath my too-tense hands as I sit beside her. She pushes me back just slightly, rising up to lean on her hip so she can angle herself over me, and for a moment I give in to deep, pulsing kisses and to motions of tongues over lips and teeth. Holding tenuously to a hope, I assert just enough control to slow the pace of them. And in a small miracle, I find the will not to lean back and beg her to claim my body and my need with her hands.

Instead, I bring our kisses to a stop.

My forehead pressing hard against hers, I murmur, "Mmmay I?" and she pulls away just enough to nod. My fingers twitch, knowing that I am baring so much more than my naked skin, and that nothing about this feels right.

Sweating hard, I extricate myself from her hold and her embrace, grasping at her wrists and setting the bag on her bed before I sink down off the quilts and onto the floor. I wince, my head resting hard on the soft skin of her knees, and my heart is pounding as I kneel before her.

Vulnerable.

Erect.

There's a rush. A roaring in my ears that reminds me of all the ways that I've misread situations and people and especially women in my life before. Humiliation and misplaced, stuttering words. Disappointment and shameful, hurried goodbyes.

And even at that, I've never taken such a risk before.

There's something about Bella, though. Something soft and hard, and that pushes at me but which never pushes much too far. Reaching somehow into the pieces of my memory that feel like safety, I let myself find relief in the touch of her fingertips to my sweating cheek.

"Edward?"

"Op-p-p-p-pen it," I breathe, my eyes still shut.

Tenderly, she brushes my hair from my face before retreating, her weight shifting slightly without dislodging me as I allow myself a moment to succumb to the heady rushing of my own desperate, paralyzing fear. To my mind, the sound of paper tearing is the sound of so much wrapping being torn from my heart.

With my hands, I offer it to her, nervous fingers closing around calves. Begging.

Entreating her to want me still.

"Edward," she breathes, and her voice is shaking as much as mine would be if only I still had one. I open my eyes to the image of delicate fingers tracing over leather and metal.

But the cuffs are only the most tangible part of my gift.

Her voice is stronger when she repeats my name, and it grows even stronger still when I hear it the third time, my gaze compelled up to hers with a palm pressing against my jaw.

"You want me to use these. On you."

Terrified and certain, I nod.

Her two hands rise up to close around my face, and I am rising, my mouth pulled so willingly to hers, kisses like salvation and so much of her breath in my lungs, the taste of her and of relief suddenly flooding me . When I am pushed away, it's only so far as to be able to allow me to stare back into glassy, incredulous, but happy eyes.

"You really aren't going to run, are you?"

A sly smile finds my face, pushing away anxiety and the last remnants of a vulnerable and naked feeling.

Still clothed, we're bared together now. "Nnno. N-not from you."

#~~#~~#

I don't know how much time goes by before we come up for air, her hand so hot against the sensitive skin of my chest that has spent so many years feeling desperate for touch, as mine rises hotly up her thigh from beneath her.

"Can we wait?" she breathes.

My cock is almost painful, in a near permanent state of arousal since the moment I first imagined her slipping out of this dress, and I actually whimper before I let my head fall back against the bed.

"Fuck," I hiss, releasing her. "Of c-course."

She shifts even higher up, the silk between her legs caressing me as she settles her body tortuously over the needy apex of my hips. "Not for that." She half laughs, kissing me once more and making me throb.

She retreats just slightly, sitting more firmly on my cock as I groan, her palms flat against the skin over my ribs between the open edges of my shirt. I watch in glazed fascination and shaky need as she stares down at me almost coyly, flashes of ivory shimmering as the bottom pout of her lip slips between her teeth.

Gesturing behind her at her gift, she huskily whispers, "For those."

Something flips inside my stomach, and her face falls at my reaction.

"If that's all you want, we can," she mumbles, but she is sitting back against my thighs when I want her pressing to me more intimately, and her wide eyes are hidden from me.

I sit up sharply, pushing her hair from her face and struggling to contain myself as I pull her back to me.

"Wh-what d-do you mmmmean? Aaaaaall I want?"

"It's so funny," she says humorlessly. "At first I couldn't believe you could want me that way. That part of me." She glances up and looks away again as an ache settles deeply in my chest. So softly, she asks, "But if that's all you want..."

Her face is warm between my hands, my lips searching for every reach of her. "I t-told you. Every part. Evvvvery p-piece." With one shaking hand, I reach down to touch her heart.

"Edward." My mouth swallows her moan and we are in motion again, her hands tearing to find desperate flesh as she slips my shirt from my arms, her hips pushing down on me as I fumble with the zipper at the back of her dress.

"Evvvery part," I whisper again against her neck and then to the revealed curves of her breast. "All of you."

She pulls my face back to hers as she pushes the dress off her shoulders, rising up on one knee and then another, still hovering over me as she pulls it away, black panties the only line across the pale swells of her flesh.

"Tomorrow," she murmurs, sucking at my tongue. "I'll chain you up tomorrow, pet."

"T-tomorrow," I echo, but I'm more focused on today. "T-tonight we take care of eeeeach other."

It's a question and an affirmation.

An intent.

Her voice is shaky as she whispers, "Please." And if I'd thought her forcing me to beg made my body edge toward something indescribable, then this - to hear that she wants me...

"Yes," I breathe, helping her as she unfastens my belt, tugging at pants and boxers until the aching line of my need is revealed, her hot hand closing over the head as I close my eyes and moan, my own fingers, for the first time, dipping deeply into the heat of her pussy.

And she's letting me.

I growl as I tug the silky fabric to the side, groaning even louder at the wet heat inside her body.

"Rip them," she breathes, and I groan against her mouth. Strength I feel so rarely courses through over-heated blood, silk gathering, and the second time she urges, I obey, one swift motion as I yank and fabric tears. I bundle the scraps of them in my fist and push my fingers back into the slick and pink, pumping twice before I extract them and suck them greedily into my mouth.

She moans, her lips twisting with mine. "Did I say that you could do that?"

I want to cower.

But tonight, that's not what we're playing at.

"N-n-no. But I wwwwanted to."

"Good."

We shift so that we are both sitting on the center of her bed, with her on my lap. She reorients herself to rub the sweet softness at the top of her pussy against the aching line of my cock, slippery heat and the head pressing against the skin at her navel, and I need.

God, how I need.

"P-please," I ask just once, the inward curve of her waist held firmly in my hands as I am lifting, her body rising, and then she is sinking over me, enveloping me, surrounding me in a way that no one ever has before.

It's such torture and such pleasure. And I will always, always want more.

"God, Bella," I groan as I slide fully into her, the noises from her own lungs echoing and driving me deeper into her and into the feeling washing over me.

We find our rhythm together tonight, certainty infusing every move of it as arms surround ribs and spines, hands in hair and lips moving, seeking, kissing everywhere. Thrusting up into her every time she descends down on me, I feel the pressure swiftly building, and it's not just her this time who's claiming me.

"B-b-be mmmmine," I whisper, staring into glazed eyes as my hands settle more firmly on her hips to drive her onto me.

She drops her forehead to mine, her eyes clenching and mouth going slack.

And when she moans the single word, "Yes," I'm convinced that it means more than simply that she's coming.

Propelled by both her yes and by the slick squeezing of her sex around me, I repeat the word to her, pulling her closer as I push up a final time, my whole body exploding, as perfectly, deliriously, I release into her.

#~~#~~#

She lies naked against my side as we recover, a soft purple sheet draped over our hips. Her one finger traces teasing circles through the light hair across my chest, her head leaning on her hand as she props herself up just above me.

"So," she muses. "I guess you kind of answered my question already, but do you have any plans for tomorrow night?"

My hand closes over hers and pulls it to my lips. I stare up into her face, willing her to look at me.

When she does, I smile.

"Apparently, I do," I whisper, my lips turning up even further when I hear my voice, relaxed after coming. Smooth.

She leans in closer and grins. "Yeah?"

Pulling her lips down for a gentle kiss, I nod against the pillow. "Yeah," I murmur. "I just checked my c-calendar. Apparently I'm going to be all tied up."

Chapter Text

The satisfaction in my body and the quiet in my mind are still a surprise, somehow, even if opening my eyes to soft curtains and to a bedroom full of warmth and life is not. My head jerks to the side to find the other half of the bed once again empty, but I do not let the disappointment overwhelm me.

Instead, I take the few unobserved moments to myself. And I bask.

Spreading out, naked on my back, I wrap one empty arm around the mass of her pillow, breathing in the softest scent and groaning at the way it fuels my morning desire. Beneath flowing purple sheets, I watch my own body compulsively twitch, palming it slightly over the fabric and breathing out a low sigh, indulging in the slightest hint of pleasure without shame today.

Knowing that tonight I may know greater pleasure still.

My cock jumps, pulsing just a little bit harder at the thought of the promise that the day ahead of me holds. I search the room for a glint of metal, for the subtle sheen of leather and find both in the corner. The cuffs we had discarded as we'd held each other, touching and wanting and coming together as one the night before, have been carefully removed from the floor. They sit now atop a pillow on a chair. And they promise so, so much more.

A rumbling sound in the base of my abdomen is my stomach turning, both with hunger and with the slightest twinge of nerves, a memory of the vulnerability I felt as I presented them to her and a precursor of the anxiety I know that I will feel when Bella makes good on her promise to use them.

It does not escape me that, in my mind, I have already declared this to be a matter of "when" instead of "if."

And the hunger in my belly is not the only one that I know.

With one last stretch, I slide myself across the sheets to stand. Instead of feeling mystified, I draw in a sharp breath of excitement and anticipation to find that my oxford is missing, but I still quirk up an eyebrow to find that it has been replaced with a man's t-shirt that is at least two sizes too large. My hands fist the fabric, irrational jealousy that this could be a former lover's leftovers, but then I see the police department insignia and remember stories of her father, the cop. I breathe easier when I turn it to see the back, covered as it is with her own last name. Somewhat reassured, I lift it over my head, covering pale and still too-sensitive flesh and clothing myself in her scent.

Pulling on the boxers from the night before, I tuck myself, still half-hard, into the waistband of them. Outside in the hallway, there is a bitter smell of coffee and the sound of scattered tapping. Perched on a chair at the little table in the kitchen, the Bella I find is an image of comfort and familiarity that makes my heart contract almost painfully.

There are no pretenses this morning.

She is simply herself.

As if this could be any morning.

I nearly stumble to realize I want it to be every morning.

Her hair tied up into a drooping bun, she sits with one foot on the chair, her knee held close to her chest, and dressed yet again in nothing but my shirt. She peers intently at the screen of a laptop, little oval glasses resting on the bridge of her nose, the corner of her lip between her teeth as her whole face glows with just the slightest hint of an unconscious smile.

She does not hear me as I approach, and I notice the same earbuds she was wearing last week, more visible now with her hair pulled up and out of the way. I am careful to avert my eyes from the screen, respecting her privacy as I place a single hand on the back of her chair and lean in close, smiling softly at her little chirp of surprise as I trace the edge of her ear with my nose.

"Good morning," I whisper smoothly as she yanks the headphones away and turns to face me. There is an eagerness on her face, and neither of us hesitates this time to fall into chaste kisses of greeting.

"A very good morning, indeed," she agrees, a little bit of a growling purr in the back of her throat. She is clearly chipper and alert, a striking contrast to my own contented, morning fog, as she teases my lip with her teeth and then releases me. "Coffee?"

"Yes, p-please."

She overrides my protests that I can help myself and jumps up, proffering a cup that immediately helps me to focus my eyes. As she does, she leaves what I am left to assume are reading glasses behind, and I am unable to resist my curiosity, picking them up and squinting through them as I take a seat in the chair at her side.

She scowls when she sees me, taking them back and placing them on the table where I would have to reach to get to them. "The joys of getting older," she grumbles, and I am possessed with curiosity.

"You c-can't be any older than me," I prod, and she takes the bait.

Her nose scrunches adorably. "Thirty-three in September."

My eyes widen in surprise. "You've ggggot three years on me."

"Practically robbing the cradle. Clearly."

Still feeling bold, I lean forward to steal a surprised kiss from her lips. "And yet I still find you incccccc-credibly sexy." My own cheeks flush at my words, but she only smiles and presses her lips to mine once more. She gestures for me to sit back and rises again, retrieving a covered casserole and bread from the oven and setting the table.

My mouth waters and I sit up straighter as she reveals a fluffy mass of eggs and cheese and peppers, looking up out of the corner of my eye and grinning. "You're sssssp-poiling me. I may nnnever go home."

Bella kisses my forehead and sits back down beside me. "Not a problem by me."

The same warm sensation I've felt pressing against my chest so many times in the scattered moments I have spent with her flashes, something uncomfortable and yet good burning in the spaces between my ribs as I stare at her. My hand rises up unbidden to tuck a strand of hair up and away from her cheek. "I d-don't deserve you."

She catches my hand and presses the knuckles to her mouth, her lips turning up with something wistful at the edges, her eyes open and yet almost sad. In a firm voice, she simply says, "I think that's something that I can decide for myself."

We eat together in silence for a few moments before she starts fidgeting, her hand rising up to flick at the mouse to the laptop a couple of times before she clears her throat and adjusts the angle so the whole laptop is pointed slightly more toward me. Allowing myself to glance down at it, I see an overwhelming number of windows already open, arranged in haphazard ways all across the screen.

"So, I was thinking, this morning. Before you got up." Her lip tucks back between her teeth as she sets her fork down. "About tonight."

My eyes are suddenly uncomfortable focusing on her face, so I allow them to drift to her laptop again, and in so doing I take in some fairly colorful language, and at least one reference to a whip. It is simultaneously arousing and reassuring to know that she has been researching this – both terrifying and exciting to know that she is not going to be backing out.

I struggle to remain relaxed enough to talk even as I feel a certain something in the back of my throat beginning to seize up. A soft touch to the back of my hand is a grounding force, my eyes settling on soft lips, moving quickly as words tumble through them.

"Have … have you, um, ever done anything like that before? Like what we did last week?"

It may be the most profound understatement I have ever uttered when I shake my head and exhale a gritty but hopeful, "No."

She pauses for a moment, a sly smile emerging slowly. "Me neither. Not nearly that far anyway. But I've always wanted to."

My breathing falters. For the first time in my life, I whisper, "Me, too."

There's a tense moment, our gazes intent, each focused on the other as the magnitude of exchanged words and shared desires settles. It's heavy and hard and … exhilarating.

She breaks the intensity of the moment with a rare nervous mannerism, a slight flush rising to her cheeks as she glances back to her laptop and fusses with her hair. Her eyes settle on her hand as she clears her throat.

"Well, I didn't know if we should talk a little about what we want? What we don't?" I gulp, but don't reply. She looks slightly nervous, but she continues speaking smoothly, showing the sort of assurance she assumed after accepting the cuffs the night before as she clears her throat and begins to speak. "I've been looking into things a little," she says, gesturing toward the laptop. "I was thinking we should have some signals? In case we get carried away?"

"A sssssafe word?" Even breathing the term out loud is like getting past a boulder in my lungs, all these fail-safes of my own that I have instituted to keep my secrets locked so far away that they are inaccessible, even to me.

She nods and seems relieved, focusing on the screen and clicking a couple of times. "A lot of places recommend colors. Red, yellow, green."

"Mm-makes sense," I agree. There's something surreal about speaking of these things this way. Openly. Almost clinically. Seeking connection, I tentatively place a hand to the bare skin of her thigh, her own hand closing over it at the feel of my touch, and she presses my palm more firmly to her leg.

"Would that make you comfortable? Yellow if you want to slow down, red if you need to stop?"

My breath is catching just a little, images of things that could even possibly make me not want this, memories of what little she has done to me already making me pause.

I cannot, not in the most distant reaches of even the most buried portions of my brain, imagine a scenario where I would ever, ever want her to stop.

"Wwwwwhatever makes you c-comfortable," I respond, perhaps a little overeager for all that my words are mangled.

She turns concerned eyes up at me, and in them I see something haunting. Or perhaps something haunted.

"This is important to me, Edward."

"I know," I say carefully. "P-please believe me that I'm nnnnot worried. N-not about this."

"I am."

She looks up and then closes her eyes. I touch her face and try to get the words right. "Don't be."

Leaning slightly into my hand, she shakes her head. "I've scared people off before. And I know … I know you won't run. But I couldn't bear to hurt you. Or scare you."

"You won't. But iffff you d-do, I'll – I'll t-tell you."

She manages a sad smile and kisses my hand. "OK," she whispers. "I trust you."

After years of living alone and in shadows, it's terrifying but delicious to whisper, "I trust you, too."

There's something else hanging in the air. A feeling too fleeting and unfamiliar to give voice to as we sit and trust and stare. Again, she's the first to turn from it, and from the intensity of the way that I now allow myself to gaze at her. But the thickness of her voice assures me that she is affected by it, too.

"So, they also have these lists here. To help talk about what we like and don't like. Ahead of time. It's kind of awkward, but …"

My pulse speeds, but I follow her direction and turn to the screen, cognizant always of her proximity. Her warmth. Her smell.

"A lot of this is, um, excessive. Since I don't have any of these things." Her tense voice turns teasing when she continues, "Unless you do." She is pointing at words that make even me gasp.

And yet which make me harden even further still.

I blush and mumble, "Nnnnnno. It was nnn-nerve-wracking enough just getting what I b-brought lllllast night."

I can almost hear her smile. "I just know there's a story behind that."

My blush deepens, one tiny pang hitting at the base of my sternum when I fail to reveal certain elements of the context of that. The mortification.

The extent to which it was routine.

"Nnnot really," I manage, shaking my head. "Though there were ssssssome d-different ass-ss-sss …. assumptions." My eyes turn to rake up and down her form. "About wwwwho they were f-for."

One eyebrow arches upward, and she playfully kisses my wrist. "Well, you know what they say about people who assume."

Laughing, I agree. "Assholes."

"Yup. And assholes' opinions don't bother me." She looks up at me meaningfully before pressing her lips in a line down my wrist to my palm. "And don't you let them bother you either."

Choking slightly, I sip at my coffee, and with more certainty that I feel, I promise, "I won't."

#~~#~~#

We don't get very far through the list she has found before she finally laughs and closes the window. It is an awkward affair, with lots of wide eyes and clenched fists and stuttering assents and denials.

"Well, considering I have neither whips nor canes nor floggers, can we just sort of simplify? " She presses a couple of keys to shut down the computer and turns to face me, taking my hand that is still resting on her thigh in both of her hands. "I mean, the fundamental is how you feel about me … playing with you a little? How you feel about a little pain?"

"I meant it when I say you c-can do wwwwh-whatever you want with me." I bury my eyes in my lap, my cheeks reddening as I push myself to speak honestly. "That's … that's kind of the - the p-point, I think. The - the … the thing th-that's sort of a t-t-t-turn-on. For mmmmme."

Her voice is soothing, her thumb making small circles on my skin. "I get that. Really, I do. But I only want to do things that are going to feel good for you."

"Wh-whatever you want, Bella. That's … that's what I w-w-want."

After a moment's pause, she asks, her words taking on just a touch of a darker edge, "So you're OK with me … doing a little physical stuff? Spanking or something?"

My cock jumps and my eyes close, my breath catching. When I open my eyes to look at her, even I can feel my own gaze burning. "Aaaaaaab-bsolutely."

There's a glint in her eyes as her mouth twitches up. Her hand is firm as it closes around the fabric at the neck of her father's t-shirt, yanking me forward. Our lips meet, and in the motion of tongues and mouths I feel the same fever that threatens my sanity, the fine edge of want and the possibility of sating some long-standing if oft-denied need.

"Is it tonight yet?"

I shake my head and grin, pulling her to my lap for another edgy, hungry kiss.

When she pulls away, we are flushed and panting hard. With my face in her hands, she fights to even her breathing, looking at me seriously for a moment as she says, one more time, "Remember. Yellow and red."

I stroke the very edge of her cheek.

"And gg-ggg-green," I insist. "D-definitely remember green."

Chapter Text

I return back to my apartment in the late morning, opting to shower alone this time, needing the space in my head and the distance from her body. After so much gentle touching and soft affirmation, lingering kisses and intimate unveiling of hidden desires, my need for her had grown to the point where I did not think that I could push it down.

There had been some silent agreement between us though, clothed in our bodies but naked in our words. Some contract not to act on what we each wanted, there in the soft light of morning.

To save it all for what we were even more eager to explore in the dark.

Naked beneath the hot spray, it is an act of sheer will not to take my own hand to my body, every nerve tense and every thought bent toward the taste and sight and smell of her, and of all my recollections of the way she took me. Of the way she has promised to take me once more.

Dressed again, I am at ends all afternoon, pacing and pondering and searching desperately for distraction from the ache that will not fade. I try to write and to read, but it is all for naught, my thoughts drifting with every breath to what it might be like to let her extract anything she wants from me. Pleasure and pain. Secrets and shame.

When the light finally begins to fade from the sky, I eat a small meal alone, too nervous to push down more and yet too hungry to deny myself. Or to risk having anything so insignificant as hunger keep me from being fully present in her space and in her hands.

The clock finally turns to the specified hour, and I am a maniac behind the wheel, arriving in record time, so that I am forced to sit, restless and hard, in the front seat of my car for far too long, watching the numbers on the lighted dial turn over and trying to imagine that she could possibly be this unsettled.

That she could possible want this as badly as I do.

Climbing the stairs to her apartment, I take them two at a time, long loping strides and my hands twitching restlessly at my sides. They begin to shake even harder when I finally stand, raw and needy at her door.

And the only thing that steadies them is what I hold between my forefinger and my thumb.

Her key.

I close my eyes and still the violent quaking in my abdomen as I remember the vision of her handing it to me, a sly smile on sinful lips as she asked me, please, to take it. To let myself in.

To wait for her beside her bed.

When I hear the click of it turning in her lock, it is almost enough to push me over some sort of an edge.

No woman has ever let me into her mind or her home this way before.

The space is dark but for the lanterns that I have come to so desperately adore. I ignore them, though, slipping off my shoes and closing the door behind me before making my way into her room, retracing the steps I have taken twice before.

And which I am beginning to believe I will have the opportunity to take even after this.

That she will still want me after what we do behind this door.

Inside that dimly illuminated space, I can feel the warring pieces of my brain. I am simultaneously on the edge of hyperventilating, my nerves set to snap, and also infinitely calm, prepared to let the burden of my own sweating, shameful fantasies be removed from me, and to let myself be held, safe and perfect in her embrace.

I let the latter win.

Standing, ramrod straight and desperately hard in the middle of her room, I give myself over.

And again, I trust.

#~~#~~#

I don't know how long I stand there. She has given me no instructions about what to do or how to wait, but it seems wrong to divert myself in anyway from the sheer high of anticipation, from the alternating shocks of lust and fear and need ripping their way up and down my spine. And so I stand, eyes closed, hands clasped behind me, my head tilted down and my body still as I allow myself to take everything in.

The color and the texture of the air as I breathe in.

The frantic racing of my heart.

The image of her, painted in vivid colors across the back of my eyes, naked and hovering over me and commanding me to come.

"Perfect."

I jerk my eyes open to see that nothing in the room has changed.

But I know, too, that everything has.

The heat of her body behind me is a brightly burning flame, her breath hot beside my ear as she reaches around and palms my cock.

"I love to watch you waiting for me," she breathes. "Did you know that?" I shake my head, and she chuckles slightly. "Even more so when I know that this is the state you're waiting for me in." Her fingertips trace a teasing line over the length of me through my pants, and I sigh in relief and in pleasure.

It's the pleasure of having her touch me, only more so.

It's the pleasure of knowing that I can give myself to her freely.

Her tongue is hot as she licks her way up my neck, and I feel myself jump inside her hand. "Tell me what you were thinking about."

I close my eyes again and just feel, speaking as calmly and as openly as I can. "You. How b-beautiful you look. Naked. Over me."

"Am I fucking you?"

"Yes."

"You'd like that, would you?" She takes hold of me more tightly, taking one long stroke in earnest now, and my eyes roll back in my head.

"Iffff that's what you want to d-do to me."

Her hand and her body both retreat, and I am left with a stinging chill, my body almost collapsing without her heat there to infuse me and to hold me up.

"Well, we'll just have to see I suppose."

I gulp and nod.

And hope.

She walks around me in a slow circle, and while still keeping my head tilted down, I take the moment to appreciate her body, those soft curves compressed into a tight tank top and dark jeans and flat-heeled, pointed boots that make her legs look a million miles long. I cannot resist imagining them around me as she rides me, standing with my back to the wall and her voice whispering in my ear to fuck her harder as she tightens around me.

"Strip." Her command is uttered in a voice so quiet and yet so strong that it almost makes me whimper. She has come to a stop in front of me, her stance wide and her arms crossed over the perfection of her chest. Possessed, I let my hands drift up to the buttons of my shirt, opening each with trembling and with certainty. I have never done this before, never bared myself before a woman before, and the fear of exposure begins to war with the soft, warm space inside my head created by her control.

The acceleration of my thoughts is brought to a screeching halt with the soft pressure of a hand beneath my chin, tilting my face up until I am staring into eyes that are burning in their intensity. She searches my gaze at some length and then nods her head, apparently seeing what she is looking for as she murmurs, "Better," and then withdraws her hand.

I resume my actions, slowly peeling away each piece of clothing.

Only now it is something I do without fear.

Because the entire time, I am staring into her eyes.

When I am fully nude, she smirks, stepping forward slightly and running the tip of her forefinger all the way along the surface of my skin from my neck and over my chest and stomach, avoiding my desperate cock completely and ending her tour of touch at my hip.

She begins her inspection of me again, slow appreciative steps circling my body, and my abdomen flexes, some warm charge shooting through me. Some foreign and heady feeling of being wanted.

Desirable.

I almost moan.

"Fuck, you look good naked," she hisses, again from behind me. She licks the shell of my ear.

"But I think you'd look even better on your knees."

The most guttural sound falls out of me as I let the rest of me fall, too, landing on my knees on the carpet and dropping my head again, only to feel her hand playing gently at my hair. Still raking through the strands, she walks around me, a soft shiver tracing my spine to be naked before her and staring at her boots.

Walking away from me slightly, the warmth of her touch recedes.

But all too soon it is replaced by the warmth of a blush and of yet another pulsing resurgence of desire.

In her hands, she holds the cuffs I brought her the night before, turning them over and letting the light dance off of the thick, silver links. "I've been thinking about these all day, you know," she muses. "Very distracting. Hard to get anything at all done with these just staring at me. Just begging for attention, really."

"I'm sssorry," I murmur, but it's with a half smile, relishing the idea of her having spent the afternoon in anything even remotely resembling the state I found myself in all day.

She steps in closer until the pointed toe of her boot is nestled into the slip of space between my knees, the angle of it drawing attention directly to the straining line of my need.

There's silence for a moment, and even looking down, I can feel her watching me.

"No," she says softly, and yet still with such intensity. "I don't think you are." She reaches behind me to place the cuffs on her dresser and then traces a line from my ear down my neck and across the bare skin of my shoulder with her nail.

"As I thought about them, though, I couldn't help but wonder about where you got them." I gulp, a tiny tremor of panic in my chest, until she touches softly at my lips, and I relax. "They don't sell these in nice stores. You must have been shopping at a not-very-nice store, am I right, pet?"

I growl slightly and clench my eyes and whisper, "Yes."

Her breath is wet, her body bending to speak in my ear as she steps to stand beside me. "Such a naughty boy."

There's one soft slap to my ass, and my entire body tenses in arousal and need, as I groan, "God, yes."

I can hear the smile on her face as she steps away. "Up," she says, yanking at my hair until I sit up straighter, still on my knees, but erect.

God, I'm erect.

"Good boy."

My mind and heart grow so soft, even as my whole body remains intent, focused on fitting to the position she wants, and I feel something deep inside of me giving over.

"Tell me," she commands quietly. "Tell me why you're a naughty boy."

Sins past and present wash over my eyes, words of shame and a deep sense of deviance I could never seem to shake.

There's another swat at my ass and my cock throbs.

"I got them at a sssex shop."

A harder swat now, and I'm delirious with want. "Nice boys don't go to sex shops." She hits the other cheek, harder still.

"No," I agree.

"You've been to one before, you naughty boy."

Smack.

"Yes," I cry, louder now, and it's both confirmation and encouragement, a desperation to feel her, the softly blooming sting and the pleasure, a feeling like falling and like letting everything go.

"Tell me more," she hisses.

"I've b-bought pornography." Smack. "And masturbated." Smack. "And wanted this."

The silence positively sings, the blow that fails to land screaming even harder than the ache in my cock and the sting across my ass as everything in the whole world suspends, like the room has lifted up into the air.

Floating.

She's before me suddenly, my head being jerked up from a harsh touch gripping roughly at my chin, forcing me to meet eyes that are burning.

And not just with desire.

"No," she spits. "Don't you fucking dare. You won't be ashamed of this."

I am genuinely afraid for just a moment, something too intense about her.

But then I remember the look in her eyes when she asked me, again and again, if I really wanted this from her.

I put every ounce of my will into softening my expression, and into forming the words. Even though I'm not completely sure if it's allowed, I place my hand over hers, caressing her wrist.

"I'm not," I breathe. "N-not anymmmore."

It takes saying the words to realize, on some level at least, that they're true.

The hard edge of her stare evaporates as I drop my hand back down to my side, tenderness replacing that shadow I'd seen as it had flickered, and mingling with the burning flame of both her attention and her desire. For just one moment, she relaxes, smiling softly.

Her lips are gentle. A soft kiss, and it mixes with all the other sensations, the rush and the anticipation, a fullness in my chest that is almost frightening.

She regards me with kind eyes and a depth of feeling I cannot seem to name as she pulls back, smiling and caressing my chin, before she tenses just slightly again and releases me, walking behind me again.

There is silence for a moment, and I close my eyes, my hands relaxed at my sides as I try to reclaim the feeling of just a moment before. Something heavy descends back down around us, and I inhale deeply. More deeply than usual.

On some level, it feels like the first time I've ever really breathed.

"I have to say, Edward, I'm actually a little disappointed with you." Her voice reemerges from the infinite silence, and I let it wash over me, making me cringe, but somehow, not uncomfortably. She is speaking still with that same, strong tenor that says she is fully in control of the situation and of my body.

And I trust her to control my heart as well.

"Honestly, I thought you would have something much worse to tell me," she says softly. Teasingly.

I smile.

"You touch yourself, do you?" She is speaking in my ear again, and it makes me shudder, my cock twitching and my hand flexing too, compelled by the suggestion and longing for relief.

"Yes."

"Let me see."

I hesitate, the twitching want in my hands giving over slightly to a memory of the feeling I have always had while doing this before. A knowledge that there is something filthy about my mind and my body and my pleasure, and my breathing accelerates, uncomfortable and hot and something so dizzy in my brain.

I cry out slightly when her hand twists in my hair, yanking back with a delicious sting.

"Now, Edward," she rasps. "Your cock is perfect. Now touch it for me. Just the way you do when you're alone."

It's with a deep groan and with the excitement that comes from shame, thrust impossibly into the light, that I bring my hand to my length, curling my fingers around the head and thrilling both at her quickened breathing and at the pleasure of the touch. There's a line of liquid running from the slit, the evidence of my aching arousal obvious beneath my fingers as I shudder and take one slow stroke down to the base.

No one has ever seen me do this before, and I find myself almost delirious as I bring my hand back up, flying high on her command and on my fear and on the desperate shock of allowing myself to be watched. I feel the intermingling of delight at Bella telling me she wants this of me and the long-lingering terror of being caught.

Of being dirty.

My breath catches at the idea of being dirty with her.

"Yes," she hisses. She's moved to kneel behind me, and I feel her legs on either side of my own, her hand moving to stroke my balls as I moan. "More."

Deep sounds of pleasure erupt from my chest as I let my hand move harder, faster, taking up a rhythm I know so well, and yet which is so different than it has ever been before.

"You're so beautiful when you touch yourself," she murmurs, sucking hard at the skin below my ear, and it is fuel to a raging fire, my voice keening as I sink deeper, fly higher.

"Stop." Her hand suddenly closes around my own, my body hanging, clinging by treacherous inches to the edge of some kind of precipice, and I growl, disappointment and sensation and the red-hot sparks of my arousal arching and then extinguished. Put out.

I am a panting mess in her arms, my need desperate and my body jelly, for all that I am tense. My body feels like it will explode from the slightest touch, like I could come from just her voice. Kissing at the place where my neck meets my shoulder, she pulls both our hands away, exposing my naked desire to the air, and it is almost with pain that I feel the chill of it like a slap.

With our hands entwined at my side, I breathe and pant and moan as I try to calm myself, focusing on both our hearts and on the warmth of her touch, feeling the sting of her teeth as she kisses and nibbles at my neck.

"Good boy," she murmurs. "Such a good boy."

I sigh, the last painful edges of tension receding until I am almost sane before her once more and relaxing into her embrace.

I don't know when she picked them up, but the cuffs are in her hands once more, and I hear the leather flexing as she opens them, her hands drawing mine back and behind me as she closes each around me in turn. My breathing picks back up again as she begins to fasten my wrists, securing them deftly behind my back, tugging slightly until my chest arches forward and away from her. Once the cuffs are in place, her warmth recedes, her legs removing themselves from around my own as she stands. I am left there, kneeling and naked, with my arms bound, crossed behind me.

And never, in my entire life, has anything ever felt better.

"Green," I murmur as she steps in front of me, my eyes trained on the floor and my whole being beginning to float. In one swift motion, she is at eye level with me, her hands on either side of my face, her mouth on mine and a kiss so deep, tongues twisting and the taste of her lips destroying me.

When she pulls back, her hands move to my chest, pushing me backward, subtly prodding as she positions me until I am sitting with my bare back pressed to the front of her dresser, my ass on the carpet and my legs splayed out before me.

"Tell me you want me," she breathes against my lips.

"I want you. So much."

"Tell me what you want."

My eyes close, something so deep clenching inside of me. "I want to make you c-come. I want to commmme inside you."

She kisses me again, hard and hungry, before standing, her hands moving to unbutton her jeans, just inches from my face. I feel her hand at the back of my head, nudging me forward, and I glance up to find her looking down at me, her lip between her teeth and expectation in her eyes. I hold her gaze as I take my cue, reaching forward to take the top of her zipper between my teeth and pull it down, nudging the edges of her jeans to the side with my nose.

When I see that she is bare beneath them, I twitch uncontrollably.

Slender fingers fit themselves to the curves of her hips, dragging the denim down until I can see the flesh of her, soft and pink and glistening. With more coordination than I would ever have been able to muster, she pulls them off without removing her boots , the shining black leather of them following the soft swell of her calf to just below her knee.

I twitch, longing desperately to touch the leather of those boots, my wrists tugging at my bindings even as I sink deeper into the heady feeling of being restrained.

Her hands position themselves on either side of my head on the edge of the dresser as she moves to lower her sex to my face and I tilt my head to fit my mouth to her, my eyes closing as I lose myself in her. The taste of her flesh is salt and soft and sweet, my lips opening to suck at her clit and she gently pants above me, her legs shaking slightly as I push deeper into her and then move to trace the letters of my plea against her skin with my tongue.

"I fucking love your mouth," she groans. "I want it on me every day." She shudders, clawing at my scalp as I groan and hum against her flesh. "Want to be able to tell you to taste me any time I need it. You'd like that, pet?"

I nod without losing contact with her clit until she is shaking.

With a deep grunt, she suddenly pulls herself away, and I stare up at her, my eyes wide and my body so on edge and yet so compliant. She stands before me, legs spread, in just that tank top and those boots for a long minute, staring at me and trying to slow her breathing. My cock pulses against my stomach, weeping and straining, and yet I can scarcely even bring myself to care, I am so lost in her.

Slowly, finally, she drops, one knee settling on each side of my hips and her soft, wet flesh is brushing against the tip of me as I lowly moan. Her arms surround me, an elbow on each of my shoulders as she holds herself just slightly above me.

Just the tiniest of breaths outside my reach.

The softness of her lips on mine is heady, the tenderness to her strength making me long to be hers all the more.

"I want you to try not to come, OK?" she says quietly.

I wince slightly at another soft brush of her sex against my own, knowing exactly how worked up I am and how badly my control has failed in other situations.

But those were nothing at all like this one.

"I'll t-try," I mumble.

"Just tell me if it's too much."

I nod.

And then I gasp.

Warmth and heat, soft flesh parting and my body surrounded.

My head hits the dresser behind me, and I almost choke at the pleasure of it as her hips push flush against mine. My eyes stay open though, our gazes fixed as she begins to flex over me, grinding the top of herself against my pelvis and staring at me with a fire so intense it matches the one inside my body. For long moments of hard movements against my body, of her taking her pleasure of me in short, building strokes, I barely breathe, staring and connecting and feeling everything as it crescendos until I know that I am about to fail.

And that it is safe to.

"T-t-t-too close," I whisper, my eyes closing for just a fraction of a second. Almost instantaneously I can feel the cold air on my cock, slick and dripping, and I gasp at the near-pain and pressure of her thumb and forefinger squeezing tightly at the base of it, my orgasm almost cresting but then receding as I am left panting and raw.

"It's OK," she whispers, kissing her way up my neck and to my ear, but even I can hear the strain in her voice. She releases my cock and stands, pressing her pussy to my mouth where I lap at it, worshipful and thankful and lost as I tease over it in apology and supplication with my tongue.

When she begins to tremble again, she lowers herself down onto me once more, and I cannot stop the sounds my body forces out of me once I am home inside her sex.

"Do you feel that?" she whispers. "Do you feel how good we are?"

I whimper louder in affirmation and fight to keep my eyes on hers.

"So good," she mumbles. "So good."

She moves on me harder now, faster, the fabric-covered swells of her breasts brushing my chest with every motion, her mumbling getting louder and I am getting too close again, straining and giving in and flexing my own hips against hers.

Just when I think I am about to exceed my own control, she breaks our gaze to lower her mouth toward my ear, her nails scratching hard at my neck as she gasps, "Feel it, Edward. Come with me."

I groan so loudly, the world a rush of whirl and sound and her body pulsing around me as I melt, utterly and completely. My abdomen burns and tightens with the hot swell of release, until finally it all bubbles over and I am moans and delight and ecstasy and my forehead collapsing onto her chest as I empty into her endlessly.

We sit there for a moment, letting our minds catch up with our bodies, holding tightly until the high of orgasm crests and passes.

But the physical high is far from the only one.

Finally, with my body still inside her, Bella begins to relax, lifting my head to kiss me softly, the very tenor to it feeling somehow completely different. Warmer.

Slowly, I let go even further and allow myself to relax into it.

Eventually, the motion of our mouths slows, and thought begins to rush back in as she lifts herself off of me, urging me to sit up so she can reach my hands, unfastening the cuffs. Uncertain of the well of emotion bubbling up inside of me, I use my newfound freedom to clasp her as tightly as I can to my chest, holding her and letting my hands move through her hair as everything washes over me.

And it's too much.

Too much happiness and pleasure and connection, so many years of feeling wrong and of suddenly feeling right. I can't even understand the words tumbling out of me, and I keep her face to my neck so she won't see the soft lines of tears I can't explain running down my face.

"It's OK, Edward. It's OK," she whispers over and over, her arms closing around my back as well and my grip tightening.

She pulls back eventually, her eyes so soft and shining as she looks at me, and I am smiling and crying and flying and crashing.

"Oh, Edward," she chokes, her thumbs soft on my cheeks as she brushes the wetness away, kissing me softly. "Are you OK?"

I nod and frown and smile and keep touching her.

I can't stop touching her.

Smiling at me, she lifts herself, taking my hand in hers, and leading me into her bathroom. Closing the lid on the toilet, she makes me sit, keeping her leg in contact with mine as she leans over and begins to run a bath. As the water level rises, steam filling the room, she takes a washcloth from a basket and wets it before bringing it to my face, dabbing gently at my cheeks. I go limp and simply let my arms encircle her.

"You did so good, baby," she whispers. I can hear my laughter in my ears, but there's no way for me to process it, feeling only the sensation of my fingertips on her skin.

"C'mon," she says after a while, leaning forward again to stop the rushing of the water.

Somehow I end up in the tub, submerged to halfway up my chest with my knees drawn up around me. Bella is there, too, naked now and brushing her lips over my hands and mouth.

With careful strokes, she brings the cloth to my skin once more, washing gently at pieces of me that feel too raw to touch, but which still succumb to the warmth of her touch.

When she is done, she kneels before me, and while my gaze is still unfocused, I can see the vulnerability on her face. The second-guessing.

The fear.

And I know that, even as she has been taking care of me, she needs to be treated with care now, too.

Closing my eyes, I reach for her numbly, still too affected to speak coherently.

But I need her to know that it's not because this has been too much for me.

Even though it has.

I need her to know that it's because she is simply the best thing to ever happen to me.

Shaking, I pull her into my arms, just resting with her in my embrace and feeling the comfort of her arms wrapping themselves around me reciprocally.

And then, against her hair, I whisper the only words that I seem to be able to speak.

"Thank you."

Over and over again, I murmur it, with my breath and with my kiss. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

Chapter Text

The silence of my apartment is split by a dull buzz, the soft motion of glistening plastic on wood and a flickering of light amidst the dimness that has fallen over me with the setting sun.

Smiling at its vibrating form, I take a moment before answering to ponder how my phone has become my own little twenty-first century metaphor for my heart. Once silent, untouched, it is now constantly moving, flickering to life with the promise of connection.

So often, it is positively aglow.

Even after so many protestations and explanations that I am not a man who is meant for the phone, Bella still insists on calling me. Several times a day, the little screen is illuminated with words of flirtation or temptation. Sometimes, her messages drip sex, and at other times sweetness.

Regardless, they throw my entire dim life into sparkling light.

In the four days since she bound me and fucked me and bathed me, she has called me every night, sitting through my pathetic stutters with such patience and grace that I feel held within the embrace of her voice.

Until in the most blinding flash, albeit for just the briefest of moments, the stutter all but fades, and I am left naked with my words, flying and communicating.

And it is like I am free.

With the sort of smile my face is still uncertain how to cope with, I set my laptop aside and reach forward, pressing the button and bringing it to my ear. But while my heart moves and glows for Bella alone, my phone is apparently not so picky.

"Edward, man! You're still alive."

I squirm, my bare feet coming up to place themselves on the edge of the cushion so that my body subconsciously curls up into itself, seeking smallness and safety.

"Hhhhhhi, Em-m-m-mmett."

He chuckles and I try to breathe. "Don't sound too happy to hear from me."

My brother has never shown me anything but kindness, and too many times I have turned to him when I have reached the limits of my own abilities and patience, begging him to free me of the rope of my own devising. Whether starting me on my adventure in internet dating or talking me down off of innumerable attacks of panic and depression, he has always been there.

And yet, at the same time, his easy voice and smile have never failed to fill me with unease, my entire being retreating and reverting until I am the child inside his shadow again . Helpless. Stumbling.

I force a smile he cannot see and hug the phone a little closer to my cheek as my fingernails dig into my knee. "Hhhhow are you?"

"Doing fine." I can practically hear him settling back into his couch, his feet up and his posture relaxed.

As if the contrasts between us could be more clear.

"Just wondering why I haven't heard from you in so long. What's it been? A month?"

At that thought, my smile becomes solid. Real. "Four w-w-weeks Thursday."

Four weeks since I told him I didn't need a date.

"Glad somebody's keeping count," he mutters. "Speaking of which, your profile is practically collecting dust, you know. And there are some serious hotties messaging you. You sure you don't - "

I hear my own voice responding sharply, with conviction. "I'm sssure."

And for once, my self-assured brother seems taken by surprise. The line hangs in silence for a moment as I allow myself to breathe and to begin to unwind, calming my own fevered mind with visions of Bella sitting across from me at a table, her face awash in pale, warm light.

There is both wonder and smugness to Emmett's voice as he finally recovers. "Well, OK then. So tell me about her."

My mouth opens a half dozen times only to close all over again. But for once it's not from a lack of words.

It's that there are infinitely too many.

Finally, I stutter, "She's p-p-p-perfect."

#~~#~~#

"So …" Bella's voice is so warm in my ear as I press the speaker to it more tightly. After finally getting my brother off the phone, I found myself restless. Wanting.

And so for the first time, for no real reason, without any real intention but to hear the softness of breath around my name, I let my thumb flick across the screen to her name.

And the sweetness of her silent smile across the line was my reward.

We have been making comfortable small talk about our days for half an hour or so, and I am finally becoming comfortable. Getting ready for bed, I have shed my jeans and lie now across my bed in a thin, grey t-shirt and boxers, my fingers playing idly with my hair as I allow myself to bask in the haven of her voice.

She lowers it as she continues, and I know that our words are about to become more intimate and secret.

Dirtier.

"So what was your favorite part?" she asks. "On Saturday night."

My body responds immediately, her intimation manipulating my very nerves, making my skin sensitive to even my own now-quickening breath. A million flashes of images all assail me at once, incomplete visions of her flesh and mine.

And even better, of the two combined.

I force myself to slow down, trying to bind my mind and pulse to a rhythm I can at least endeavor to sustain. It is difficult to make my thoughts run smoothly, caught in a fog of lust and an affection of memory. For one moment, my fingers leave my hair to pass idly over the tip of my growing arousal before I settle them on the sliver of skin revealed above my hip.

"Alllll of it," I whisper reverently, but I know that she wants more from me. For hours that night, after drying each other with tender hands on too-raw skin, we had held each other, kissing and speaking in soft tones of adoration and encouragement.

But I hadn't been able to do what she'd wanted me to.

To really talk about it.

Clenching my eyes, I push myself further, feeling the grounding sting of my nails at they bite against my side. "When you … p-put yourself onnnn me. On mmmmy …. On mmmmmy mmouth."

"Yeah?" she says, and I can hear the wet parting of her lips. "How come?"

Fully hard now, my cock throbs.

"You hhhhhad my hands t-tied. So I - I hhhhad to. B-but I wwwanted to, too. And I could - I c-c-could see you." The soft creaminess of her hips and thighs surround me and I can practically taste her pleasure on my tongue. "I llllike making you feel g-good."

She exhales deeply. "I liked that, too." There's a sound of rustling sheets and I imagine her in a tank top and panties, rolling over in her bed. "What else?"

I've been trying not to think of it, but my mind darts unbidden to the part of the evening that makes my arousal threaten to peak from just the memory.

"I liked - I llll-" I shake my head and try again, my fists tangling with my sheets. Almost inaudibly, I breathe, "I liked it when yyyou sp-sp-sp-spanked me."

"God, Edward," she half-moans, and I have to wrap my hand around the base of my cock, feeling it through the fabric of my boxers as I pulse. "I got myself off just thinking about that yesterday."

"Fuck," I whimper. I want to tell her, 'me, too,' but I still don't quite know how to.

Not without her here.

Making me.

"Tell me what you liked about it."

I take one stroke up and then let my hand slip into my boxers, holding burning, desperate flesh. It feels dirty and wrong, but somehow, with Bella listening, goading … somehow, it also feels right.

"I lllliked the q-questions you aaaasked me. It was llllike c-confession." My stomach drops, my hand pausing.

"Yeah?" I think I can hear her panting slightly, and I wonder if she is touching herself while she talks to me.

Nodding my head, I whisper, "Yes."

Images of myself flood my mind, memories of when I was younger and even more skinny and unsure. When I close my eyes, I can almost feel my body tucked up into the corner of that box, trying to tell a priest the things he wants to hear without telling him too much. Without telling him the secret acts and dreams that truly terrify me.

While nothing bad ever happened to me at church, it always left me feeling even more unclean.

Even less deserving.

Of what I wanted. Needed.

Sex.

Happiness.

Love.

"You liked confessing to me?"

Bella's question brings me back to myself, and I feel my waning erection re-intensify inside my hand, the warmth of her striking palm across my ass pushing all of the feelings of inadequacy and shame to the side. I search desperately for words, but they stick in my throat, speech as ever refusing to be a friend to me.

Not when it matters.

"Yyyyou d-didn't jjjjjjjudge me."

"Edward, I spanked you until your ass was red."

I actually moan, my thumb reaching up of its own accord to slide pre-come around my swollen head. "I knnnnnnow. But I w-wanted you to. It wwwas … it wwwwas …" I have to stop, squeezing once around the base of my cock and then flopping my arm out to the side.

"D-d-did you ever ggo to ch-church, Bella?"

I can hear her distaste. "Not really."

Closing my eyes, I try to explain. "There are all these th-things you're sssssup-pposed to do. Hhhhhhail Mary. P-prayer. B-b-b-but nnnnone of it ever made me feeeeel b-better. B-because I was still wwwwwwrong. Th-their rules would never ch-change. But with you … it was … it was lllllike you p-punished me and t-told me it was OK allll at the same t-time. It was such a … a … " I stall out, teeth clicking and mind whirring as I ball my hand into a fist.

"Breathe, Edward."

I do.

Hard.

Finally, I whisper, "It was ssssuch a … a relief."

I can hear her giggle, but it doesn't sound like derision.

"Oh, Edward," she murmurs. "Everything about you is a relief."

All the tension that has built up in me finally subsides, and I relax back down into my mattress, wishing I could smell her on my sheets.

That she were here.

It's a strange thought, really. For years now, this dim space has been my refuge and my one safe place, unpenetrated by person or thing. No one has ever been here.

But I want her to see it.

I want her to see me.

We lie there, silently smiling at each other from several miles away, until finally I clear my throat, curiosity getting the best of me.

"And wwwwhat about you?" I finally manage.

"Me?" There is something slightly dazed about the way she asks the question.

As if it is unfamiliar to her.

"Wwwwhat did you like?"

She hums. "I think … I think it's a tie, between when you touched yourself and when I fucked you."

A fresh rush of arousal surges through me and I start stroking lightly at my flesh. Through that fog, I try to take my cues from her, asking for more. "Wwwhy?"

She pauses. "Are you touching yourself now?"

I want to be ashamed, but it's so damned hard when her voice is practically dripping.

When it sounds like that's exactly what she wants of me.

I swallow, but my words still sound timid. "W-why do you think that?"

"Your breathing." Her breathing is heavy as well, and I can picture those slender fingers slipping softly into flesh.

"Yyyyou're b-breathing hard, too."

"I know," she whispers. "Because I'm thinking about you, helpless and inside me. About the look on your face when you told me you were too close."

I whimper, my hand now racing along my length as pull it from the fabric of my underwear and expose it to the air.

"It was so fucking hot, Edward," she pants. Neither of us has confirmed what we are doing, but I swear that I can hear the wet, rhythmic slipping of flesh on flesh in the background beneath her accelerating breath. Just the picture of it I hold in my head makes my abdomen clench as I twist my palm around the head and twitch with the pleasure of it. "Knowing you wanted me like that. That you wanted me so badly you couldn't control yourself."

"I c-can't," I murmur, my flesh increasingly slick inside my grasp as I pause to lift my shirt. "I nnever can. You're so sssexy."

"I love making you lose control. I love it when you're all tied up … underneath me … trying to please me." Even as she is speaking about it, my grip on my need is slipping, and when she speaks of her body, hovering over my own naked, sweating one, I groan out loud. She whimpers. "Are you close, baby?"

My heart pangs, knowing she knows, but I grunt out a stifled, "Yes."

"Let go."

I do.

And the echoing murmurs of her pleasure are my lifelines to the world.

#~~#~~#

A few quiet moments pass, my shaking hands carefully wiping my release from my chest. When she finally speaks again, her voice is calmer. Softer. "You know what else I liked?"

I tuck myself back into my boxers and smile. "What?"

She pauses. "When you thanked me. In the bath."

We have not really spoken of this at all in these past few days. Of my shivering need and my numb, wild swings into detachment, my body and mind both crashing and soaring.

In the wake of my silence, she continues, "I was so nervous. I didn't know if you were OK and you seemed like you were shutting down on me." For just a second her voices slightly cracks. "I trusted you but I didn't know if it was too much." Even quieter still, she whispers, "If you regretted it already."

"Bella," I murmur, shaking my head and wishing I could open up my heart and make her see all the turning, twisting, flying feelings that had been blooming inside of me, and which are making me feel like I am blooming still. Shakily, I whisper, "It was too much. But nnnot because of you. It was that I'd never … I never thought I'd fffffind..."

I close my eyes and take a long, deep breath.

"I nnnever thought that I would ever be so happy."

#~~#~~#

The next morning, I am sleepy, stumbling around in my apartment in the same boxers and t-shirt from the night before, pouring cereal and making coffee in a strange and smiling blur. By the time I am finally sitting down to work, it seems like so much of the day is already over, and yet at the same time it has only just begun.

Because every day, these days, seems ripe with possibilities.

My phone lights up with a message from Bella, and I read it with an unmovable grin. She has taken on a temp job this week to help fill in some of the gaps in her freelance work, and it has made it harder to get a hold of her. And even harder still to see her.

But she still makes time to bring me into her day.

Putting down my mug, I open the message.

Spilled the boss's coffee. Hole in my hose. AND they actually gave me work to do so I can't even write. Tell me why I got out of my pajamas again?

As I read, I can practically see her, flustered and angry, and the picture I have in my mind of her expression makes my erection stir to life. In text, I channel someone else. Someone dapper and flirtatious.

Even though, behind the screen, I am still only me.

My heart pounds hard as I type my reply.

I've never seen your pajamas, so I don't know.

Oh right, I almost forgot. I don't wear any.

I manage to slap my hand over my mouth before coffee spurts everywhere. Smirking, I tap out:

Prove it.

Have you ever seen me in any?

The soft feel of her naked skin on mine inundates my memory, and after five days, I feel crazy with a desire to touch it once more.

No. But I don't have enough evidence. Perhaps I need to spend more time watching you sleep?

LOL. While I wouldn't object, I'd prefer that you sleep with me.

I pause, breathing hard, before dropping any pretense and speaking plainly.

I miss you. When can I see you?

My roommate is around tonight. You're welcome to join us, but unless you feel like playing twenty questions …

For the moment, I push back the shudder running through me at that idea, knowing that meeting her friends again is an inevitability but not one that I am eager to pursue right now.

Instead, I focus on the other tremulous, fearful hint of hope that is rising in my chest.

With my thumbs hovering above the tiny keys, I take the time to glance around me at the four white walls. Sterile. Unoccupied. And I remember the sudden flash of desire I felt last night to have her presence here inside them.

I want to see her. But I want to see her here.

As I begin to type again, it is with that dizzying combination of hope and fear, all mixed together with the knowledge of exactly what I am leaving myself open for.

That I am opening myself and my life for her.

You could come to my place.

Is that an invitation?

Are you accepting?

I hold my breath.

Yes.

Chapter Text

I stare still at the simple word on my screen.

Yes.

In my own strange fog, I cannot help but wonder if she knows that hers will be the first presence in the place that I have called home in years.

That somehow, in all its emptiness, it has always seemed to be waiting for her.

Just like I have.

With my heart hammering, I tap out a series of more mundane replies about directions and parking and times. When she finally indicates that her boss for the week is approaching and that she needs to go, we have made all the necessary arrangements, and I am left with nothing but my hope and my space and an inexplicable mix of feelings that wash from knees to my toes and then all way up to the closed-up space inside my throat.

For a while, I sip at my coffee and try to work, but it is all for naught, and my nervous energy compels me up and out of my usual state.

Here, my head pounds. Bella will be here.

My stillness breaks, and I am suddenly moving in a burst of activity. While I am a neat person in general, years of loneliness have bred complacency, and suddenly I feel that everything must shine. It's an instinct not just to impress her, but to please her.

To have her find something worthy in my home and in me.

For the ensuing hours, I put all my energy to bringing life to unlit corners, and when I finally step back to admire my handiwork, I feel myself chest begin to expand, bursting with something that is happy and good inside.

And it's with that realization that I need to pause, unsure what to do with the feelings that contradict any other feelings about my life and myself that I have ever had before. It's almost uncomfortable, the fullness in my ribs, pressing up against my throat at the thought of there being something good here. Worthy.

It strikes me that without even setting a foot inside my door, Bella has already breathed something new and vital into this space.

And she has done it by breathing life back into me.

#~~#~~#

The buzzer rings at seven p.m. exactly, and I press the switch to let her in.

When I open the door, it is to a woman in a soft blue sweater and a skirt, her hair tied up as severely as I have ever seen it. Her beautiful, brown eyes are tired, but she still wears a smile that makes me long for the sorts of kisses I never thought would be a reality for me. I stand there, with one hand braced on the door frame and another still wrapped around the knob, taking her in.

"Hi," she says, waving with one hand and looking up at me through her lashes while wearing the most delicious smirk. It thaws my position, and the hand stuck on the door frame comes up to cup her cheek, my body bending slightly at the waist until I can brush my own upturned, smiling lips against hers. Moving to the side, I allow her to slip by me; when she does so, it is with an absolute minimum of space, coming so close that I can smell her breath and hair, and I nearly sigh with the relief.

Once inside, she drops a duffel bag to the floor, and I glance up with an eyebrow raised.

"What?" she says, her expression asking me to call her on it. When I don't, she still explains herself to me. "You did say you wanted to watch me sleep, so I figured that was an invitation to stay." Her nails rake softly across my chest as she steps into me, her other hand snaking its way around my neck. When she is close enough to kiss me, she takes my bottom lip between her teeth, nibbling gently before releasing it. "And I am far too old to do the walk of shame."

"Clearly," I murmur. I manage to get both my hands between our bodies so that I can place one on each side of her face before I kiss her again. Softly. Gratefully. "You can sssstay anytime you w-want to, Bella."

Her mouth parts and I feel her tongue trace the bottom of my lip. "Good to know."

For a few minutes we stand in my entryway and simply kiss, my body yielding to the softness of hers and relishing the contact that I have never had before, but which now, after just a few short days without it, I so desperately miss. Wandering with touch and taste, I let my hands feel her curves, lingering on shoulders and hip and moving softly over the swell of her bottom, but pull away when I am about to moan.

I place one more soft, firm kiss to her mouth before stepping back and letting my hands fall. She is staring at me with a look of hunger that threatens to ignite me, a single tendril of her hair escaping and playing at the edge of her face. I want to sate her hunger and my own.

But at the moment, I also want so much more.

Entwining my hand with hers, I motion to the interior of the apartment and away from the door. My nervousness is just outweighed by my excitement, my lust tempered by an eagerness that surprises even me. "Wwwwould you like the t-tour?"

Stammering and rubbing the back of my neck, I guide her through the few small rooms, nearly stalling when I show her my freshly-made bed, my breath catching as, for the first time, I allow myself to imagine being tied to every corner of it, with her body kneeling by my head.

A thickness settles over the air as we hover, silent, my throat strangely seizing. She shifts, seeming uncomfortable in her too-stiff clothes, and I long to pull them off of her. To reveal the wild and beautiful woman she has poured into such a typical mold.

I don't need to, though; she chooses that moment to crack the mold herself, leaning up on tiptoes to breathe wetly across my ear.

"Very nice," she purrs, gesturing into the room and pulling me toward her.

At the instant our lips meet, I hear a faint beeping down the hall, and it is with a clutching grasp of my fingers around her waist that I pull back, my other hand floating up to graze her neck. I close my eyes for just a moment to collect myself, then breathe, "Hhhhave you eaten?"

She curls her fingers into my belt loops and refuses to let me go. "No, though I could." She growls on the last syllable, one thumb tracing the line of me through my jeans. I groan in frustration as I place my hand on her wrist.

"Fffffood, B-Bella."

"Seriously?"

I shrug and begin to lead her back out into the apartment. It smells subtly of tomato and basil, and my heart is beating almost as quickly as the first time she kissed me.

I feel almost as naked, too.

"You cooked?" Her voice is incredulous and just a little bit awed, and the swelling of my chest that results is difficult to identify, but I know that it feels good.

"I wwwwwanted to do something n-nice for you." I am not much of a cook, having had little reason to practice in these many years. In dark evenings, I have chuckled to myself in despair that I could write a book entitled, 'Depressing Meals for One.'

This meal is from the cook book my mother pressed into my hands as she left me in my very first apartment, promising me I would want it someday. For my part, I had simply stood there, too tongue-tied to protest and too ashamed to explain that there was no one in my life with whom I could imagine myself being close enough to want to feed.

As I turn hopefully toward the woman who makes me want to do everything for her, I find that Bella is eying me skeptically, but that her lack of ease is not with her body or her clothes this time. There is something else there, darker and even more uncertain, and I feel a ripple of a chill sink through my chest. My hands that want to mold to hips and waist end up falling when I cannot find a way to touch her, and I let my head fall as I turn back toward the oven.

My nerves rise, stifling.

But I don't want to shut down.

I want her to know.

"I jjjjjust w-wanted to t-t-take care of you. Lllllllike … Llllll …. Llllike you d-do mmmmme."

In the silence that follows, I feel almost dizzy, questions bubbling up through my lungs as quickly as my fears, but I can give voice to none of them.

But I want to.

I want to ask her why her eyes sometimes darken. Why she doesn't know what to do sometimes with my praise or with attempts to treat her with care.

I want to ask if someone hurt her, and I want to protect her from ever being hurt again.

But even more, I want to stay silent and to simply bask in the soft comfort of her company, our easy flirtation restored and her face again clear and forgiving of whatever wrong I have done.

Because these are questions that I still tremble at when I imagine them being directed at me.

My hands on the edge of the stove feel the heat but not the burn, and I shift them slightly until there is only coolness and countertop beneath my skin. Finally, her hand touches softly between my shoulder blades.

And I can breathe again, as quietly she whispers, "OK."

#~~#~~#

"No, really, it's good!" She laughs, her lips forming a soft 'O' to pass cool air across the piece of pasta on her fork. The dark moment has passed and I am bathed in sheer normalcy, almost giddy with it as I tip my glass back. We are drinking wine tonight, and combined with the high of her proximity, it is lending a warmth to the coldest corners of me and of my life, which for so long has been hidden by these walls.

And which now is happening inside them.

I chew at another mouthful myself, and while it is fine, it does not begin to compare to the breakfasts she has prepared for me each time I have woken in her bed. Shaking my head and touching her hand, I repeat, "B-but it's nnnnnothing like what you c-could have made."

"Whatever. All I know is that I didn't have to cook it." She tilts her head and puts down her fork. We are basically done, and I am beginning to grow both nervous and excited at the prospect of what will come next. I am, of course, unaccustomed to entertaining guests, and I worry that my meager diversions will be of no interest to her.

Even more, though, I am hopeful that the only diversions we will need will be each other.

As if her mind is on the same downward-sloping track, she flashes me a mischievous smile as she crumples her napkin and pushes her chair back. She is in my lap before I completely know what she is doing, and I nearly choke, putting my own things down to try to grab and steady her, securing her as gently as I can against my hips.

With fervor, she presses her lips to mine, and I soak it up, opening my mouth to taste her. After a series of deep, pulsing kisses, she tears away to rub her nose against mine.

Shaking her head, she murmurs, "I can't believe you made me dinner."

Grazing her temple with my thumb, I speak the deeper truth of my heart. "I can't belllllieve you're here to sh-share it with me."

She is still protesting, but it is silent. Against my lips, she whispers, "Thank you."

I am about to tell her that there is nothing to thank when I feel her hand close around me through my jeans, and the words evaporate with her touch. Wet lips appear at my ear and I exhale deeply as her tongue licks just below the lobe. "There must be some other way that I can thank you." Her palm makes a long slow stroke, and I harden beneath the warmth of it. "Now if only I could think of something."

"I'm sssssure you c-c-" I am cut off by the feeling of her teeth sinking into my neck. It's hard enough to hurt, and I breathe out a raspy, "Fuck," before she keeps descending, her mouth kissing and blowing heat over my skin through the fabric of my shirt. When I take in the damp imprint of her open lips above my heart, I have to close my eyes, gripping her hips hard, but her body continues to slide until I can feel her breath across my navel, her hand still pressing against my cock.

"Look at me, Edward." I am almost scared to, knowing that I will find her on her knees, remembering just how uncomfortable that feels, but still I somehow manage to. She is staring up at me, and I harden further with the look of power on her face that puts me right back in my place. Gruffly, she says, "Put your hands behind your back."

A deep groan falls out of my mouth as I comply, clasping my wrists tightly. Her voice is not quite as intense as the one she used the last time she truly took me, but it is firm enough to send a thrill through me and to make me hunger to obey.

With her lips and tongue and teeth, she bites and sucks her way across my abdomen, never ceasing in her teasing as her palm retreats but her thumb continues to play with the head of my cock through the fabric. Finally, she kisses over the waistband and down, opening her mouth just there, exhaling until the moisture and heat seep through, bathing me in desire. My hips twitch of their own desperate will, but a firm hand stills them.

"Stay still, baby," she whispers, staring up at me, and it is so intensely erotic to see her teeth close over fabric in a way that would be painful were she biting down on bare and needy skin. She purses her lips and runs her tongue over them before kissing me more gently. "You want this?"

"Yes," I breathe. "P-please, Bella."

"Please what?"

A memory of just how difficult this was only a few short weeks ago possesses me and I smile, earning another nip at my straining, covered flesh. "Yyyyou know."

"Tell me."

Our eyes connect perfectly as I whisper, "You know I wwwant your mouth on me."

Those wicked eyes flash, nimble fingers moving from my hip to my zipper, and finally she releases me. Soft, wet kisses all along the bare length of me make my legs tremble, and it is only with aching restraint that I keep my body steady, resisting the temptation to move. Thrust.

Take.

Because I would always prefer that she see fit to give.

"Ask again," she says, her tongue darting out to flit across the flesh of the head.

"P-please. Please put your mmmmouth on me."

"Dirtier."

A knot made up of words forms in my stomach.

I feel a tiny nip of teeth against the skin just to the underside of it and then a hot wash of breath, her eyes intense and intent as they gaze at me.

"Ask another way, Edward."

So quietly, so low that the sound can scarcely reach my ears, I breathe the words. Words I've never said out loud to a woman before. "Sssssuck it. P-please."

I keep my eyes and hands exactly where they are supposed to be as my reward melts over me, my breath released in a shuddering exhale as the warmth of her mouth opens over solid flesh. Her full lips slide first over the head and then down, her tongue firm as it strokes along the parts that are the most sensitive. When I hit the back of her throat, I groan, my hands grasping hard at each other in an attempt to maintain my restraint as she begins to slide wetly up and down.

"Fuck, Bella," I pant, and she moves faster, sucking and licking and taking me so deeply. One hand moves up to wrap around the base where she cannot quite open herself wide enough to take me in, while the other begins to tease the sensitive flesh below. "You feel ssso good. So good."

She hums and I feel it everywhere, remembering the only other time she let me finish in her mouth, the two of us naked in her shower the morning after the first time she fucked me. The image of her body, wet and perfect, is all but burned into my retinas, and it flashes every time I blink.

For the most part, I try to keep my eyes open though.

Because Bella is the kind of woman who is no less sexy for wearing clothes.

For so much longer than I would have expected myself to be able to last, I sit there, held only by the restraints of my own clenching hands, simply feeling and enjoying, moaning with every motion of her throat and tongue, and reeling at the tight pressure of her lips.

My focus is brought back to the hot suction around my cock as she scrapes her teeth gently across the flesh on an upstroke, and I hiss in a perfect combination of pain and pleasure. She looks up suddenly at my reaction, trying to judge if it's the right kind of hiss, and the moment her eyes connect with mine, it is like the lost key to the lock around my pleasure and the feeling begins to crest.

"B-bella," I warn, and I want to move my hands to push her off and I want to pulse, desperate and aching and thrusting into her mouth. "I'mmm - I'mmm …"

The steadiness of her gaze tells me she knows and she consents, and I groan, letting my eyes drift closed as the trembling wave overtakes me. For what feels like forever, I float on the cusp, listening to the obscene motions of her mouth until the first spasm hits, and then I am emptying and soaring and coming.

And when she pulls back, placing my softening dick back inside my boxers, she is smiling even as her lips are wet with me.

With a powerful surge of emotion and adoration, I pull her up to my lap, kissing that mouth and tasting my own bitter release, but I do not care because that flavor is mixed with hers. When I can breathe, I hold her with one hand firmly grasping the back of her neck.

"Wwwwwhat are you doing in mmmy life?" I ask in wonder.

Her fingertips ghost from my eyebrow to my temple. She smiles as she whispers, "Just enjoying the view."

I shake my head and try to still my hands that are somehow possessed with energy, a happiness that goes so much further than just an orgasm in a willing mouth.

And the energy needs a way out.

Strange elation shoots straight to my head, a bit of dizziness as I guide her legs around my waist and stand. She shrieks as I hold her so tightly to my chest, gripping hard at my back and laughing. I move us forward and through the little passageways of my home, grinning and delirious as I throw us both down on my bed.

It's a strange feeling to be on top of her, familiar discomfort and expectations waving warily at me from the back of my mind; I ignore them as I run my nose along her neck, still trembling with laughter. Finally, I place a soft, chaste kiss on her lips and whisper, "I llllike the view much b-better from here."

"And what view is that?" she asks, smirking and twisting a hand in my hair.

I hover over her for just a moment more, my hand pressing to the bed beside her head. She is flirting and darting her gaze between my eyes and her chest, but I am not distracted.

Kissing the tip of her nose, I tell her, "The vvview of you in my bed."

#~~#~~#

"What t-time do you want the allllarm set for?" I murmur against her hair. We have spent the rest of the evening laughing and talking, and with me making love to her repeatedly with my mouth, to the point where now I can taste nothing but her when I breathe.

"Hmm?" Her face is pressed against my neck, her lungs making her whole body rock up and down with the rhythm of her breath. Kissing her temple, I think to myself that I may adore her more in this sort of moment than any other, when her whole body is limp and pressed against mine, her features all soft.

Because while I have never seen anything more powerful or sexy than the sight of her body hovering over me, it is all the more delicious of an image for the other parts of herself she also lets me see.

Nudging her again, I whisper, "The t-time. When do you need to beeee up?"

She shifts and burrows more tightly against me. "I can just set it on my phone."

"Your phone is out tttthere, Bella." My arm is outstretched, my thumb already hovering over the clock.

Her one eyes opens and she stares out into the darkness before shutting it again. "Good point," she whispers sleepily. "Six-thirty."

"OK." I smile and press the buttons, suppressing my grimace at the earliness of the hour and feeling thankful again for the steadiness of my own paychecks recently. My other hand comes up to cradle the back of her head as I reach up to turn out the light.

And it's only there, in the dark with her naked body wrapped around me, that I finally give myself the opportunity to recognize this moment. To simply lie there and to breathe.

Understanding, truly, even in the deepest parts of me that have been so reluctant to accept it, that she ishere with me.

Knowing that I am not alone.

With a deep sigh that I can feel through every inch and muscle inside of me, I brush her hair back from her face and close my eyes.

And softly, I whisper, "Goodnight."

#~~#~~#

Warmth.

Soft.

Even in my sleep, I smile as something tickles across my chin.

"Edward."

There's a whisper near my ear and I turn into it, trying to wrap my arms around warmth, but it is wriggling and I grumble at the emptiness as it is removed from my chest.

"I have to go, Edward."

My eyes drift open to find her sitting on the bed beside me, her face just inches from mine and her hand against my naked skin. She is already dressed, and I wrinkle my brow in confusion that I could have missed the alarm.

Her lips press to mine three times, once each to the bottom and top and then to the very corner of my mouth. "I just didn't want to leave without saying goodbye."

Cupping her cheek, I crane my neck to kiss her one more time before she flutters her fingertips over my eyes, closing them.

They are too heavy to lift again.

"Thank you," I murmur as she pulls away, and I can practically hear her smile.

There's one more soft, damp feeling of her lips against my cheek, and she whispers, "Any time."

I am practically asleep again before I realize that it's the first morning I've had the pleasure of waking up to her.

And then I slip back into a dream that is almost as perfect as my waking was.

Chapter Text

After leaving me, alone and glowing in my bed, Bella returns to me that night, meeting me for our fifth consecutive Friday night date at the same restaurant where we met for the very first time. Instead of standing awkwardly at the bar, sipping scotch and trying desperately to control my nerves and my expectations of disappointment, I wait for her by the door, smiling broadly when she rounds the corner and walks my way.

She pulls me down to her by tugging lightly at my hair. As she does, I remember the feeling of her nails scraping across my scalp more forcefully, a thin rush of arousal making me softly groan from the simple contact of lips on lips.

When her hand slips between our bodies, pressing lightly at the space above my heart before brushing over the front of my slacks, I can scarcely contain the groan that longs to escape me. All day, I have been distracted, thinking often of the feel of her in my bed, but also of the other ways in which we have touched each other.

Of the words we spoke in broken, gasping whispers across an invisible wire about confession and care-taking.

The words we didn't say about my hands held tightly behind my back as she took my body into hers and wiped all my fears away.

Around mid-day, when images of her body hovering over mine had become too persistent to ignore, I'd found myself spread out across my couch, my arousal hot and hard in my hand and my eyes clenched closed. It was not the first time I had found myself in that position, remembering her voice and her hushed instruction to meet my own throbbing need.

And it was only inside that swell of memory, with my other hand held in mock restraint above my head, that I had been able to complete the task with pleasure instead of shame.

Imagining that I did so at her command.

As if she knows the tenor of my thoughts, Bella chooses just that moment to take my wrist inside the open circle of her hand, leading me forward and into the restaurant where we are quickly seated. With eager eyes, I devour hers, soaking in the pretty quality of them and the slick, naked pink of her lips that first awakened my senses, back before I even knew what they could do.

Before I knew the feel of them on my mouth or wrapped around my cock.

Before I understood how the words that fell out of them had the power to both sate and possess me.

For her part, Bella too seems restless, or perhaps distracted, her eyes darting often to my lips and hands and wrists, making my skin burn with the memory of being held within her grip, my body so eager to be held that way again.

But I find soon that she's tired, too.

That her days wasted in an office and her nights spent trying to write through drooping eyes have all taken their toll on her.

That our hours of passion and touch the night before have only added to her exhausted state.

As we eat, I find myself leading the conversation more than is typically my wont, but with Bella, it is easier than I would ever have expected. We talk about our days, and I try to explain the story I am working on, encouraged by her nods and questions, and by her smile.

As so often she does, Bella orders one dessert and two forks, but this once I take them both and insist on feeding her. When I get whipped cream on the soft point of her nose, I wipe it gently with my thumb, only to then brush my other fingers across the dark circles that hang beneath her eyes.

And then, so tenderly, I hover over the table to kiss each one.

I want to kiss so much more than just here eyes, though, and as we walk toward the door, I find myself checking my expectations. For an awkward series of moment, we stand outside the restaurant, shuffling our feet. I know that she walked here from her apartment, and I find that her empty hands speak to my empty, wanting day.

"You d-didn't bring a b-b-bag," I murmur uncertainly, my hands in my pockets as the foot of space between us seems to yawn and gape.

She quirks up an eyebrow in challenge. "Neither did you."

I feel my own eyes widen, my cheeks warm, but then I see that she is laughing, her body stepping in to press so closely to mine. When she places her lips against my neck, I exhale in relief and wrap my arms around her waist, feeling her warmth lighting the most dim, uncertain parts of me. With one hand on my chest, she arches her spine to lean back in such a way that she can see me clearly.

As her fingers entwine with my hair, she smiles and kisses me chastely. "It doesn't matter to me where we go. Alice said she might have some people over at my place, so we wouldn't have much privacy." She shrugs. "We can go back to your place, but I'm probably just going to crash on you anyway."

My hopes rise and fall simultaneously as my afternoon musings fade, replaced by the reality of a quieter night by her side.

But after so many nights alone, I am happy to take what she will give me.

Bending down to capture her lips, I push all my will toward finding the courage for what I want to say. Closing my eyes through my inhale, I finally manage, "I'd llll-love it if you st-st-stayed with mmme."

She lets her hand drift down to my neck and gives me a soft, smiling kiss. "I think I'd love that, too."

#~~#~~#

In the darkness of my bedroom, we undress each other with careful hands, but I can feel her fatigue. For a moment, I think she is about to pull me on top of her, and I bite my tongue hard enough to hurt at the memories of failure and disappointment, ruefully wishing in my own lonely shame that she would pin me down and fuck me herself. The thought dims as she lets me fall beside her on the bed. Staring at her in the dim light, I sweep a thumb across the dark circles beneath her eyes and kiss the lines across her forehead in my own silent apology for who I still cannot bring myself to be.

Finally, we arrive at a compromise. Repressing my desires to beg for her to bind me and strike me and take me, I lie beside her with my chest to her spine, my mouth sucking softly at her neck as I cup her breasts and she hums with a quiet contentment. I feel her flesh pressed tightly against my erection as she pushes back against me, whispering softly that these more subtle caresses feel good, and I swallow, resolved. Taking care to touch her gently, I push into her body and begin to move with slow strokes, full of all the tenderness I think she needs.

Much to my relief, she takes that sweetness and returns it to me with the brushing touches of her fingertips across my face. When my hand drifts down to rub softly between her legs, coaxing her to find her pleasure with me, she twists her neck to kiss my lips.

And we are both speechless as we surrender to release.

I have barely slipped from her body before she is settling into my chest, one leg thrown over my hips and her breaths already evening. With the same soft care that belies the unfamiliar surge of emotion I feel, lying here with her body beside me, I caress her hair and push it away from her face, watching her features intently as she slips off into sleep.

And it is a strange thing to be both so intensely satisfied by her presence in my life and my ability to please her, and yet to feel the faint stirrings of disappointment that I could not ask her for the things my mind and body both now seem to need.

I am jolted from my circling thoughts by her quiet sigh and by the touch of her fingertips to first her own lips and then to mine, sending a small burst of something warm down my throat and through my chest. Surprised to find that she is still awake, I adjust my arms to hold her more comfortably as she yawns and rubs her nose against my chest.

"Sorry I was such lousy company tonight."

I shake my head and stroke the bareness of her shoulder. "You're never lousy c-company, Bella."

"Still," she mutters, yawning again, "there was other stuff I wanted to do."

She cannot see my hopeful, surprised reaction, but the tightening of my arms is a giveaway. "Yeah?" I whisper.

"Mmmhmmm." Her head shifts and she makes a happy noise. "All kinds of things I want to do to you."

In my shock, I wait long enough for her breathing to even out again before whispering, so quietly that I can scarcely be heard, "I want that, too."

Less than a minute later, she is snoring.

It takes me much, much longer to calm myself enough to sleep.

#~~#~~#

Come morning, I find not only my bed, but my apartment barren. Vacant.

A similar vacancy appears inside my chest as I dress and wander out into the cold space beyond my room, staring at the empty white walls with a numbness that runs deeper than the usual fog of morning in my mind. I sink into my couch, my neck limp as my head falls against the back of the cushion, my eyes open but unseeing as I remember the soft glow of the previous morning. The memory of her hand and lips on my skin and the sight of her smile.

And my fists clench as I wonder if there is something I have misunderstood.

It is not until I make my way to my coffeemaker that the gap between my expectations and my reality begins to narrow, some hot whisper of a racing pulse appearing deep inside my chest.

I unfold the sheet of thin blue paper taped to the front of the carafe with shaking hands, my eyes raking across the few spare lines of text with the desperation of a convicted man, unsure if he is about to be hung or set free.

When I see that the note is addressed to "Pet" though, all thoughts of untimely ends simultaneously flee my mind, the rope at my neck replaced with a stronger one, being pulled satisfyingly tightly around my arms and chest and hands.

And instead of choking, I am finally breathing freely.

My darling Pet,

I know what you want.

Tonight. 8 p.m.

Answer the door naked.

-Your Bella.

#~~#~~#

By 7:30 I am a shivering mess of anticipation and desire, rough trembles shooting down my spine, and there's a lusty flexing of muscles in my abdomen as I glance at the clock again and again. My efforts to distract myself are all futile, so I set to work cleaning my apartment yet again, searching for something to bring to a shine even though I know that there is nothing I have overlooked.

At ten minutes before eight, I begin to peel my clothes from my body, groaning to the silent room when my cock is finally set free. I take one rough tug at the needy flesh at the base before holding my own wrists behind my back, knowing that I am so keyed up that I will be unable to hold back.

And I want to give Bella my everything.

Naked in my own living room, I stand ready and wanting and uncertain about what is going to happen.

But certain that I want it.

I wait for infinite minutes like that, before finally I hear the firm knocking of her fist against wood, my cock throbbing in time with the sound of impact as I cross the few short steps to the door. I stand there for the space of a few short cycles of my breath, searching for calm and composure.

For dignity, when my clothes are already on the floor.

Standing tall and yet with my head down, I open the door narrowly at first and then all the way when I find her there, supple leather boots up to her knees and a skirt that barely brushes the midpoint of her thighs, her breasts soft and full.

And bound tightly by the stays of a corset.

As I stand there, gaping and aching, she runs a single finger in a line down her flesh, from the center of her clavicle to the place between her breasts where black satin interrupts the creamy white. Tracing beneath the edge of the cup, she parts the jacket she has draped over everything else more widely so that I can see the perfection of her shoulder, soft and bare.

The clearing of her throat brings me back to her eyes, and it is only the intent nature of her gaze that reminds of my own state, nude and waiting.

And of the open state of the door.

"Feel like putting on a show tonight, Pet?" she asks with a mischievous smirk. I swallow hard and imagine it, thinking of her riding my body in a shameful, delicious display of my own depravity for anyone to see. My pause is just long enough for her to form her own conclusions, pushing firmly against my chest until I retreat back a couple of steps, murmuring to herself, "Interesting."

The door closes behind her as she enters the room, and the importance of the moment leaves me literally staggering, my spine falling against the wall behind me. As I sink into it, I stare at her half-revealed form almost breathlessly, but ironically my heart is slowing.

This is right.

A bag falls off her shoulder and is quickly followed by the jacket, one hand coming up to her hip and the other to her chin, forming a strange vision of thoughtfulness and seduction. The combination makes me smile, my whole body relaxing even as my cock continues to tighten.

She steps in closer and takes the tip of her forefinger from her own jaw to mine. Tracing the same sort of path over my skin, she moves down over my sternum and abdomen before circling once around the head of my cock, and I sigh.

"I'm glad you're happy to see me," she says huskily, a hint of a smile flirting with her mouth now as well. Her hand wraps around me and she pumps once before releasing her grip, much to my dismay. "I see you got my note?"

"Yes," I breathe, my eyes ravenous for her body. For her bindings.

She catches me as I appreciate, almost salivating at this image of sex and beauty that is a match for the sorts of fantasies which, until Bella first demanded that I kiss her, I had never known how to even voice, much less enact.

Amused, she gestures to her attire, smirking wryly at my ogling. "After your lovely gift, I thought I'd get a little something for you," she says as she moves to cup her own breasts through the material of the corset, and I can hear my own breath hitch. "Though this is as much for me as it is for you, I suppose." Turning, she runs her fingertips up and down her sides. "You like?"

"I llllove," I admit, longing to touch and suck, to taste the boning over her nipples with my tongue. As she turns back toward me, she takes her lip between her teeth, and I can hear her voice from the night before in my head, pondering the things she would like to do to me.

I shiver at the confirmation that her desires are the match for all the things I am desperate for myself.

Entranced by the vision and the scent of her, I feel myself sinking both mentally and physically. With all my being, I want to move to my knees, longing to erase the inches of height that make me hover over her, but she seems untroubled by them. Her hands move to encircle my wrists, prodding until I place them both above my head.

Her lips meet mine in one soft, breathless kiss before she whispers, "Leave them," her palms lingering as they trace their way down my biceps and shoulders.

She is the one to sink to her knees, and I throw my head back even as I fight to keep my eyes open and trained on hers. Staring directly at me but with her breath spreading out across my naked cock, she murmurs, "My pet's been such a good boy this week. Taking care of me. I thought he deserved a reward."

In one hot motion, she encases my cock inside her mouth, my head nudging her throat as she takes me in so deeply, and I barely choke back my instinct to cry out. For an infinite expanse of time, she bobs up and down, and the sensations overwhelm me. My hands cling to each other, the sharp sting of nails embedding themselves in flesh making my wrists sing, my own restraint my only lifeline to my sanity, and I am sinking deeper still.

Into her mouth.

Into the wall.

Into my mind.

This is right.

The motions of her mouth slow, her lips tracing down to my balls, and I groan out loud. She sucks one into her mouth and then the other, her finger drifting to the spot just behind them and past a place where I have never been touched before. I can barely react before her hand retreats and she kisses the head of my cock, looking up to meet my eyes. "I'm only going to let you come once tonight. Do you want it now, in my mouth, or later in my pussy?"

I've come with her more times in the past two days than I had with a woman in the previous two years; I scan my body and decide that I can hold on. Cursing softly between clenched teeth as I think about the warmth of her pussy, I pulse and then choke out, "Inside you."

Her grin is triumphant as she rises and prods at my hip. I move away from the wall and follow her instructions to lower my arms and clasp my hands behind my back. Speaking in a voice that is low and wet and rich with the sounds of her tongue against her teeth, she breathes into my ear, "Kitchen table. Bent over it. Hands behind your back."

My knees nearly give out with the power of the tremor that racks my body, but I still somehow manage to follow her instructions, kissing the skin beside her mouth just once before moving to the kitchen. The table is clear but for some placemats which I set aside, relocating the chair at the end so that I may place my thighs flush against the edge. My unsteady heart darts and flies as I lower myself to the cool surface of the wood, my still-aching erection brushing it as I twist my neck to rest my cheek.

Subconsciously or not, I face away from her, and in anticipation and – I can name it now – submission, my eyes drift deliciously closed.

For interminable minutes, I wait.

The hand that drifts over my back makes me gasp, but not nearly as hard as the feeling of leather again encircling my wrists. I moan and lift my arms just slightly to make it easier for her to slide the cuffs against my skin, securing them with a click that is louder than the thundering of my pulse or the rasp of my breath.

"Beautiful," she breathes once I am bound, her nails scraping gently at my flesh and making their way toward my ass. "I've been dreaming of you like this all week, Pet."

I grunt my approval and fight to stay still, knowing that the slightest motion makes my cock slide across the wood.

Stillness becomes impossible when her hand comes down in a softly stinging slap across my ass. I fight the sickness in my mind that doesn't think this should feel good, but it does. Her palm meets the other cheek and my sounds of pleasure resonate through the surface of the table, meeting my ear with intensity.

It feels so, so good.

"You like this, Pet?"

"Yes."

"You've been so good," she murmurs, "but at heart you're naughty." The whole time she keeps spanking me, rocking me over the table until I can feel myself sliding, the slickness of my pre-come coating the wood, my breaths melding into one long, vibrating moan. "Getting off like this. Practically fucking your table."

The sounds falling out of my lungs hiccup slightly at my whimper of pleasure and shame, but I can't stop myself from chasing this feeling.

The stinging impact of her palm across my flesh increases in intensity, and I can hear her breath steadily increasing with the effort. While I cannot see her, I can envision her, the tight stays of the corset constricting her lungs, her face flushed and sweating.

Her voice is so low when she speaks again, husky and echoing my own desires and explanations as I have given them to her. "Anything else you need to confess to?"

I cannot mistake the stress on the word 'confess.'

I grunt and groan and search my mind, but her patience is thin and she strikes me once, harder, before pausing.

The words fall out of me in an angry torrent until I am deflated.

Floating.

"I t-touched myself. Yesterday. And thought of you."

Her hand comes down again and I grit my teeth in pleasure and pain.

"I wwwwwwas s-selfish. I wanted you to ffffuck me last night. I knew what you needed, but was sssstill d-disappointed."

I almost yelp at the next impact, but the blows have still not progressed to a place where I don't enjoy it.

"And?" she asks when my stuttering description ends.

I want to tell her everything.

But these are the only crimes I can think of that do not demand that I wade much further back into my memory, into long-shut sections of my life that I haven't the energy to delve into.

And that don't seem fair to really get into.

Not tonight.

"Nothing else?"

"N-no," I stammer, my face and ass both red, but my chest feeling unfettered. Free.

"No visits to sex shops? No pornography?"

As best I can with my face still flush against the wood, I shake my head and whisper, "No. Only on Sundays."

Her laugh is loud against the silence.

"Sundays?"

The soft burn across my face deepens as I realize the sickness I have admitted to.

"Yes."

Her voice is still strong even though it is quiet as she purrs, "Oh, Edward, you really are a naughty boy."

My stomach roils, my abdomen tightening. "Yes."

She wavers for a moment, seemingly on an edge of indecision, but then I feel her hand slide down my flaming, tender skin, reaching between my body and the table to stroke the part of me that is throbbing.

But as her hand retreats, it again sweeps over my sack and up over tender, unexplored flesh.

My breath stops.

"Tell me how naughty you are," she murmurs, her lips wet and sucking against my back as her touch retreats, only to return, cool and slick and probing gently as I gasp.

"So naughty. So bad," I pant as she rubs a soft line back down to my balls and then up along the full length of the crack.

When her wet touch meets the opening between my cheeks again, she whispers, "Has anyone ever touched you here?"

"Nnno."

I fight panic and arousal and the dirty notion twisting in my stomach that this feels good.

That I want it.

Her voice drops an octave and her hand stills. "Are you OK?"

I nod.

A gentle touch strokes my face. "You have to breathe."

For just a moment, I close my eyes, inhaling deeply and realizing just how tight my chest has gotten.

There's a brief but unmistakable moment of doubt, a cracking in her voice as she whispers, "You're sure you're OK?"

Craning my neck, I meet her eyes and try to tell her the best I can that I want this.

"I'm p-perfect."

So softly, she smiles.

"Yes. Yes, you are."

The soft hand on my face becomes a prodding pressure, and I return myself to my position, the wood now warm against my skin. Her fingertips resume their motion between my legs, pressing more suggestively against my opening with every pass, and I feel myself give in.

When she speaks this time, there is no doubt in her voice.

And from the sound of it alone, I throb.

"You know what happens to naughty boys, Edward?"

I shake my head, waiting for her words.

Because I do know.

With every syllable, a finger slowly begins to push inside, my body burning.

"They. Get. Fucked."

I squeeze my eyes closed against the discomfort, moaning low when her other hand prods my hip until I arch my back, making room for her to curl her palm around my length, sliding in long, slow strokes that match the continuing pressure from inside. Slowly, the burn and my hesitation both begin to melt as I surrender.

As I feel.

"Someday, Pet," she murmurs, a dark edge of promise and arousal. "Someday I'm going to fuck you like this. Hard and deep."

With that, she twists her wrist, the penetrating motion of her fingers somehow morphing. Changing.

Touching something I had never even known existed.

I knock my head against the table in my surprise, and I feel my orgasm almost crest over, something sudden and explosive threatening to sweep me away. In my shock and pleasure, I hear my own voice begin.

My instinct is to cry out her name.

But my fantasy is to call her something else entirely.

Uncertain if that is a right that she will grant me, I find my teeth closing over my own tongue instead, a thin taste of blood in my mouth.

But I am at a point now where even that pain is mixing with everything else, just leading me higher.

It occurs to me that she is still speaking to me when her hand stills around my cock, the probing finger inside my ass slowing.

"Would you like that, Pet? For me to fuck you?"

I don't know if I can handle it tonight, and I waver, even as she presses once more against the place she has discovered and which makes me twitch. My fear closes away as the sensation robs me of sense, wanting only more.

Panting, I grunt out, "God, yes," and clench my jaw again.

She kisses my hip and removes her hand from my cock completely, placing it flat against the table by my side as her mouth makes its way up my body to suck at the skin above my shoulder blade. Her breath is hot as she promises, "Someday," and I instantly relax.

The pressure inside me yields slowly as she withdraws, and it's a strange mixture of emptiness and disappointment and relief that replaces the fullness. For a moment, she steps away and I feel anticipation welling up. Unable to see what she is doing, I concentrate hard on listening. There is a rustling of fabric, a soft clicking of low heels on tile.

And then her voice.

"Turn around."

My back is stiff as I rise, facing her and placing the backs of my thighs to the edge of the table and my erection aching after so much stimulation.

And then I take in the vision before me.

Of Bella.

In only the corset and the boots.

"Fuck," I breathe, feeling myself pulse.

"Sit back. Brace your arms behind you."

The tender flesh of my ass is sensitive as I sit at the edge of the table, but it's not as uncomfortable as I had imagined it might be. Perversely, I like how the soreness is a reminder of what she's done to me.

What she's done for me.

Awkwardly, I arrange myself, testing the give of the chain between the cuffs as my hands press back against the wood.

Testing my restraint as she climbs over me.

With her knees on either side of my hips, I feel the heat of her pussy against my abdomen, the lusty rush of her breath across my face as she tilts her head and kisses me.

"Are you all worked up for me, baby?"

"Yes."

"You want to come?"

I twitch. "Yes. Ssso badly. Please."

Raspily, she whispers, "Me, too. You want to feel me come?"

My eyes shut for a moment as I swallow, opening again to take in the fire in her own eyes as I pant, "God, yes."

Slowly, so slowly, she lowers herself over me, and I almost cry out again at the intensity of the wet heat surrounding me. She moves herself over me twice before stopping with my body half inside her. With one arm, she steadies herself against my shoulder as the other reaches down to touch the soft flesh just above where I am prepared to slide more fully into her, and I can feel the motion of her wrist against my hip.

"So sexy," I murmur, and she kisses me again, humming.

"Fuck me," she breathes into my mouth, and I hear my own voice choke out something close to a sob as I take the freedom to move within her. Grateful for the support of my hands behind my back, I move my hips into her in short, slow strokes, rewarded by her moan of pleasure. I feel her hands moving faster, and I am working so hard to keep meeting her need without letting my own crash over me.

"Yes," she pants, and I feel the breath and the word in every region of my spine. "Just like that."

I whimper in pleasure and in restraint, wanting to succumb and needing to keep going. We keep fucking for what feels like hours, the desperate urge to come as restrained as my hands inside my bindings, the burning in my thighs backing the one in my stomach as I try to keep everything under control.

Finally, her breath hitches, something tightening and coiling, and I can feel the tension in her body. "God yes. Yes. Fuck. Just like that, Pet. Just like that."

My voice is a high-pitched whine as I push to keep just that pace and just that pressure, pounding into her now.

It's the first time I've ever fucked anyone and felt in control.

And it doesn't escape me that it's because she's controlling me.

The thought alone starts to send me into a spiral, my eyes moving everywhere, from her own barely open ones, down to the deep black fabric across her perfect breasts, and finally to the slick motion of my cock in and out of her, appearing and disappearing as I move in and out of her body.

And it's too much.

"Fuck," I groan, knowing there's nothing I can do, but she's coming, her hand on my shoulder squeezing and her pussy clenching, my name erupting from her lips over and over as I explode.

It's like floating, emptying into her. Everything is black and white and the intense vision of her face in orgasm behind my eyelids, my entire body tensing and releasing, and the deep rhythmic pulse as my seed streams into her.

Again, all the things I could call her wrestle in my chest, none of them quite making it to my lips.

And I find that my voice joins my wrists among the things that I am keeping tightly bound.

#~~#~~#

After she moves off of me and frees my hands, I find myself obsessed with tactile comfort again, feeling her in my arms and following her as she moves through my space, my hands always connected with some portion of her skin. She lets me peel her out of the corset, worshiping the back of her neck as I sweep her hair away and undo the laces with the utmost care. Just like last time, we end up in the bath, but this time with her back pressed to my chest and my arms encircling her from the very start.

The crash this time is less intense, and I feel more capable of pushing through it, even though my skin and mind feel raw. I do not know if the rush of feeling is less this time, now that I have fully given myself over to the experience, or if it is simply that I know now what to expect. Regardless, all I seem to need is to hold and touch her.

To adore her.

There is one moment as we sit there, silent and basking, when the depths of my feelings for her open up like a canyon before me, and I squeeze too tightly at her chest, my face buried against the soft, damp skin of her neck.

I am a man of words, I tell myself, even if they rarely come easily when spoken aloud.

The obvious choice of words for how desperately I want to hold her to me and keep her with me dangles just beyond my grasp, like I could reach for it and turn it over in my palms, were I to only stretch forward another inch.

I don't.

If anything, I retreat, curling back into myself and into the warm waters where she allows herself to lean into me and where I can kiss her mouth without fear.

Where there are no words for what is happening to me here.

#~~#~~#

Later, dry and warm and spread out in my bed, we speak quietly on things of little consequence. The freedom and happiness rushing through me are still so strange and almost overwhelming, but not unwelcome. As I talk, I try my best not to focus on the sound of my own voice, which is as smooth as it has ever been, here inside this space of warmth and safety, knowing the stutter will return in full force if I allow myself to think about it.

Or if I push myself into too uncharted of territory.

We lapse into silence for a little while as the hour grows late, my fingertips still making devoted, obsessive passes over her skin. Keeping her side in contact with mine, Bella rolls to lie on her back, leaving me hovering slightly over her as she rests the back of her hand on the pillow beside her head.

She turns just her head to look at me, staring with eyes that are soft and questioning.

But for once, as she asks the questions that I know are burning through her, her expression is not afraid.

"I know you don't like to talk about it, but everything tonight was okay?" She threads the fingers of her hand through my own and lifts both to her lips, kissing softly at my knuckles as I think and she waits.

The unexplored pieces of my body that she touched tonight come immediately to mind, but I am surprised to find that they engender less fear than arousal, and I nod. I turn our hands and lift them so that I can place my lips against her skin, parting them across the edge of her palm.

"It was perfect," I say without reservation as I replay it all in my mind.

But it's only then, with the memory of the way my body pulsed inside of hers, that I remember my one moment of hesitation.

The one word that maybe I can approach tonight.

I can already feel the easy softness of my body and my speech beginning to fade as I purse my lips and close my eyes. "Only …" I begin, but I have to stop.

Bella senses my uneasiness and tenses, shifting slightly to rest on her side.

Her palm comes up to touch my cheek, and I work to relax and breathe.

"Edward, you know you can tell me anything."

Looking down at her, I see the old wariness returning and I bend to brush her lips with mine, shaking my head slightly. "It's fine," I murmur. "Just … I was wondering what I should c-call you. Wwwwwhen we're t-together. Like that."

The corner of her mouth quirks up into a little smile, her fingertips now moving softly through my hair. "Hmmm," she hums thoughtfully, sinking back down into the bed and into my chest, but remaining mostly on her side. "I guess 'Bella' might be a little weird."

My throat is dry, the word on my lips, but it's one I don't know how to say.

Not like this.

A desire so dark it makes me quake.

But still, I try.

"Wwwwwwww … wwwwwwould you …" I have to stop, closing my eyes around the block. I keep them that way.

Because in the dark it's always easier.

"Mmmmay I c-c-call yyou Mmmmmm-M-Mistress?"

Her hands are warm on both side of my face, waiting, until finally I summon the courage to stare into warm brown eyes.

Only to find them set to flame.

With an unsettling, delicious intensity, she replies, and with her words, I feel the frightened, broken pieces of my desire reborn.

And for the rest of the night, all I will hear is the echo of her voice, as quietly she tells me, "You may."

Chapter Text

The very domesticity happening in my kitchen takes my breath away, and for a moment I need to put my mug down to simply soak it in. Bella sits there in my shirt, her reading glasses on her nose as she moves her eyes across the lines of text on my newspaper, pausing occasionally to sip at her coffee or tear a bite off of her bagel.

When I'd emerged from my bed, smiling and scratching at my hair, she'd already been firmly ensconced at my table. There had been a scent of cleanser in the air and a mischievous smile on her face as she'd stood and kissed me and assured me that all traces of our activities from the previous night had been washed away. I'd blushed then, and even now I can feel the telltale warmth across my cheeks as I consider the range of uses we have found for this particular piece of furniture.

But the blush is not nearly so warm as my smile.

After dragging me down to sit beside her, she'd chastised me thoroughly for having nothing in my kitchen fit for her to cook for breakfast, but I'd just rolled my eyes and kissed her and told her we could go shopping before the next time she decided to sleep over. And even while in the midst of speaking, my heart had grown so full and warm at just the thought of so many 'next time's, and at my own increasing certainty that she will, in fact, be back.

My appreciation of our comfort with each other yields inevitably to an appreciation of her skin, my eyes drawn to the deep 'V' created by the barely buttoned edges of my shirt and by the world of flesh between her breasts. She catches me just as I begin to feel my morning arousal reassert itself, clearing her throat and smirking before returning her eyes to the paper.

I look away chagrined, only to be startled from my own perusal of the news a few minutes later by the sound of her voice, innocent on the surface but dripping with deeper meanings.

"So Sundays, you say?"

She is still staring seemingly nonchalantly at the paper, but I can see enough of her face above the printed sheet to tell that she is anything but. Alarms are going off in my head that this line of inquiry – paired as it is with my embarrassment over the admission I made, bent over this very table with her handprint on my ass last night – cannot possibly lead anyplace that will be comfortable for me. But to this point, I have only ever profited by trusting her.

Soundlessly, I nod, and I can tell she notices from the upward twitch of her lips. "Well then," she says, her eyes darting to the clock and then to me expectantly, "what are we waiting for?"

I freeze, my mouth dropping open and my palms breaking out into a chilling sweat.

"Wwwwe – wwwhat? Wwwwwaiting fff-f-for?" My tongue clicks and seizes in an audible echo of my mind's own whirring, stuttering circling.

Bella folds the paper up and sets her glasses down beside her elbow, one hand drifting over to settle on my own. Softer now, she murmurs, "Will you show me where you go?"

I try to relax but it is for naught, bile in my throat and a sense of shame that makes my very chest feel fit to collapse. "Wwwwhy?"

Speaking all in soft tones, as if to quiet a frightened animal, she smiles and explains, "Well, for starters because it sounds really hot. And because it would be nice to have some other ... options to play with." She shrugs. "And because I want to know you. I'm nosy like that."

The freedom in her voice makes me laugh, and I can hear the way her words are free of judgment, full instead with an infectious sort of fascination.

"I hhhhhhaven't g-gone in a little wwwwhile, " I hedge. "Not sssssince I g-got the … the … the c-c-c-c-c-cuffs."

She lifts my hand to kiss it, and I wince as, in the background, I hear some church bells beginning to play. If Bella hears them, she ignores it, holding my eyes as she says hungrily, "Well, then all the more reason to go today."

#~~#~~#

From the moment I put the car in park, I am a ball of nerves, my agitation building in a steady crescendo until there is nothing but tightness and fear. Letting herself out, Bella approaches from the other side of the car. She pauses just before my door, waiting patiently and staring with both concern and determination; from the look on her face I know that she will not let me fall or fail.

With a strange mixture of numbness and borrowed confidence, I finally open the door and step out into the grey, cool air. When I pull on the sunglasses I always wear as protection from others' stares, I am relieved to find that her laughter is tender instead of mocking, her hand so warm as it closes around my palm.

"C'mon, babe," she murmurs as she surges up on tiptoes to kiss playfully at my cheek. "Let's go be naughty together."

#~~#~~#

Inside, the man behind the counter gives me the same comfortable smile he always does, but this time there's also a look of question on his eyes. I do not know if it is because of my atypical absences of late or if it is the woman at my side.

Because, above all others, in these dalliances I have always been alone.

Feeling even more self-conscious than usual, I avert my eyes just as Bella is chiming out a cheerful hello to the man and tugging at my wrist, heading toward the back of the store. Prodding me to lead, she asks, "Which way?"

For a few crushing seconds, my tongue seizes, my throat swallowing thickly, but I cannot seem to force the mingling feelings of terror and excitement down. Finally, all I can do is point. Bella seems to sense my distress and wraps her arm around my waist as we begin to move forward, and I find myself shamelessly clinging to her.

At first.

I am mystified to find that as we walk, the things around us seem to change. The view within the store, which has always seemed depraved and lonely to me before, slowly becomes erotic and enticing with Bella here beside me, taking in everything with me and showing all the telltale signs of arousal and desire. When we make it to the section of the store dedicated to the particular interests we have in mind, she pulls me into her more fully, her hands in my hair, tugging roughly at the strands until our lips finally meet, hungry kisses passing between us as I loosen up more and more.

Biting roughly at my lip, she growls and scratches her nails through my scalp with just the sort of slightly too-hard pressure that I love, and I feel my fear drop even further away.

And when she calls me Pet, it's like I can breathe once more.

"Show me what you like, Pet."

I shiver and clutch her closer to me, my hands hot and needy against her hips, trying to find a way to thank her for knowing the tone of voice I need her to use to set me at ease.

"B-besides you?"

She swats my ass playfully and grips my chin to press her lips firmly to mine before pushing me away. Almost nonchalantly, she intones, "Go. Find something to make your Mistress happy."

And I almost fall over my own feet.

Uncomfortably hard now, I begin looking around with eyes that feel like they are open for the very first time, alighting on all the sorts of things I never would have dared to stare at so openly before, but with Bella here, I feel like I am allowed to. And even more, that I am allowed to enjoy it.

Every hidden fantasy or repressed desire begins to seem attainable as I consider combinations of leather and metal, all interspersed with the very real memories of our intertwined bodies. Above all else, I see Bella's face as she works me, restraining and spanking, kissing and fucking. And I know that none of these dreams would be realities were it not for her.

And then all at once, right there in the middle of a sex shop, surrounded by the dirtiest things imaginable, I sense that warm bubble of feeling as it begins to move through my chest again, just as it had the night before in the bath. And for a moment, I cannot look at the toys.

Because all I can see is her.

Feeling my eyes, she turns to me, heat and intensity in her gaze, and it only serves to further stoke my own blooming flame.

"Found something, Pet?"

And I have.

I've found everything.

I know that's not what she means right now though, so I smile and try to shake off the soft feelings of adoration that cloud my head, refocusing on what is in front of me. She is staring at me expectantly and yet also with a certain look of amusement on her face, so I try to choose something quickly. As my eyes rake across the shelves, my abdomen clenches slightly at the sight of a couple of different items, but then I focus in on one in particular with a deep surge of desire, my cock twitching as I imagine the feel of it against my skin.

"Hhhhhow about th-that?" I murmur, lowering my head and shifting, reaching out until I can run my fingertips along the leather wrapping. Her own hand appears in my vision, our skin brushing as she wraps her fingers around the handle, picking it up and feeling out the weight of it.

And then she smiles. Kissing me hard, she runs the leather end of the crop I have selected along my neck and halfway down my chest before flicking it lightly across the spot on my shirt just above my nipple, making me whimper.

"Excellent choice," she purrs, pulling back and placing it into a basket she has picked up at some point in her perusing. In it, I spy a couple other items which pique my curiosity and my arousal, but as soon as I endeavor to look more closely, she moves the entire basket behind her back. She shakes her head and makes a clucking noise of disapproval with her tongue, but I have no sense that she is truly annoyed. "Naughty boy."

I'm not sure if it is my increasing comfort with the setting or her expression, enticing and encouraging, but I feel myself growing more bold and less afraid. "We've already essstablished that, haven't we?" I ask quietly, quirking an eyebrow up, and she laughs.

Interlocking our hands, she pulls them up to her mouth to press her lips to the side of my palm. When she turns her face toward me again, it is with eyes full of such warmth and affection that it seems like it may melt the very heart of me. Her voices drops, so much of the bravado leaking out of it as she plays with my fingers and says quietly, "I like you like this. All playful and cheeky."

My breath hitches and I cup her cheek with my palm, tilting her head to press my lips to her temple. "You llllike me quiet and ob-b-bedient, too."

"I do," she agrees, looking upward meaningfully. "But that's not the only way I want you."

In my mind, I am transported back to the night I gave her the cuffs and to her own uncertainty, wondering if her power and her body were the only things I was attracted to. And while I am delighted to have her use my body, there is relief too at this subtle confirmation that there is more to how she sees and wants me, too.

Wrapping both my arms around her, I draw Bella into my chest in a tight embrace that I hope can speak of all the things I feel. With my nose pressed to her hair, I whisper, "And you make me ffffeel comfortable enough to be either."

#~~#~~#

"Did you used to buy this stuff here, too?" Bella asks, using the hand that is holding the basket to gesture at a wall covered in magazines and videos. I am embarrassed as I nod, but there is something about the question that sets me at ease.

Something about how the past tense is clear in every verb.

She pulls me along and giggles slightly. "You have heard of the internet, haven't you?"

I blush and look at my shoes. "I hhhave." Shrugging, I mumble, "But I guess some old hhhabits d-die hard."

Bella raises an eyebrow and puts down the basket, but gives me a look of warning that tells me I am still not permitted to examine its contents. Ignoring the beseeching expression on my face, she steps in front of me, her back flush to my chest, the erection that has remained at varying states of fullness the entire time we have been here now pressing gently to the small of her back. I breathe deeply as I harden further at the contact, taking in her scent and dipping my head to exhale at her ear. She turns her neck to capture my lips before looking at me with some fire in her eyes.

"Show me what you like."

My eyes scan the racks of glossy pages and slick covers, wanting to look away from dripping images of women and of men, nude and erect and coupling. Just as it did the last time, the artificial sexuality of it all seems so hollow to me now, the forced stiffness of the poses reminding me of all the ways I used these vague intimations of sex to help bury the needs that Bella has since brought out in me.

Back when what I really wanted felt far too dangerous to speak.

"What do you w-want to know?" I whisper as I ground myself through touch, holding her closer to my body and allowing myself to brush tantalizingly against her through our clothes.

Her exhale is slightly ragged, what I can see of her chest growing flushed, and I push my hips forward to let her feel even more strongly how hard I am for her. And here, surrounded by so much sex, I want her to know that it is for her.

For her and her alone.

After a couple of steadying breaths, she quietly replies, "I want to know everything. What turns you on. What arouses you."

I press my lips wetly to her ear and brush my fingertips along the underside of her breast. "You turn me on. Evvverything about you."

"That's not what I – "

I don't let her finish, daring to place a finger to her lips even as my heart is beating faster and faster. She doesn't let it stay there long, pulling my hand away immediately, but it's all the time I need to keep going, pushing out my broken, uncooperative words with all the will I have to speak.

"I'm aroused by your b-body and your mmmmind and your voice. By what you t-tell me to do and by what you llllet me do. By the ssssight of you. By being inside of you."

She lets out a soft, breathy moan in the middle of the last sentence, but characteristically refuses to give in. Holding my wrist hard in her hand, she shakes her head. "But what about – "

Though I have never been one to talk over anyone, I push the words out and through. "Theyyy were all just st-st-stopgaps, Bella. P-p-poor imitations of what I didn't even know I needed." I worry that I am growing too intense, my words revealing too much of what I feel but still refuse to name, my grip on her hips too tight. But for being a man who can never seem to talk, it is as if I am suddenly unable to stop. My voice lowers as I whisper, "You're my ffffantasy now. You turn me on just sssitting ac-cross my table from me. Even with all this around mmmme, I d-don't want to look at anything else."

For a moment we stand there just like that, my chest gasping for breath and hers sounding just slightly more ragged than I would have expected. My eyes close and I hear my own words echoing in my mind, full knowledge of everything I have said finally hitting me.

And the sudden fear I feel is harder than any physical blow.

Slowly, Bella unwraps my arms from around her, stepping away from my body in a thin rush of cold air, and I feel my arousal instantly deflate, my fists closing. One finger settles underneath my chin, pulling my gaze up until it meets with hers. For what feels like forever, she seems to probe my mind and soul, that same look of being haunted and uncertain appearing around the edges of her eyes that I have seen there just a handful of times.

The ones that make me think she wonders too if I am real.

And then, finally, softly, those brown eyes melt, growing warmer and warmer until they all but smolder, and then I can barely breathe, so taken aback am I by the sheer force of her kiss. It's all tongues and teeth and desperation, want and freedom, like all the ropes we have so willingly wrapped around our lives have suddenly come untied, refastening only when we are bound together, so tightly, as one.

When she pulls away to gasp for air, it is with one hand twisting hard in my shirt, yanking me forward even as she is reaching for the items she has decided to purchase. And we are already moving as she growls, "Home. We're going home. Now."

#~~#~~#

While I would love to have her slam me against the wall of my apartment right now, stripping me and striking me and fucking me, there are, of course, details to be attended to first. She allows me to pay for our selections, but she still does not allow me to peek. I do not complain though, obsessed as I am with running my lips up and down the length of her neck, kissing wetly at her skin, even as the man at the counter gives us a skeptical stare, dripping with derision.

And in his stare, I can feel the assumptions he made about me the last time. That rather than tied in leather and metal, I would be the one to do the tying.

That I would be the man.

Only I am starting to understand that, unconventional as our arrangement may be, a man is exactly what I am.

Bella notices his expression, too, and squeezes my hand, murmuring, "Asshole," underneath her breath.

The man freezes in his packing away of our purchases, his palms moving to rest flush against the countertop. "Excuse me?"

"Hmm?" Bella meets his glare in a challenge of her own, patting the arm I still have wrapped around her waist to indicate that I should move. I release her and smile, keeping just one hand on her back in silent encouragement.

"I asked what you just called me."

"Oh. Well, considering the way you were looking at us, I called you an asshole."

His lips tighten, his face reddening as he crushes the top of the brown paper sack he has placed our purchases in, pushing it across the counter toward us and handing me my change. "Well, then you can take your toys, and you and your pussywhipped little boyfriend can go play elsewhere."

The hand at the base of her spine is a fist now, retorts wet on my lips, but Bella's palm presses to my thigh in a silent entreaty for restraint.

"Oh, believe me, we will." She passes me our bag and stalks toward the door with my wrist in her hand, turning just at the threshold. "And you can stay here and be jealous that my 'little boyfriend' here is going to get his enormous cock sucked for the rest of the afternoon, while you go home and wank it alone."

She is out the door, leaving me standing there, stunned at her words, but with a slow grin spreading across my face as her meaning sinks in. Finally, I meet the man's stunned eyes as well as those of half a dozen other patrons.

Then, without a single stutter, I raise my hand and wish them all a pleasant day.

And for once, striding from the door of the shop toward my car, I find myself walking tall.

Chapter Text

When we return from our shopping trip, Bella is fierce indeed, her hands and mouth on mine the moment the door clicks closed. With no resistance in my limbs, I let her move me, kissing back and touching at her skin wherever I am able to until she places my hands behind my head, pulling away for long enough, it would seem, to collect herself. I stare down, feeling more comfortable that way as ever, but she wants me to look at her.

"You want to play again, Pet?" she coos, and I groan my consent.

"Yes," I breathe.

There is a devilish flash to her eyes. "Yes, what?"

My throat and arousal both tighten, a shiver of unrestrained desire moving through me, so strong that I think I feel it in my knees, longing to drop to the floor before her.

For while she has used the word already – for all that I was the one to ask her for the right – it still hangs pregnant on my tongue, too perfect to utter and to illicit to ignore. Impatient, Bella grabs my chin in her hand and slaps my ass through my jeans.

When I finally speak, it is as if the world is falling away underneath me.

"Yes, Mistress."

And my reward, beyond the perfect feeling spreading out through every inch of me, is her desperate, aching kiss.

"Perfect," she whispers as she slips her tongue from my mouth, and I burn, her praise like an iron over my heart, branding me.

Body, heart and mind, I am hers.

She steps away with a single directive to leave my hands where they are. Scanning the room, her eyes alight on the low stool I keep beside my desk, and I watch as her smile broadens. She points and asks me to move it to the center of the room. To strip and to sit. I do so without complaint or hesitation, loving the tingling in all my limbs and the way that my body comes alive when I am hers like this.

I can hear the rustling of paper behind me, and my breathing quickens as I sit there, naked and hard and waiting for her, hoping she will show me what I bought her.

Her hand is cool on my back, and I hear her voice whisper quietly, "Do you have a knife? Or scissors?"

My spine stiffens and I feel my eyes grow wide as my breath grows too fast at least by half. Curling my hands into fists, I try to speak, but the words all catch, trust and terror all mixing in the wake of my uncertainty at her request.

"A kn-nnnn-n-nn-ife?"

"Not for you, sweetie. For something else."

I almost fall off the seat with the exhale as I breathe out my relief.

"There should be a p-pen knife in the d-desk," I stutter, and she kisses my neck. She continues to move around the room behind me, and I try my best to slip back into a place where I am ready for her and for whatever she might choose to do with me.

But it's hard.

And I, for once, am not.

"Trust me, Pet," she murmurs, and I feel the warmth of her breath on my neck again, a gentle reassurance in her touch that finally begins to relax me. "I just need it in case there's an emergency." She pauses before asking seductively. "Do you trust me?"

I nod without hesitation, my breath evening, but I know that I am still on edge, everything still coiled so tightly in anticipation.

Right up until I feel something rougher against my skin, gasping out a shuddering exhale as I watch a heavy black cord being passed around my chest; I almost have to close my eyes against the sheer eroticism of the sensation and the sight. Every part of my body is melting now, save one, as her lips travel down my spine again, whispering, "It's in case I need to cut you free."

All my trepidation is gone in an instant, a low moan falling out of me at the exquisite feeling of the rope encircling me. Binding and reassuring me.

She positions my arms close to my sides and instructs me to clasp my hands behind my back. I immediately comply, shivering as she laces the rope a half dozen times, checking the tension repeatedly before tying the ends around my wrists. Her voice loses its commanding tone for a moment. "Everything feel alright?" I flex my arms, feeling the small amount of give and the discomfort simultaneously.

And loving both.

I do not hear my own whimper of pleasure as I whisper, "Yes, Mistress," still reveling in the feeling of the word on my loosened tongue.

She laughs slightly, her tone commanding once again. "You like that, don't you, Pet?"

I sigh. "God, yes. Yes, Mistress."

"Good."

She walks in a slow, wide circle around me. The feeling I have of being desirable is a slow wave of warmth moving through my abdomen, my body relaxing and my erection again thick and wanting.

Coming to a stop just in front of me, she stands with one hand on her hip and the other behind her back, her voice firm and her eyes trained fully on mine. "Did you like what I said in the store, before we left?"

My mind searches, remembering her harsh words to the man who looked on us with scorn. The command and control in her voice.

And her promise of what she would do.

I groan, images of her perfect lips wrapped fully around my cock making me throb. "Yes, Mistress."

"I've been thinking since then, though," she says, and my stomach drops an inch with worry. "I may have told you to be naughty, but you were extra naughty today."

Without any solid rules, I am hard-pressed to know my transgression, but just the thought of being punished, sick as it may be, makes my desire coil ever tighter, liquid beginning to seep from the tip of my cock and muscles flexing in my abdomen and through my hips.

"When we were at the store, I asked you a question," she prods. "And you refused to answer."

I feel my eyes widen with realization even as I am twitching, longing for her to touch me, either for good or for ill.

Hoping, on some level, that it will be for ill.

"You remember?"

I hang my head. "I t-talked over you, Mistress."

"That you did. Do you think that's a proper way for my Pet to treat me?"

I shake my head. "N-no, Mistress."

"Do you think you should be punished?"

In my mind, I am already sinking.

And it is sublime.

"Wh-whatever you think you should d-do with me."

She roughly tilts my head up with a stinging tug at my hair. Searching my eyes, she seems to consider for a moment.

"I don't know. I think you can still redeem yourself."

"P-please, Mistress. I can be good."

Those warm, rose lips twist up into a smile. "Oh, Edward. I know you can be good." Still holding my hair, she kisses me firmly, allowing me to taste her and making me all the more desperate for whatever she sees fit to give me.

Her voice is still severe this time as it drifts to my ear. "Not a sound, Pet. If you can manage that, I'll let you come wherever you want. If not, I'll have to punish you. Understand?"

I moan, only to feel a stinging slap across my leg. When I yelp in response, it is met with another, even harder than the last.

She pulls back and shoves my head down, leaving me reeling and so achingly hard as I take in the sharp, red, rectangular marks rising hotly on my thigh.

"An excellent choice, indeed," she muses, and I peek up to see her holding the riding crop, the slender handle of it so perfectly suited to her hands. Both delicate yet strong. "Now do you understand me when I tell you not to make a sound?"

Sufficiently chastised, I simply nod this time, my tongue hot between my teeth and my throat choking as I try to keep my responses in check.

"Good boy."

The leather end of the crop comes to settle on my skin, just at the side of my neck, teasing gently. Bella's eyes are intent as she follows its motion, tracing the pad of it down over the light layers of muscle and nerve that comprise my body and crossing the thick lines of rope. Achingly slowly, it drifts down my shoulder and across my chest, pausing to circle each nipple, flesh that had never felt that sensitive before suddenly coming alive beneath this focused touch. She caresses each hip bone in turn, making me long to whimper, but my breath stays caught inside my throat.

I am a sweating, needy mass by the time the crop finally moves to the tops of my thighs, slowly circling inward before stroking softly between my legs. My breathing catches harshly as I keep my teeth firm around my tongue when I feel the softness of the leather caress the tender flesh there, circling each ball before taking a long, slow path up the underside of my cock.

It flicks gently three times over the head before the touch retreats completely, and I am left gasping and reeling, every inch of hardened flesh so sensitive, a thin trickle of pre-come running down the side of me and betraying the tenuous line of need.

As if I am not already about to lose my mind, Bella chooses this moment to shed herself of her clothes; I hear the wheeze that escapes me with alarm, but apparently it is too quiet to count, as she raises an eyebrow but then looks away. Resting the crop across my splayed knees, she pulls off her t-shirt, jeans and shoes to stand before me in simple blue, cotton panties and a matching bra, and I wonder if I have ever seen anything so beautiful.

In one swift, graceful move, she shoves the crop to the floor and straddles me, her pussy hot and wet against my cock even through her underwear and her lips so smooth against my neck. She bites and sucks at the skin there even as she is grinding on me, and I am almost lost in the pleasure of it, grateful when her mouth meets mine and swallows the sounds I want so badly to release. Kissing a line across my cheek and to my ear, she scratches her nails across my chest, tugging deftly at the rope and making me wince.

"You know why I'm letting you off so easily?"

I shake my head and exhale raggedly.

Her breath is so hot, her words so quiet that I can scarcely hear.

"Because you're my fantasy, too."

My whimper catches behind my clenched-tight jaw as my erection throbs and my heart seems set to burst.

And I have never felt so full.

Drawing her lips in a torturous path down my neck and chest, Bella sinks to her knees between my legs, biting at the skin between the thick, black chords she has bound me with and sending another rush of pleasure through my oversaturated nerves.

"I think about you when I touch myself, too. All tied up and ready for me." Her lips move to my hip and I nearly choke at the subtle twinge of teeth, meeting her eyes as she stares up at me. "So beautiful. So brave." She turns her head to breathe hot, wet air across my cock, kissing the tip.

"And this, my Pet, has got to be just about the prettiest fucking cock I have ever seen."

The combination of her words and the ecstasy of her mouth sliding over the length of me finally pushes past my tenuous control and I groan out loud, only to have her immediately withdraw. On her feet again, I can see her hand already gripping the crop, and there is a painful moment of silence and anticipation, my mind reeling with disappointment and regret, wanting to beg forgiveness, but knowing that even that is forbidden to me.

Naked and bound, I wait, breathing hard and pleading in my mind. Rather than spiraling into the dark corners where I am sometimes lost, I find myself still fully present here, tense but relaxed at the same time, knowing that my fate is in her hands.

Exactly where I have placed it. Time and time again.

The whistling of air is my only warning before a sharp, stinging impact across the center of my thigh, and I jerk violently but manage not to cry out. The pain of it rises almost as quickly as my sinking sense of shame, only it is not directed at myself, but at my transgression.

At my ability to spawn her anger.

Four more quick, stinging blows hit across different parts of my thighs, the skin red and mean-looking, but by the time the crop falls again from her hands, there is a lightness creeping into me. Her palms grasp the sides of my face, her lips trembling slightly as she presses them to my temple again and again.

And there is no judgment, no disappointment at my deficiency in her voice as she whispers, "Are you okay, baby?"

I am.

So much better than okay.

I nod quickly, waiting for her to let me see her eyes so that I can try to communicate to her my acceptance. That her punishment is welcome.

That it feels good to have my failure so easily handled and forgiven.

When none of my real failures in life have ever been dealt with so easily.

"Okay," she breathes, and I hear her thanks and her relief in the word before she bends to kiss me on the mouth, long and hard and slow.

And then once more she is on her knees, her lips wrapping around me, and the pain is almost forgotten to the perfect pleasure humming through me.

Only now I am even more resolved to be what she has asked of me.

For an infinite amount of time, I stay there, consumed by her mouth and her rope and by the soft brushes of her hands across my skin as she takes me in, over and over. Feeling as if I am hanging on a precipice, I let the wet, sliding pleasure of it build, drifting higher into ecstasy within my own silent bubble, bound physically and mentally and left with nothing to do but to experience.

To feel.

When my orgasm begins to threaten, Bella is already anticipating its cresting, pulling her mouth off of me and moving her hand in quick wet tugs over my aching, swollen flesh.

"Where does my good boy want to come?"

I look down into eyes full of offering, full of giving, watching her lips and the subtle motion of her breasts.

Without knowing what I am saying, I breathe, "On your skin."

She smiles, sucking me back into her mouth for a few more delirious sucking motions until I begin to shudder. She reads the signs and takes one last long lick before resting back on her heels and pumping me with her hand.

My whole body explodes in light and feeling, endless pleasure and warm jets of liquid as I erupt, my come glistening on her chest and it seems wrong.

And so, so right.

I shudder with the aftershocks as she pulls the last of my pleasure from me, finally sagging against my bonds when I am spent. Bella shifts forward and I feel the wet sliding of my release paint both our skin as she slides her breasts along my chest to kiss my mouth.

"Such a good boy. So good."

I hold my silence, but my kiss is an unending repetition of my thanks.

For everything.

Our kisses slow, her hands beginning to grip my shoulders more firmly as she stands and wraps her legs around me. I feel her pussy pressing against my groin, and it is an uncomfortable pressure against my too-sensitive skin. I know I wear my discomfort on my face, and she pulls away just enough to say, "You can talk to me now, Pet."

I breathe in deeply, searching for words amidst the still-lingering fog of such intense pleasure and the slight sting of her thighs pressing where mine are sore from her discipline.

"Please," I finally whisper.

"Please what?"

"Please let me. Let me make you feel good."

She grins and touches my face. "Have you earned it?"

I run my lips down her jaw. "Have I, Mistress?"

"Fuck, yes."

I groan, wishing I had met her when I was just a few years younger and when life could return to my cock more quickly, as she yanks me up by the length of rope across my heart. Dragging me with her, she sits back on my couch with her ass perched just at the edge, letting go of the rope to thread her hands through my hair. Following her silent command, I let my face move toward the space between her thighs, kissing and nibbling at the skin all around the place where she is leading me before finally grabbing the edge of her panties with my teeth. She helps me drag them down until she is bare for me, the scent of her arousal intoxicating, and I follow her urging to lean forward and take a long slow lick. She moans and curses and shoves my face until I am surrounded by her, the soft flesh of her thighs holding me tightly even as her hands are guiding me.

Her raspy whispers of encouragement and instruction just make me hotter, and as I lave over her, my tongue circling her clit and dipping down between her lips to fuck her entrance, I find myself getting lost. It is just like all the other times I have loved her with my mouth and yet different, too. While playing like this, she has always been on top of me, and while I have explored her from this angle before, it has always been at my own behest, licking and prodding in whichever ways I wish, encouraged only by her sounds of pleasure.

And it is another experience entirely to have her speaking to me so freely. I lap up her instruction the way I lap at her pussy, unable to get enough. Always desperate for more. Wanting to tuck every scrap of information about her pleasure away, to be able to satisfy her any time and anywhere.

For as long as she will have me.

"Fuck, Edward. Just like that, Pet," she moans, her voice embarrassingly loud now, and I love it. I love seeing her find her climax.

And I love it when she takes it from me this way.

Her thighs squeeze my head one last time, an extended, infinite moment of pressure before her whole body goes slack, repeated words falling from her lips, and I suck at her clit all the harder, only easing off when she begins to push my head away. She shakes and breathes, both of us still as I stare up at her with eyes full of devotion, taking in every quivering line of her body, tracing every curve with a depth of adoration I have never known.

When she meets my gaze, it is with an expression that I think mirrors exactly the way I feel, and I want to float or to scream, too much happiness welling up in me.

Certain, for once in my life, that whatever I feel, my Bella feels exactly the same.

The perfection of the moment is cut off after only a second when Bella's eyes widen and then dart down. She sinks to her knees, one leg on either side of my own, her arms encircling me as we kiss, and while my hands are now desperate as ever to touch her, I wait patiently within my restraints. Only after we have extracted and given as much as we can in the kiss, she moves to untie the ropes, working the knots with gentle fingers and the occasional quiet curse that belies her inexperience with this, in spite of how perfectly she seems to have taken to everything.

When I am free, I flex my arms, staring down at the slightly raw, red lines across my skin.

And the sensitivity of every line feels amazing.

With slightly unsteady hands and downcast eyes, Bella inspects my body; I can only assume she finds no damage when she exhales and leans into me, allowing me to finally enfold her in my arms, there on my floor, and for a moment I simply breathe her in. There's suddenly something shaky about her though, and in her embrace, I can feel her questions and her worry, understanding that it is my turn now to reassure.

Leaning back to kiss her softly, I let my fingertips trace their way across her face.

Stealing her word, I whisper simply, "Perfect." She stares up at me with just as many questions as before, so I repeat myself, increasingly sure of my own feelings, in spite of her uncertainty.

In the face of her doubt, I speak with even more conviction.

"Bella, you were perfect for me tonight."

Chapter Text

Bella leaves not long after I am untied. She still lets me hold and touch her, but as soon as she feels certain I have calmed myself, she is gathering her things, and I am soon left alone in my space, naked but for the robe she has draped across my shoulders and the kiss I still feel burning on my lips.

And for hours, it feels like all I can do is revel in the sense of connection I am left with in her wake, smiling and running my fingers across the faint hints of rope marks on my skin.

Even once I have gathered myself enough to function again, I am aglow with feeling and with sentiment, replaying everything she has done to and with me. I fall asleep in a tangle of sheets that feel less cold than they ever have before, even though I am alone, and I dream all night long of making love to her in all sorts of positions, both bound and free.

With my hands stroking softly at her skin and with my arms secured behind me.

Just before dawn, I find myself falling into a dream that is a perfect echo of the afternoon we spent together, only this time, when she comes and falls to her knees with her body curled around me, the look we share morphs. Changes.

And even though my sleeping ears are filled with silence, there in the untouched space beneath my consciousness, she mouths the words that I have always longed to hear.

I sit up straight in my bed, my body flushed, but the trickle of sweat running down the back of my neck is intensely cold. My eyes are darting everywhere, my hands gripping at my sheets. I can feel the racing thrumming of my heart in my arousal, but I suddenly know that the ache is so much more than physical need.

Closing my eyes, I clench my hands into fists, testing out the sound of my thoughts on my untried tongue, pursing my lips with the effort to enunciate what I would never dare to speak before this minute. This hour.

Over and over again, I try it, letting the word move and grow inside my mouth until it becomes loud enough to hear.

Then, turning to stare at my own pale face in the mirror, I breathe it one more time, willing it to fill the room and to fill my life.

And in its smallness and its enormity both, it echoes.

"Love."

#~~#~~#

In the light of morning, I go about my routine with the same sort of dedication that I always do, but I am self-aware enough to know that everything has changed. My coffee tastes better. My laptop screen is brighter.

And my words, stunted as they sometimes are, positively flow.

Throughout all of it, the work and the dullness and the routine, I can feel my heart beating more rapidly, my lungs emptying and filling as if there isn't enough air in the room to fill me.

And every pulse inside my chest speaks that one silent word. Over and over.

Love.

It is terrifying and exhilarating. Energizing and draining, and I want to run to Bella's home and kiss her breathlessly, making love until there is no end and no beginning to our bodies.

And, just as strongly, I want to simply run.

I want to run as hard and as far as I can.

Each time the fear threatens to overpower the desire though, I find myself steadying my erratic pulse to the rhythm of my fingers, tapping relentlessly against keys. I imagine my hands bound before me, on my knees, with Bella coaxing the confession of my new-found feelings from me.

And I breathe.

Trying to accept that this upswell of emotion is a feeling I can handle, I focus on that image and that sensation, my hand coming up unconsciously to rub at the one raw spot across my ribs where the rope tugged too tightly.

It's a different kind of rope entirely that ties me, mind and body, to my Bella.

But it still makes me feel fetterless and free.

#~~#~~#

I do not manage to get a hold of Bella until late that night, even though I call her several times. By the time she finally calls me back, I am already on my back in my bed, reading and trying not to stare at the clock, willing away the clutching feeling that reminds it is far too late for me to be able to see her tonight.

But still desperately wishing that I could.

The warm well of affection that has been growing all week, now that it has a name, has blossomed until it consumes my entire chest; the pressure, while uncomfortable, is energizing as well. There is a twitching something in my hands that makes me restless, an itch at the base of my brain that tells me I should bedoing something. That I should be touching her or kissing her; that I should be working to demonstrate my devotion and my need.

Inexperienced as I am with love, everything in me tells me to prostrate myself. To do everything in my power to earn hers, too.

The sound of Bella's voice, when finally it is granted to me, is a balm to all my overstimulated nerves, helping to push back down the nervous tics and twitches that now seem to accompany any time I spend away from her. I am so excited that it takes me a while to realize that she is not nearly so enthused.

That her responses, when they come, are dull and clipped.

Distant.

The aching longing I have felt all day, both to hold her and to kneel before her, mutates with every word until it becomes a frantic itching in my throat, impelling words out of me that are not well enough thought through. And I know that I am giving away too much.

Following an uncomfortable moment of silence, I speak too intensely, telling her, "I mmmmmiss you. C-can I ssssee you?" When she does not reply but for a wavering hum, I clarify. "Nnnnot tonight, of c-course. But t-t-t-tommmorrow, maybe?"

"I don't know, Edward."

My throat is thrumming and closing simultaneously, and there is not enough air to breathe.

"I mean, we've just … I feel like we've been moving kind of fast, you know? We've been spending all this time together recently, and …"

"B-b-but," I interrupt, but then for a treacherous second, my stunted tongue begins to fail me, my chest collapsing.

And in my mind, I am seeing all the ways she has ever turned away from me, her face so much harder than it should be.

"B-but issssn't that how it's ssssss-sssup-pposed to be? Wwwwhen you're newly in – "

In love.

I choke on the words I want to say, recovering as quickly as I can, but the block lasts just a second too long.

"In what, Edward?" Bella asks, and I can almost see her face blanching as I press my hand to my burning heart.

"Innnn a nnnnnew …. r- …. r- …. relationship?"

And it is only then, with the words hanging helplessly on an invisible wire, that I remember that we have never, not once, ever spoken of what we are to each other.

Or of what we want to be.

In the silence that ensues, my chest is seizing. The sensation of a tightly drawn chord unraveling is unsettling things deep inside of me that have only felt calm since Bella has come to me.

I fear I may never be calm again.

Her voice is tiny and so unlike my Bella's when she whispers, "I thought you didn't do relationships."

"IIIIIIIII … I nnnnever said that," I protest, nearly panicking, a sudden thought striking me with force that maybe that was why she chose to be with me. My own perceived unavailability. "I … I …" I close my eyes and punch my leg with a painfully tight and angry fist. "I ssssssssaid I'd nnnnnever d-done a relationship … b-before you."

I grow quieter with every word, until the final two are practically too soft to hear.

There is only the sound of her breath for an agonizing moment, but when she speaks, it does nothing to set my cracking heart at ease.

"I have to go."

"O-k-k-k-kay," I breathe, sinking, but I all want to do is beg her desperately to stay.

"Goodnight, Edward."

I hear the click that says her voice is lost to me, but still I speak, knowing it is only to the air.

"Goodnight, Bella."

And then, almost silently, I add, "I llllove you."

#~~#~~#

I barely sleep that night, and when I do I am haunted by the sorts of dreams that even my unconscious mind knows are not reality. In them, she is lying right beside me, and I am not even thinking of the way I love for her to take me.

I dream only of her kiss, rocking with a silent dread that it may soon be just a memory.

When the dream shifts to that moment when I swore we had an understanding, my body begins to shift, and somewhere beneath the veil of sleep I know that I am kicking violently at covers that cannot hold me. Fighting against it all the way, I am pulled into the moment when, in another dream – seeming in anotherlife now – she had told me that she loved me; just before she can though, I wake, only it is not with arousal or with a desperately racing pulse. Instead, it is with dread.

And that's when I decide that there is nothing left for me in the world of sleep.

But there is precious little in the waking one, either.

All day long, I work and wait without knowing what I am waiting for. With a sense of resignation that runs so much deeper than I'd ever realized it might, I imagine and reject a hundred ideas in turn for ways to convince Bella to want me, too. I don't send her flowers and I don't buy her tools with which to use and bind my skin.

I don't touch myself, even though I want to, because I cannot bring myself to imagine the touch is hers.

Both that night and the next, I spend half the evening sipping whiskey and staring in desolation at my phone. And even though I am longing for her voice, I do not call her.

And she doesn't call me either.

Sitting on my sofa alone that Wednesday, I replay everything again and again, but this time I focus on different things. On the hard set of her eyes whenever I would try to care for her. On the way her mouth twitched at my profession that she was perfect, and on the fear behind her dominant exterior when she said I was her fantasy, too.

On how, perhaps, I was only really a Pet to her after all.

That perhaps her fantasy was of nothing more than binding me and leaving me.

Again and again, my mind keeps circling back to that moment, though , when both our eyes had met and I'd been so certain that we were looking at each other with something new.

With love.

Each time, I suck another ice cube into my mouth, letting the cold sting and the burn of the whiskey try to soothe me, until there is only the lingering ache left about me, and all of the specifics have washed away.

I stumble to my bed too early and too drunk, scattering all my clothes save for my boxers and staring plaintively at my phone. I want to call and to tell her everything. To explain my love and my sadness and my frustration.

To tell her just one more time how much I miss her and want her.

My eyes are just beginning to flutter closed when I feel a vibration on my chest, and I wake with a start and an ache inside my head. The motion feels like a touch, and for a moment I am bewildered that Bella is still not there.

And then I remember.

Without hope, I pick my phone up off my skin and fumble blearily until her picture is revealed, along with words that make my breaking heart appear to stop.

I miss you, too. Be patient with me?

I read it a dozen times, scarcely managing to breathe and shaking with relief as feeling seems to rush back into me. There's laughter deep inside my lungs, and I find myself curled up on my side with the phone clutched so tightly right in front of me, where there is no mistaking what I see. Through blurry, burning eyes, I type out two words that mean everything to me, and yet which cannot begin to touch the depth of what I know I feel.

I will.

And then,

Please let me.

Soft buzzing opens my eyes again a minute later, and with them, something wet and raw begins to overflow.

I'll try.

As I drift off to sleep, still holding her words against my skin, it's with my lips remembering quietly how to smile again.

#~~#~~#

I am deeply asleep, lost in my first real rest since Bella told me we were moving too quickly, when I think I hear a click and the opening of a door. I shift but find my limbs are leaden, my eyes too heavy to open.

The drifting echo of her scent is surely just a memory.

Or just another nightmare sent to haunt me.

Only somewhere inside that world of unconscious fantasy, I hear another bit of rustling, closer now, and then warmth against my skin. There's an alarm inside my drifting mind that tells me I am always the one to hold my Bella when we sleep.

And that, in and of itself, is enough to convince me that the feeling of her arms around my torso is still nothing more than a dream.

#~~#~~#

A faint vibration coming from the other side of the bed is followed by a gust of cold air, and I feel my body curl reflexively. Still with one foot in a dream of skin, I murmur quietly, "Don't go."

I am not prepared for the darkness to whisper back. "I have to."

There are lips against my shoulder and then an arm and I turn, my eyes snapping open to take in the face that I have been longing for. I am almost afraid to reach out. To touch.

But I have to.

When my fingertips make contact with skin, smooth and soft and warm, I am instantly a mess inside, still confused from sleep and lost in dreams, wanting to smile and to cry and feeling free, at this point, to do neither.

"I'm sorry," Bella whispers, and even though I do not know what she is apologizing for, I shake my head, any words I might have tried to say ripped from my lips by a soft kiss. She presses her mouth to mine three times before I finally begin to thaw, threading my hand through her hair and opening to the sweetness of her tongue. I am hard, three days without release pushing my own sad boundaries, but I do not care.

Bella is here.

"P-please don't go," I whisper again, finally daring to wrap my hand around her neck and pull myself close. She glances nervously at the clock and then looks back at me.

"I've got a little time," she concedes, and I finally begin to relax, melting into sheets and into the comfort of her proximity. The nervousness emanating from every inch of Bella's body keeps me on edge though, and I spend too many of my allotted minutes just soaking in the details of her presence.

"You're here," I murmur, and it is as much for me as it is for her.

She blushes, and I catch the beginnings of a smile. "I know that's not what you let me have the key for, but … "

There's one soft moment then, because we both know what the key is really for.

So the next time she wants to play here, she won't have to tell me to answer the door.

In my mind, I replay that moment, standing beside my door, nervous but steeling myself to go shopping for toys. I see her hand on my arm as she had reached for the spare set of keys, twirling them between soft fingers.

I remember the burn in my throat I'd felt as she had asked for access to every part of me.

And how it had felt to give it to her.

I cough and she bats her eyes, and we each smile, but neither smile is an easy one. I can still feel the tension in her posture. I can see the apology in the corners of her eyes.

"I'm g-glad you're here," I clarify, and she sighs. "I mmmmmmissed you." Looking away, she closes any distance still between us, wrapping her arm around my waist and resting her brow against my neck, and there's so much relief.

For a moment, we simply breathe.

And it's like the air is really clear for the first time all week.

Rubbing softly at her back, I try to sort through all the questions in my head. They bubble up, one after another until I am overwhelmed. Reeling.

But the most important question is also the simplest one.

"Are you ok-k-kay?" I ask quietly. She nods against my skin, and I feel my erection brush her stomach as she shifts. The contact makes me hiss, but I try to ignore it, pulling my hips ever so slightly away.

There are other things that are so much more important things to me than sex today.

Cursing silently, I struggle once again to gather my thoughts. I know I am not my best in the morning, and in my mind I am clutching at time, feeling both her and it slipping softly away from me.

There is so much that I need.

And I cannot spend another day wondering.

I begin to clear my throat, but Bella's voice breaks before I can find the will to speak. With her eyes hidden from me, her lips brushing against my skin with every word, she says, "I'm so sorry I freaked, Edward. I just … I was just feeling so much, and we've been moving so fast. And I … I haven't felt this kind of stuff in a long time."

My fingertips move gently across her spine through the fabric of her top, my ribs squeezing tightly at my chest.

Quietly, I whisper, "Neither hhhhave I."

There's pain in her voice as she replies, "I know. I just … I needed some time."

And it only occurs to me then that she may have no idea what that time has cost me. My heart hammers hard inside my chest, and I can barely contain the words that want to bubble out of me as it cracks and opens and lets so much feeling loose.

Fighting to speak honestly, I breathe. "I thhh ... I thhhhhhhought …" I stall out, my words lost, before I try to take a different tack.

But nothing about it is less difficult.

"It … It hhhhhhhurt when you p-p-pulled away from me."

She lifts her head to reveal glassy eyes to me, and I lean into the softness of her touch as she places her palm against my cheek. "Oh, Edward, I – "

I take her hand and kiss it softly. "I can gggggive you t-t-time, Bella. JJJJust t-talk to me. Please?"

She nods and pulls her hand away, and I am relieved when it is only to press her lips to mine. We stay like that for a moment in soft, wet motions of mouths that never evolve into anything more, for all that I am aching.

After lingering long against her mouth, I slowly break away, breathing her in and letting my hands drift over her body, but it is with affection more than anything. The room is brightening, and I know that any minute now she will take herself away from me.

And I know what I need.

"Are wwwwwe o-k-kay?"

A smile flirts with her lips, and she brushes my hair away from my face. "Yeah," she breathes, and the weight that has been sitting on my chest feels like it is finally released.

But I stiffen anyway.

"B-B-Bella?"

"Yeah?"

I close my eyes and press my lips to the damp, soft skin of her forehead.

"Wwwwwhat are we?"

Her voice is small again as she whispers, "What?" And while she is still pressed to my body almost intimately, I can feel her pulling away.

My fears all come back in an instant. My doubts and my concerns that I may have misinterpreted things completely. I feel her hand in my hair, and she is insistently pulling me until we are face to face again, tense brown eyes staring up at me, and I cannot speak.

can't.

But I have to.

"I … IIIIII … I d-d-d-don't knnnnnnnow what I am t-to you," I breathe, fighting my own impossible tongue and breath with every word. Her eyes widen, her hand drifting to settle softly on my heart, but it's not enough.

I am incapable of speech but I still need words.

A million scenarios dance before my eyes as I push myself past a block that is born of my own broken voice and of my near-broken heart, trying to decide what I can live with before I put the question to the world. I feel my arms close around her more tightly, needing her here with me.

But I need all of her.

I need her to use my body.

And I need her, someday, if not now, to love me.

Knowing I cannot ask her that yet, I keep it both simpler and more complicated as I finally find my voice, staring at her and touching her face as I breathe, "Are you mmmmmy Mmmmm-M-Mistress or my g-g-g-g-g … my … " Clenching my hand into a fist beneath my pillow, I try to keep going, but I am stuck.

And there is no substitute.

Her fingertips are so soft against my jaw, rubbing in warm circles at the place where it meets my ear.

Because she always knows how to soothe me, and I am reminded all over again of what I want and need.

Finally, I stutter out the ending, my voice so harsh against the quiet. "Or my g-g-girlfriend?"

The word, finally released to the world, hangs pregnant on the air, and I can feel myself deflating underneath its weight. It's too large and yet too small, intimidating in its enormity at the same time that it cannot begin to encompass what I feel.

After a moment that thunders past my heart like a long and lonely year, Bella finally exhales, and I feel every bit of life she's helped me find hovering on the edge of a precipice.

And I ready myself to fall.

"Both," she whispers. "Can I be both?"

There's suddenly ground beneath my feet, and I have to close my eyes against the emotion welling up in me. With aching arms, I pull her bodily against my chest, squeezing her with a desperation that overwhelms me. "Yes," I breathe. "Of c-course. Yes."

She is holding onto me just as tightly as I am her, and we rock until I hover ever so slightly above her, but I refuse to let my misgivings about my posture get the best of me. With my arousal pressed against the bed and my lips lined up with her mouth, I smile and breathe and kiss, letting our tongues meet and pulling her lip between my teeth.

And then it's too hard to kiss beneath how hard we both are smiling.

"I - " I begin, but then I stop, pressing my lips to hers to stall.

I love you.

"I really lllllike you," I whisper, tasting softly of her breath.

She just smiles harder and reaches up to touch my face.

"I really like you, too."

And there is still more to say.

So much about why she felt the need to pull away.

About why she couldn't tell me what she needed.

But all of that can wait.

For now, all I can do is kiss her.

So that's exactly what I do.

Chapter Text

Through the speaker, held so closely to my ear, I hear the sound of Bella's body turning in a rustling of sheets and a deep exhale. Already, I need to shift my burgeoning erection even as I am gripping the phone a little tighter in my hand.

"You know you can't avoid this forever," she huffs, and I smile.

"I'm nnnnot t-trying to avoid – "

"Yes, Edward. Yes, you are. Hell, Alice has even started doubting your existence again. Just the other day, she was saying you were practically as bad as J– "

Her voice stops suddenly, and I sit up, my eyes wide.

And for a moment, there is nothing but silence, its weight both a burden and a shield now - keeping us safe from things that have not been said at the same time that it leaves us adrift.

With the same hand that I cling to it, I long so desperately to pierce it.

"As b-b-b-bad as...?" I try to prompt her, but she doesn't take the bait.

"It doesn't matter. Just … just come over tomorrow. Hang out with us. Please?"

My mouth twists up even as I am pretending to consider. "You knnnnow I'm no good with p-p-people, Bella."

"Whatever. I'm sure plenty of people like you. I like you."

The hint of a smile playing across my face comes fully into bloom. "OK," I murmur, becoming putty to her affection, and she can bend me as she will.

She registers my acquiescence, and through the speaker I can hear her grin. "Good."

For a few more minutes, we make small talk, but it is late, and we are both in bed. We hang up not long after, something strange and expectant hovering just beyond our words as we say goodnight. But we still do not know how to close that silence.

A week has passed since our brush with fear and distance, and since I woke to find her curled around my body in my bed. The difficult questions – the ones I could not pose there in the fog of happiness at the simple truth of affection and her apology – have still not been posed. Instead, we have simply danced around each other.

And I have given her time.

We still went on a date that Friday night, and I still kept count, marking the sixth week of her companionship against the lonely walls that had once confined me. We still made love and slept in my bed, and I held her as close as I possibly could.

The following day we played, our hands careful as they stayed to lines they were coming to know so well. There was nothing adventurous about it, nothing new, some silent agreement passing between our eyes that what we needed was only confirmation. Reconnection.

With firm but gentle motions, my Mistress bound and fucked me. And as she did, the intense constriction of leather cuffs around my wrists was the tightness of my heart against my ribs, every act of submission and every word of confession feeling sharper. More satisfying.

And yet leaving me more raw.

I place my phone on my nightstand and take myself, naked and needy, in my hand. I have not seen her since she left that night, though we have spoken every day, and my desire is feverish, my very fingertips wanting desperately for a taste of slick, soft flesh.

They are not the only parts of me that are lost in longing though, and I groan quietly at the feeling of my palm twisting quickly over the head, my hips pushing up into my own lonely fist. In my mind, I am thrusting into her, her body above mine, my arms held still.

But when I come, pulsing thickly, it is to the image of her leaning forward.

And it is to the memory of her lingering kiss.

#~~#~~#

The entire time as I am driving to her apartment, I am a wreck. While I know that I have met her friends before, I am still not certain how to handle this, or how to comport myself beneath their gaze. As I park across the street from her door, I find my eyes searching windows, looking for something to reassure me – some glimmering of her face or maybe a beckoning hand, repeating the invitation her lips have already made.

But there is nothing.

For the first time, she is not waiting outside for me. She is not even waiting at a window.

And instead, it is to me to go up.

As my stomach roils, I feel my hands tighten painfully around the steering wheel until I fear I may leave marks. Over and over, I repeat to myself the sorts of ridiculous affirmations I was once made to recite, striving without hope to make my mouth behave and to infuse my words with a confidence I have never had, and likely never will.

The coil inside me tightens, and I feel my throat go numb, things seizing up inside my mind as I try to imagine scenarios for how this can possibly transpire.

A buzzing in my pocket interrupts the cycle as my thoughts are beginning to spiral far beyond my limited control, and I curse, pulling out my phone.

Quit stalling. I can see you.

My head whips up, and instead of curtains blocking the light and warmth inside her space, I see the brightest sight imaginable.

I see her face.

Smiling in spite of myself, I tuck my phone away and open the car door, crossing the street with more lightness in my step than I could have imagined a few seconds before. Knowing that she is aware of my presence, I do not bother with the buzzer, letting myself in with slightly shaking hands and then climbing the stairs.

At the door to her apartment, I pause for just a moment, trying to collect the scattered wisps of calm that are my only hope as I raise my fist, tapping just once before the wood falls away in front of me.

She stands there in a dress and low heels, her cheeks flushed as she pulls me into her home and her embrace. I feel so much of my tension seeping out of my spine as I wrap my arms around her waist, bending slightly to capture her mouth. There's a hum of contentment in the back of my throat as she kisses with as much enthusiasm as I do, nearly a week of separation making me mad for her lips and her skin, for her presence and her breath.

With my forehead touching hers, I raise one hand to skim my knuckles down her cheek, holding her close and whispering, "Hi."

She grins and presses her nose to the side of mine, our lips brushing as she returns my greeting.

And for that moment – that perfect, blissful moment - it is as if everything is okay. As if the world is comprised of only us, and she is as happy to see me as I am her.

As someone clears her throat just a little bit behind us, I know that it is the moment I will cling to for the rest of evening. And I also know that it is a moment that is over.

Bella sighs and catches my eye, winking as she releases me and turns to face a short woman with even shorter hair, hazel eyes meeting mine appraisingly and yet skeptically.

"Alice," Bella says, her voice loud and firm, "you remember Edward."

I reach back into my memory, knowing full well that this is one of a number of people I met when Bella dragged us to a club for our third date, but the faces are all fogged beneath the more visceral recollections of everything else she did to me that night.

"Of course." Alice smiles and holds out her hand. I find with surprise that Bella is still holding onto one of mine, my other hand wrapped around the neck of the bottle of wine that I have brought. Reluctant to let go of Bella, I offer the bottle uncertainly to each of them in turn. Alice is quick to step forward, taking it and shaking my hand. As she squeezes it, her smile turns more ironic and wry. "It's so nice to finally see you again."

I feel the jab and try to remember Bella's words of coaxing, her complaint that her roommate was questioning something about my absence. "It's nnnnnice to see you, t-too," I manage.

Other memories well up as I try to control my speech without putting too much focus on it, knowing full well that the harder I try, the more likely I am to fail.

Bella moves closer to me, steering me into the room and shooting Alice what I can only imagine is a dirty look. I am introduced to a whole host of people, most of whose names I am certain I will not remember. Some are familiar and some are new, and with every one I feel my nerves creeping higher, my words more tongue-tied, until I am positively rigid by the time Bella wraps her arm around my waist and pulls me gently to the side.

"You OK, babe?" she asks, pushing hair from my eyes and resting a hand against my chest. The gesture is soft and lovely, and I press my palm to the back of hers as I lean in for a kiss. She meets me gently, letting my lips linger as I breathe.

"I'm fine," I whisper, because I will be. "JJJJust st-stay with me?"

She nods and gives me another kiss.

Leading me by the wrist, we merge back into the conversations going on around us, and I bend all my attention to try to follow them. I observe, just as I did the last time, that this is a close-knit group, clearly made up of long-standing friends. Still, they make an effort to include me, asking questions casually, and I answer the best I can, reciprocating before trying to verbally retreat.

I am just getting a little lost in my own whirling thoughts, my hand moving softly over Bella's as I sip idly at a glass of scotch, when I hear a throat clearing itself at my side.

"You're doing great."

I nearly choke on my drink as I set it down, turning to meet blue eyes and a reserved smile.

"I'm Jasper, by the way. Alice's boyfriend." He extends a hand and I take it. We have already been introduced tonight, and I smile gratefully that he is taking the time to repeat it.

He sits back in his chair a bit, gesturing widely with the bottle of beer he is holding and speaking conspiratorially. "They put me through this same gamut when we started dating a couple years ago. It's an intimidating group."

I chuckle and relax a little, uncurling my body while keeping Bella's hand held tightly in mine. "Is it thhhhhat obvious that I'm int-timidated?"

Jasper shrugs, and I feel Bella shifting beside me. She releases my hand and leans her back against my side; I smile as I begin to feel her voice resonating softly through my chest, knowing she is carrying on her own conversation behind me.

"You're keeping a lid on it, but you're nervous as hell."

"Are you a sh-shrink?"

He cracks a wide, smirking smile. "Perceptive, too."

"I try. P-P-People scare the hell of out me, but they're fffascinating."

"That they are."

We sit there in a surprisingly comfortable silence for a moment as I pretend to contemplate my glass.

"You know, my sister had a stutter when we were kids."

"Jasper!" Bella whirls around suddenly, and I feel her hand rest almost protectively on my thigh.

"What?" Jasper asks, looking surprised.

Bella hisses and I laugh. It is almost a relief, really, to have someone bring it up, since my twisted words are far too prominent to overlook. It only occurs to me then, as Bella is hovering and huffing in annoyance at my side that she has never mentioned my impediment, for all that she has been working with it all this time, both pushing me forward and pulling me near-bodily from my head.

I place my hand over hers and rub it gently. "It'sss okay," I insist as I turn back to Jasper in my best pretense at nonchalance. "D-did she ever shake it?"

He nods. "It still pops up every now and then when she's upset, but it hasn't been a big deal. When she was a kid it was really bad, though."

"Yeah. Evvvverybody always hoped I'd g-grow out of it. But app-parently not."

Bella squeezes my hand more tightly but stays silent, and I wonder if she has been holding these questions back herself.

"Does it bother you?" Jasper asks coolly as he tilts back his beer.

"Of c-c-course. It's fffffrustrating to not be able to say everything I w-want to." I laugh inside, wondering if there is a larger understatement I could make. "And it mmmmmakes it awkward to meet new p-people."

We are interrupted by Alice, who throws herself into the conversation, quite literally, by sitting down roughly on Jasper's lap. He lets out a large "Oof!" but then pulls her close, settling her and kissing her shoulder.

"Is that why it's taken so long for Bella to drag you out of your cave?"

"M-M-M..." My throat closes, my neck bowing reflexively as I try to push through, but there is something in Alice's tone that shuts down everything. Some implication that, as always, what I am is simply wrong.

Bella rubs my hand and kisses my cheek and glares, but when I look up, it is to find Alice's eyes still locked on mine.

My mind seizes, panic rising.

And in that moment, for some reason, I am certain.

She knows.

She knows what I am and what I want and what I let Bella do.

I sputter, but Bella is already in motion, her quick rise from the couch all but confirming my suspicion, and I can scarcely breathe.

"Alice," she hisses. "Kitchen. Now."

I shiver slightly at the tone in her voice, so reminiscent of how powerful she can be when she is taking me, but I am too nervous to let my body respond. Alice is still staring at me as she stands up. Bella bends to kiss my temple, whispering, "I'll be right back," and I nod, the knot in my throat still keeping me from speaking.

I glance around as the two women retreat, seeing a number of other faces turn to follow them before casting curious looks at me. Jasper, for his part, is laughing and rolling his eyes as he takes a long, gulping drink.

"Don't worry about Ali," he says gruffly. "She's just really protective of Bella after all the shit that went down with the last guy."

My eyes flick up reflexively, and I can tell from Jasper's smirk that I have given myself away. My disinterested, "Oh?" is anything but casual, my voice cracking even though there are no consonants to stumble on.

Jasper's expression grows distant as he focuses on the next room; I turn to find that I can just see Alice and Bella through the doorway, speaking adamantly, and from the look on Bella's face I can tell that she is mad.

"Yeah," he says, setting the bottle down and running his hands nervously over his jeans. "James. She hasn't mentioned him?"

I shake my head, remembering the time she seemed about to say a name but stopped herself. "Nnnnot r-really. B-But I knew there was sssssssomething. Someone."

"Total asshole," Jasper says quietly. "I couldn't have been more happy to be rid of him." He catches the look that I give him which belies the dark sorts of suspicions that I cannot help but harbor, cloaked in secrecy as all of this is. "Not abusive or anything. Just … just not a nice guy."

I am just about to press for more, guilt welling up in my lungs that I am speaking about Bella's life without her leave , but it is outweighed by my need to know. Memories of how Bella closed herself off from me - all her fears about becoming too close - still press in on me, making something uncomfortable rise in places filled with so many years of lonely hurt. But at that moment, she and Alice return.

I do not realize how tense I have grown until Bella is there, sitting again at my side and gripping my arm possessively as Alice throws herself back down on Jasper's lap with a disgruntled huff. Her eyes settle on mine for just a moment, something wary still lingering about the edges of them, but then she looks away and forces a smile. "You boys getting on okay?" she asks. She passes Jasper another beer and he kisses her in thanks, glancing at me and nodding.

"Yeah, Edward's cool," he says, and I hear the edge in his words.

Alice does not so much as glance at me as she turns to stare at Bella. Meaningfully, she murmurs, "So I hear."

#~~#~~#

Bella is laughing animatedly as she sets down her wineglass. At some point she has managed to end up on my lap, and there is no controlling my body's enthusiasm. After so many nights without her touch, the motion of her thigh brushing my erection when she shifts is enrapturing, my hands trying not to curl too tightly around her elbow and knee as I hold her closer to me.

She casually winds an arm around my back and presses her lips to my temple before responding to the man that she is speaking with. The conversation going on around us has grown louder as the drinks have come to flow more freely, and I can tell from Bella's flush and from the buzzing in my head that we have each had a little more than is necessarily wise.

Still half trying to pay attention, I allow my head to rest against the back of the couch, letting the warm feelings surround me as my fingers idly drift a little higher beneath the hem of Bella's dress.

"Naughty boy." Her breath is warm in my ear, her giggle louder than her words as she grabs my wrist and moves my hand back down to her knee.

"Sorry," I murmur, smiling, but I'm not. Not really.

"You will be."

I harden even further and shift, inadvertently pressing my erection against her ass, and she grinds back against it, driving me mad.

"Well, then."

There's a laughing voice drifting upward, and I see that the couple Bella and I had been talking to is rising to stand. One of the men bends to clap a hand against her shoulder, kissing her cheek even as his partner is dragging him away.

"Let the lovebirds have some privacy," comes the joking voice, and I stiffen slightly at the word, hurt to hear it bandied about so casually when I spend so much energy keeping it tucked away. Bella flinches, too, but tries not to react, just waving at the men. I watch through half-open eyes as they say goodbye to Alice and Jasper and make their way to the door, glancing around in surprise as I realize that they are the last to leave.

That, but for people who generally stay here, we are alone.

Bella collapses against my chest dramatically, and I laugh as I close my arms around her and press my nose to her hair, unashamedly drinking her in. "That was fun," she says, "but I was starting to think that they would never leave."

"Mmm," I hum, my hands growing more daring and making once again for the creamy skin I know is waiting for me higher on her leg.

She doesn't push me away this time, instead tilting her head up, pressing her lips to mine in the kind of burning kiss that sets fire to the parts of me that, in my patience, have been denied. I return it fiercely, moaning too loudly when she says, "I've been waiting all night to get my hands on you."

My reply is cut off by Alice's shrill voice. "Jesus. Not on the freaking couch, guys."

Bella rolls her eyes and places another firm, closed-mouth kiss against my lips before dragging us to our feet. Her first step is shaky, her second swaying, and on the third I catch her, feeling her giggle as she falls into my chest. Alice and Jasper are laughing, too, and I am smiling and swooning, the world fuzzy.

But I am grounded.

"LLLLLet me t-take you to bed," I whisper in her ear, and she growls, nipping playfully at my neck.

"You may have to carry her," Jasper teases, but Bella is sinking in my arms. With a kiss to her brow, I look up and wink at him, placing her arms around my neck and scooping her up. As I begin to move forward, Bella squeals and clings to me, waving at the two of them and burying her face against my skin until I can feel the warmth of her breath.

Alice is shaking her head and leaning against Jasper, but she is friendly enough as she says goodnight.

Safe in Bella's room, I kick the door shut and lay her down upon her bed where she immediately sprawls out, beautiful and open on her back. Climbing up on my knees beside her, I lean over to place soft kisses across her neck and jaw, drinking in the soft moans she makes as I part my lips and run my teeth across her flesh.

"God, I missed this," she rasps, breathing hard and moving to her side so that we are facing each other on the bed. Her hands thread through my hair, tugging just the way I like to drag my mouth to hers, and I groan against her lips as I lie down beside her and succumb to the sweetness of her kiss. She hooks her leg over my hip and pulls me in until my erection is pressing against her in a rush of relief and pleasure. Gasping, she retreats enough to sweep her mouth down to my chin, her hand hot on my back. "Tell me why the fuck I've been staying away from you again?"

My heart pangs, my hands freezing on her thigh and breast.

Because I do not know.

And I wish I did.

I am only frozen for a moment, and she does not seem to notice, but I cannot keep the hurt from my voice as I offer, "Bec-cause you nnneed time?"

"Fuck time," she growls, and then she is on top of me and I am almost lost in the warmth spreading through my abdomen as she grinds her sex down on my cock. My hand pushes farther up her legs beneath her dress until I meet soaked fabric and lace, dipping under to stroke the softest curls and flesh that I've been longing for. I choke out her name as she continues to press against me, and after nearly a week without her touch it is all I can do not to cry out.

"Shh," she whispers, her voice slightly slurred. "Alice and Jasper are right next door."

I roll my eyes and remember their proximity as I carried Bella past them. "Like they're not d-doing the same thing."

"Still." She laughs and talks between wet, messy kisses. "I wouldn't want to have to gag you."

"Fuck," I moan, my erection twitching against her thigh, my jeans too tight.

"Or maybe you'd like that," she says, her lips brushing mine with every word, and I hum, pulling her closer and pushing a finger inside of her, imagining that heat around my cock and wanting it with everything inside of me.

"Mmmmaybe I'll be quieter if you take your c-clothes off." Her hands quickly move to tug at the hem of her dress, pulling it up and over her head before fumbling with her bra, releasing perfect breasts, and I pull her farther up my body so my mouth can reach them, sucking her nipple between my teeth and caressing it softly with my tongue. She holds herself above me with one arm, the other hand reaching down to join mine between her legs.

"More," she whispers and I slip another finger in beside the other, groaning loudly again when I feel her own touch circling her clit. She silences me by sinking to her elbow and pushing her breast against my face. "God, I love it when you touch me."

Her sounds of pleasure make my cock throb inside my jeans, and I can feel my hips tensing, longing to thrust, to feel the wet flesh around my fingers wrapped so lushly around something else. To come inside her body instead of in my hand tonight.

"Please c-come, Bella," I whisper against her skin, nipping teasingly at her breast with my teeth, and she hisses, tensing. Holding her breath each time she approaches the summit, I wait for her to fall, and when she finally does, collapsing into pieces and shoving my fingers into her to the knuckle, I can feel it through every inch of me.

My hand is away from her breast as she is still pushing through the aftershocks, fumbling with my fly until I can shove my jeans and boxers down, breathing hard with relief as I curl my hand around my base.

She collapses to the side of me, but I won't let her go too far. Teasing and tormenting me, she lets her tone grow forcedly casual, ignoring my need as she pretends to make smalltalk, circling her finger maddeningly lightly against my hip. "So did you have fun tonight?"

"Fuck," I curse as I pump myself once, wanting to grab her hand and force it onto me, but I know I can't. "Yeah, it was … nnnnice." I shudder as I twist my palm at the head.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." With the arm I still have wrapped around her shoulder, I pull her flush against my side and try to move her once again to straddle me, but she refuses to take the hint. Growling in frustration, I drop my head hard against the mattress and lower my hand to stroke and gently tug my balls. "Your fff-friends are great."

"You liked them, huh?" Her trill of laughter belies her game, and I know that she is waiting for me to break.

"JJJJasper is really c-cool."

"I saw you guys talking," she agrees, humming and shifting to run her nose along my neck. I stifle my groan when her fingers entwine with mine and wrap themselves around my erection again. "He tell you anything interesting?"

I wince slightly as I remember what he said about her past, but it is not what I want to talk about right now.

Right now, I don't want to talk about anything except her body moving over mine.

"You really want to know?" My voice cracks on the last word and she drags our hands up my cock.

"Of course. I always want to know what you're thinking."

I gasp at the rush of sensation as she bites down at the place where my shoulder meets my neck and rubs her thumb along my slit. "Mmmmostly we talked ab-b-bout you."

"Anything interesting?"

"Yes." My eyes roll back in my head and close as she pumps me with our hands, faster now, and I don't want to come like this.

"Oh?"

"Yes," I murmur, but I can't focus any more. "Please, Bella. I wwwwant you," I beg, removing my hand from under hers and placing it firmly on her hip.

"Tell me what Jasper told you."

She moves her leg so her thigh is pressed against me, warm and soft and rubbing tantalizingly against the swollen flesh. "He t-t-told me … fuck … ab-bout your ex-b-boyfriend."

The pressure against my cock is gone as suddenly as it began, and she is sitting up beside me. My mouth drops open, and I want to apologize, but she was the one who asked me. Her eyes flash, and I cringe, but then she is on top of me, and I can feel wet fabric sliding against my dick and I cry out at the pleasure of it.

"Maybe we should be quiet after all," she breathes, making my head reel. I don't know if it's the scotch or if it's her mood, but things are moving too fast and my dick is too hard and I cannot think.

She doesn't let me regroup, kissing me with fervor, and I can sense her hands and hips both moving, fabric sliding down her legs. Never removing her lips from mine, she is pushing me up the bed, and I crawl backward as she instructs, sitting up when I meet headboard and tearing my shirt off so that I am naked but for the jeans wrapped around my knees.

Bella takes my head between her hands, kissing me hard as her pussy settles over me, my cock sliding thickly between the slick folds and I need to be there. To be inside.

"Please," I murmur, my voice deep.

She pulls her mouth away and angles my head just right, murmuring, "Quiet," and then the smell of her pussy is so thick, her thumb at my chin, gentle pressure, and then fabric in my mouth.

I nearly choke on my own muffled curse as I try to swallow, but there is only Bella, her taste against my tongue, and I let my teeth close around lace as my eyes roll back.

And then she is pushing down onto me, hot and wet and tight, my hips moving to meet hers as I slide, delirious and needy, inside. My groan of anguished pleasure is quiet, pushed back into my lungs by the wad of her panties in my mouth, and there's nothing I can do but love and take and fuck. I close my hands around her waist and hip and move her over me, her own arms braced against her headboard, and there is only wet sliding as she lifts up and slams down.

Over and over, she takes me and lets me take her, our bodies connecting, and obscene sounds of sex emerging over the rush of our breathing.

"You feel so good, baby," she whispers, and I exhale hard through my nose, the pressure building exquisitely, and after so much time, I don't think that I can wait. I reach up and behind me, pulling her arm down until her hand connects again with wet flesh. She is shaky as she begins to rub, her one arm tense and her expression hard as she bites her lip and stares at me.

And I want to tell her that I have her. That I won't let her fall.

That my arms will always, always catch her.

I move to sit up straighter, my hand closing more firmly around her waist, steadying her as I pump up into her with as much force as I can manage without my legs beneath me, pleading her with my eyes to come with me.

To let me hear her since she won't hear me.

Finally, I can see the precipice inside her eyes, and then they are closing, her body tensing and throbbing, clenching around me just as I am letting the first hot stream of my own orgasm go.

And it's then, in the midst of the deepest pleasure possible, that I am suddenly glad for the gag.

That I am thankful that I cannot tell her what I wish to.

Because in my head, over and over, I can think of nothing but that I love her.

I love her.

I love her.

I love her.

#~~#~~#

After cleaning up and sharing hushed, laughing kisses, washing faces and brushing teeth, we arrive back in the comfort of her bed, my body relaxing into the sweetness of simply holding her. She has already placed the shirt I always wear on the nightstand near my side of the bed, and I smile as I stroke her skin and think of walking around, clothed and held inside her name.

As we begin to drift off, we speak idly of the evening.

"I really am glad you came," she says, snuggling back against my chest. "It's nice to see you fitting in with my friends."

I nod. "They're nice. I had a much ... b-better time than I expected."

Listening to myself, I realize just exactly how that sounds and start to backpedal, but she shushes me.

"No, no, I get it. I know you don't like new people." She turns her neck to softly kiss me. "So I'm all the more grateful that you made the effort. It's sort of a ... a relief to know they like you."

"They do?"

She nods.

"Evvven Alice?"

Bella laughs a little and lifts my hand to kiss my palm. "She does. She just doesn't know it yet." For a little while, we sit in the silence, and I am surprised to hear her voice again, thinking she had already fallen asleep. "I'm glad they like you," she offers quietly. "It hasn't always been true. When I've brought dates around to meet them."

The veil of sleep is dramatically pulled back, and I am certain Bella can feel the sudden racing of my heart.

Slowly, carefully, I choose my words, remembering all the while the taste of lace against my tongue. "C-can we t-talk about that? SSSSSomet-t-time?"

"Yeah," she says quietly.

I soften my arms and hold her tight.

"Goodnight, Edward."

Kissing her hair, I whisper, "Goodnight."

Chapter Text

"Green," I rasp, my voice smooth and my mind still. Clear.

Bella's panting breath is my grounding to the world as another hard, open-handed slap hits and blooms across my ass. At the impact, I moan, achingly hard against the sheets, my arms and legs both splayed and tied to the corners of the bed, just enough slack left in the rope for me to twitch.

"You like this, don't you, Pet?"

"Yes, Mistress. God, yes."

"You fucking love it," she insists, and I hiss out another yes at the sharpness of the sting.

Her voice is husky at my ear. "Lucky for you I love it, too."

Nothing can contain the noises of pleasure and gratitude in my chest as I give myself over. There's another world that I am falling into with every impact, soft pain rising up and enveloping me, pulling me from everything else until all I can do is feel.

Until I all can think about is the feel of her hand on my skin and the heat that is building there.

About her spanking me.

I grunt as she hits a little harder and lower, her hand lingering on the sensitive crease at the top of my thigh before dipping down to stroke once at my balls. My cock swells even further, and it is with a little jolt that I realize just how close I am to coming with hardly a touch at all.

Drifting deeper, there is only sensation and need and restraint.

I don't think.

can't think.

Not about the silence that still hangs around our lives. The distance in her eyes and the meaning I keep reading into everything.

About how when she says she has to go to sleep, all I can hear is, "I have to go."

About how desperately I cling.

My hands tighten, grasping the rope as the seemingly random pattern of her slaps begins to slow.

I want.

I want more.

Just as I am debating whether or not to whisper 'green' again, I feel something else on my skin, my breath catching.

"Mistress?"

"I'd love to keep spanking you forever, Pet." A warm weight settles on my thighs, and I open my eyes, craning my neck to see her straddling my legs. My face is immediately turned forward again though, the leather tip of the riding crop we bought together sliding with gentle pressure up my spine and neck. She keeps talking throughout it as she corrects me, her voice even and heavy. "My hand's getting tired, though."

"I'm sorry, Mistress," I whisper.

And I am.

Her fingers brush affectionately at my side, my whole body shuddering in pleasure. "Don't be, Pet." Leaning forward, she licks between my shoulder blades and bites sharply at the flesh there. "It just means I get to try out some of our other new toys."

If possible, I melt a little further as she shifts and lifts her weight off my body to kneel at my side. There's a hunger I can't deny, a longing for this to continue forever. For her to be here with me. Taking me. Wanting me. Using me.

I moan and shift against the sheets.

"Poor Pet," she murmurs, nimble fingers floating over my balls again as the other hand nudges my hips slightly up. Sneaking into the space between my body and the mattress, she grasps me, stroking hard three times before releasing me and pushing my hips back down into the sheets.

"So hard, Mistress." Even I can hear the begging in my voice.

"I know, sweet."

The unmistakeable feel of leather runs its way up my body as the touch of her hands recedes, and I am instantly on edge again in the most tantalizing way, wanting this. Whatever it is.

"I need to hear your voice tonight, Pet. You need to tell me how everything feels." Something softer traces after the leather, and I gulp, my eyes rolling back behind my lids. "I've tested them out on myself a bit, but I'm not much of a judge." Her hand slaps my ass again, making me shudder. "After all, I'm not the one who gets off on being spanked."

My stomach drops a bit, my calm slightly rocked, anticipating judgment, but no matter where I look, there is none to be found.

Her breath is at my ear then, her lips warm and wet, and I crave the feeling of her kiss. "I'm just the one who gets off on working you. On seeing you like this. Panting and begging me to hit you harder. Stroke you faster. Fuck you deeper."

"Fuck," I breathe as she tugs my hair, tilting my face up until my mouth meets hers, and for a long, perfect moment, I am a slave to her kiss, my lips moving hard against hers in an echo of everything she gives me.

My head falls back to the mattress, my cock twitching between my body and my bed.

"Can you talk to me, sweet thing?"

"Yes, Mistress." There is no doubt in these words that fall out freely. No hesitation.

"Complete honesty," she reminds me, and I nod.

"Yes, Mistress."

Softness floats down my spine again, teasing the heated flesh of my ass and down my thighs to my knees.

"You trust me, Pet? Completely?"

My mouth begins to answer yes, but then my breath halts, freezing, and I feel a hint of sweat at the back of my neck. It's the word 'completely' that throws me, reaching beneath the floating fog of my own surrender and squeezing at the beating heart of me. There's another swat, on my thigh this time, and I hear a tangled, uncertain noise pass through my lips.

I don't know why I'm stopping.

Her voice is strained this time. "You trust me."

Only it's not a question now.

"Y-Yes," I begin, but my frozen tongue betrays my sudden nerves. "Mmmmostly."

In my head, I curse myself. My uncertainty and my promise of honesty. My deep and floating mindset that seems to have stolen any sort of self-preservation away from me.

I hear a soft thud as something hits the bed beside me, the mattress bouncing as she moves off of it, pacing the floor distractedly.

"Mostly?" There's a rustling beside the bed and I begin to shift, my erection all but gone and my gaze searching, until finally I find her. Our eyes connect, and I know in that moment that I am panicking.

But this time, she is panicking right there with me.

"Explain." It's an order and not a request, but it carries none of the authority that her usual commands do when we come together like this. My lips part to speak, not knowing yet what they will say, and I hesitate. She is insistent in the wake of my stunned silence though, her voice rising. "Tell me, Edward. What the fuck do you mean? You suddenly don't trust me?"

I let my head fall back to the mattress, my eyes closing.

And my voice, when finally it emerges, is so tiny.

So unsure.

I do not even know where the words are coming from, but softened as I am from the way she worked me, they fall out of me all the same.

"I don't t-t-trust you nnnnnot to lllll-llll … nnnnnot to lllleave me."

The whole world stops.

Silence.

Breathing.

And then she is sitting on the floor, kneeling, her head turned away from me and unsteady hands reaching to take the ropes away from me.

"Red," she whispers shakily. "Fuck fuck fuck. Motherfucking red."

#~~#~~#

I do not know exactly how it happens, but somehow I am untied and she is with me, huddled in a ball inside the fortress of my arms and legs. I hook my ankles and clasp my hands, my lips pressing to the edges of her face as I just hold her to me, a blanket wrapped around my shoulders so it covers both of us. It's a strange position for us to be in, naked as I am in body and in spirit, but I am touching her, so on some level it is all the same.

I can take comfort from her.

And I can give it to her, too.

"It's OK," I whisper over and over. "It's OK. I've g-got you."

"I know you do," she murmurs, sniffing quietly and burying her face more deeply against my chest.

For the longest time, we sit there, my hands stroking gently at her back and my mind spinning, caught in the place between the calm she inspires in my body and the tension I've let loose through my words.

"I'm sssorry," I mumble, wishing I could take it all back. That I could control myself and my fear and just give in.

Just take what I can get.

"Oh, sweetheart." Her head rises, warm brown eyes meeting mine. They are glassy and pink, but, to my relief, there are none of the tears I had feared that I might find there. She lifts her hand, brushing soft fingertips beneath my eyes. "Never be sorry for what you feel."

"I'm nnnot." I shake my head and kiss her palm. "I'm sorry for th-throwing it at you like that."

"Don't be sorry for that either."

Pulling her hand from my lips, she wraps it around the back of my neck, stroking soothingly at the hair there before resting her forehead against mine, her eyes closed.

"I'm the one who should be apologizing," she says finally. Uncertain of how to respond, I swallow hard and pull her closer against me. "I know ... I know I'm the one who made you feel that way. I'm the one who fucked up, and I'm the one who will have to fix that." She pauses, and I watch her face grow soft, an unusual vulnerability playing across her mouth as she whispers, "I want you to be able to trust me."

"I do," I begin, but then I stop. Thinking. "I t-trust you with my body. Imp-plicitly. NNNNo one else has ever … ever t-touched me the way that you do."

She hums and drifts her hand slightly further down my spine. "I know." Opening her eyes, she looks at me. "But I want you to trust me."

I search her gaze for a while, holding it steadily.

And in that moment, I feel that she knows as well as I do that the part of myself I fear for is not my body but my heart. That those two nights I spent wondering if she would ever want me again have redrawn the lines that had circumscribed it over thirty years of lonely longing. That, in her silence, I learned to fear for it again.

But I alone know that I don't want to live and love in fear any more.

Quietly, I whisper, "I want to, too."

#~~#~~#

We spend the night in each others' arms, and I feel like there is something that passes between us. Something less fleeting than the last time.

Something more than a look.

Still tentative, I lift her from my couch when she falls asleep in the middle of the movie, so content to have her in my arms with only me to carry her. So proud to be strong enough to lift her.

I lay Bella down in my bed, feeling her stir only enough to push her face even deeper against my chest.

"Stay here? WWWith me?" I ask in a quiet voice beside her ear.

"Of course."

Trying not to rouse her any more, I undress her body with loving hands that need to do my talking for me, leaving her in a tank top and underwear. Crawling into the bed beside her in my boxers, I pull her into my chest and kiss her cheek.

And then, for the first time when I am aware that we are doing so, we fall asleep together after neither having sex nor making love.

And yet, in all these days and nights, I feel like we have never, ever been closer.

#~~#~~#

I dream of Bella feeding me, my body positioned naked at her feet. The vision of her smile, wicked and seductive, dissolves into brightness behind my eyelids, something tickling at the back of my neck and blurring the space between the world I see in sleep and the one that is reality. As is my habit, I twist and spread out fully, swatting without knowing what I am doing at the itch near the top of my spine.

"Ow!" Bella's voice is muffled but laughing, and I jolt instantly awake. Giggling behind her hand, she is holding her jaw, her eyes dancing. Smiling.

"Shit. Did I hhhhit you?"

"Only a little." At the coaxing of my prodding hands, she moves her fingers from her face, letting me see that her skin is indeed perfect. As always. Eventually, she begins to pout at my continued examinations, but really it is all a pretense, a ruse to allow me to touch her and prove to myself that she is real. Exasperated, she pushes me back down into the bed, rising up on her hip above me and pressing her lips to my jaw and cheek and then finally, lushly, to my mouth.

I hold her to me, running my sleepy fingertips across her shoulders and tasting. Basking.

Sweeping her hair from her face, I ease away from her kiss, marveling at the flush on her face and the way it looks, so lovely in the light of morning.

"I d-didn't expect you to be here."

She kisses me once more and shrugs. "Where else would I be?"

I feel a shy blush pass over my cheeks as I touch her brow, struggling to speak lightly when the moment feels so heavy, my heart soaring against its weight. "I don't know. My k-kitchen, maybe?"

"Is that a hint that you're hungry?" she asks, but I can see the discomfort on her face as she tries to pull away.

I don't let her.

"Nnnnn-no," I tell her softly, wrapping one hand more firmly around her hip. I study her for a moment and hold her body close to mine. "It's a hint that I lllllike you waking up with me."

She touches one slender finger to my nose, biting her lip and poking at me teasingly.

But her eyes are still cast down as she murmurs, "I guess that's a hint that I can take."

#~~#~~#

All that day, even after she leaves to go back home, I think about trust and love. About wanting and waiting.

About silence.

I want to break it.

She calls that night, and I speak to her as evenly as I can inside a warm world made only of her voice, agreeing readily when she asks me to have dinner with her the following evening. After two weeks of regressing to seeing her only on weekends, it is an invitation I relish, hiding my smile behind my hand as if she could see it through the phone.

When the time comes, I dress with as much care as I know how to show, picking her up as nervously as I did on our first few dates. Except that now I kiss her with abandon at the door, my hands desperate for flesh and for connection, my body full and wanting at the slightest touch.

"I'm hhhhappy to see you," I murmur against her ear, releasing her to walk toward my car.

Her hand slides down my torso and brushes the obvious line of my arousal. Quirking an eyebrow up, she smiles. "Clearly."

And these days, when she does this, I am too happy to be ashamed.

In the restaurant, Bella allows me to pull her chair out for her. Sitting down across from her, I marvel at how beautiful her face in the warmth of flickering candles and when viewed through the warmth of my unspoken love.

We talk about the normal things we always do, characters and words, her joy at being almost done with her temporary work. And yet there is something else there, too – some real understanding of the walls that we have built around everything, and of the desire we each feel the need now to reach over.

To push through.

Taking another small sip of wine, I watch her face, letting her voice and her humor wash over me. I hear her words, but only through the haze of all the things I am still waiting for her to tell me. The talk she promised we would have about former lovers and about distance. About time.

It's about time, indeed.

And I want to trust.

I want her to be able to trust me.

When a natural lull appears in the conversation, Bella chewing thoughtfully across the table from me, I clear my throat. There is only ash on my tongue, dust and desiccated, dying memories of things, when what I need are liquid words. Flowing.

I swallow another mouthful of wine and use the glass as a prop, gesturing vaguely at walls that know more of love than I do.

I am tired of walls.

"I had a b-blind d-d-date here once," I choke out. There is nothing casual to the change of topic. There is nothing even that could be.

Because in eight and a half weeks, we have never been here before.

Bella's fork makes a noise nearly as strangled as her throat does as it clatters to the plate. And it is only as I finally dare to lift my eyes to hers that I realize just how carefully we have danced around all of this. Around histories. Stories.

Ironic really, when both of us spin them as our trade.

"Oh?" she manages, but it is just as strained as my offering. I read it for what it is.

Another invitation.

I nod and hum, my eyes dancing around the room. "It was a d-d-disaster," I confess. "I d-don't even remember the girl's nnnname. Just that she had t-terrible c-c-colored contacts."

"You mean to imply that you noticed her eyes?" Her index finger is playing tantalizingly at the cream-colored skin where her top gapes between her breasts, but I do not take the bait.

"Of c-course. They're the fffirst thing I notice." I swallow hard. "Lllllike yours. They're llllovely. Warm. Real."

I look down at my plate for a moment, uncertain if my offering will be appreciated. If it will be accepted, even.

"I love your eyes, too. You're so quiet sometimes. But your eyes always say everything."

They stay trained on my steak.

Because at that moment, I know exactly what my eyes would be saying.

I clear my throat, feeling my face warming, but I cannot hide the smile that is forming.

Her voice, when it issues forth again, is quiet and unassuming, so tentative for the woman who makes me hard with the slightest command. "Did you go on a lot of blind dates? Before you met me?"

Again, I nod, but it's harder this time to push forward. "I d-d-dated for allllmost a year. It was … hhhhhhhhorrible."

She laughs, but it is kind instead of mocking. "I can imagine."

I finally dare to meet her eyes again, and inside them I see solicitation and gratitude. A warmth that beckons me to continue to speak.

"You knnnow me. Strange people. Most of them ffffake. None of them prep-p-p-pared to deal with anything llllike m-me."

"What do you mean by that?" Her head is tilted to the side, as if she truly doesn't know.

I gesture to myself, but there are scarcely words. "A rrrrecluse who can't t-talk and reads more b-books than he watches TV shows. A social mmmmmmoron. And before I m-met you, I was an absolute wwwwwreck in b-b-bed. Must I go on?"

In my nerves and my shame, I am staring at anything but her face, my fist clenched tightly around the stem of my glass, but I can still tell that her eyes are fixed unflinchingly on me.

There is so much silence surrounding us.

Until she breaks it, too.

"You know that's not how I see you at all, right?"

My whole face flushes hotter. But somehow I manage to collect myself enough to nod.

When she speaks again, it is even softer. "Why did you keep doing it?"

I chance a glance up at her. "It … I was …" Pausing, I try to shake off the block with a shrug that belies the gravity of what I feel. "I d-didn't want to be alllone anymore."

Her hand on mine is warm, her gaze still warmer. "I don't want you to be either." She pauses, searching my face for something before speaking, so tenderly it makes my heart seem to ache. "And I'm glad that you kept trying.

"I'm glad we both did."

#~~#~~#

Outside her door, I kiss her breathlessly. Passionately. Willing her with every part of me to invite me to stay. When her words are not forthcoming, I press my luck, my heart in my throat and my lips hot against her neck.

"Can I c-come up?"

She nods, fumbling behind her back for the door. I reach around and take the key from her, inserting and turning, catching her before she can fall as the door swings in. And all the while, I never allow my mouth to leave her skin.

We barely wave at Alice, sprawled out as she is on the couch, as Bella pulls me by my wrist back to her room. Inside, the door closes behind us, my fingers fumbling with the lock before I begin to tear at Bella's clothes. I feel more vulnerable in the wake of even the slightest of admissions than I did naked before her, bound with rope and flushed from the impact of her crop.

"I wwwwant you," I murmur, my hands molding to bare hip and full, soft breast, my lips dancing wetly across her neck.

"Fuck, Edward."

Tearing at my own clothes, I settle us both down on her bed, my knees nudging at her legs to open them for me, wanting to put my mouth to her.

"Please."

Her hands tugs at my hair, and I obey, the heat of that one whispered word igniting me as I crawl and lick and suck my way back up her body. I fall into a kiss that tastes of sex and makes me long to speak to her of love, wanting to be buried inside of her and to be consumed by her. To get lost in her voice for the rest of my life.

"Fuck me," she orders, my tip pushing right there, and I hit the bed, rolling to my side and taking her with me.

"No," I whisper, pushing myself against her hip and closing my eyes.

"Yes." She tries to tug me back on top of her, but I can't.

I won't.

"P-please."

As I try to fall back onto the mattress, images of failure and of shame tumble over me, mixing with the revulsion tearing at my throat at the idea of my body hovering over that of my Mistress's. My lover. Resisting the gentle pull of her hand on my hip, I remember all over again all the ways I have always failed to be what is expected of me.

I remember that it was only a matter of time before I failed to be what Bella wants of me.

Panic begins to shake through my spine, and I am only torn from the feeling of something clawing at my lungs by Bella. By her touch. Her kiss. Slowly, she pulls me from my own thoughts with the sweetness of her body settling over mine, following me as I keep on rolling until I lie, prone on my back beneath her. Safe. Her hands are gentle on my jaw and temple, soothing and touching, her mouth soft at the edge of my lips.

But she is asking the one question that I don't know how to answer.

"Why?"

Even as she is asking why I won't fuck her that way, Bella is rubbing wet, hot flesh against my body, distracting me from the swirling panic pressing in against my chest. With a gasp, I curl my fingers into her hips, nearly dragging her along the length of me. Because for all that I am a mess, I am still swollen and needy, my words fuzzy. "D-don't … c-c-can't …"

Moving insistently against me and moving her mouth to kiss my neck, she persists. "Why?"

I clench my eyes even harder, not wanting to have to find the words. Not wanting her to see.

"P-p-please."

For a moment she pauses over me and then I am hot and hard in her hand, her body lifting up to take me in as she whispers, "OK. OK, sweet thing." In one slow motion, she tilts her hips and slides me home, wet and warm, and I nearly scream in pleasure and surprise at the feeling of her body all around me.

"Th-thank you," I whisper breathlessly. "Thank you."

"Shh. Later."

She rocks over me, and mindful of what she has asked of me, I push up into her just as forcefully, matching every motion from behind closed, scared eyes.

"You're mine," she whispers. "I'll take care of you."

"B-Bella."

Whispered words and names dissolve into soft cries. Moans and panting. I find myself holding even more tightly to tenuous control, desperate for her pleasure, and when she finds it, the sounds of her release are even sweeter than my own as I erupt, pulsing into her endlessly.

In the moments after, though, there is only silence, her body lifting up and off of me, falling to the mattress in a satiated sigh.

But there are questions still, all hanging expectantly in the air.

And I tell myself, over and over again, that she will take care of me.

Spread out on my back with Bella's body curled loosely and naked against my side, I breathe. And then I speak.

"Ssssssix w-women."

"What?"

"I've sssslept with six women, b-b-besides you." I shake my head, correcting myself. "'Slept with' is an exaggeration. Had sssex with. Only one of them mmmore that once."

My eyes are closed tightly against her stare, but still I can feel it boring into me. Patient but disbelieving.

When I open my eyes, I find nothing in my line of vision but her.

"And I c-could't ... I d-d-d-didin't. I'm not ... They always ex-ex-exp-pected ... Nnnnever once d-did I ssssssssatisfy them."

In my body, I am safe, Bella warm and naked and so lovely in my arms.

But elsewhere, I am anything but.

Elsewhere, I am a curled up mess. A shaking pile of bones, spent and still inside a stranger, my body a traitor to me, coming too soon and recoiling from a touch that demands something of me that I never will be. Scared.

Inadequate.

Unmanly.

Wanting to kneel and please. To lap at a pussy with my arms bound behind me.

To be fucked instead of to be fucking.

"Breathe, baby. Breathe."

Through the panic, I hear her voice, and my lungs fill, my eyes blinking heavily until I can see Bella's face before me and feel her arms.

"Edward," she whispers. Her lips press to every reach of my face before moving so softly, wetly to my own. "Edward, you have always satisfied me."

She drops her head and hugs me more tightly to her body as my arms finally dare to wrap themselves back around her. Lying there, I soak in her reassurances, willing away my nerves over the words I have spoken and the words she still has not.

Trusting.

But still wondering how long I will be able to keep her satisfied.

How long she'll be content with only me.

Chapter Text

"Ssssmells good," I murmur. Bella is standing with her back to me, a twitching hint of a smile playing gently with her lips as she stirs a pot of sauce. I run my nose along the softest spot between her shoulder and her neck and wrap my arms around her waist, uncertain about what smells better: her cooking or her skin.

"Want a taste?" She cranes her neck to kiss my jaw and holds up the spoon.

"Always."

Delicious.

After licking my lips, I return them to the long, smooth line of her neck, my mouth opening, tongue darting. "Tastes good," I say, the stirring in my body betrayed by the tenor of my voice. "But nnnot as good as you."

"Naughty boy," she says, laughing and batting me away.

I pout. "Mmmmaybe for dessert?"

Bella waves her hand. "Go set the table. If you're a good boy, maybe we'll see."

I place a soft peck of a kiss on her cheek and say, "OK."

Things have been easier between us the past few days, my worries over all of my admissions eventually proving themselves to be pointless. If anything, in the wake of my attempt to open up about my past, Bella has grown more tender and more supportive, her kisses softer and freer, and I have seen less darkness in the corners of her eyes.

And I, for one, have felt so much lighter.

She surprised me earlier this week by insisting that, instead of going out for our Friday date, we spend the evening at her place. Alice and Jasper are out of town, and it is only Bella and me. As I fetch napkins and silverware, I smirk to myself, knowing that Bella is always more vocal and more comfortable when we are here, as opposed to my apartment. And even more so when we are alone.

I let my mind drift to all the ways I want to touch her, taste her, take her, and my cock throbs. Just as I am moving to adjust it to a more comfortable position in my boxer briefs, Bella's footfalls sound out behind me, and then her hand is there at the front of my jeans. Dipping beneath the fabric, she grabs the bare skin of my erection and tugs it upward, tucking me into the waistband exactly the way I would have done myself, if she had let me. My hand settles on top of hers through the material, keeping her hand on me, warm and soft, and she gives me a little squeeze before trying to pull away.

"I have to finish fixing dinner," she protests. "It'll burn."

I laugh and press her hand to my cock more fully, pleasure rippling through me. "You st-started it."

Reaching up on tiptoes, she closes her teeth around my earlobe. "And believe me. I'll finish it."

I throb and let her go. "OK," I manage. "But I'm t-taking that as a promise."

She hums and steps around me to place a basket on the table with her other hand. Craning my neck, I watch her walk back toward the kitchen, before turning knowingly at the doorway to wink at me.

And my resulting smile is brilliant.

Together, we bring everything else to the table, my erection calming as I focus on carrying hot plates instead of on the warmth and sweetness of her skin. We talk and eat and laugh, trading casual touches of hands on arms and knees, her fingertips sweeping hair out of her face repeatedly. The soft bubble of my love rises in my heart with every bite and every word, my hands itching to touch that hair myself, and to whisper to her over and over how I feel.

Still unable to do so, I sit and relax and enjoy. It is the kind of night that is so comfortable, so warm, really, that I wonder at my need, those three long weeks ago, to ask her outright if she was my girlfriend.

Because, even with my inherent tendency to doubt, there is no other way to interpret this.

So at ease am I with food and laughter and wine, that I hear my own stutter fade quietly away. Trying not to take much comfort in its absence – as any attention to it is almost guaranteed to bring it back – I press on, staring at Bella and feeling myself melt.

The expression on her face is strange, and I watch as she blushes and moves to fidget with her napkin. My hand lifts up and touches at her chin, nudging her gaze upward. "What?" I murmur.

"Nothing. Just the way you're looking at me."

The backs of my fingers graze her cheek and then tuck her hair behind her ear again.

"How am I looking at you?"

"I don't know," she hedges. "Just very … intensely."

"Is that a bad thing?"

She shakes her head, and while her smile is small, her eyes are more sparkling than haunted when she looks at me. "Not necessarily."

"I don't think it's bad. I just like looking at you, Bella. You're b-beautiful."

Her eyes search mine, and I feel my gaze deepen beneath her probing. "You really do think that, don't you?"

I sigh and take her hand, lifting it to kiss her knuckles. "Absolutely. Unequivocally. Comp-p-pletely."

And if I am melting in the heat of the words and touches passing between us, then she is liquid, everything about her softening. The playfulness from earlier is gone, and we are left with just ourselves – I with my love, and her with her own unspoken feelings.

And again, treacherous as it is, I let myself believe that whatever is in her heart is a match for mine.

That I am not alone. Not in this, and not in the wreckage of my life.

"B-Bella," I start, my pulse racing and words beginning to form behind my lips. It is just how I have started a hundred times; it is always how I've seen it happen in my mind.

But just like all the other times, I do not finish. As I watch, Bella's eyes begin to dart between mine a touch too quickly, her nervousness breaking the spell I have been under. With a low sigh and a smile, I let my voice drift off and kiss her knuckles one more time. Looking down, I let her go and reach for her plate. "Are you done?"

"Yeah."

I begin to rise but feel her hand against my knee. "Edward?"

"Yes?"

She is staring at me plaintively, asking me to hear what she cannot speak. "Me, too."

My heart pounds. "What?"

"I – I think you're beautiful, too."

#~~#~~#

We are half way through the shared work of cleaning up the kitchen when Bella's phone rings. With a smirk, she dries her hands off on my shirt and then reaches into her pocket, screwing up her face when she sees the caller ID.

"Sorry," she says and brings the speaker to her ear. "Dad?"

I kiss her temple and gently push her toward the living room, whispering, "I'll ffffinish up in here."

She nods gratefully and goes. With the water running, I can hear almost nothing. In its own way, it is something of a relief, as I do not want to eavesdrop, but would find it difficult to resist were the opportunity available to me. When everything is done in here, I turn the water off, listening carefully and trying to decide if I should find some reason to delay before I move to join her.

Drying my hands, I stick my head out tentatively, only to find her phone dark and lifeless on the couch beside her, her eyes trained down on something in her hands. I clear my throat and enter the room. Bella lifts her head and shines a genuine smile at me, beckoning me to join her.

Even after just a few minutes away, there is something sweet and melting about the act of putting my arm around her, and with curious eyes, I rest my chin on her shoulder, looking down at the picture frame in her hand. Her palm covers it, and for a moment, I worry she is about to retreat and hide from me, but then she passes the picture frame over, inviting me to see.

My fingertips brush hers as I take it, and I look with searching eyes at a photograph of Bella, probably in her early twenties, with her arms wrapped around an uncomfortable-looking, older man with a mustache and warm brown eyes.

"Your dad?" I ask hesitantly, and she nods. "Evvverything OK?"

"Yeah," she says and takes the picture back from me. "He, um … he proposed to his girlfriend tonight. And she said yes."

I kiss her neck and keep any reaction from my voice, uncertain from her tone about whether or not this is a good thing. "How do you fffffeel about that?"

Bella shrugs. "Happy, I guess. He seems happy."

"You don't seem sure."

She puts the picture down, and I try to shift us back so we are leaning against the arm of the couch, her back to my chest and my hands draped softly around her waist.

"It's just … weird, I guess. He and my mom split up when I was so young, and he didn't start seeing Sue until after I'd moved out. It's just that in my head he's … like, my dad. It was always just him and me, you know? It's hard to imagine him with a girlfriend, much less with a wife."

I nod and kiss her ear, a little thrill running through me that she is talking about something a little deeper – a little closer to her heart.

To where I so desperately want to be.

"Are you two still c-c-close?"

She makes a noise that is somewhere between a snort and a sigh. "I guess so. As close as we've ever been. Every week or two I call. We spend five minutes talking about what's new. Sometimes he yells at me. Then we sit in silence for another five, and we're good."

I chuckle and run my hand up and down her arm. "B-Better than me and my parents."

"True. You still have to tell me about that someday, by the way."

My twin instincts are to give her what she wants and to close myself away, but a third, louder voice inside my head notices her attempt to distract. To deflect.

"Some other day," I say quietly and gesture back at the photograph, trying to think of something to say. To keep her talking to me. I run back over what she has said already and key in on something. "W-w-what do you mean that sometimes he would yyyell at you?"

She inhales and then pauses, and I find myself twisting until I can see her expression more clearly. Her whole face is cast in the deepest sort of a scowl. I want to lift it off of her.

But I also want to know.

"Nothing. He's just … he's really overprotective, you know? Which doesn't always work that well, since I can kind of fend for myself."

I actually snort and move a hand up to my face. "You c-could say that."

She slaps me playfully. "I know, right? But he still thinks I should be protected from stuff. He didn't like me moving out here by myself, even though I told him I was living with Alice, who I've known basically forever. Then he didn't like me freelancing and temping and all. He thought it was too risky to not have something more … stable, I guess?"

Bella pauses, and I rub her arm, watching her throat as she gulps, her whole body tensing and stiffening. "He, um … he also sometimes didn't exactly approve of the boys I brought home."

Something deep and sharp opens in my chest, and I feel my own limbs tightening.

I want to know.

I need to.

Stepping forward over an abyss of our own making , I offer, raspily, "Like J-J-J-James?"

"Yeah."

"Oh."

In the stillness and the silence, I can feel decisions being made, only I do not know what they are. Bella begins fidgeting, her body tensing and relaxing, and I sense her ultimate discomfort, here in my arms. Before she can tell me to, I loosen my embrace. She pulls away, shattering something and raking her hands restlessly in her hair as she sits up. There are still unspoken words hanging uncomfortably around us, and I want to tease them out of her. To make a place where she will be comfortable enough to tell me everything.

To let me love her.

To let me in.

I shift to sit on the edge of the couch as well and clear my throat. "I llleft our wine in the k-kitchen," I croak, and I stand. She does not stop me, so I go, retrieving and refilling the two glasses and trying my best to calm myself. By the time I return, she is so tense, so curled up on on herself there on the very end of the cushion, and I want to set her at ease. With each breath thundering through my lungs, so loud that I can hear them in my whirling, disjointed head, I think of every time she has opened herself up to me.

I think of her telling me I am her fantasy, standing behind me with my entire body bound.

I think of her panties in my mouth.

Swallowing so hard, I place the glasses down on her coffee table. And then, with my pulse racing, I sink to my knees.

It is not like it has been before. This is no sexual submission, for all that the position makes me hard. As I sit down fully at her feet and rest my head against her thigh, I know that this is simply me. Asking to listen.

And asking to be hers.

My sigh of relief and pleasure is far too loud as her posture softens, deft fingers threading themselves gently through my hair and scratching at my scalp. She keeps her hand there on the back of my head as she leans forward, first kissing my brow and then reaching to a drawer in the coffee table that she has not opened in front of me before. With one hand, she pulls out another picture frame and hands it to me.

I turn it over in my hands, my throat dry and something hot hovering hard inside my lungs at the image of Bella, dressed up and beautiful and in another man's arms. The flames of jealousy lick angrily at something deep inside my chest, my mind giving in to all the temptations to compare myself to him.

"J-James?" I croak, and she hums in agreement, her fingertips moving softly through my hair again. "He was … h- … h- … handsome."

He is, too. Taller than me and broader, and with a certain self-assurance hanging visibly around his shoulders as he holds the girl I love, possessively against his chest.

Bella scoffs. "He was an asshole." Her fingers drift up closer to my face, pulling my hair out of my eyes. "And not even half as attractive as you are."

Trying to hide my blush, I turn to kiss her thigh.

She gestures back at the frame, speaking in a manner that is quiet but firm. "Open up the frame."

I obey. Doing my best to still my shaky hands, I set to work at the clasps affixing the cardboard to the back. When it slides free, I find that James is not the only man that she has posed with. At least a dozen other photographs are tucked behind it, each similar in its own way. Each posed. Uncomfortable.

Bella watches as I examine them all in turn, spending just a moment on each man and then giving myself some time to observe how Bella herself has changed. The pictures span nearly two decades, and I take in differences in the length of her hair and the set of her lips. I watch her breasts and hips soften and swell as she grows from a girl into a woman. With a single finger, I caress the developing curves I love so well.

When she seems content that I have looked my fill, she begins to pet my hair again with firmer strokes. "I call this my 'Ghosts of Bad Fucks Past' file," she says, a wry and flippant tone covering something tender and soft. "You can see, it's not exactly a small file, and these are just the ones that stuck around for long enough to snap a picture."

Shaking my head slightly, I murmur, "That d-doesn't matter to me."

"It does to me." Bella sighs heavily and begins using both her hands to touch me. "I – I told you. I've scared people off before."

I push down my instinct to interject, simply nodding and stroking the soft curve of her calf with my knuckles. When I do not interrupt, she seems to resign herself, opening her hand for me to place the pictures against her palm. She flips through them to the one that seems the oldest.

"High school sweetheart. Lost my virginity to him when I was fifteen. Rode him in the back of his car. The next day he told me I was a shitty lay and dumped me." My jaw clenches as I watch her slip the picture to the back. "Freshman year of college. Told him how I secretly thought it would be fun to spank him and he called me a freak." Another boy appears, and a low, grounding flash of pain begins to radiate from the place where I am digging my nails into the flesh of my palm. "Later that same year. We only slept together a couple of times, but apparently I 'ordered him around all the time' and was a … what was the phrase … 'sex-crazed, control-freak bitch.'"

Radiating bitterness, and with angry, twitching hands, she reveals the next boy's face. "Senior year of college. Tried to tie him to a bedpost. He overpowered me and tied me down instead."

She is still flipping through the pictures as if nothing she is saying really matters, but I hear the half-sob that breaks her voice on the word 'instead.' I look up to find her face tense, her eyes red, and there is a flush upon her breast and creeping hotly up her neck. Unable to watch the parade of men who failed her, I stare only at her. At the pain that is so clear on her face and in her voice but which she is still trying so hard to keep hidden away.

I want to touch her.

To take care of her.

To love her.

And I want to give her a place – either lying safe within my arms or standing, towering over me – where she can be as vulnerable as she wants to be.

Finally, the litany of disappointment ends and Bella comes to the glossy photograph that started this all. As she does, she clears her throat with a suspicious sniff. Still shaking, her teeth grating, she secures the whole, neat stack back behind the glass before tossing the frame away haphazardly. "And that one, apparently, you know. James."

I hold my silence but massage her leg, pressing my sealed lips so gently against her knee.

And though she is once more touching me, her voice is so much more distant now. As if she is speaking from a million miles away.

"We dated for a little over a year. I thought I loved him, and he … he was always telling me how much he loved me, but … but they were just words, you know? I don't think he ever did love me. Not really. I think he just loved the game." She shivers. "Playing with me."

Slowly, she continues. "He had all these things he would say. Like how, if I would just do this, or just change this, he would … it would make him happy. Or he would love me more. He'd love me if I let him fuck me from behind. Or if I'd blow him where we could get caught." She gestures roughly with a closed fist. "And he'd always put his hand on the back of my neck, sort of holding me."

The fingers that were comforting in my hair are now threading more tightly, tugging distractedly. "How if I'd just stop arguing with him and agree with him … or let him make plans for me … or have dinner ready for him. He'd talk about a woman's place, but he meant my place. He didn't … he didn't want me for me.

"I sort of woke up one day and realized I couldn't recognize myself, and I went crying to Alice, and she … she helped me." Bella's hands begin to loosen up again, her voice slowing, and I breathe a little deeper, feeling once more that she is here with me. "When I broke up with him, he said he'd just been trying to help me. That no one would ever love someone … someone like me."

I feel her shrug, and I feel the words welling up inside of me.

But words alone aren't what she needs. And words aren't things she trusts.

I want her to trust me.

I finally lift my head from her leg to look up at her blotchy face and wide, wet eyes. So tenderly, she cups my cheek, her mouth cracking into a shaky, watery smile. "I decided from then on that it didn't matter. That even if nobody would ever want me, I'd be myself. That I wouldn't change for anybody.

"And then you walked into a restaurant," she whispers, her voice breaking. "You were so beautiful. And you didn't flinch when I ordered you to kiss me or when I groped you in public. You cooked for me and took care of me without treating me like some kind of a fucking delicate flower, or like you were afraid that you might break me." Bella pauses, inhaling and exhaling raggedly. "You didn't care when I got on top, and fuck me if you didn't just about cream yourself when I tied you to my bed or spanked your ass till it was red. You seemed to want me. Me, Edward."

I feel my own eyes dampening, but I push the rough surge of emotion back as I rise up onto my knees and take her head between my hands.

"You," I agree. "Ex... exactly how you are."

She shakes her head sadly and touches my lips, shushing me slightly. "And what do I do with all of that?" I hear her dead laugh in the deepest places inside of me. "I hurt you. I fantasize about hurting you. About whipping you while I fuck you. All kinds of things … the kinds of things only a monster would do to someone she … to someone she cares about." Her hand drifts to my cheek, her voice lowering. "And you let me."

Unable to listen to another word, I grab her hand, speaking fiercely as I kiss her wrist. "I don't llllllet you, Bella. I b-b-beg you."

Bella's eyes grow glassier still, the anger seeping out of her, leaving only sad wonder in its place. "You really want this, don't you?"

I nod and place my hands on her hips. "Yyyyou, Bella. I want you. Just how you are. Just llllike this."

Something breaks, her smile shaky but bright, and then she is pulling me to her roughly, her mouth pressing hard against mine. "Just like this," she murmurs, and it's a statement and a question.

I nod, showing her my own, most open, unguarded smile, before leaning forward to catch her lips. "Just like this. You."

"You and me," she whispers.

And it feels like I am saying everything, my heart glowing unbearably when I echo, "You and me, B-Bella."

I kiss her softly and breathe it again.

"You and me."

#~~#~~#

The next day, I find myself in a familiar position. Spread eagle on my stomach, my cock aching and hard in spite of having spent the better part of the night making love with Bella over and over again, I lie there, quiet and compliant and tied to all the corners of the bed. Moaning softly at the motion of leather against my naked skin, I wait for her to spank me.

And when she does, I whisper, "Green."

My Mistress straddles my hips and licks my spine. I shudder, my cock throbbing, everything tensing as something softer joins the leather against my skin.

My Mistress's voice is warm and seductive in my ear.

"Do you trust me, Pet?"

I groan and close my eyes. Part of me wants to think before I answer, but I don't need to. Not really.

Because this time, I know exactly how I feel.

"Yes, Mistress," I murmur, raising my head and opening my eyes. When I meet it, her gaze is expectant. Triumphant even.

And my voice is steady as I add a single, all-encompassing word.

"Completely."

Chapter Text

"Yes, Mistress," I murmur, raising my head and opening my eyes. When I meet it, her gaze is expectant. Triumphant even.

And my voice is steady as I add a single, all-encompassing word.

"Completely."

...

There is a moment of absolute stillness, and it is like looking through water that is smooth as glass, where seconds before it had been alive with motion. Obscured. I stare into her eyes and see the bottom of a pool.

And together, we swim.

Where so much of the past few weeks has felt forced, everything is suddenly so simple – so clear. We are each ourselves, giving and taking. Dominant and taken. Feeling like I am sinking into something so sublime that I hope to never rise again, I let my eyes close and return my head to the cool surface of the sheets. I am aroused to the point of an intense, acute sensitivity, but somehow it scarcely matters. While I long for satisfaction, I want only to please her. To be hers.

Completely.

"Please, Mistress," I whisper softly. There is nothing in particular that I want, other than for her to tell me what she wishes of me or to take what she needs.

There is weight on the bed and I hear the rustling of sheets, followed by warm fingertips dragging themselves along my naked skin. I itch for touch and sigh loudly with the pleasure of it as she traces my spine and hips and thighs before reversing her path at my knees.

"Such a good boy," she purrs. "So beautiful." I feel her lips press to the back of my neck and I melt a little further, my hands and feet relaxed in their restraints, with only the texture of the rope to remind me that I am immobilized.

Bella moves her lips closer to my ear as the sensation of touch grows deeper with the raking of her nails over my ribs. "I need your words tonight, Pet. I want you to describe everything. Tell me how everything feels."

"So good," I breathe, my heart hammering as I focus too intently on the act of speech. "P-please."

"Please what, Pet?"

"Please t-touch me."

Her teeth close around my earlobe at the same time that she scratches even harder down the other side of my back, and I grunt hard, my mind reeling as it struggles to process everything.

"Talk to me," she reminds me, kissing just below my ear and rubbing her palm lightly over the fiery lines she's etched in my skin.

"Good," I stammer again. "It feels good. Your nails."

"Good."

She lets her hand rest on the base of my spine as she repositions herself, straddling my thighs and pressing my hips more heavily into the bed. My cock flexes at the weight of her and at the feeling of her skin against the backs of my legs.

Something soft brushes my skin, and it is a whisper of a touch after the sharp sensation of her clawing at me. I concentrate hard, trying to make out the patterns she is drawing on my body as she begins to speak.

"I realized the other day that we still hadn't gotten to try out all of the toys we bought at that dirty little store you took me to. Seems a shame, doesn't it? To have them just sitting there in a bag when I could be using them on you?"

"Yes, Mistress," I pant as the soft touches progress into little slaps that I struggle to quantify. "Soft," I murmur.

Still straddling me, she rises up and shifts back, pulling the flesh of her thighs from my legs so that I only feel her knees on either side of my own. "Not for long," she grunts quietly, and my breath catches as the slap becomes a more earnest blow, a light impact and a low sting blooming across my ass. "Fur."

"Yes." My eyes clench as another thud sounds out through the room, accompanied by a twin feeling of pain and pleasure on the other side of my ass. "A little p-pain, but it's … ungh … it's g-good."

"You like it when it hurts, Pet?"

There's something twisting in my stomach, just like every time she asks me to admit this. But every time, it is easier, and there is something so smooth to the way we are with each other today. Everything is still so clear.

"Yes, Mistress," I pant, and she lands twin blows across the backs of my thighs.

"Does it make you hard?"

The underside of my cock sings as I dig my hips into the mattress at her suggestion. "So hard." I am whining. Pathetic. And I don't care. Even though I am prone and bound, the bed and the ground are both so far below me, my body floating and rising up into the sting, the sounds of impact ringing my ears like the sounds of sex. Of orgasm. Of need. "Please."

"Please what?"

"Please, Mistress. More. G-green."

The warmth of her hand settles heavily on my shoulder, and I shudder at the long, wet line of kisses she makes down my spine, her grip shifting slowly to my hip, and it just shoves my dick into the sheets again, sending a jolt of pleasure through me. Bella's hand and mouth both retreat from my skin until again all I feel is pressure on the bed beside my knees.

"Leather," she intones, and I groan at just the word, the guttural sound of it deepening when I feel the harder impact on my ass.

"Burning," I breathe as pain and pleasure mingle and spread, my hips beginning to move of their own accord against the bed, my arousal so hot now, my mind lost. "Low and hard. It hurts, but it's good." Two more times, she strikes my ass. "God, so good."

"Look at you," Bella says, her voice dripping with sex and confidence and everything I love about her when she gives this to me. When she makes a gift to me of my own once-traitorous body. When she lets me feeleverything. "Naked. Spread-eagle and tied to your bed for me. Your ass fucking glowing. Begging like a slut for me to hit you."

"Yes," I whisper, and there's another impact, even harder this time, and the fog of desire is pierced with a sharper pain that rises just slightly above the pleasure. My grunt is higher, and she hesitates. I shake my head without opening my eyes. "I'm OK," I mumble.

"Do you still want more?"

I nod immediately. "Not hhharder, but more. Yes, more. P-please, Mistress."

The relief and resolve are clear in her voice as the leather caresses my skin again, and I moan and brush my hips over the sheets, chasing the feeling that is building, close already at just the feeling of the bed against my cock and the glow across my ass. "OK, sweet thing," she says, and I can hear the exertion. I wince at the next blow, almost a perfect copy of the one that flirted with being too much, feeling my balls tighten at the edge we are riding.

The edge between hurting and wanting. Between coming and screaming. Between her body and mine.

"Naughty little boy," she says, and I can feel it in the back of my throat. Three more even, delicious strokes stripe my thighs, and I groan loudly as my body floats even higher, ecstasy rising and my mind and body giving in. "Fucking the mattress."

It feels so dirty, and I love it. I love what she does to me. What she reduces me to, and how simple everything is when I am spread out like this beneath her.

"Does my Pet want to come?" There is something in her voice that just barely rises above everything else, and in the part of my brain that is still thinking, I pause.

But the rest of me has no intention of stopping.

"God, yes. Yes, Mistress," I answer. Not entirely in control of myself, I tilt my hips into the mattress harder and cry out at another blooming sting over my ass. I am teetering on the precipice of a deep, desperate orgasm, my climax barreling down on me, and I can already feel it. The surrender and the thick, pulsing pleasure.

But then she gives me reason to cry out for real.

The last blow is hard.

Too hard.

There's pain, and I let it show in the noises falling out of my throat, the pleasure I had almost grasped evaporating, and I am suspended, suddenly aware of the depths of the abyss below me as I hang there. Tight fingers curl in my hair, yanking hard, and I gasp sharply as Bella wrenches my head upward, her voice harsh, and my skin prickles at the low implication of anger there.

Anger and control.

"And you think I don't want to come? You'll fuck the bed like that but you won't fuck me?"

I am reeling as my head lands on the bed again with a thud, my whole being confused and raw and needy, my cock painfully hard. The sound of her disappointment is more painful than the blows, and I almost sob when I sense her moving down my body, her hands fumbling slightly at my ankles as she unties me. Frantic, I begin to babble. "Please, Mistress. P-Please. Let me p-please you. Anything. I'll do anything. Just p-please let me. D-Don't give up on me, Mistress." I feel pathetic and wanton as my first leg is freed, her hands moving to the other without a word. Even worse, the feeling of my own piteousness only makes me harder and more desperate. "Llllet me make you c-come. Let me thank you. Please, Mistress. Please." The other rope gives, and I feel like I am sinking. Panicking.

Her hand lands on my ass, two quick slaps, and I hiss at each as it lands on fiery skin.

"Up," she orders, and with my hands still bound, I lift myself until I am hovering over the bed on my knees, my slick erection obscene between my legs as it bobs with the motion of my body. "Knees together."

I hurry to comply, my neck craning to try to see her, but she grips my hair and points my face back down. Then all contact between our bodies ceases, and I am left there, fumbling until I find enough give in my bindings to support myself on my hands as well as my knees. And then, for interminable seconds, I wait, flushed and hard and with my ass screaming, with no idea of what Bella has planned for me. Uncertain even if she is truly angry with me.

Then, suddenly, she is there. Moving deftly, she slides onto the mattress on her back so that she is below me, her bare pussy visible and glistening, and she smells so good and I need. I need to come. I need to fuck.

I need to be anywhere but here.

My stomach twists and a shiver of fear runs through me, flashes of all my failures pressing hotly against my spine.

"Here, Pet," she murmurs, and she is tilting my head so I am looking into her eyes. "You're here. With me. You're always safe with me."

"Yes, Mistress," I breathe, but it is shallow, my lungs moving too quickly. Her hands touch my face and then my chest before one wraps around my cock and I groan at the pleasure of it. Just as my eyes are about to drift closed, I feel a hard tug at my hair, her fingers wrapping themselves in the strands exactly the way I like. With a smile and a wicked gleam to her eye, Bella releases my cock and reaches to the side, her hand darting back into my vision with the riding crop held tightly in her grip. The leather tip runs its way down my chest, and then she shifts, lifting her arm so the crop reaches behind my body and licks once at the burning flesh of my ass.

"Now, Pet. You're going to fuck me. Not for your pleasure, but for mine. You're going to make me come so fucking hard, and if you don't I'm going to show you just how much harder that flogger from before can really bite." Her tone is all certainty, my cock leaping at the way she commands me, and I shudder with renewed desire.

And with faith.

The crop touches my ass again, our gazes connecting as I lift my head. "Then, Edward. And only then, I'll let you beg me to let you come in my pussy. Are we clear?"

I nod furiously, my cock leaking, my body nearly delirious with want and need. "Yes, Mistress. Yes. Yes, please."

With a look that is pure lust, she lets go of my hair and positions me at her entrance, the wet heat of it already overwhelming me. "Then fuck me, Submissive. Show me what that cock can do."

Sinking into her, I groan out, "Yes, Mistress," and I bottom out quickly, my body encased in hers. As I pull back my hips, the fear is still there, the memories of shame and of my own inadequacies hanging hotly around my ears. But she is here. My Mistress. My Bella. My everything.

I thrust back in and feel the pleasure of tight, wet flesh surrounding me, but in spite of my fears and of my history, it doesn't peak. Moaning again and again, I retreat and thrust. Retreat and thrust. Fuck.

I'm fucking her.

I'm fucking her.

"Oh God, Bella," I whisper, and her eyes are wide, her lip between her teeth as she taps my ass with the crop to set the pace.

"Edward," she pants. Her hips come up to meet me, my pubic bone grinding against her clit with every pass. Just like she instructed, I fuck her hard. I fuck her steady. I fuck her thinking of just one thing – of my absolute need to feel her come around me. To see her face as she gives in to ecstasy. To hear her moan my name.

"Edward. Fuck."

"Please, Mistress," I gasp, my balls tightening in spite of everything. "Please c-come."

She sucks in a deep, hard breath and holds it as she grabs my hip and grinds herself against me with my cock buried fully inside of her. "Edward," she breathes. "Edward." Finally, her eyes roll back in her head, and I nearly scream at the first wave of tightening of her walls around me. "I'm coming, Pet. I'm coming." She explodes, shatters, and her voice devolves into a steady chant of, "Fuck me," repeated over and over again as she squeezes me.

The absolute pleasure and victory of being able to love her this way rushes through me with a renewed jolt of arousal, and I am fighting back my climax desperately as I begin to plead. "Please, Mistress. I nnnneed ... Please."

"Come, baby," she whispers, and I thrust mercilessly, fucking hard and fast and letting myself begin to empty. When my climax finally crests, I feel as if my entire body is being torn apart by the force of it, and I erupt, coming deeply into her as my eyes clench closed and I surrender. Completely.

When the heavy haze of orgasm fades, I find myself still on top of Bella, my erection softening inside of her as I rest with my face buried against her neck. I pull back with a start, instinctively self-conscious at our positioning, but Bella doesn't let me go far. Dropping the crop to the bed, she touches my face and smiles up at me, beaming so freely that even I cannot help but return the smile. I feel warm and flush as she rakes her hand through my hair. I feel happy and in love.

I feel pride.

Before my lips can part to speak, releasing words I still don't trust, I tug at the ropes still binding my wrists and dip my neck to place a soft kiss on her lips. Breathing into my lungs and pulling me closer, she opens her mouth to mine and whispers, "You did so good, Edward." I shudder at the sensation of her body clamping down on me. "So good."

Warmth rushes through my chest, and I kiss her harder, only pulling back when she grips at my hair and gasps for air. Letting my mouth drift to her neck, I taste her skin and taste the satisfaction on my lips, words bubbling up inside me. They are words of gratitude and love. Awe and need.

But for now, I limit myself to speaking only through my kiss.

#~~#~~#

Later, in the bath, I sit with my spine to the back of the tub and with Bella resting on my chest. The flesh of my ass is tender, but the water feels good against the still-hot skin. Idly, without any real intention or plan, I drag a cloth over Bella's body, tracing her curves and outlining her breasts before dipping lower, across her stomach and to her thighs.

Everything about the moment is relaxed, my tongue and body loose, and I realize too late that my mind is, too. Sweeping the washcloth between her legs and letting my fingertips linger on her skin, I say quietly, "I love this."

Bella makes a wry sound and leans her head on my shoulder. "What, my pussy?"

I laugh lightly and rub a little more suggestively at the top of her opening. "Well yes, of c-course. But more just …" I trail off as I try to think, waving my other hand to indicate the sum of everything surrounding me. "Just this. Everything."

You.

"Mmm," she hums, shifting closer beneath the water and pressing my erection between her back and my stomach. Like everything else, my arousal is low and lazy, devoid of urgency but still there. "Me, too."

There's a small pang inside my chest at the knowledge that she is agreeing with the statement I have made aloud and not the one that still sits silent in my lungs. With a resigned sigh, I let go of the washcloth and wrap her up in my arms at the same time that I pull my hips back slightly, my lips warm against the damp skin of her neck.

I gulp and close my eyes before I whisper, "I llllove b-being with you that way. The sex. The ropes. The spanking. But it's m- … mmmmore."

Something about Bella's posture tightens, but only for a moment, her hesitation hidden as she lets herself relax in my embrace. "Edward," she whispers.

I wait. The seconds drag, but she says nothing more, and so I push myself the way she always pushes me. "I llllove what comes after, too. Getting to hold you. B-bathe you. Kiss you." Leaning down, I tilt her head up toward mine and lightly brush our lips. Her mouth parts, and I taste her, our tongues touching briefly before I press one more soft, closed-mouth kiss to the side of her lips and lean back against the tile once more.

She sighs and shifts so her side is against my chest, her hand soft as her fingers touch my collarbone. "I love that, too. All of it."

I love you, Bella. I love you.

Just as I begin to think I cannot hold the words in any longer, Bella rests her head on my shoulder and begins to play with my chest hair. "Can I ask you something?"

I kiss her brow and shrug. As I have never been more naked for anyone before, I cannot imagine what she could feel uncertain about asking. "Anything."

"Why did it bother you so much? Being on top?"

Something cold runs up my spine and my hands still on her waist and arm. "I … I t-told you …"

She shakes her head and looks up at me. "No, I know. With the others." There's a strange inflection on the word 'others,' her mouth twisting distastefully. "I just … it doesn't … I don't completely get it."

I sigh and soothe myself the best I can, moving my hands again over Bella's skin. "I never ffffelt c-comfortable like that. Maybe it's … it's like the st-stutter. The more I'd think about it, the worse it would get. And then when wwwwomen would want that … I'd freeze. And I'd never had a lllot of sex. Add in p-performance anxiety and …"

Bella never falters in her touch, her fingertips playing gently across my chest, and as I trail off, she hums and traces little circles over my heart.

I swallow and stare straight ahead. "It's … it's nnnot easy to t-talk about. P-P-P … Premmmmm- … Premature ejjjjj …"

Everything seizes, my tongue numb and unresponsive, my throat thick.

"It's OK, baby. It's OK." Fingers entwine themselves in my hair, my head being pulled down, and then Bella's lips are on mine, warm and soft, her kiss accepting. Loving, even.

Her touch is everything to me.

Bella pulls back but leaves her hand on my face. There is concern in her eyes, her forehead wrinkled, her lips set with a frown. "Did I … was that OK? Asking you to, like that?"

I clear my throat and nod. The same feelings of triumph and pride lick at my spine, and for all the turmoil in my mind, I smile. "Yeah. So much more than OK."

Her expression softens, relief easing the lines across her brow. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. I didn't … I didn't think I c-could, but what you did …" There are no words for the awe I feel, for her and how she pushes me. For what her touch and her commands can make of me. For the person she is creating with her hands. "With you, I feel like I can do anything."

She leans up and kisses my nose. "You can, sweetie. You always could."

"Nnnnot without you," I tell her honestly.

Her smile is sad, but it disappears quickly as she turns her face into my neck. When she speaks again, it is quiet, something vulnerable to her voice, and I find myself holding my breath, unwilling to miss a word. "I worry about that sometimes, you know?"

I stroke my hand down her spine above the water. "Wwworry?"

Although she refuses to look up at me, I can feel her smile against my skin. "You're so amazing, Edward. And once you realize it … well …"

"B-Bella," I murmur, hearing what she isn't saying – and, although I cannot believe it, also hearing what she is. "You're … you're am-m-mazing. Nnnnothing … Nothing could make me not want to b-be with you. Nothing."

And as I speak the words, I know they're true. The glow of pride and love burns slightly higher as I hold my Bella tightly against me. After years of never expecting a call back – of never even expecting a second fuck – I am holding this woman in my arms.

And if she'll let me, there is nothing I want more than to hold her there for good.

Forever.

Only then, through the haze of finally knowing what I want my life to look like, I feel Bella shaking slightly against my chest. My heart sinks and I grit my teeth with an unshakable sense of dread.

I am certain I have said too much.

When she finally opens her mouth to speak, her face and eyes still hidden from me, my body is frozen and braced for the worst. But as always, she surprises me. Her words are so uncharacteristically tiny. So soft.

"Me neither, Edward," she breathes, and I feel my heart restart. Slowly, her eyes lift, glassy and brown, and I am lost in them. Lost in feeling. In wanting.

In love.

I feel her hand on my face, her lips and breath so warm across my mouth as she kisses me.

"Me neither."

Chapter Text

The stairs to Bella's apartment are so familiar now, my smile so automatic at the knowledge of what is waiting for me behind her door, that it is strange to feel my nerves rising as I lift my hand to knock. Remembering what lies inside, I let the tremor of anxiety drift through my body anyway as I wait, patient and uncertain. After a minute of silence, I knock again and begin searching through my keys with dread, eventually finding hers just as the doorknob slowly turns.

And my shock at the sight that meets me is eclipsed only by the rush of blood toward my groin, my arousal immediately growing.

"Hi, there," Bella says, grinning widely, and my eyes dart repeatedly from her lips to her eyes to the soft skin at the open neckline of a silky blue robe. As her lips meet mine, I try to peek into the apartment , but her hands in my hair distract me, forcing my attention back to her.

Between needy, hungry kisses, I manage, "Alice?"

Bella shakes her head and pulls me into the apartment. My mouth opens, allowing her to taste me more fully as I sweep her into my arms and kick closed the door. Standing there in the entryway, we greet each other the way that lovers do, a familiar warmth creeping through me and reminding me just how much my life has changed in twelve short weeks.

Reminding me how lucky I am.

Finally, Bella breaks away, her eyes gleaming and the silky fabric of her bathrobe gaping as she takes my wrist inside her hand and leads me back toward her bedroom. As we walk, I am aware of the scent of dinner in the oven and of the table set for four, but I can focus on none of that. Instead, my gaze stays fully trained on the curve of her hips beneath the softly shining fabric. With every step we take away from the kitchen and toward her bed, my erection hardens further, hope rising in time with my arousal.

So far, this evening is turning out so much better than I had planned.

Bella chooses just that moment to dash my hopes, of course, glancing back at me as we move through the hallway. "Alice and Jasper are running late, but they should be here in fifteen minutes or so."

I swallow and I throb as I push down the ripple of anxiety and focus on her ass. "I c-can work with fifteen minutes."

Her laugh is free and low, but I know she is not laughing at me as she turns to close the door behind us. With a light shove to my chest, she sits me down on the edge of her bed and turns as if to move away. I catch her before she can though, placing my hands on her hips and bringing her body to stand between my open legs, my mouth even with her breasts. Kissing softly at the skin between them, I lift one hand to tease the edges of her robe apart. Without pulling my lips from her flesh, I lift my eyes to hers, finding them both hungry and playful as I slide my fingers lower and begin to tug at the knot holding the fabric together.

Bella lifts one eyebrow, and I know that she is about to stop me. Undeterred, I move my mouth to the side, opening my lips to surround her nipple over the softness of her robe, breathing out a warm exhale that makes her shudder. "Naughty boy," she murmurs, her hand pushing mine away, but it is halfhearted.

"Just let me make you come once," I beg, giving up on the knot and sliding my hand to cup her sex. "I can make you come once before they get here." Before she can say yea or nay, I part her robe and run the back of my knuckles over the damp lace between her thighs, making her moan. For just a moment, she leans into my touch, letting me stroke her, but too soon, she is wrapping her hand around mine and pulling it away, placing it firmly on the bed with a look that tells me in no uncertain terms that I am not to move.

Bending to place a soft kiss on my lips, Bella touches my cheek affectionately before she moves to whisper in my ear, "Behave yourself and be a good boy for me tonight, and I promise I'll let you make me come as many times as you want."

My eyes clench closed for just a moment, and my cock twitches in my pants. "And what about me?"

Bella retreats just enough to let me see her smirk. "You can come as many times as I can make you."

My lips move up into a mirroring smile. "Deal."

"I knew we could find some sort of a compromise." Stepping back, Bella turns to grab something from her dresser. She quirks an eyebrow at me and holds up something slinky and sheer before returning to my side. "Help me?"

I take the stockings from her and realize that they are two separate pieces at the same moment that she is lifting up the edge of her robe to reveal the straps of a garter hanging down her beneath her underwear. "Yes, please," I breathe.

Bella settles a foot on my leg, just above my knee, and I catch the scent of her pussy from her parted thighs . Moaning quietly, I caress her foot and drift my palm up her calf before concentrating on trying to find the opening to the bit of nylon in my hand. While I am not exactly smooth, unpracticed as I am with this act, I manage to roll the gauzy, black fabric up her leg, only faltering when I reach the top.

"Show me?" I pant, the husky tone of my voice giving my increasingly desperate arousal away.

With deft motions, Bella secures the front of the garter. "Like this," she urges, guiding my fingers as she helps me with the other strap. Satisfied that everything is correctly attached, she lowers her foot, but not without sliding her toes over the obvious line of my erection through my pants as she switches legs. This time, as I pull the other stocking up, I kiss my way up her skin toward her knee, sliding my nose across the juncture of her hip and thigh as I fix the garter, managing it myself this time. At her soft sigh, I feel my cock seeping, swelling even harder at her sounds, and her hands move to my hair as I lean forward to kiss her clit through the lace.

"Anything else I can help you with?" I ask as I lean back, hoping without expectation that she will give in and tell me to lick her.

"Just one more thing."

Still ripe with hope, I feel my shoulders drop as she steps away from me. But then she is undoing the knot in her robe, and I growl lowly at the sight of the fabric falling from her shoulders, revealing a black lace bra to match the panties and the garter. I briefly entertain a fantasy of her pushing me back into the bed and straddling my face, but to my disappointment, she reaches for a dress draped over her chair instead. She steps into it with graceful motions, turning her back to me as she slips the straps up over her shoulder.

"Zip," she instructs, craning her neck to catch my eyes, and in them I see the same flame of desire that is burning desperately in mine.

"Yes, Mistress," I murmur, and it is mostly a tease. I know that these are not the roles that we are playing tonight, but I know too how it both soothes and excites me to be on my knees for her, literally and figuratively. Standing, I trace the line of her spine from the small of her back all the way to the top of her neck, kissing her there as I grasp the zipper in my hand and slowly pull it up. Breathing hot against her ear, I whisper, "Beautiful," before I suck the lobe into my mouth.

Bella shudders and reaches up to pull my head down, bringing my lips to hers, and for long moments, we kiss hungrily. Her body is leaning back into mine, the soft curve of her ass supple and warm against my persistent erection, and for a moment I imagine bending her over, hiking up the dress and pushing her panties aside. Groaning at the idea of driving into her that way - uncharacteristic as it may be for me - I run my hands down her body, moving slowly over her breasts before settling on her hips.

"Later, Edward," she groans, and somehow I manage to let her go as she steps away.

I make no pretense at stealth as I adjust myself. "P-Promise?"

"Abso-fucking-lutely," she agrees, her steps less than steady as she slips on a pair of low heels and makes for her bathroom.

Once she is out of sight, I flop back on her bed and let out a long, intensely sexually frustrated sigh, running one hand through my hair and letting the other rest over the line of my cock. I am aching and tense, but in spite of my condition, I cannot help but smile. This is not the first time Bella has teased me to the point of madness, and while I want nothing more than for her to fuck me, I know too that the wait will be worth my while.

That when she finally does lower herself onto me, her pussy hot and wet and tight, the pleasure will be all the more intense.

That I will come so, so hard tonight.

Pulling my hand away before I can frustrate myself even further, I let my eyes move around the room. We have been spending more time at my place recently, but I find that little has changed here in the past couple of weeks. If anything, the space is slightly more cluttered than usual, the full hamper and the messy desk both testaments to the fact that she has been doing less living here of late.

The neatly made bed giving proof to the fact that she has been sleeping with me.

Finally, my eyes settle on the one thing that is new. On her desk, amidst the papers and books that are always there, I see a small, wrapped package. Curious, I lift myself off the bed and move to stand beside the desk, inspecting the box and looking for any indication as to who it is for. My heart both leaps and drops as I find no hint as to its contents or its intended recipient, wondering if perhaps it is for me.

Or if it is for someone else.

If it is Bella's, and if it was given to her by another man.

Pushing my own insecurities down, I force myself to put the package down and walk away from her desk, wandering toward the bathroom, where I can see Bella in the mirror, applying a sheer lipstick to her already obscenely perfect lips. I've seen the same red stain at the base of my cock, and with my hand in my pocket, I nudge myself to the side as I clear my throat and lean back against the door frame. Seeing me watching her, Bella smiles and continues to preen.

Part of me wants to ask her about the present I'd been eying on her desk, but at the last minute I think better of it and stick to safer territory instead.

"You really do look b-beautiful," I tell her. In the mirror, I see her eyes drift from my face down my body, and I stiffen further at her inspection.

"You look damn good, too," she says, lifting her eyebrow and allowing her throat to vibrate with the slightest hint of a growl.

I am just about to step forward and put my arms around her waist when I hear the door to the apartment open, and I sigh.

"Knock knock! Make yourselves decent if you're here." Alice's voice rings out loudly through the space, and I instinctively feel myself bristle, my posture stiffening while my cock does just the opposite.

Ever since the party, I have been avoiding Bella's roommate. We have seen each other several times, usually in passing, and each encounter has been more tense than the last. Each time, I feel as if she can see straight through me, grasping immediately the ugly, shameful parts that I usually keep hidden so deeply inside.

Each time, I feel dirty. Inadequate.

Bella shoots me a glance that is both warning and pleading. In the mirror, she mouths silently, "Be nice?" I sigh and step forward to press my lips to her neck.

It is my agreement. My promise to try.

As I pull away and turn to head out into the living room, Bella catches my hand. "Thank you," she whispers. "Tell them I'll be out in a minute?"

"OK," I agree, and then I throw back my shoulders and step out into the hallway.

When I find them, Alice and Jasper are in the kitchen, Jasper with his head in the fridge and Alice checking something in the oven.

"Hhhhhello," I manage, stuffing my hands in my pockets and trying to look casual when really I feel anything but.

Both of them turn to me, Alice with her usual skepticism and Jasper with a wide smile. "Hey, Edward," he says before gesturing toward the still-open door of the fridge. "Beer?"

I shake my head and eye the liquor cabinet on the other side of the room, knowing Bella stocks my preferred brand of scotch these days. "No, thanks." Feigning more confidence than I have, I slip between the two of them and help myself to a glass, much as I would if they were not here. As I pour myself a couple fingers, I clear my throat, feeling intensely self-conscious as I offer, "C-can I get you annnything, Alice?"

Alice practically barks in surprise and closes the oven door. "No. Thanks. I'll just have wine with dinner, I think."

I nod and cap the scotch, taking a large gulp to ease my nerves. Gesturing toward the back of the apartment, I explain, "B-Bella's still getting d-d-dressed. But she should be out in a mmmminute."

Almost as one, Alice and Jasper turn to quirk twin eyebrows up at me, and I feel my face grow warm at the implication, and at the fact that, at least in a literal sense, they are wrong. It does not escape me as I turn my eyes to the floor and take another sip of scotch that, while Alice and Jasper's expressions are the same on the surface, they are entirely dissimilar beneath it all.

That Jasper's implication is underscored by a conspiratorial smile, and Alice's with a frown.

Moments later, Bella emerges, and my discomfort with the company fades as I lose myself in admiring her legs, my smile twitching up without my leave. Bella says hello casually and checks the oven herself before coming to me and pressing a kiss to my cheek. And for a moment, with my hand on her waist, I feel all my tension melt away.

I feel like someone more than myself.

After a few minutes of small talk, tasks begin to arise in the kitchen, and Bella and Alice quickly busy themselves, moving through the space with a level of familiarity that makes my awkward hands feel all the more out of place. When I feel a clapping hand land on my shoulder, I turn in surprise to find Jasper standing beside me and gesturing to the room beyond.

"Believe me," he says conspiratorially, "this will end much better for us if we stay out of the way."

I chuckle and nod and follow him out. There is something familiar to this – to the way his hand met my back and to his grin. To retreating from a kitchen full of women.

My stomach drops and I almost trip over the threshold from the kitchen to the living room as I see my brother in Bella's friend. I recover swiftly and drop into a seat on the sofa, waiting for the rush of insecurity and for all the memories of being small.

Only there are none.

Jasper settles onto the other end of the couch and grabs the newspaper from the coffee table. It is hard not to notice that he is completely comfortable as he drinks his beer and flips to the sports section before turning to me. "So, you see the game last night?"

Thoughts of last night make me warm, and I let my own discomfort slip away as I shake my head. "No, just c-c-caught the highlights this morning," I answer. And then, smiling to myself behind my glass, I add, "Last night I was k-kind of tied up."

#~~#~~#

Dinner is by turns both casual and strained. Sitting beside Bella, I let my hand rest on her thigh whenever I am able to, stroking at the skin just above the line of her stockings and remembering what it felt like to pull the fabric up her leg. My arousal thrums lightly the entire time, my cock half hard, and my attention diverted from the awkwardness of conversing with people I do not know by Bella's promise of a reward for good behavior.

Whenever she and her friends talk about things that are foreign to me, I put half my attention to listening, and the other half to fantasizing about how Bella will take me later. Whenever my anxiety and swirling thoughts begin to cripple me, I let images of Bella's body keep me calm.

Toward the end of the meal, Alice's eyes suddenly light up and she slams her hand down on the table. "I almost forgot to tell you, Bella! You'll never guess who Jasper and I ran into when we were out shopping today!"

Bella rolls her eyes and sips her wine. "Who?"

Alice looks disappointed. "You're not even going to try to guess?"

"You already told me I'll never get it right."

Huffing, Alice gives her the finger, and I swallow thickly, wanting to jump to my lover's defense. As if she knows how I will react to their banter, Bella's hand squeezes mine, and I push my instincts down, watching as Bella smiles and simply raises an eyebrow.

"Fine," Alice says, feigning annoyance before breaking down. "Mike Newton!"

The change in Bella's posture is minute, but I know her body well enough to see the tension in her spine and to feel the tightness in her grip. Her voice, however, is cool. "Yeah?"

Alice nods enthusiastically, something wicked about her eyes. "Yup. And he totally asked about you."

Somewhere in the midst of Bella opening her mouth to reply, I find my jagged, useless voice. "Wwwwwho's M-M-Mike Newton?"

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Jasper placing his hand on Alice's arm, and she gives him an imploring look, her body vibrating with the words she wants to say. Before she can, Bella turns to me, squeezing my hand now more gently. "Just someone I went out with a couple of times back ages ago."

Something in my stomach twists, but I fight for calm as I respond with a simple, "Oh." In my mind, I pore through the photographs she showed me, wondering which face was his. Wondering why we are speaking of him now.

Before I can dwell too deeply, Alice interjects, "He has a kid now. Apparently happily married to that girl he hooked up with after you."

Bella rolls her eyes and lifts her wine glass. "Poor girl."

I let out an exhale at the confirmation that this is not a man that Bella remembers fondly, but there is still a hot fist of jealousy clenching tightly around my lungs.

"I know, right?" Alice responds. Her laughter is seemingly light, but I feel its pointedness. "Wasn't he the one that had a thing for toes? Pervert."

Bella blanches and I find myself struggling to breathe. Only the feeling of her hand on mine keeps me grounded. With her voice tight, she responds, "He was a lousy lay and an intellectual deadweight. But I hope he's happy with whoever he ended up with."

While I know it should reassure me, her statement cracks a hole inside my heart.

Because someday, when this is over, I wonder what she will say about me.

Pulling my hand from hers, I return my attention to my plate, as if a pile of bones is the most fascinating thing in the world. In the back of my mind, I hear Alice chiding Bella for her reticence, playfully telling her that she's not much fun. And then she is addressing me, her high, chiding voice rising above my own grinding, twisting fog of thought.

"What about you, Edward? Any skeletons in your closet?"

I sit up straighter but do not meet her eye. I do not respond to the feeling of Bella's hand on my thigh. Instead, I shake my head and stare straight ahead. "No, nnnn... nothing to sp-speak of."

It is an understatement of the most profound sort.

It is a lie.

But the only skeleton in my closet is my own.

Alice makes a clucking noise in the back of her throat and slides her fork across her plate. "I should have figured as much."

I finally raise my head, but Bella is speaking before I can push past the boulder of my tongue. "Somepeople choose not to kiss and tell, Alice."

"Mmhmm, and some people - "

"Alice." Jasper's voice sounds strange after all his silence, but it is clearly what is needed. Over the course of a few tense, quiet moments, Alice's expression melts from indignation to anger and finally to defeat, her gaze darting from me to Bella to Jasper and back. Then, in one swift motion, she balls up her napkin and throws it on the table, standing up.

And her eyes meet mine as she hisses, "I'm done," before stalking away.

#~~#~~#

My anger is amorphous. Infinite. Small. I find it in the pieces of food attached to the plates that I scrub. I find it in memories of Alice's face. In Bella's as she kissed my forehead and walked away to chase her friend.

In myself.

More than anything, I find it in myself.

As I work to steady my own shaking hands, I feel the anger shift to fear and then to an aching cavernous hole and back again. I watch it change. I watch it fill me.

I know that things are happening around me, but I am only aware of them through a fog. Bella is talking to Alice in her bedroom, and Jasper is clearing dishes and adding them to my pile. Jasper is walking away to check on Alice, and then Bella is here again with me, and I cannot speak.

I am cleaning.

I am angry.

I am feeling the weight of still - even after all that has changed in these lust-filled weeks - being me.

At my silence, Bella follows me into irritation, her hands moving to both sides of my head, demanding that I look at her, but instead, I only scrub harder, wishing to shred my knuckles the way I do the finish on the porcelain. Reaching the same levels of my inexplicable fury, she is telling me things, and I am not listening, my ears blocked by a roaring sound that is the very surface of the world opening up before me, and then she is gone.

Jasper claps my shoulder, but I do not look up, even when I hear the apartment door opening and closing. In the kitchen alone, I remove all evidence of the evening, searching for my own reflection on the bottoms of pans, but every glimpse that I catch of myself only makes the void in my chest gape wider.

I want to go find Bella in her room and to pin her to her bed and show her that it doesn't matter that Alice despises me. I want to prove to my lover that I am a man.

I want my Mistress to beat my anger out of me. I want her to fuck me.

I want Bella to love me.

The pot that I am washing clatters to the bottom of my sink as I squeeze my eyes shut tightly, the water near scalding on my hands, and I revel in the pain. After moments of standing there, adrift in my own dark places, I finally open my eyes again and rinse the pot before turning off the water.

But as I move to find a towel, I am brought up short, my breath seizing in my chest.

"Alllll … Allll … "

Hazel eyes narrow at me in the dimness and a sneer grows wider. "Alice," she says lowly. "My name is Alice. Al-ice."

"I knnnnnn … I kn-know – "

"No, you don't know." While my mouth sputters uselessly, my tongue clicking and stopping and sitting, paralyzed, against my teeth, Alice moves closer, staring me down in spite of my height.

And now I feel small.

"You don't know what it's like when Bella gets her heart broken. You don't know what happened when James was finally through with her. You have no idea who she is."

"I … I kn-kn-kn-"

"No, you don't. You haven't seen her go through guy after guy, always figuring it's her that's the problem when it doesn't work out. You haven't seen her change herself for whatever piece of shit she drags home next. You haven't seen her taste in men get worse and worse and worse." Alice's eyes drag up and down my body, zeroing in on my shaking hands at the final utterance of the word 'worse,' and I know in my heart that I am, in fact, the worst.

"And I will be damned if I will sit idly by and watch her change herself for you. I don't know what kind of sick sex games you're dragging her into, but Bella is a person, not some unfeeling … dominatrix or whatever the fuck you want her to be for your perverted little fantasies."

"Hhhhhhh-how d-d-d-d-"

"Because she told me, Edward. Just like she's been telling me everything for the last ten years. Just like she'll still be telling me when you're done with her and move onto –"

My tongue suddenly comes unstuck, my fury channeled now. "I will nnnnnnnnnnnever be d-d-done with her. We d-d-don't p-play ssssssssex g-g-games. How … how … how d-d-dare you."

"How dare I?"

She's trying to talk over me but I don't care. For once, my words, while fettered and broken, are tumbling forth, and there is nothing I can do to reel them in. "I d-d-don't want to ch-change her. She is wwwwwho she is and I'm wwwwwho I am and wwwwhat we d-do is nnn- …. nnnn-none of your b-business. I lllllllllllove her for ex-ex-exactly who she is. Nnnnow.

"I. Llllllove. Her."

Only the choking sound from the doorway stops my tirade, my mouth stilling for just long enough to process what I have said – to feel the horror seeping, frozen from my fingers up and through my veins. Alice and I both turn as one, silent as we face Bella, and I melt, feeling my stomach dropping at the paleness of her face and the grim line of her mouth. The haunted look in her eyes.

I know that look.

But I do not know her voice. I don't. Not when it is so cold.

"Get out," Bella whispers. "Get out of this apartment. Now."

Chapter Text

"I. Llllllove. Her."

Only the choking sound from the doorway stops my tirade, my mouth stilling for just long enough to process what I have said – to feel the horror seeping, frozen, from my fingers up and through my veins. Alice and I both turn as one, silent as we face Bella, and I melt, feeling my stomach dropping at the paleness of her face and the grim line of her mouth. The haunted look in her eyes.

I know that look.

But I do not know her voice. I don't. Not when it is so cold.

"Get out," Bella whispers. "Get out of this apartment. Now."

Everything in me is crashing, the hope that I had harbored in the most secret, sacred parts of my heart exposed and bleeding. "B-B-Bella, I – "

She doesn't let me finish. "Get out."

And then I realize, as I follow her eyes, that she is not speaking to me.

"Alice, if you don't get the fuck out of here in the next five minutes, I am going to remove you. Go."

"Me?" Alice croaks, and in my shock, I want to echo, "Her?"

"Bella, can I remind you that I live here?"

Bella is shaking her head, her stance strong. She's my Bella right now – even if I'm not sure if she'll be mine for long. She's the Bella I love the most. The one that is strong and commanding. The one whose orders must be followed.

"I don't care," she says, seething. "Get. Out. Go stay with Jasper. Go stay with whoever. Just get out."

Alice turns to me, her eyes dark with anger, and then to Bella. I cringe, waiting for the fallout, but it never comes. Rather, Alice simply brushes right by, her bedroom door slamming, and then a minute later, reopening. And then, without another glance at either of us, Alice is stalking out of the apartment, the closing of the door ringing out in the space.

And it is just Bella. And me.

"B-B-Bella, IIIIII … I …"

Bella says nothing, just shaking her head, and on her face I see untold emotions I cannot name. My whole body is thrumming and numb, hope and dread mixing endlessly until I can scarcely breathe for the depth of the pressure on my chest. Staggered, I lean against the counter and drop the pot I had forgotten I was holding, feeling like I can scarcely stand now on my own.

And if I have ever been on my knees before her, I have never been so at her mercy as I am right now.

When she finally speaks, her voice holds none of the coldness of a moment ago. It is not commanding or harsh. Instead, it is soft. Vulnerable.

And my heart leaps inside my chest as she whispers, "Come here? Please?"

Still half numb, I let go of the counter and follow behind her, uncertain how my feet have strength to walk. I see and feel nothing as we make our way to her bedroom, my body settling stiffly on the edge of the bed as she bids me to sit. She takes another few steps to her desk, and my eyes alight with recognition as she takes a small box in her hands before sitting down beside me. There is a foot of distance between our bodies, and desperate for her touch, I begin to reach out, wanting nothing more than to bridge the gap, but something tells me it isn't yet time.

Some part of me still isn't sure she's mine.

As she passes the box to me, all I can hear is my own harsh breathing, my hands paralyzed as I let the package sit on the bedspread before me, threatening to burn me should I just reach out and touch.

"Go on," she says quietly. "Open it."

With my heart thrumming, I finally take the object in my hands, running my fingertips over carefully tucked corners, still fighting the lingering certainty that my world is about to come crashing down around me.

"It won't bite," Bella promises, and it is only then that I catch the mingled sounds of laughter and of her voice breaking, my eyes darting up to see the flush on her skin and the hint of a tear threatening to fall to her cheek.

Unable to stall any longer, I let the paper shred beneath my hands, tempted to decimate it beyond recognition, but I stop when a small, plain box is revealed. I look up at Bella once before grasping the lid, taking her nod as encouragement and reassurance, one small bright spot of warmth igniting in the center of my frozen heart.

Finally, I open the box and look down to take in a dark fabric lining. And leather.

Steel.

"What … I d-d-"

Bella reaches over wordlessly and pulls out a black leather cord, the knots in it gleaming slightly in the light, a thick metal oval strung just across its middle. She holds it with the metal resting lightly in her palm, as if in offering, and in the center of it, I can make out the black inscription of the letter "B."

"I was going to give it to you tomorrow," she says quietly. "If you wanted to play. I thought … I thought you might …"

My heart is in my throat as I rasp, "Wwwwhat is it?"

She hesitates. "I'd thought we might use it as a, um, as a collar. If you wanted to. But that's … that's not what's important. Not really."

In spite of my trepidation, I want to protest, my cock rising immediately at the word 'collar' as images of what it would mean to be owned by her rush through my mind. To have a symbol of that ownership against my skin.

To have her call that unimportant.

"Nnnnot imp-p-portant?"

Her face whitens as she turns the collar over, revealing the other side and a Chinese character. I stare at it for a moment, failing to recognize it and wondering if I should. When I glance up at her, Bella's lip is between her teeth, her nerves apparent.

But somewhere in there, too, I see excitement, and with her small smile I feel my own fears recede.

"There's a card," she says, gesturing at my empty hand. "In the box."

Tucked between the box and the lining, I find a small, ivory square of card stock. On one side is a picture of the character, and on the other there is just one word.

Beloved.

The card nearly crushes in my hand, my vision suddenly blurry, my ribs tight. I can hear my own heart pounding and I can hardly breathe as I lift my eyes to Bella's, taking her in.

And in this moment, she's more beautiful than she has ever been.

"I love you, Edward," she whispers, and I cannot move. I cannot speak. "God knows I've fought it. Love hasn't … it's never worked out for me, and it's just like Alice said – I've let it change me before. But I don't feel like I have to now. Not with you. I feel like you want me, and I … I want you. Just the way you are. You're beautiful and kind and smart and funny. You make me feel beautiful." She pauses, swallowing hard, her eyes damp. "And I have the best time with you. No matter what we're doing.

"I love you, Edward. I love you."

The small hiccup in her voice finally forces me to break my silence, my limbs suddenly returning to my control as I wipe my eyes and close the gap. Surrounding her in my arms, I feel warm and whole and home.

I feel loved.

For the first time in my entire life, I feel loved.

And I feel like my chest may crack open if I do not finally let loose the words that have been clawing at me now for weeks.

"I love you, t-too, Bella. So much. I feel like I've loved you ffforever." I shudder and shift to look at her face, nudging her chin up and lowering my mouth to hers. For the longest time, I lose myself in her kiss, tasting her tongue and lips and holding her so tightly in my arms. When she pulls back to breathe, I drop kisses to every part of her face, lingering on her cheeks and ears and nose. Her hand reaches behind my neck, and I can feel the leather cord of the collar she is still holding brushing the skin just above my shirt, making my heart pound and my cock throb.

"P-Please," I murmur.

She retreats just enough so we can see each others' eyes, our noses touching, and I can see the question waiting to escape her lips. Unable to resist, I kiss them and offer my clarification with my hand against her chest.

"P-Please, Bella. May I wwwear it?"

#~~#~~#

Her fingertips are cool and light against my skin, her mouth warm as she kisses the skin at the back of my neck. Bella is kneeling on the bed behind me, and my heart is beating so fast, my breathing shallow. As she drapes the heavy cord around my neck, I feel the cold metal pressing her initial into my skin, the word 'Beloved' facing out, and I touch the etched surface of it with reverence.

Before she fixes the clasp, Bella lets her lips drift to my ear, and I feel them move against the shell when she breathes. "I love you."

Never having been the sort of man to wear jewelry before, the collar feels both heavy and light, its significance belied by its modest weight. It sits high on my chest, but low enough to be able to to be tucked just beneath the neckline of most shirts, and for a moment I debate between allowing it to be seen and wanting to feel it on my skin. Bella's hand rests still on my shoulder as I consider the feel of it, letting the pads of my fingers trace the knotted leather and the etching of the single character on steel.

"Well?"

I turn, and I see Bella's eyes, glassy and warm, as they drift down to see her collar on my neck.

"It fffffeels … " I hesitate, wanting to conquer my own broken tongue, but I sense her trepidation at the wait. "… right. It feels right."

"Oh, Edward." Her hands cup my face, tilting my mouth to meet hers, and in soft, slow motions, we kiss. "You like it?"

I pull her closer, one hand on her hip and the other at her neck, and shake my head. "I love it." Between kisses, I manage to explain, "I llllove the feel of it on me. I love knowing it's your c-collar. That I'm yours."

She backs away slightly but keeps me tightly in her grip. "And I'm yours, too. You know that, right?"

"I know, Bella," I whisper. And I do. "I know."

#~~#~~#

We lie side by side on her bed, one leg hitched around my waist and my hands making lazy circles on her body. The only lights in the room are the tiny colored ones that I adore, a soft blue-red glow playing out across her cheeks as she smiles. Sneaking my hand up her thigh, I play with the lacy edge of her stocking and with the strap of the garter as I kiss her.

"Hhhhhow long?" I whisper as my lips drift down her throat.

Bella smiles and twists her fingers in my hair. "Oh, maybe seven or eight inches? But it's really the girth that matters, and that, my dear, is fucking phenomenal."

I laugh so easily against her skin now, like I am weightless. Free. "How long have you known?"

She hums as I suck softly just above her collarbone, twisting my thumb and forefinger until the first strap of the garter comes undone. "That I loved you?"

"Mmmhmmm."

The second strap follows behind, and I chase the fabric from her skin, wanting only flesh around me tonight. Remembering what Alice said about Bella's ex-boyfriend's fixation with toes, I do not linger on her feet, but even they are beautiful. Even they are worthy of worship.

I kiss my way down her sternum, parting my lips over the last inches of exposed flesh above the open neckline of her dress, my hand moving up to palm the soft curve of her ass. With a hum, she loosely drapes her bare leg over my clothed one, and I brush the backs of my knuckles over the lacy space between her thighs.

Moaning, she pushes her sex against my hand. "Since the sex shop. That afternoon. Just after. Oh!" She exclaims as I slip a finger beneath the lace to graze the wetness underneath, wanting to bury myself inside it, but wanting more to take my time.

"Mmmme, too," I murmur as I return my mouth to her throat. "That night, I had a d-dream, and I knew. I'd nnnever … I'd never felt that way for anyone, and it sc-scared me. It scared me how much I loved you."

With a firm hand, Bella holds my mouth to her neck while the other grabs my ass. "God, fuck, your fingers feel good." Still, a moment later, she pulls my hand away from her pussy and sets it on her hip. "I … I let it scare me. I'm still so sorry about that, Edward. I didn't know you felt the same. I thought … I worried it was just me again. That I was going to get sucked into something. I didn't think I could get hurt that way again."

I shake my head and move to kiss her mouth. "Never, Bella. I'd nnnever hurt you. Not if I could help it."

"I know, baby."

We are quiet then, kissing more and more deeply, and my hands find occupation with her garter again. Once I slip the other stocking from its fastenings, I roll Bella to her back, hovering over her and pushing back the uncertain feelings that want to press in on me as I move my way down her body. With reverence this time, I roll her hose down her leg, following every inch with my lips. My tongue tastes the inside of her knee and the bone of her ankle, closed-mouth kisses touching her heel and the top of one toe.

I take my time on the way back up, parting her legs and lifting up her skirt, unhooking the garter and pulling both it and her panties down while sucking on her hip bone.

For moments, I lay my cheek to the inside of her hip as I play with the hot, pink flesh between her legs, slowly exploring and listening to her breath. Her hand settles on my hair again, and I know that she is itching to tell me what to do, but that she won't. Not tonight.

But I want her to.

Turning my lips to her skin again, I flash my eyes up to her face, my cock growing fuller at the way her lips are parted, her expression wild. "T-tell me what you want, Bella."

"Fuck," she exhales with a gasp, like it is a relief to be asked. "Your mouth. Please. You know I love your mouth."

I smile against her skin and move downward slowly, smelling how she wants me and throbbing. With one more mischievous glance up her body, I hover just above the softness I am mad to taste, smiling and licking my lips as I whisper, "And you know I love your pussy."

With the first long lick up her flesh, she groans and tightens her fist in my hair. With the second, her thighs squeeze my head, one foot pressing on my back, and then I am lost in her. I press my fingers deep inside and move my lips around her clit, sucking and rubbing with my tongue at tender flesh. With her hands and breath, she tells me what she wants, and I give her everything.

My body and my love.

And I'm hiding nothing from her now.

Breathing raggedly across her sex and grinding my hips against the mattress, I spell out my desire with my tongue, my enthusiasm growing to the point where I shift forward and my collar slips from beneath my shirt, the metal falling against her skin. I feel her react; I feel her convulse, her thighs hot against my cheeks.

I feel her come.

Only when her hands begin to tug at my ears do I give up my relentless pursuit of her pleasure, and even as I do, it is with reluctance. Dragging her dress up her body, I make my way back up to her mouth, letting Bella suck her own taste from my lips as I beckon her up and away from the pillows at the head of her bed. I try to control my lust as I retrace my motions from earlier in the evening, when everything was both simpler and more complicated, dragging the zipper down her back and her dress up over her breasts and then off her outstretched arms. Her bra follows at her own hands, and I suck at her nipples for what seems like hours – for as long as she will let me.

"Edward," she moans, and I can hear the desire in her voice. Continuing to love her breasts, I bury my hands between her legs again, pushing and stroking and slowly growing more focused as her body tells me it can handle it. That it is ready for more. "But you," she breathes, her fingers fumbling with my zipper. I push them away.

"You," I murmur against her skin. "As many times as I want. You promised."

Moments later, she tightens, her voice more frantic around my name, and I nearly climax untouched at the feeling of her flesh as it grips my fingers, her body shuddering.

"No," she rasps. "You."

In a single motion, I find myself on my back, Bella hovering naked over me, and it is almost too much. As she whispers of love and of her pleasure at the shape and firmness of my body, she strips me bare, and I begin to float halfway between the space I always find myself in as she works herself over me and the one in which I am simply her lover. Her equal.

And I remember all over again that those two men – the one that wants her soft and vulnerable and the one who needs her hard – are the same. That I love her both ways. That I want to love her every way.

"Make love to me," I whisper, tugging gently at her hair and panting at the soft heat of her mouth as it surrounds me. "Mmmake love to me. Please."

It is the first time I have asked her to do this out loud, for all that I have made love to her countless times in my own mind. Staring up into my eyes, Bella sucks me down one last time before crawling up my body, her pussy slick and soft as it glides just over my flesh.

Achingly slowly, she begins to lower herself down until I am consumed inside of her, the entire time breathing, "Always. Every time, Edward."

Over and over, she moves her body up and down my length, taking me in until there is nothing but the joining of our bodies, my entire being forfeit to the sensation of making love like this. Finally, her forehead meets my neck, her breathing short, and I know she is pushing herself to her limit. That there is not much more that her body can take.

But still I ask for it. Beg for it.

"Let me make you come," I murmur as my hand finds her flesh, my eyes clenching against the sound of her keening exhales, all of her will bent toward her body's need and my request. "Let me love you."

"Edward."

Her sex clenches one last time, her voice one long scream as I drag her lips to my mouth, kissing her and losing my sanity as I pulse into her. But this time, even her tongue is not enough of a gag to keep my declaration in.

"I love you, Bella," I moan as I come. "I love you. I love you. I love you."

#~~#~~#

Tonight, Bella is the one to wake me in my sleep. After having collapsed into the mattress in a pile of warmth and love and arms, I find my flesh coming to life inside softly stroking hands, my quiet sounds of pleasure already growing as my cock responds.

"Again?" I murmur sleepily, and she grins. Continuing to move over me in long, teasing strokes, she lifts her other hand to my neck, her fingertips dancing across the line of my collar, making my body swell harder.

"As many times as I can make you, remember?"

"God, I love you," I whisper as I smile.

And then, facing each other on our sides, I pull her leg around my hip and let myself glide into the heaven of her body. Like every other time, it is a revelation, and yet it is nothing like it has ever been before.

This time, I know that tonight is the first of many that I will make love to her this way.

And for the very first time, as I pulse into her, I allow myself to believe that she might truly decide to stay.

Chapter Text

In the morning, I wake to the sound of a light hum and to the feeling of Bella pulling her body from my arms. Groaning softly, I just grip her more tightly to my chest and bury my face against her hair.

"Edward," she complains, and in her voice I hear her wakefulness. Mumbling my discontent, I still refuse to let her go.

Not this morning.

Not when she's so close.

"My phone, Edward."

"Don't care," I mumble, rolling slightly to place some of my weight on her body. She is giggling and soft, and my erection stirs as her nakedness presses against mine.

"It's just going to keep going off if you don't let me go."

I shake my head and sigh as she manages to free one arm, reaching across the bed to her nightstand while keeping her ass flush with my body. "Five more minutes," I beg, holding her hip while my other hand brushes her breast. "Or all day. We could just stay in bed all day."

In my peripheral vision, I can see Bella's hand close around the phone, and I groan, knowing this particular battle is lost. I still do not give up, though, following her body as it moves toward the other side of the bed and nuzzling the side of her throat.

"Fuck."

Closing my eyes, I drop my head to the pillow and bury my face. "Wwwhat is it?"

"Ugh." She reaches to the side again, and this time I do not resist. The phone hits the table with a too-loud slap, surprising me into opening my eyes, but then Bella is cradling herself back against my body, her face to my neck and her leg draped possessively over my side.

"Bella?"

"Alice."

"Oh."

The warmth of waking with my lover in my arms is shredded through, something cold splitting my chest, and I squeeze Bella closer. She does not resist, melting into my embrace and winding her arms around my back, a warm fist pressing firmly against my spine. For a few minutes, we lie together just like that, a bubble of skin and love. We are insulated from the world.

But the world will be intruding soon.

Still ghosting my fingertips over her skin, I roll to my back and pull her with me so she can rest her head against my chest. Even as I enjoy the warmth of her touch, I ignore the effect her nakedness has on my body, grabbing her hand when it begins to move toward my erection and kissing softly at her palm.

"So? Alllice?"

She sighs heavily, to the point where I can almost hear her rolling her eyes. "So, according to her text, she's coming home in a couple of hours and expects to 'have a word with me.'" Lifting slightly off my chest, Bella presses her lips to the space just above my heart, and I tighten my hand around her hip.

For all that we spent the night wrapped warmly in words of love, we have not spoken at all about the words that gave us the impetus to speak them. We have not spoken about what we are and what we need, or about what people may think if they find out. In the thoughtful silence that has settled around us, I can hear Alice's voice in my mind. It is bitter and it is clear.

And it hurts almost as much as it did last night.

My breath is tight when I speak, but I manage to keep my voice steady. "What do you think you'll say to her?"

"Ugh," Bella groans. "I don't know. Obviously I need to set her right on a lot of things." With an annoyed grunt, she pushes herself up onto her elbow, her hand warm against my chest, and I can see the apology already forming in her eyes. "I swear, Edward, I had no idea - those things she said..."

She is shaking her head. Seeing the way she is fighting for words hits something deep inside of me, and I drift my knuckles over the slope of her cheek, lifting slightly from the shoulders to kiss the very corner of her lips. "It's OK, Bella. I know."

"No, it's not OK. Not even close. She was so, so horrible to you." Her hand moves up to touch my face, bending to kiss my mouth as I let my head fall. "I would never have said any of that. Ever."

I search her eyes, but it is with no doubt as to what I will find there. "I believe you."

We kiss softly before she sighs and falls back to the bed, taking her hands from my body to press the heels of them roughly to her eyes. While I want nothing more than to touch her, I can feel the tension in her body. I shift slightly to my side to put a couple of inches between us and pull up the sheet to just cover her breasts.

Staring at her, so beautiful and so worried there in the pale morning light, I touch just her arm and whisper, "Talk to me, Bella. Wwwwhatever you need to say, I can take it."

She looks up at me with eyes that are dry but red. "It's nothing about you, sweetheart. It's just Alice, and I - I still can't believe all the things she said. I'm trying to figure out how she could have possibly thought those things. I mean, I told her a little about what you and I do …"

She trails off a little, and I feel my own face flush. Still, I seek to reassure. "It's o-k-k-kay, Bella. You're allowed to talk to your friends about me. About us. Eeeven - even that," I stammer, fighting through the tightness in my lungs that seeks to protect myself. But for now, I am more interested in protecting her. "It mmmust have been hard for you. Getting into a relationship like ours, after everything." The litany of images she showed me dances over my memory, and I try not to wince, remembering how upset she was as she spoke about the men who had hurt her.

Of the people who expected her to be something she could never be.

Her mind seems to float to the same thing as her eyes squeeze closed, her head shaking back and forth.

"P-please, Bella," I whisper again, moving my hand to the side of her neck, my fingertips rubbing softly at her scalp. "Talk to me?"

Her eyes open, warm, with a certain vulnerability hanging just around their edges as she stares up at me, turning slightly to press her lips to my wrist.

"She … she was happy for me at first. Really happy. I'd been doing the internet dating thing for a few months, and it had been … disappointing. I kept seeing all the little flaws in people. But then I met you and something just clicked, you know?" She looks to me for agreement, and I grant it immediately, nodding and asking for more. Shrugging, she continues, "And it was like none of the little stuff mattered."

I cannot hold back my laugh at this. While I know she sees beyond my difficulties, they are never very far from my mind.

And they are never, ever 'little' things.

Her hand is warm on my chin, her look warning. "I'm serious, Edward." Without giving me a chance to protest, she keeps going. "I told Alice about you, and she had some reservations, but on the whole she was really great. Like, she told me the couple of things that concerned her, and I took it all to heart. Told myself I wouldn't get too involved too quickly. But then things got really heavy … "

"Sssexually?"

"Yes. And no. I mean, of course we slept together, and that was fast, but considering I'd been wanting to tear your clothes off since the first date, it didn't really seem that way. Alice and I have always talked about that stuff, so I told her we'd had sex," she says matter-of-factly, but then her mouth twists up into a grin as she leans forward to kiss me. "And how it was fucking amazing." Her lips linger on mine before she pulls back. "I told her how I sort of took charge of things, and how you were cool with that, and how hot that was, but I didn't go into detail."

"OK." I nod and move to take her hand.

"It wasn't … it wasn't till you got us the cuffs that I told her where that aspect of things was going. I mean, I didn't want to lay our whole sex life out for her, but I was so excited and so scared, and I was already in so deep …" Bella shifts her hand to more firmly clasp mine. "I told her you got us some hand-cuffs and that you were really excited to use them, and that I thought things were really amazing. And then when we decided on safe words and stuff and I realized we were really going to do this thing …

"She was skeptical. Like, really unsure about the whole thing, but she told me to enjoy myself. Make the most of it, you know? But, like, be careful that I was doing it for me and not just for you." She breaks off, and I watch as her mouth twists slightly down. "And when I got really scared, she was the one to suggest I take a step back."

Sensing her discomfort, I sit forward to kiss her fingertips. "It's alright. That's b-behind us now."

"I know," she says, but her voice is deep with meaning and regret. "I'm just trying to think how … how she could have thought you were... corrupting me or whatever. I never told her you wanted me to be a fucking dominatrix or whatever. I told her we were getting a little bit of role-play and some rougher stuff, but no details. Hell, I didn't even - "

Her voice cuts off abruptly, and I dart my eyes to her face, only to find it pale.

"B-Bella?"

Taking the sheet with her, she sits up, her one hand frantic in her hair and her eyes intently focused on her desk. I straighten up beside her, keeping my gaze on hers.

"What is it - "

Her eyes suddenly dart to mine and her hand comes up to her mouth. "Fuck," she curses quietly. "I - oh, Jesus."

My heart is racing, all my anxieties lurching until it is all I can do not grab her face and force her to speak to me.

Finally, her one hand settles on mine while the other plays nervously with her lip. "OK, so don't freak out on me. I was going to talk to you about all of this - like, decide what we wanted to do together and all. But at my last temp job I met this guy - his name's Eleazar or something, I think, but we all just called him Lee."

My chest is thundering, my fingers white with the tightness of my grip, and it feels like the world is closing in. The only thing keeping me afloat is that she loves me.

Bella loves me.

"Edward! Edward, calm down." Her index finger and thumb grip my chin, pulling me back to her and away from my mind's violent spiraling. "This guy, Lee, is really into, well, like, the local scene. Him and his wife, Carmen. They … they like the kind of stuff we do."

Relief washes over me, and I feel myself re-centering. Relaxing.

"Oh. Oh."

Bella smiles as she sees signs that I am understanding.

And I am thankful that the sheet across my lap hides just how well I understand, indeed.

Pulling herself closer, she reaches forward to lightly kiss me, keeping her hand on mine to tether me. "I don't even know how we got talking about it. I think I must have made a joke or something, and he asked me if I was serious. And it turns out we both were." She flushes slightly. "So after we got talking, he invited us to something. A 'munch'? Something like that. With other people who …" She pauses for a moment and lets her fingertips trail to the leather cord around my neck. " … people who, um, shop in our section of the sex store, if you get my meaning."

My eyes widen, but Bella is quick to redirect. "Not that we have to decide about anything like that right now," she reassures me. "Just, after he mentioned it to me, I started doing some more extensive, um,research. On my laptop."

Understanding begins to creep over me.

"And Alice borrows your laptop," I guess.

Bella nods nervously. "Constantly. So fucking annoying, really. But this time … "

"You think she got the wrong idea?"

"Maybe..." Bella concedes. "If she did, then that would certainly explain some things. But it still doesn't forgive - She still had no right - "

I can hear Bella's temper rising, and while I am listening, I am also distracted, the gears turning in the background of my mind. The reality of the fact that Bella wants to pursue our sexual needs more openly is slowly washing through me, something high and hot emboldening me, and with more nerve than I typically show, I lean forward as she is speaking and silence her with my tongue. Slowly and deeply, I kiss her, my hands drawing her firmly against me.

Secure in her feelings, I feel my pettiness and insecurity falling away.

I feel generous. Giving.

After all, I have so much.

When I finally break away to breathe, I urge her firmly, "You need to talk to her."

"But what she said - what she thought -"

"So set her straight then. Just - just t-talk to her, Bella. She's your best friend. You don't need to go into this swinging just because of me."

"No?" she murmurs, but her voice now is teasing, one eyebrow creeping up as she wraps an arm around my neck and presses her bare chest to mine. "'Just' because she unfairly insulted the man that I'm in love with?"

I am beaming as I hold her to my body. "Just that," I agree, my face so close to her that our lips are nearly brushing. "Say it again?"

"What? That I'm in love with you?"

"Yes," I breathe. "Just that."

#~~#~~#

Stepping back into my apartment is a study in contrasts. There is a stark whiteness of walls and a stillness that has settled there over so many years.

But there is life now, too.

There is life inside of me.

Setting myself down on my couch, I breathe in and out. Inhales and exhales. And yet every breath is new.

Wanting to hold onto this feeling for just a little longer, I stretch out, my head on the armrest and my feet dangling well off the edge. Instinctively, my hand comes up to touch the leather cord around my neck, and just the feel of Bella's love and her initial against my skin awakes a low hum of arousal in my body, spent as it may be.

And the happiness of that statement - of knowing that I have made love so many times in the past twenty-fours that I have no more than a passing interest in sex - twists something sharp inside my chest. It is twinge like love and pain, and it feels better than anything I have ever imagined.

I close my eyes and think of all the years I spent here on this couch, my body stiff and wanting in every sense, my posture closed. I remember thinking I would always be alone, lacking for any touch except my own.

I remember being so, so alone.

Reflexively, I grip my collar - the necklace my lover has given me to mark me as hers. As my fingers dance over leather and metal, I let memories of unhappiness and isolation drift away, unnecessary and unwanted here amidst the glow still left over from the previous day. Instead, I drag my mind to thoughts of Bella, and I can almost feel her. Above me. Beside me.

With her sex all over my mouth.

Feeling my arousal returning, I think of parting from her earlier this morning - of kissing her endlessly in her doorway until she had to push me out into the hallway, lest her roommate return only to find me begging her to take me just one more time before I went away.

I think of how we told each other, "I love you," as she closed the door behind me.

And I think about how, already, I cannot wait until I can see her again.

Exhaling deeply, I pull myself to sit up properly and dig my phone out of my pocket, placing it on the table and staring at it wistfully as I power my laptop on. Another small pang rings out in my heart, thinking of where Bella must be right now. I wonder what she will say and what Alice will do.

I wonder if Alice's words will be hateful or accepting.

If she will try to dissuade Bella from being with me.

And if her efforts will work.

Providing no answers, my phone remains still and silent on the coffee table, and I sigh as I try to focus on my computer screen. For a while, I endeavor to lose myself in the world of words where I always found respite in my many lonely years, and to some extent, I succeed.

Finally, after about an hour, my phone illuminates, lighting something, too, inside of me. I leap for it eagerly, an unspoken prayer on my lips that Bella will tell me that everything went perfectly. That her friend is still hers and that Bella is still mine. That she and I and we are okay.

When I see my brother's name and number flash across the screen, my chest deflates, and without much thought, I silence the call. A minute later, I am unsurprised to be informed that I have a new voicemail. Ignored, it joins the small collection of messages I have now accumulated, figuring I will listen to them later. If the pattern holds, it will be a quick smattering of guilt and innuendo, followed by a threat that if I do not call back soon, Emmett will come find me and my girlfriend, and that I will not be happy when he does.

I smile in spite of myself at that thought. For decades, I have entertained vague notions of becoming my brother's equal. Sure and fluent. Handsome and at ease.

Loved.

The urge to tell someone, even Emmett, about my happiness is so strong that I briefly entertain the idea of returning his call, but I dismiss it quickly. Another day, perhaps. One when I am not so happy and will not have so far to fall.

Instead, I bury myself again in documents and emails, typing out the words that my throat so rarely lets me speak. And much like the day that I first realized my love, they flow.

The hours pass by without my really noticing, and it is not until daylight is nearly gone that I realize the time. I glance at my phone again, nearly itching now with curiosity about where Bella is and how things are going.

Unable to restrain myself, I tap out a quick message, simply asking if she is alright and letting her know that I am thinking of her.

Another hour later, alone in the dark, the silence becomes stifling, my certainty increasing that whatever is happening in the world beyond my grasp is bad. My neck is slightly raw with the way I have taken to constantly worrying the soft leather rope, and my eyes are unfocused, my anxiety as real as the happiness I reveled in so recently.

At nearly nine, the silence is finally broken. A rushed series of knocks sounds on my door, and I am almost there when I hear the key turning in the lock, my tired, worried eyes meeting brown ones. They speak so much as they stare at me.

They speak of decision and of pain.

And then, Bella is in my arms.

"Wwwwhat happened?" I breathe as I hold her so, so close to me, relief and worry both flooding me.

"I don't even know," Bella hiccups. Her tears are hot and wet on my cheek. "I don't know why the fuck I'm crying. I just..." Her arms tighten around my neck, and I clench my eyes, lifting her slightly off her feet and holding her desperately to my body.

"Did Alllice - "

Bella's face is buried against my neck now. "She's supposed to be my friend. Why can't she just let me be happy?"

"Shh. It's alright." To soothe and comfort is not in my experience, and even as I am holding her, I find myself floundering. Setting Bella down on her feet, I move my hands to her face, pulling it from my chest to stare into wide, hurt eyes. "T-tell me what you need."

She pulls me down into a soft, wet kiss, all lips and tongues, before hugging herself tightly to my chest. With her head fitted to the space beneath my chin, I surround her in my arms. It makes me feel strong. Needed.

"Bella?"

"Just this," she murmurs quietly. "Just this."

#~~#~~#

In a ball on my lap, Bella slowly recounts an afternoon of condescension and slammed doors, and while I hold her close the entire time, I find I cannot always bring myself to meet her eyes, heartbroken as they are. She tells me how she explained our happiness and our love, our sexual needs and our satisfaction. While some of it is so strange to hear when described from outside my own spinning mind, Bella's version of our history reads much like my own. It is one of shared desires and of discovery.

And in Alice's eyes, it is one that is destined to end in tears.

"It's like she refuses to even try to see it from my point of view."

I wipe away her tears with my thumb. "What d-did she say?"

"That I'm ruining my life, basically, getting involved in this kind of thing. Somehow it'll get out what we're doing, and it'll destroy my career. Like I have one," she scoffs, dragging a hand through her hair. "That you're just using me. That you're not good enough for me."

This last sentence resonates within me, but I push away the doubt that is always so near at times like this. Knowing that Bella needs me - that she has chosen to be here with me - I refuse to indulge the insecurity, simply nodding and kissing her forehead.

"And?" I urge.

"And she's wrong. She just … she made me so mad." Bella's tears are all but gone now, her hands balling into fists, and her eyes are clear. "We sort of went back and forth and back and forth. Every time I told her she didn't get it, she stormed off. Not that that's atypical or anything." She sniffs and raises her head. "At the end, she said something about how I shouldn't come crying to her when this all explodes in my face, and I … I just had to get out of there."

Bella's eyes meet mine, narrowing slightly with nerves as she takes her lip between her teeth. "Shit. I probably should have called. I mean, I don't know if you had plans or - "

I chuckle and kiss her temple. "I'm just g-glad you're here," I murmur, rubbing my hand up and down her side. "I was nervous for you. All afternoon, I kept thinking about you, wondering how it was going." Keeping my lips pressed softly to her skin, I ask, "Do you feel better now?"

She nods and leans into me. "You always make me feel better."

I smile, my chest glowing with something low and warm.

"Is there anything else I can d-do?" I wrack my brain for common courtesies and comforts, uncertain what, if anything, I can offer. "Tea? Back rub?" I grin. "Ffffflogger?"

She sits up straighter and makes a sound like a growl in the back of her throat, grinning lasciviously. "Now you're talking."

Uncertain if she is serious or not, I probe her eyes. There is something heavy to the moment, for all that we are each trying to make it light. Behind what we are saying, there is more.

There is a choice.

And it is not one that I ever want Bella to regret.

"You're sure?" I ask finally. "What if Alice is right?"

Bella's fingertips settle over my lips. "I'm sure. About you. About what I want to do with you."

Pushing past my own fragile heart and the soft ache that my own quiet words want to make, I ask one last thing. "And wwwwhen it … if it exp-p-plodes..."

She shakes her head fervently and cuts me off with a kiss. "Key word: if." Her mouth pushes once more against mine, and then she pulls away so we can see each other clearly. "Edward, I don't want to start a relationship assuming it's going to fail. If you're - if you have doubts..."

"No," I whisper firmly. "None."

Bella's lips curl up into a smile. "I mean, I know we haven't been together for long, but this … this feels right to me. If we have problems, we'll deal with those as we go. But if we're going to do this, I want todo it. I'm all in."

I search her eyes and touch her cheek. I want to be restrained, a voice of reason, even though my heart feels like flying, but there is no hiding the happy smile that wants to tear my cheeks apart. While I have never been a betting man, I know full well that everything that matters is already on the line.

Still grinning foolishly, I kiss her. And against her skin, I tell her, "Then I'm all in, t-too."

Her answering smirk is mischievous as she places a teasing peck against my nose.

"Good. Now what was that you were saying about a flogger?"

Chapter Text

For the better part of my adult life, I have approached my own lonely door with a sense of resignation. Even now, as I round the corner of the stairs, I can feel the defeat, heavy and dark and clutching at the parts of me that are still unwilling to believe that change can happen - even for me.

For years, the world outside was a frightening place, full of leering faces and conversations I didn't know how to have, and while my apartment was my refuge, it was my prison, too. The door was an entryway onto a floating island of stagnation. It led only to the same white walls and to so many hours spent with my lonely, spinning mind for company. It opened onto a life devoid of touch or sympathy. It was the symbol of everything that was wrong with me.

But it's not anymore.

Now, I approach that door with wonder, never knowing what I will find behind it.

I have given away the key to my sanctuary, and, in so doing, I have made of it a place that is worthy of prayer.

Because it is no longer a home to only me.

In the two weeks weeks since Bella's fight with Alice, she has been avoiding her roommate assiduously. More nights than not, she sleeps beside me in my bed, and on days when she is free to stay, we sit together in quiet contemplation, writing and working.

And, occasionally, kissing.

Instead of four white walls, I come home to pictures that Bella and I have picked out together, and to a photograph of us in a bright silver frame. I trip over notebooks and lean against pillows in vibrant hues, smelling the spices of her cooking and staring at her while she pretends she doesn't know that I am looking.

Walking up the stairs toward my apartment, I see not just a dull expanse of wood hiding a room that feels like a prison to me, but the wreath that Bella hung there.

And today, I see something more.

Sitting at the foot of the door, I find a plain, brown package, and I shift the bag of groceries to my hip so that I can bend down to reach for it. For its size, the box is light, its contents silent as I shake them. But it is only after I pick it up that I realize the package is not addressed to me.

Inside my apartment, I place the groceries in the counter and inspect the box more carefully. The return address is nondescript, and as I consider it more and more, I find my curiosity piqued.

"Bella?" I call out, uncertain if I expect an answer or not. At the resounding silence that meets me, I assume she is still at her apartment, and I quickly move to dial her number on my phone.

She answers on the third ring with a breathless, "Hey."

As normal as it is to hear her voice, I still cannot stop the vivid smile that paints my face. "Hey, b-beautiful."

"What's up?"

"Did you have something shipped here? There's a p-package addressed to you."

I hear a whispered curse and then a pause, followed by what I imagine to be the clicking of a door. More quietly now, her voice low and full of implication, she asks, "Did you open it?"

"No, of course not. It was addressed to you," I tell her. Something in her tone makes me mentally shift gears, and I hear my own voice dropping, too.

"Good boy."

I shudder slightly and lean back against the counter, my erection beginning to rise as if on command.

Her command.

"Is it for me, Mistress?" I manage to whisper.

"Of course, Pet. Do you want to see what it is?"

"Only if you want me to."

"Hmmm," she hums, as if she is thinking.

Over the past couple weeks, we have assumed these roles a handful of times, but we have not explored new territory. Mostly, we have stuck to positions and lines we know, testing how we can still meet our needs inside the softer bubble of intimacy that has come with our admissions of love. She's tied me up and fucked me and flogged me, and every stroke and touch has proven satisfying.

But I still want harder.

More.

"I don't suppose it could hurt anything for you to know. Go on."

With eager, slightly shaky hands, I fumble with the blade of a pair of scissors and slice along the tape. Inside, I find plain brown paper and plastic.

And another box.

"Mistress," I breathe, my heart racing and my cock throbbing. My eyes dance over the image on the box - the soft hips and curves. The black straps.

"What did you find, Pet?" she purrs.

"A harness."

"Mmm, yes. What kind of harness?"

"A … " My voice lowers even further. "A st-strap-on harness."

"Naughty boy. Keep going."

I know what I will find.

know.

And yet I'm still no less aroused.

Pulling out another crumpled wad of paper, I finally put my hand around the clam shell casing of the other item. As I lift it out, I can already see it, jutting proudly between my Mistress's hips. I can remember the feeling of her fingers inside me.

"Fuck," I whisper.

"All in good time, sweetheart. Tell me what else your mistress got you."

"A c-c-cock."

"Mmmhmmm. Tell me, Pet, when was the last time you came?"

My heart beats more erratically, and there's the familiar dizziness that always comes with admitting my shame. "This mmmmorning."

"Did my naughty boy touch himself?"

"Yes."

"What did you think about?"

"You, Mistress."

Always, always it is her.

"What was I doing to you?"

"Riding me."

"And what were you doing?"

"Sitting there, cuffed to the bed. Taking it. Loving it. B-begging you for more."

"I bet you were." Both our breathing has deepened, and I wonder if she will ask me to touch myself now. My hand goes instinctively to my erection, adjusting it inside my jeans and lingering slightly over the sensitive skin. "Are you hard now?"

"So hard, Mistress."

"Take your hand off your dick, Edward."

I gulp and jerk my hand away.

She laughs lightly. "Listen to me, Pet. I'm going to be stuck here at home tonight finishing up some work. I have a big deadline tomorrow," she says calmly. "But as soon as I turn my article in, I'm coming to your house. I'm going to tie you down and spank that perfect little ass of yours for being such a naughty, wanking little boy. And then you know what I'm going to do?"

My mouth is dry. "What?"

"I'm going to fuck you so good."

My cock twitches, the hand that is still holding the present my mistress has gotten for me nearly crushing the plastic in my grip.

I know exactly what she means when she says she is going to fuck me.

"Does that sound good to you, Pet?"

Terrified and thrilled, I answer, "Yes, Mistress. So good."

"Good. Now here's the catch. I don't want that filthy hand of yours on your prick again until then. And don't think about humping the sheets either. No coming at all until I see you. Think you can manage that?"

I moan slightly with dismay. Normally, to go a day without meeting my body's need would be no major hardship, but the images in my mind are not ones that will leave me easily. I know I will be hard until morning.

"Yes, Mistress," I croak. My eyes are closed and my breath tight.

"Alright, sweetheart. I know you won't disappointment me. It would be such a pity to have to punish you when I have such nice surprises planned for you."

"I won't."

As I stand there, panting and erect, Bella gives me a quick series of instructions about what to do with the items she has ordered so that we will be ready. I nod even though she cannot see, telling her audibly that I understand.

"Goodnight, Pet. Sweet dreams."

I know they will be sweet, indeed. That they will taste and smell of her pussy.

And that I will be aching all night long.

#~~#~~#

"Ugh, fuck Bella," I wheeze. Fully buried in her pussy, I hover over her, her ankles on my shoulders, and that alone should be enough to tell me this is not real.

I don't care.

In my mind and body, there is only wet sliding and hot flesh around me, power coursing through my muscles as I thrust hard. From below me, Bella is panting and flushed, her hands gripping hard at my hips.

I feel pressure behind my balls, the insistent need to come pushing me, but there is also something else.

Something hard.

"Bad, dirty boy," I hear, finding Bella now above me, only it is not her. While I see her face and hear her voice, she is dressed in leather and heels, black lipstick staining her teeth. Both she and the softer, more innocent woman below me are laughing, but I am still careening toward something.

The Bella below me cackles and smiles. "Who could love someone who can't even keep his dick out of his hand for one night?"

There's coldness and the terrifying sensation of the world falling away from me as I tear myself upward, fleeing the still-persistent clutches of a dream.

And then it's over.

I'm alone, stark naked and sweating and freezing in my bed, my fist clenched tightly around the erection that has scarcely flagged the entire night. Scrambling away from my own touch, I reflexively pull my hips back and open my fist, almost hyperventilating with panic until I check and find both the bed and my body dry.

I have not come.

I haven't failed her.

But I have touched myself.

There's a panging sting and a persistent loop of badgering, jeering voices in my mind. Thoughts of worthlessness and of discipline rush in, and I find myself reaching for my phone.

Though I want to call and confess my sins, I know that waking her would be even more of an imposition. Instead, my thumbs fly across the keypad.

Mistress, I woke up with my hands on myself. I'm sorry. So sorry. Please forgive me.

I return to the phone to my nightstand and rub my face with my hands. Eschewing the boxers that I must have torn off in the course of my dream as not adequately confining, I stagger out of bed and to my dresser, digging until I find one of the few pairs of briefs that I own. Tucking myself away, I regard both the bed and my self, sighing raggedly as I run my hands through my hair and decide that my sleeping mind cannot be trusted.

Out in the living room, dressed in rumpled pajamas, I turn on the light and pick up a book.

And then I read until it's light.

#~~#~~#

I wake up, hard and wanting, my legs thrown over the arm of the couch and my neck kinked. It is mid-morning, and there is something buzzing near my head. Rubbing my eyes, I reach for my phone, remembering my guilt and feeling my stomach fill with dread.

There are no preliminaries on the illuminated screen. Just three curt words.

Did you come?

My heart thunders, and I feel the war between the part of me that longs for her punishment and the part that would beg forgiveness. Swallowing, I answer truthfully.

No. I woke myself up just in time, I think.

For hours, there is no reply. I make coffee and try to work, thinking of anything but what Bella may have in store for me, and trying to forget the dream that nearly broke me. The statement I have always been waiting for - the one about how I am unworthy of her love - circles me, but I have the wherewithal now to try to fight it away.

I remind myself over and over that Bella knows everything. Every deep, dark secret. Every shameful desire.

And yet still, she chooses to love me.

My Bella loves me.

When my phone vibrates again, there's another message, and in its own way, it gives me my answer.

30 minutes, Pet. Be ready.

#~~#~~#

Following her instructions meticulously, I clear off my coffee table and set out her things. Everything has been assembled to the best of my ability, my fingers fumbling over silicone the likes of which I have never touched before, and which has the same shape as my own needy body. The little vibrator that fits into the front of the harness has fresh batteries, and my breath catches at the rough buzz I feel beneath my fingers as I test it. Beside everything else, I place the bottle of lubricant she left here the last time she penetrated me, my heartbeat racing at the memory and at the anticipation of pain. Burning.

And pleasure.

I know the pleasure my Mistress can bring me.

And so I trust her to love and not to violate me.

Removing all my clothing, I kneel on the carpet with my arms behind my body, facing away from the door. My erection, persistent and desperate, stands straight and hard. It is all I can do not to take my hand to it in search of clarity of mind and relief. Instead, I stay immobilized, bound only by the orders she has given me, and I wait.

After thirty unsatisfied years, I can wait another few minutes for her to touch me.

God, I hope she'll touch me.

Finally, I hear the sound of the door opening and of a lock clicking. My back grows straighter, my chin high but my eyes low as I listen. There is a faint sound of fabric rustling and then of footfalls.

And then there is leather. Soft, black leather.

The tension in my body is betrayed by my posture, my breathing shallow and my chest tight. The boots before me shift, but I do not raise my eyes above the place where they give way to lovely, pale knees and thighs. In stillness, I linger, hovering over something that will either break me or remake the barely held-together shards of my life as a full and solid whole.

Finally, after a period of time that has spread out like infinity, I hear a soft exhaling of air and the warm sensation of fingers rubbing soothingly at my scalp. I practically purr, my mind sinking deeply into acceptance and surrender.

My Mistress is here.

Unworthy as I am, my Mistress will take care of me.

"Look up, Pet."

I do, meeting the eyes I love, and finding them alive with a fire I only see in times like this. Bella stares down at me, glorious and tall, her breasts hidden by the black satin corset I love so dearly and her pussy exposed. I want to press my lips to the soft hair there and to use my tongue to seek out her softest flesh. I want to please her.

"Perfect," she whispers, twining her hands more roughly in my hair. "Have you been waiting long for me like this?"

I have no sense of time, so I shrug. "I would wait as long as I had to, Mistress."

She smiles wickedly. "And yet I hear you couldn't wait even one day before touching that pretty cock of yours."

My cheeks heat and I instinctively lower my gaze, only to feel her tug my hair almost painfully, willing my eyes back to hers.

"Tell me what happened, Pet. Tell me why you had to message me at three in the morning to tell me what your filthy hands had done."

My stomach roils, but I find the words. "I was d-dreaming, Mistress. Of you. When I woke up, I was t-touching myself."

"And how did that make you feel?"

"Dirty. Ashamed. I wanted to wait for you, Mistress. I wanted to be good."

She pauses. "But you didn't orgasm."

"No, Mistress. Please. Please forgive me. I'll - "

To my shock, she pulls my head back further and bends at the waist to kiss me. Her lips are lush and soft, her mouth firm. Unlike the kisses we share as lovers and equals, there is an edge to these, and it only makes me harder, knowing that she is in a mindset to be less than gentle with me.

To know that we will both get what we need.

Pulling away, leaving me breathless and aching, she presses one more closed-mouth kiss to the corner of my lips and smiles. "Then there's nothing to forgive, sweet thing. As for your dirty little hands, I think I can find something to do with them to show them who's in control here."

Relief floods me, and I shudder. I want to kiss her feet and drop lower. To lean my head against her thigh and never leave. "Thank you, Mistress. Thank you."

Her hand unwinds from my hair and traces a line down my cheek. Staring up at her expression, I find it contemplative, commanding and aroused. Wanting.

I cannot wait to sate her.

"But first..." Her voice trails off as she walks around me, stopping when she is standing at my back. I sigh at the feeling of her index finger tracing the leather around my neck, evoking our newest of so many rituals. A ritual I love.

In a softer, quieter voice, she asks me for confirmation, and I give it to her.

"You want this?"

"God, yes."

I will always, always want her.

In the same breath that I have spoken, her hands unclasp the leather cord. For the few seconds that it is absent, my skin sharply feels the loss, my body naked in a way I am no longer comfortable with. When I feel it again, I exhale with relief, shocked as always with how the metal feels cool on this side after she has flipped it. Bella refastens my collar, and I restrain myself from touching it, wanting confirmation that her love for me is now hidden against my skin while her ownership is proudly on display. I know that anyone who looked at me would see only her initial now.

I see myself through that lens, too.

I feel free.

"Thank you, Mistress," I whisper. She tugs once at the back of the collar to bring it closer to my throat.

"You're welcome, Pet." Returning to stand in front of me, she grins down at me wickedly. "Now, I think those hands of yours can start by dressing me."

Deep inside the space where she commands me, I do not let my mind drift to thoughts of clothes or to her leaving. Seeking clarification of what she wants of me, I simply follow her gaze to where it settles on the straps and silicone on the coffee table. She jerks her head toward it as further confirmation, pushing down slightly on my shoulder so that I sit back on my heels. One leather-clad foot comes to rest on my thigh, the toe of it just grazing my cock, and a soft, needy sound exits my throat at the contact.

Focusing as best I can with her touching me, I reach for the harness. It is awkward and bizarre, but knowing that she wants this makes me so, so hard. I separate the straps uncertainly, positioning it in a way that I hope is correct before holding out the hole for her first leg. She lifts her foot enough for me to slip the device over it, then sets it on the floor and places the other foot on my thigh. Once that side is also in place, I pull the harness up her calves and thighs, breathing heavily when I finally reach her sex.

Before I slide it home, I look up at her face. She is radiant, and I know that this is her favorite sort of high.

"May I?" I whisper huskily, and she nods. Touching gently at her lips, I spread them apart to let the interior piece of the harness penetrate her, wishing only that it was my body inside of hers instead of the silicone. Without asking for permission, I press one kiss to her clit and settle the harness over her, securing the final strap around her waist.

And then I look up.

She is my lover. My feminine goddess. My Mistress.

And she is erect.

My own cock throbs, and I try to swallow the high whine of need escaping my lips. But then there is silicone pressing against those lips.

"Kiss it," she murmurs.

I grimace and close my eyes, knowing that she wants this. Shaking and sinking and flying, I press my lips to the strange, fake penis between my Mistress's hips. To my surprise, my body shivers unconsciously, my eyes clenching tighter and something in the back of my mind screaming.

I am not sinking or floating. In the back of my thoughts, I am alert. Flailing.

"Open. Get it wet."

Still trembling slightly, I do.

Everything in my body tells me this is wrong, but still I do it. Unable to look, unable to breathe, I open my mouth and feel the cool of it pass between my lips. I almost gag and I feel faint, but I do it.

I hear memories of taunting in my ears, but I do it.

She withdraws, and I stay there, kneeling and not moving, until I feel her hand on my cheek. "Are you alright, baby?"

I just manage to breathe out, "Yellow."

I can't breathe, and I don't know why I'm saying yellow.

"Breathe, sweetheart. You have to breathe."

I suck in a great lungful but keep my eyes closed tightly.

"Look at me."

Even though I am shaking my head, I open my eyes. Instead of an erection in my face, I see only Bella's eyes, and they are pained. "It's me, Edward. Just me. You're just kissing me. It's not real."

"I know," I whisper.

Her eyes are intent, her mouth grim. "Talk to me. Tell me what you're feeling."

"I still want it," I blurt out unthinkingly. I do. I remember how she penetrated me the once. I remember how, once I got past my fear, it felt so, so good. "But please don't make me k-k-kiss it."

For a long moment, she stares at me, searching for something. She must find it eventually, because she nods. I feel her hand stroke warmly at my chin, and I sigh.

I'm safe.

My Mistress will take care of me.

Bending, she kisses me softly. "You OK to keep going?"

"Yes, Mistress." I need nothing more in this instant than this. I need to be hers and on my knees. "P-please. Please."

"OK, sweetie. Go kneel by the couch, OK?"

I can tell that she is shaken by the tenor of her voice, but I silently pray that we can do this. That we can get past my weakness, and that she will love me and hurt me and fuck me.

I want her to fuck me.

Her hands fall away from my face and she steps back so that I can shuffle around the coffee table and over to the couch. Still on my knees, I stare forward at the cushions, the tip of my cock almost even with the seat. When I flex, the head even brushes the fabric, and I watch in aroused fascination as a thin string of pre-come connects the cloth to my flesh.

My erection flexes again.

Even if I had her cock in my mouth, I'm a man.

Bella wants me as a man.

Soft fingers touch my neck, and I sink back down into the proper mindset to really feel and to really be owned. The leather cord drags along my skin as she pulls it back, the metal at the front of it warm when it touches my throat.

"I love seeing you in my collar," Bella says quietly. While it is low, her voice is all confidence and command again, and I exhale in relief. "You know why, Pet?"

I shake my head. I only know why it is special to me.

"Because it means you're mine." Her breath is warm on my ear, and I can almost feel her skin along my spine as her hand swats lightly at my ass. "Mine to touch. Mine to take care of. Mine to discipline." There's another stinging slap, and I moan. "Mine to fuck."

"Yes, Mistress. Please."

"Which one?"

"All of them. Everything. Please."

From behind me, Bella's hands wrap around my wrists, and she bends me forward slightly so that I rest with my elbows on the couch seat. "You're going to teach these naughty hands, OK, Pet? You're going to teach them not to touch what's mine when I say it's only for me."

"Yes, Mistress."

"They're not going to leave this seat. You touch your dick once and I'll stop touching you or fucking you. You understand?"

"Yes." I nod insistently. I know I can be good.

"Good boy. Now, about that other little wank of yours yesterday."

We slip easily into this comfortable territory. The sad fact of my life is that I am always masturbating, so many lonely years' worth of behavior proving impossible to break. I don't want to stop, really, and Bella has agreed. Instead, my need to touch and to come has become just another constant in our play. An excuse for discipline.

A reason for her to spank me.

The stinging blows across my ass bloom and blossom, my voice loose and my arousal hard. I thank her and I moan, and in my pleasure, I practically fuck the couch.

But I do not move my hands.

With each slap, I drift higher, the uncomfortable sensation of my mouth around a dildo fading as I give myself over completely. I scarcely even know what sounds I am making, only that the pain is exquisite and that I love the woman who is giving it to me. The woman who is teaching me to be the man that I am learning to be.

"Thank you, Mistress," I whimper again. Her hand falls against my ass one last time, and then I feel her absence in the heated skin.

But she's not done with me.

"Good boy," she murmurs as she returns her hands to my flesh. Her fingers are slick now and probing as her lips trail up my spine. With her leg, she nudges my knees apart until I am completely exposed. When she touches the sensitive flesh between my cheeks, I groan, feeling the intense strangeness of a single fingertip pushing in.

"Such a good, good boy."

I can do this. I want this.

She's my Mistress and she loves me and she'll push me.

And we'll be OK.

The world dissolves into nothing but the low burn of my body opening in ways it doesn't understand and the soft friction of my hips against the cushion. Bella is murmuring soft and low, encouragement and pleasure and her happiness with me, and every word of it makes me sink deeper. My hands, free but bound, long to touch her hip or my own wanting flesh. I keep them steady, though.

I can do this.

"My good, good boy."

The pressure inside my body increases, and I groan. The sound is tortured to my own ears, full of want and lingering just on the edge of pain. But then she goes just a little bit deeper, and the sounds coming out of my throat are suddenly all about want.

All about need.

I need to come.

"Mistress, please. Please." I am all whispered mumbles and begging, and it is almost as if my orgasm is being pushed out of me from the place she touches deep inside. "Please fuck me."

Everything stops. Everything. In a single, crystal second, there is only my breathing and hers and my body, suddenly empty, my abdomen tingling and the blood in my cock like it's own living pulse. Instead of the warmth of her touch, there is something cool and slick resting just like so between the cheeks of my ass, pressing. Just barely pressing.

I want.

"You ready, Pet?"

All I can do is nod and keen, and then there is only my body opening. Burning. Taken.

Inch after inch, I feel myself slowly being penetrated, and it's wrong and right. It hurts and it's good.

It's so good.

"Mistress," I moan. When she is finally seated inside me, I nearly sob at the fullness and pressure and the warmth of her hips against my backside.

"Good boy. My sweet, good boy."

I feel her hand reach between us, my hips moving slightly forward to accommodate her reach, pushing my cock harder against the seat, and I shudder. Before I feel it, I hear the low buzz, and I cry out as it starts to move through my body. My Mistress lets out a sigh of relief, sinking just a little deeper into me. The sounds of her pleasure only serve to further excite me, and I am all nerves and sensation. All want and silicone and skin.

Even I can barely understand my pleas as she pulls back and surges forward, long strokes, and every one of them pushes against the part inside of me that is only sex and need. I never knew my body could do this, and inside the pleasure and the discomfort and my own mind's soft rebellion, there is only sinking. Floating.

I just needed my mistress to teach me.

"Please. Please."

"Tell me what you need, Pet."

"Please touch me."

"Not tonight, Pet."

I growl in frustration, but then she's rocking my body forward harder with deeper thrusts. Each time her hips meet my ass, she groans and presses my cock harder against the couch, and I'm careening forward into something deeper than I've ever known. It's not her touch or her pussy, but it's enough.

It's her inside me.

"Oh, Mistress, oh," I pant, my eyes snapping open in a panic at the sudden feeling rising up in me. "I can't. I have to."

"Go ahead, Pet. Let me hear you."

When I finally come, I scream. There is blackness and light and colors and so much pressure from so deep inside me. There is her body and my body, and I don't know where one ends and one begins, only that I never, ever want it to stop.

For a moment, it seems like it might not, the spasms still rocketing through me.

When I finally begin to return to myself again, there is come everywhere and the aching feeling of Bella still inside me. Then there are her own cries as she pushes her hips against me one last time, holding them steady as she shudders and wraps her arms around my shoulders, biting down hard at my neck.

And in the final instants, as she is coming, I feel her fingertips rest against my collar. And it's at that - that one final touch - that I collapse forward.

Filled. Loved. Complete.

Chapter Text

"You really don't get off on that kind of stuff, do you?" Bella asks. Over the phone, I find that I am having a hard time trying to feel out her tone. There is a wistfulness that could be disappointment in her voice, but it could also be something else.

A few days have passed since she asked me to dress her in a harness and a cock. Since she fucked me.

Since I safe-worded.

And, try as I might to focus, nothing about the night has grown any more clear.

I sigh loudly. "On what stuff?"

"I don't know. The sort of … humiliation aspect of it all, I guess?" Through the speaker, I hear shuffling and the slight pause that tells me she is thinking. "Like I said, I've been doing research on the whole, you know, BDSM thing. If that's where this is going. The psychology of it is really interesting, and I just … I want to understand what you get out of it."

I laugh out loud. "I'd scarcely know where to begin, explaining that. There's t-too much."

"So. Try."

Rolling over onto my back, spread out on my bed, I search for the words that can encompass everything it makes me feel when we are together like that. "I like … not being in control. Having all the decisions mmmade for me. I like trusting you."

Bella hums in understanding.

Struggling still for words, I try to go on. "The p-props and things … they just add more to it, you know? Like when I'm t-tied up or something. It's trusting you more. Being more powerless. I like feeling like I hhhhave to do these things for you, when they've always felt so wrong when I just wanted them for myself." I lick my lips and pause for breath. "I love pleasing you. It's … it's so … ssssexy."

In an even quieter voice, I push on. "I lllove that you use me."

My face is hot, and while I would much prefer that Bella was here, touching me, I am also relieved that she cannot see me. The mess of my words hangs in the air, any confidence I might have mustered in the process of speaking slowly evaporating.

But in her voice, I hear only acceptance.

Acceptance and arousal.

"And the spanking part?"

My mouth is dry, and the thin haze of desire that always accompanies these sorts of discussions begins to flare. "Would you think I was p-perverted if I said it felt good?" I murmur quietly. "It … it t-turns me on." True to form my hand sneaks down into my boxers, creating light, warm pressure on swollen flesh.

I can almost feel her eyes roll. "Of course I wouldn't think you were a pervert." She pauses briefly. "Though it only turns you on up to a certain point."

"Yeah." I remember the couple of times she has intentionally hit too hard, silent rebukes that have spoken so clearly to me, and I wince. "Though even when it's t-too much and it really hhhhurts, it's still … it's bad but there's something g-good to it, too. It's hard to explain." I tug slightly on my balls and remove my hand from my underwear, shifting the phone to hold it closer against my jaw. "I hhhate disappointing you, but it's like you p-punish me and it's … it's OK, you know?" I laugh a little.

And it's the laugh that I hide behind as I speak the truth. "Maybe I'm just a mmmmasochist?"

The shrug in her voice is clear. "Probably."

If anything, my body tightens, my erection growing harder with her nonchalance and with the growing certainty that even my most shameful secrets are not secrets from her.

"So," she says thoughtfully. "Mostly the powerlessness and the pain play?"

"I g-g-guess," I manage.

"That's kind of what I thought." She considers for a moment and takes on a more clinical tone. "Those are big parts of it for a lot of people, from what I've read. Supposedly, some people really get turned on by more, um, like, humiliation, though. You don't."

Again, I laugh. "B-Bella, I hhhhumiliate myself enough. I don't need you to do it for me."

"Edward," she says sourly. "You know I hate when you talk about yourself like that."

"I'm sorry." I'm not, though. I always feel like the one who is stumbling and stuttering and waiting for the sounds of jeering. "Just … no, I d-don't need that in my sssex life."

For a minute, there is silence on the line, and I am ready to ask her what she gets out of it all when she speaks again.

"It's actually kind of a relief that you 'yellow'ed, as weird as that might sound."

My heartbeat slightly quickens. "Oh?"

"Yeah, I just … there have been other times when you've seemed uncomfortable, but you haven't said anything. I've had to slow things down or change gears on my own, and it's sort of … nerve-wracking?" She hesitates, and I can hear the parting of her lips through the silence. "I mean, I obviously get off on controlling you, but it's a lot of responsibility, you know? Worrying I'm going to push you over an edge someday. It makes me feel a lot better knowing you'll tell me when something really isn't right."

There's a dim buzz, like air rushing roughly past my ears, and I'm dizzy. "I d-d- … I d-don't know what happened," I whisper. The confession hangs hot on my lips, and my eyes squeeze closed.

"You were uncomfortable."

"Very."

Her voice becomes softer, and even sitting here alone, I feel safe. "Edward, you don't have to tell me, but did anything ever … happen to you?"

I feel the implication, sharp and freezing in my chest.

"Nnnno," I tell her honestly. "Nnnnothing like th-that. I guess … I g-guess …" For a few moments I simply breathe. "I … I've never been c-cool or mmmmanly, Bella. I was the sk-k-kinny kid with the st-stutter who wanted a girl to approach him. No one wanted to t-touch me." My chest seizes at memories of jeering. Of angry faces and of voices that make me want to wretch. "I g-guess you can only be called a c-c-c-cocksucking fffffffffaggot so many t-times before you decide that's nnnnnnot something you ever want to b-be. Especially when you're st-straight."

"Oh, Edward."

"It's ffffine. I'm ffffine." I'm not. I'm curled up in a ball, my legs close to my chest, and it feels like the room's too big.

"No, you're not. Fuck, I knew I shouldn't have done this on the phone. What are you doing tonight?"

"Nnnnnothing."

As if I ever do anything.

"OK, I'll be there in ten."

"You d-don't - "

"Yes, I do, so deal." She pauses. "I love you."

"I llllove you, too."

#~~#~~#

I am still on my bed when I hear the tell-tale knocking on my door. I do not get up, but it doesn't matter. Within moments, Bella has let herself in, and then there is warmth and a weight on the bed beside me, a head on my shoulder and an arm around my waist.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," she murmurs. With soft lips, she presses kisses to my forehead and mouth, and bit by bit I allow my body to unfurl.

"It's fine. I p-promise." Everything seems clearer with her arms around me, and I even think I mean it this time when I tell her I am fine.

"I just never know," she explains. "Sometimes it seems easier for you to talk about this stuff over the phone, and sometimes it just feels like you need me."

I chuckle and breathe, "I always need you."

"I know." We kiss again, and it is like a sigh, tension leaving my body, and I feel like it is leaving hers, too. When we finally part, she retreats to rest her head against my neck, our hands entwined as we sit against the headboard, side by side. "What you said before ... About not being manly? You know I don't see you as any less of a man because of what you like to do with me, right?"

I do know. And yet hearing her say so destroys me. "Yeah," I whisper, my voice cracking. "It's just that ssssometimes it's hard to believe."

"Do you see me as any less of a woman because I like to be in charge?" Her voice is open, but there is an air of defensiveness there, too.

"Of c-course not. It just makes you the sssexiest woman alive."

She turns, waiting until she can catch my eye. "And what you do … how you are … to me, it just makes you sexier, too. You see?"

In spite of myself, I smile. "I d-don't know if I'll ever really get it, but yeah. I know."

"I guess I can work with that," she sighs. Her fingers unthread from between mine, but she does not release my hand, simply turning my palm up and beginning to trace its lines. Uncertainty creeps into her voice when she speaks again. "Is it … that stuff that made you 'yellow' … is that something you'll never do, or more something that feels uncomfortable?"

I think, closing my eyes and drifting back to the feel of plastic flesh between my lips. "Vvvvery, very uncomfortable."

She nods and bites her lip. Sighing, she says, "That stuff I read online was right. This is where the whole being your Mistress and being your girlfriend thing gets hard."

I swallow and look at her, feeling a tugging sensation deep in my chest. Squeezing my hand once more around hers, I open my eyes to find myself looking straight into warm, vulnerable brown ones.

Quietly, she explains, "Sometimes, all I want to do is protect you. Keep you safe. Love you." Lifting our joined hands to her lips, she kisses just below my thumb. "But the more 'rawr' side of me also really wants to push you, you know?"

Somehow, I think I do.

At my nod, she leans more deeply into me and looks down at our hands. "I'll probably ask you to do it again then. Someday. When I think you're ready."

I shiver but choke out a quiet, "OK."

"I won't make you put it in your mouth for a while, and I don't imagine us using the strap-on all the time or anything. Hot as it is, Lord knows I'd miss your cock way too much for that," she muses, smiling briefly before her expression grows more serious once more. "And I don't want to humiliate you. I get that that's not a turn-on for you. I just … I want you to get past all that you know? See it as part of me. See how doing what I ask pleases me."

When all I can do is nod, she turns to me, swinging a leg over my hips until suddenly she is straddling my thighs. Taking my head between her hands, she places one firm kiss against my lips before speaking.

And as she speaks, it is like she really knows me. Like she sees right through me.

And like in spite of that, miraculously, she loves what she sees.

"You can always safe word, you understand? No retributions. No judgment. But other than that, if you hesitate, or refuse, I'm going to punish you. OK?"

"OK, Mmmistress," I murmur, but the end of the word is swallowed by her kiss.

From there, we don't end up talking for a while.

#~~#~~#

I lie at the foot of the bed, naked, with my head resting on her thigh. Although I have already come once inside her mouth, Bella has stoked the embers of desire back to a low-simmering fire.

And she has been keeping me on the edge for hours now.

They have not been wasted hours, though. Alternating with sucking and touching me, Bella has lain on her back and gently prodded me as I have licked and rubbed. She has come once against my tongue and once to the motion of her own slender hand on her clit, with my fingers curled inside her and her voice wrapped around my name.

She has said, "Too much," and "Not enough," and I have ignored it all.

Holding the tiny silver vibrator that had been embedded in the harness she wore as she fucked me, I rub cool metal across her clit and dip just inside before circling again.

And then, kissing wetly at her thigh, I turn it on.

"Oh, baby," she whispers. Her body goes taut, lean and pale against my sheets, and I resolve that one day I will lick her every inch.

Never having used an instrument like this, I look for her cues and for her hands to guide me. I find that all the spots she likes to have me suck and tongue, she likes to have me touch like this as well. I learn that a softer pressure is better at first, but that as time goes by she wants more.

I want so, so much more.

"Do you have one of these at home?" I ask huskily.

"Yes," she pants, her body shuddering. "Fuck."

The eroticism of the image before me and of the image in my mind makes me throb against my hip. With scarcely the air in my lungs to get the sentence out, I manage, "Have you ever used it and thought about me?"

"God, yes. Oh. All the fucking time."

While we have spoken often of my own need to come when she is not around, this is new territory entirely. I shift so that my erection presses into the mattress below me and lick my lips. "It makes me so hard, thinking about that." I swallow. "What do you imagine? What am I doing?"

With her head propped up on a pillow, her chin tilted up and finger playing roughly at her breast, she groans. "All kinds of things," she whispers. "Usually, you're tied up or you're under me. You're saying the dirtiest things and begging me."

I recall my own vulnerability as she asked me what I liked about these things. Easing up on the vibrator and switching hands to relieve the way my fingers are growing numb, I drift down toward her entrance and circle the tip just inside.

I circle around the issue, too.

"You never fantasize about me on t-top of you?"

"Ung. Sometimes. That was so fucking hot when you did it that once."

"Why?"

Her eyes open slowly, focusing in on mine, but they are hazy. "Because you pushed yourself. You did it to please me."

I begin to tilt my hips slightly against the sheets. "I do everything to please you, Bella."

"I know," she moans as I drift back up toward her clit. "So good."

Looking at her pussy and not at her eyes, I push once more.

"Why?"

Her breathing is almost frantic now. "Why what? Oh, fuck."

I can feel her thighs tensing, and the hand that isn't torturing her nipple drifts down to guide me, pressing slightly against my thumb. Closing my eyes and opening my heart, I whisper, "Why do you like d-doing those things to me?"

"Jesus. You expect me to think now? Oh." She is panting and moaning, right on the edge, and I fight against her grip to push the toy lower, ignoring her where she is most wanting and needy. She growls in frustration but doesn't fight me. "Fuck, Edward, it's everything. It's you needing me. It's being in control of everything. Making you hurt. Making you come." She draws in a shuddering exhale. "Please."

"More," I insist.

"God, it's such a fucking rush. Seeing you like that. Knowing you're giving yourself to me." She pauses and breathes, relaxing the muscles of her abdomen and tensing them again. "Knowing you love me even when I'm a hard-assed, sadistic bitch. That you love me even more because of it."

"Yes," I moan, but it sounds like a hiss. The sheets beneath me are damp with pre-come, my nerves screaming for touch and for release.

"It's power," she pants, and I know her body well enough by now to know that she's too close. That I can't push this much further. As if on cue, she whines and pushes her hips up more forcefully. "Please, Edward. Please."

Shivering at the sound of her begging me, I switch back to my dominant hand and press the silver tip just where she wants it. Where she needs it. Whispering my own silent prayer inside my head, I push a single finger from my other hand inside and melt to the feeling of slick walls clenching around me, her low, breathy voice circling. Orbiting.

Fucking shrieking.

Her orgasm seems to go on forever while mine stays just out of reach. She's beautiful. Perfect. So sexy, and my name is on her lips as she is screaming.

She's screaming for me.

As the rhythmic pulsing of her sex begins to ease, she is babbling. "Oh, baby, baby please push inside. Please. Make it good, baby. Please."

Near drunk on the sound and the need inside my body, I let her rip the vibrator from my hands, leaving the room silent in the wake of its buzzing, and then I am crawling up her skin, the swollen head of my erectionjust there. And she is whispering, "Push inside."

With a whimper of need, I do.

And it's astounding.

Hot. Wet.

Safe.

"I love you, Bella," I murmur, burying my face in the skin of her neck and feeling her all around me and beneath me. She's beneath me. I'm already too close, and there is some memory swimming.

But it's not here. That memory of failure isn't me. Not anymore.

Not now.

"Come, baby," she whispers. "Just let go. Let me make it good."

I groan and grit my teeth and move within her, above her, heat and liquid and sex and love. Something important nags at my consciousness, keeping me just barely inside my skin. "But you - "

"No, you," she insists, and I melt. There's nothing but the sound of our bodies connecting, until, so quietly, Bella breathes, "Let me be what you need."

And as I let go, coming so wet and so hard, I groan out over and over again, "You are. God, Bella, you are."

Chapter Text

Pulling into a parking spot near the back of the lot, I silence the engine and place both my hands at the top of the steering wheel, resting my head between them and breathing as deeply as I can. My lungs are still tight, though, my breaths shallow, and as my stomach drops, I clench my eyes.

Bella's words drift over me, evoking the memory of her hands against my neck as she straightened out my shirt and tucked my collar just beneath it, kissing my lips softly before staring intensely into my eyes. "You can do this, sweetheart. I know you can."

And then quietly, she'd plead, "For me?"

Sitting up straighter, I pull one hand from the steering wheel to touch my own fingertips to the ropes of leather around my neck, holding the steel between my forefinger and my thumb until it no longer feels cold.

"Anything," I'd said.

And it is true.

Taking one long inhale, I pull my keys from the ignition and open the door, stepping out and squaring my shoulders. As I walk, I feel Bella's confidence become my own, trying my best to see myself through the eyes of love instead of through my own self-disgusted ones. Instead of pale skin and too-obvious ribs, I see her hands on my chest, her nails digging into my flesh as she moves over me. Instead of greasy, hopeless hair, I feel the way her fingers run through it, grasping hard and scratching my scalp as I suck her sex into my mouth.

And as I exercise my jaw and tongue, I hear the way my words sound when I am with her. I hear how I can speak to her for hours without tripping over my own broken voice.

I can do this.

For her.

For me.

I can break through another level of the isolation that has not so much kept me safe as held me down.

As I open the door and step inside, my eyes scan the bar, darting from one person to the next. It isn't crowded here tonight, I'm glad to find, but still it takes me a while to see the open face smiling at me, the hand waving. With my approach, Jasper turns back to the bar and signals to the bartender. I squeeze between two people to pull back a stool, arriving just in time to hear him say, "Another Sam Adams for me, and a scotch on the rocks for my friend here." He turns to me and slaps a hand against my shoulder. "Right, Edward?"

I smile in spite of myself, surprised that he remembers. "Sounds perfect," I agree.

And even that small victory - those two short words uttered easily, without a tick or hesitation - emboldens me.

Jasper seems to notice, too, his grin widening as he stands to grasp my hand, releasing it to dig in his wallet as the man returns with our drinks. I reach for my wallet, but Jasper waves me away. "You get the next round," he insists, and I nod. We clink glasses like normal people, and I settle back on the stool as I tip the glass back and take a sip. I roll it around in my mouth for too long, grateful for the excuse not to speak, then relish in the burn as I swallow it down.

I glance back at Jasper to find him facing forward but turned slightly toward me as he stares at his beer contemplatively. For a minute, neither of us says anything. The silence doesn't feel awkward yet, but I know that it won't be long before it will. I clear my throat and take another drink, bracing myself against the bar and thinking once more of the moments just before I left my apartment.

As she had stepped away from me, I'd asked Bella why it was so important for me to go out with her friend's boyfriend, and she'd rolled her eyes at me, knowing I was looking for any excuse to decline. But as things always are with her, I had also been fishing for a compulsion to accept.

For her to push me to do exactly what I both wanted and feared to.

"Because," she'd said quietly. "A, you need more friends. B, because Jasper likes you and wants to be your friend." She'd paused to kiss me, placing both her hands on my shoulders and lifting an eyebrow conspiratorially. "And C, because when he reports back to Alice how much he likes you, it will make continuing to live in an apartment with her less torturous for me. Okay?"

I'd nodded and bent to kiss her one last time before heading on my way. "Okay."

With that thought in mind, I turn on my bar stool and set my glass down, the ice cubes clinking comfortingly as I clear my throat to speak. "So how are you?"

"Good. Real good," he says, as if this is the most natural thing in the world. For him, it probably is.

"Alllllice?" I squeeze my nails into my palm at the way her name will not escape my lips and try not to wince.

Jasper only chuckles, though. "She's … well, she's the same as ever."

In the pause that follows this statement, I do not supply my own adjectives. Alice and I have only seen each other in passing since the incident, but her glare has grown no less cold, her eyes no less accusatory. While she has spoken no more of her anger or her disgust for what I am and what I ask Bella to do to me, everything she feels is clear every time she looks at me. In my agitation, I hum and suck an ice cube into my mouth.

"Yup," Jasper says, laughing at my silence. "That about sums it up."

I sigh and crunch down on the ice, shattering it satisfyingly between my teeth. Shrugging, I try to be nice. But it isn't easy. "I d-don't really know her. But I'm glad you two are doing well. You ssssseem happy."

"We are," he agrees. "But I know how to deal with her, and even I think she's been being a huge bitch recently."

I almost spit my scotch across the bar. As is, I cough, hard and rough, the choking sounds growing louder when Jasper slaps my back. The ensuing gulp of scotch only makes my throat burn hotter, but it is alright. When I catch my breath, I turn to him with an incredulous look on my face, shock written over everything, and it makes him laugh.

"Take my word for it, man. The longer you're with a girl, the more you realize that occasionally you just have to call it like you see it. I love that woman, but sometimes … " He pauses to tilt his beer back. "… sometimes even I can scarcely handle her."

It is utterly inconceivable to even try to think of calling Bella a name like that, and not only because she would stripe my ass red for it when I confessed it to her. Unable to empathize, I simply shake my head and laugh quietly. "Alice can be a bit mmmmuch," I admit. Uncomfortable dwelling on it, I shift the subject. "How long have you two been together?"

"Practically forever. Years."

I raise my eyebrows but say nothing. After a few months, I am already itching for more with Bella, for commitment and shared spaces and lazy mornings, always spent waking in the same bed. I cannot imagine going years in uncemented, undefined companionship. But I know full well that I am not one to judge.

"It was casual for the longest time, though," he continues, as if sensing the questions I am not asking. "Alice has …" he stares at his beer for a moment, "… issues. With commitment. We've only been exclusive for maybe the last eight or nine months."

My surprise is apparent. "Were you seeing other p-people?"

"No. But we had the right to." He winks. "Sometimes, freedom is all in a girl's mind. And Alice wasn't ready to be tied down yet." He clears his throat as if hiding his own private joke. "Well, you know. Relationship-wise. Or any other way for that matter."

My face blushes hotly, and I do not come back up for air again until I have drained my drink, my hand already raised to order another one.

"Listen, Edward," Jasper begins, but I interrupt.

"Another scotch," I tell the bartender and turn to Jasper. "You wwwant another?" Jasper sighs and nods, finishing his beer and setting it down. After I have ordered, he tries again to speak to me, entirely undeterred.

"Hey," he insists.

I close my eyes and breathe before opening them again, ready for an onslaught and uncertain why I came. Bella's entreaty echoes back to me. 'For me?' she'd said.

For her, I sigh and rotate on my seat, blood rushing back to the angry crescents my nails are making in my palms. It hurts, but as ever, that pain is grounding.

Using that sensation to anchor me, I focus on what Jasper is saying.

"I mean, we don't have to talk about any of that stuff if you don't want to," he prefaces. "Though I don't mind if you do. As a therapist, I'm sex-positive in my practice, and I'm sex-positive personally. Nothing that two people do consensually and lovingly bothers me. I just … I wanted you to know that. That Alice's hang-ups aren't mine."

There is not enough air in the entire bar for me to be able to breathe. But I manage to somehow anyway. "Wwwhat did she t-t-tell you?" I choke out.

"Not much, and I don't believe half of it anyway. Besides, if you want me to know any of it, I'd prefer you tell me yourself. If you don't, that's okay. Just realize that it's fine by me. Whatever you and Bella get up to, it doesn't affect me, and it has no bearing on what I think of you guys as a couple."

I nod and wheeze, but my breath is coming more freely now.

And it only strikes me then just how freeing it is to have someone know.

And to know that they are not disgusted by me.

"Thanks," I manage. "I d-don't really talk about that stuff." I laugh humorlessly. "I d-don't really talk at all, though."

Jasper snorts. "Could have fooled me."

My eyes dart up to him. If his words are a joke, it is lost on me. Unlike the derision I am accustomed to whenever conversation floats toward the uncomfortable subject of my broken speech, his expression is open; there is nothing mean or insulting about him. And at that realization, I relax minutely.

I receive my new drink and pay the bartender with my best effort at a smile, difficult as it is at the moment with how raw I feel. I admire the glass briefly, holding it up and then shifting it in my hands to hear the ice cubes clink. For a few minutes we do not speak, but the quiet is somehow comfortable.

Somehow, it's easy.

"Thanks," I finally manage. "Fffor saying it's okay. Not that I expect anyone's ap-p-pproval. But it's, um … nice to hear." My voice is tight, and there is sweat on the back of my neck. This is as close to admitting what Bella and I do to another person as I have ever come before, and it is frightening, but it is also a relief.

"No problem, man. To each his own, right?"

I nod and grin against my glass, but then I think of Alice, and how, to her, an individual's desires are not his alone. They are open to ridicule. Derision.

"If only your g-girlfriend could see it that way," I mutter and grip my scotch a little tighter.

Jasper sighs. "Alice has her own issues. Don't let them get to you."

"It's not like I have much choice," I scoff. "She's making my g-girlfriend miserable."

He waves his hand. "She and Bella have been driving each other crazy for decades, best I can figure. They'll get over it eventually."

I consider that briefly and frown. While I am not so familiar with their dynamic, their current spat seems like more than some small thing they will get over quickly. "They fight like this all the time?"

"Not all the time, but Alice is … quick to form judgments, and Bella never backs down. It can get tense in that apartment, is all I'm saying. And when they get mad, it lasts a long time."

I nod, smiling at Jasper's recognition of my lover's tenacity. Finally, I find my own courage to ask the question that is really bothering me. "If you don't mind my asking … what is Alllice's p-problem, anyway?" I hear myself and wince. "I mmmmmean -"

Jasper just laughs. "No, it's fine. I know." Sighing and shaking his head, shifts his beer around and plays with the rings it leaves on the bar. "It's not really my story to tell, you know? But Alice is … The thing is, she's really not secure in her own sexuality, I think . She has her own ideas of what's okay and what isn't, and those ideas are not broad at all. When I suggested getting into some more, um, adventurous stuff over a year ago she shut me down. Immediately. Wouldn't even consider it."

My throat tightens, but I grunt my understanding. As someone who has never asked a woman to do what I want, it is uncomfortable to think of speaking such desires to a long-time lover only to be shot down. Jasper doesn't seem upset, though.

"I mean, it wasn't a big deal to me in the first place. I, um …" he says, stopping to clear his throat. "While I like to experiment, it's not important. Sex is sex and good sex is better than bad sex, but other than that, I'm not picky. I don't need anything in particular to make me happy." He glances meaningfully at me and then away. "But I know that that's not true for everyone."

At his words, memories of terrible, unfulfilling sex and failure push at my consciousness, but they do not pierce it. They can't anymore - not when I know what it is to be happy with a partner who knows exactly what I need.

"I nnnever knew," I admit quietly. My eyes do not leave my glass as I speak of things that I thought should always be secret, but which now I feel like I can give voice to. "I d-didn't know how good it could be."

Jasper's rough guffaws ring out in the space, but the affirming clap of his shoulder on my arm reassures me. He is not laughing at me.

"Well said, man. Well said. And it just gets better, you know? When you find the right girl and everything lines up?" His smile is broad when I look up, and I realize, suddenly, that I understand his expression. That he is happy for me. "When it's with someone you love, there is nothing in the world better than getting exactly what you need."

And I know. I know, indeed.

#~~#~~#

My apartment is dark when I get home, and my shoulders drop slightly, disappointed but not surprised to find that Bella is not there.

Glancing at the clock, I find that the hour is much later than I'd known. Jasper and I stayed at the bar for another couple of rounds, shifting from difficult topics like love and sex to easier ones as the night wore on. I was surprised to find our tastes in music and books to be similar, our affiliations to local sports teams much the same, and by the time we parted, my voice had grown steady, my shoulders square. I'd felt normal.

I'd felt like I had a friend.

Still, as I arrive home, there is a fatigue in my mind and a tightness to my bones. Riding high on the victory as I am, there is little about social encounters that does not exhaust me, and I find myself tense.

I want to relax.

I want Bella to relax me.

Closing the door, I move to turn on a light and remove my shoes, but before I can, I find myself stumbling, tripping over something. "Fuck," I grumble as I catch myself on the wall.

In the same moment that I realize I have tripped over a woman's shoe, I hear the voice echoing out from the back room. "You okay, babe?" And it is then that I catch the dim glow radiating out from around the corner.

From my bedroom.

I straighten, immediately beaming as I call out, "I'm fine," and hurry through taking off my jacket and shoes. Making my way quickly through the apartment, I push open the half-closed door, stopping before I can step through as the sight before me takes my breath away.

Sitting on my bed, dressed in a plaid, flannel nightshirt, wearing reading glasses, her hair tied up in an inartful ponytail at the back of her head, is Bella.

My Bella.

And in this moment, seeing her there, completely uncomposed and simply reading, I feel like I have never loved anything or anyone more in all my years. I feel like I have never, ever been this happy.

She lifts her eyes from her book to meet my lovestruck gaze, her eyebrow and the corner of her lip both lifting questioningly, her brow furrowing when I do not speak. "You okay?"

Instead of answering, I crawl up and onto the bed, climbing up her body and taking her book from her hands. Feeling so much that my chest aches, I pull the sheet just slightly back and put my mouth to her stomach over the awful, shapeless flannel shirt that I want her to wear every night. I want her to be this comfortable with me. In my bed. Always.

And I kiss and kiss and kiss. Insistently, tickling her sides as I go, I make my way up her body with my mouth and hands until I hover over her, straddling her thighs and looking at her surprised, laughing expression adoringly.

"Good night?" she asks, and I can feel her trepidation.

"Good night," I agree, nodding, my fingertips trailing up and down the center of her chest. I angle my head downward and press my lips to the soft, fragrant skin of her neck from her collar bone up to her ear. "Great night, now." Pulling back, I cup her cheek with my hand. "I didn't think you'd be here."

She smiles unselfconsciously and places her hand on my hip. "Of course I am. You think I could wait until tomorrow to hear about your man date?"

I roll my eyes, hovering so close, my lips nearly brushing hers as I breathe. "Man date?"

"Yup. The epic bromance." She giggles, lifting her arms to clasp her hands behind my neck. "So?"

"It was good," I murmur as I lightly stroke the skin at the open collar of her shirt. "But not as good as you. In my bed. Wearing the most errrrrotic clothing ever."

She flushes, and I can feel her trying to retreat, so I shift, keeping her from pulling back and pressing my body, hard and wanting, against hers. "I mmmean it," I purr as I drag my nose along her cheek. "I'd want you in a burlap sack. And you," I pause to kiss her at the base of her throat, "here," kiss, "in my bed," kiss, "in this shirt," kiss, "is the most arousing thing I've ever seen."

Bella laughs heartily and closes her arms more tightly around me, leaning her head back, leaving even more of her neck for me to drag my open lips across. "You're crazy."

"I know," I murmur, tracing a soft line with my mouth to hers. "Still love me?" I ask, barely breathing.

I've never asked her to say this to me before.

Her eyes grow soft. "Of course," she whispers. When her fingertips drift down to touch the word 'beloved' on my collar, it makes my chest glow and my erection throb.

Leaning down, I finally take her lips with mine. And there, in her arms, it's like I'm home.

#~~#~~#

As it grows close to midnight, I find myself in an undershirt and boxers, reading, too. Instead of making love, we have simply sat and talked and then, as we each grew more tired, read. I have told Bella as much as I can about my night out, and she seems satisfied enough at the progress I have made in forging a friendship with Jasper. Turning the pages, I reach out blindly to stroke her shoulder, loving the warmth of her body beside me, even if it is through a layer of flannel. She hums and places her hand over mine, squeezing it tightly as she closes her book.

I read faster, trying to get to the end of the section, but the feel of Bella rolling toward me, draping herself against my side and nibbling gently on my ear is too distracting. And much more interesting. Marking my place, I set the book aside and turn toward her, catching her up in my arms.

"Sleepy?" I ask.

"Yeah. You don't mind, do you?" She gestures down, and my hard-on, finally having subsided, notices her attention but consents to remain mostly down. It is rare that we go to bed without making love on the nights when one or the other of us stays over, but somehow I do not mind. If anything, it is just a reminder, much like the nightshirt and the glasses, that this is real.

That while we are not, in any classic sense, living together, we are living. Together.

"Not at all," I murmur and kiss her cheek. Releasing her with one arm, I reach out to turn off the light, leaving the room dark but for the dim glow of streetlamps bleeding in through the shades over the window.

She snuggles down more deeply and yawns, her hand splayed out across my chest. "Oh," she says sleepily. "I almost forgot. Lee emailed me again today. We still haven't gotten back to him about that thing he invited us to next Saturday. The munch."

Bella has broached this subject with me a couple of times before, and I have expressed my willingness to go, but I have not been able to hide my uncertainty. Tonight, though, I feel emboldened, remembering Jasper's words.

I know that not everyone will think us strange.

I know that not everyone will react the way that Alice did.

But still, I am not sure. My fingers tease absently at her hair, stalling even though I know that she is probably becoming impatient with me. Putting the decision off for just a moment longer, I ask, as always, "What do you want to do?"

It is a cop-out, and she knows it. In many subtle ways, she has already expressed her desire to attend, and she is waiting only on my approval.

"Uhn-uh," she chastises. "I'm asking you. I want to know what you think." Narrowing her eyes in the dimness, she adds, "And not just what you think I want to hear."

We have discussed this, too. My need to please her, when thrown up against questions that really matter, is something she does not always trust. She is concerned that I will simply go along with her or that my desire to have her make me do things will encroach on what I really want.

Closing my eyes, I think for a minute. Nagging at the back of my mind, I can feel the relief that washed over me when Jasper revealed that he knew at least a little of what Bella and I like to do - when I recognized that this knowledge did not make me less in his eyes.

And I imagine, for the first time, seriously, having others know. I imagine revealing this side of myself to others who are like me.

I imagine kneeling before my Mistress. Publicly.

And the sheets twitch with the sudden engorgement in my cock.

Dry-mouthed, croaking, I push down all my fear. "Let's go," I finally answer.

"Really?"

I open my eyes and nod, showing my new-found resolve. "Yes. I want to."

She holds my eyes, judging. "You really, really, want to. You're not saying the just because I do."

"Really, really," I agree, smiling, feeling free now that the decision is made.

At that point, she must finally find whatever she is looking for in my expression, because her face, too, erupts into a happy smile. "Awesome," she says as she settles back down against me in the bed. "Oh, and Edward?"

"Yeah?"

"You are just going to love the outfit I have planned."

My erection twitches, my imagination roaming, and she giggles at the obvious movement of the sheets around my hips. "Mmm," I hum, gripping more tightly at her side. "Corset?"

"Well, yeah," she says with a smirk, her face turning away as she runs a single finger down my hip. I can hear the mischief in her voice as she continues, "But actually, sweetie, I was talking about what I have picked out for you."

Chapter Text

I am standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom, naked but for the towel wrapped around my waist, my body still damp and hot from the shower, when I hear the front door to my apartment open and close. At the sound, I simultaneously stiffen and relax, my posture erect and my arousal growing, but I do not move or speak. Instead, I simply stare straight ahead, taking in the image of my own face.

In it, I search for all the things my Mistress tells me she sees there. It is a strange exercise, really, to try to focus on things she has told me so many times are attractive to her instead of on my flaws.

But slowly, I am beginning to be able to see it.

I am beginning to be able to see myself.

As the clicking of her heels on my floor draws closer, I let my eyes drift farther down my form, wincing slightly at the sight of my own naked neck. It looks strange now without my collar, the thick ropes of leather that I am always worrying, constantly touching at in search of reassurance. The steel of it glints at me from where it sits, carefully laid out on the sink with her initial facing up. My gaze flickers down toward it, my hands itching to grasp it and place it back against my skin where it belongs, but I have my instructions.

Following them meticulously, I have cleaned myself both inside and out, and I twitch slightly at that memory. Never having explored myself that way before, it was strange to take my own hands to that illicit part of my body, but my Mistress is a stickler, and I am keen to obey. All the hair around my cock and balls has been closely trimmed, a compromise we have settled on for now, and I can already feel the difference in the sensitivity of that skin, exposed to the air or pressed upon by the scratchy fabric of the towel.

Now I stand here. Ready. Waiting.

Wanting.

Closing my eyes for just a moment, I sink back into the part of myself that is so eager to obey, and with a steady hand, I reach out to crack open the bathroom door. Less than a minute later, the relentless clicking of her heels finally approaches, and the door creaks farther open, letting cool air wash through the space, bringing her scent to me.

Again, my erection stiffens, my posture as perfect as I can make it, but my shoulders and jaw are relaxed. There is no tension.

Only submission.

Only love.

"Hello, Pet," she says, her voice confident and low as it wafts toward me from the door.

My lips slip up into a thin smile. "Mistress," I greet her.

The door closes again and I hear the dull thump of something hitting the floor and then loud raps of heels on tile. My body shudders lightly as soft fingertips run down the length of my spine, touching affectionately and yet possessively. Without fanfare, she pulls the towel from my waist and steps in close behind me, her hands inspecting how thoroughly I have followed her instructions. Assiduously avoiding my erection, full and long as it now is, she slips her hand down to tug gently on my balls, forcing a rough intake of air at the teasing pleasure of her touch.

She pulls her hands from me too soon, leaving me still wanting, but alert and ready for her direction. I open my eyes to meet hers in the mirror, and a tremor of excitement moves through me at the pride I see in her expression.

"Such a good boy," she murmurs, kissing the back of my shoulder and returning her hand to my spine.

"Thank you, Mistress."

Her other hand moves to the sink, picking up the necklace that is still sitting there, waiting for its chance to resume its place against my skin as a symbol of her ownership and of my happiness. She plays with it for a moment, rolling the metal face of it between her fingers.

"Does my good boy want his collar?"

My eyes nearly roll back in my head, my knees soft. "Yes, Mistress," I manage. "Please."

She grins slyly. "Such an eager thing."

I nod.

"Tell me what it means to you, sweetie."

The words flow more easily every time. "It means I'm yours, Mistress. That I give myself to you. To do with whatever you will."

As I am speaking, she drapes the leather around my neck, her initial staring back at me in reverse in the mirror, her love pressing lightly to my skin. "Good boy," she whispers, fastening the clasp.

And it is as if everything falls away.

I sigh with the relief of that weight around my neck and of the pleasure of Bella's lips against my skin. With soft motions, she traces her hands down my arms, encircling my wrists and lifting them to place my palms on the edges of the sink. "Keep them there, Pet," she says as she removes her hands, bringing them back up my body to push me until I lean forward. "Spread your legs."

A rough pulse of desire moves through me at her instruction and at the way it feels to stand here like this, my ass sticking out, vulnerable and unsuspecting but for what little I can see in the mirror.

What I can see makes me harder still.

With my body less in the way, I can see more of her now, and true to her promise, she is wearing the black satin corset that is the stuff of my fantasies, the material tight across her waist, shaping her breasts and making them even more enticing than usual. For now, her shoulders are bare, though I know they will not remain that way.

In spite of its less-than-traditional guest list, the event we are attending tonight will be held at a restaurant, and we have been directed to dress inconspicuously. I know Bella was disappointed to learn of this restriction, and I feel my erection twitch slightly with excitement, wondering what she had initially planned for herself.

And for me.

Bella's thoughts are clearly running in the same direction as she runs her hands up and down my sides. "I may not be able to show you off as much as I'd like tonight, but I'm still going to make sure it's clear you're mine, Pet."

I nod and sink a little deeper into the posture she has requested.

Her hands drift lower and lower until one comes down to cup my balls, lifting and caressing before drifting to the sensitive skin behind them. While it is not entirely a surprise, the feeling of her slick fingers probing my ass a moment later still makes me gasp, my teeth clenching and my eyes closing as she eases a fingertip inside.

A couple weeks have passed since she has taken me there, and the delicious soreness that accompanied that act has long since faded. With her continued probing, I slowly give myself over to the way my body opens, succumbing to the rough burn that I know now will lead to pleasure.

Soon enough, it does.

At my quiet moan, Bella smiles. "Feel good, Pet?"

"Yes, Mistress," I pant.

"Good," she says, pressing just once more at the spot that seems to electrify my entire groin before withdrawing. She slips between my body and the sink to wash her hand, moving around me as if I am not there, which I find surprisingly arousing. Still, as she cleans herself up, I find myself disappointed and puzzled at the same time, thinking this is all she has in store for me and feeling certain there must be more.

Turning off the faucet, Bella dries her hand and reaches down, searching for a moment before rising, trailing something cool up my spine as she stands. When she reaches my neck, she smiles at me in the mirror before revealing a small, tapered piece of plastic, yielding to a wider base that she grasps between her fingers.

"You know what this is, Pet?"

I nod, staring at it and failing to meet her eyes as my pulse races. "Tell me, Pet."

"A b-butt plug," I stammer.

She flashes a wicked grin. "Not sure if that makes you a good boy or a naughty one, knowing something like that."

Whispering words of affection and encouragement, telling me over and over how she is pleased with me, Bella kisses my shoulder and trails the cool plastic back down my spine before removing it. There is the telltale click of the lube again, and then I feel pressure at my opening. Bella is insistent as she pushes it inside me, filling me. Unable to hold back, I groan loudly at the feel of it and at the gentle pressure against that electric place deep within.

"Stand up, baby," Bella says, and I obey. The motion shifts the plug inside me, and I breathe hard at both the discomfort and the pleasure. "Feel OK?"

I nod. It's strange, but it's alright. I begin to answer verbally as well, but am cut off when she presses against the plug, sending a jolt through my entire body, nearly making me fall against the sink.

"Lovely," she exhales, tapping once more against the base and smiling at me as the same reaction courses through me. Keeping her hand there, nudging the plug to sit just against my prostate, she leans in close to my ear. "Every time you feel this inside you tonight, you remember who you belong to, understood, Pet?"

"Yes, Mistress," I groan, my eyes clenching closed as she fails to relent.

"Any time you feel uncomfortable talking to people, you remember this." She punctuates the statement with another sharp tap. "You remember how good it's going to feel tonight when I reward you." Taking my earlobe between her teeth, she reaches around to take one long stroke up the length of my cock. "Because I'm going to make it so, so good, Pet. You're gonna see fucking stars, you'll come so hard."

I pant hard at both the pleasure and the promise, all but whimpering when she lets go.

Finally turning me to face her, she lets my eyes fall over the rest of her, my cock bobbing at the sight of tight, dark red jeans and high-heeled leather boots. Once I have taken in everything, Bella directs my gaze back up to hers with a single finger beneath my chin, tipping my face and pulling me down until I can kiss her.

Any tension I had felt pours out of me as I let my lips tangle with hers for the first time today, my eyes rolling back with the feel of her tongue inside my mouth. Pulling back, she presses one more close-mouthed kiss to the corner of my mouth before taking my face in both her hands. "You're going to make me so proud tonight," she says, quiet and yet fierce.

"I'll try," I reply earnestly.

Her answering smile is brilliant. "Then you can't help but succeed."

After another kiss, she glances at her watch and becomes all business, reaching into the bag she had set down as she came in and withdrawing clothes that make my chest tight, just looking at them. She is all mischief as she holds up the most ridiculous pair of underwear I have ever seen: a thong. The only thing that reassures me it is meant for a man is the size of the pouch of fabric at the front. Ignoring my blush, she instructs me to put them on, and self-consciously I do.

"Think of your grandmother or something," she suggests as I try to figure out how to fit what is left of my erection inside the fabric. Training my eyes on the floor, I do just that, thinking of all manner of things I would prefer not to when in my lover's company, and before long I am soft enough to pull the garment on. To my mortification, she makes me turn around, and I feel more naked than I did with her fingers in my ass.

Just as I am entertaining that very thought, she slides her fingers along the thin piece of fabric between my cheeks, pulling and snapping it slightly, eliciting a small, muffled groan as it seats the plug more securely inside me. Apparently satisfied that the thong will keep the plastic where it is supposed to be, she pats my ass, and says, "That should do nicely."

Gritting my teeth, I do not dare to disagree with her, but she can sense my discomfort, caressing my jaw. "Relax, Pet. It's the best thing to wear with the plug, and you look incredibly sexy."

Chagrined, I lower my gaze to my feet. "Thank you, Mistress."

Without further argument, she has me finish dressing, pulling on a low-necked black mesh t-shirt that is two sizes tighter than anything I would ever choose and which leaves my collar - and everything else - on display. I am relieved when she next reveals a dark grey button-down, but I am less pleased when she stops me after only half the buttons are complete. Finally, there are black jeans, again far too tight, and I am just on the cusp of begging for her mercy when she reveals a pencil and insists that I stay still as she traces lines around my eyes.

"Mmmmmistress?" I ask shakily.

"Just another minute, Pet." She finishes whatever she has set to do and then leads me to my bedroom. With every step, I feel the plug shifting inside of me, perfect torture and just enough stimulation to keep me grounded when part of me is so ready to panic and ask her if we really need to go. Finally, she stands me before the full-length mirror she insisted I install on the back of my door and directs my gaze up. "Now, look."

With an intense sense of trepidation, I do, only to find a man I barely recognize staring back at me.

It is a strange thing to look at myself and to see so much of the body I have never felt comfortable in revealed. Yet, as I let my eyes move over the way that Bella has presented me, I cannot help but admit that she is right. I may look strange, but I look good.

Sexy, even.

And with my collar prominently displayed above my shirt, I look like exactly what I am.

I look like I am hers.

"You see?" she asks, stroking a hand down my chest to rest over my heart.

Still stunned, I nod. Fervently, I whisper, "I do."

#~~#~~#

The ride over to the restaurant is torturous in the best possible way. Doing my best to keep my eyes on the road, it takes all my strength not to stare at her as she draws a fitted velvet blazer on over the corset, fixing her make-up and repeatedly crossing and uncrossing her legs. While she keeps the make-up subtle, she punches it up just a little more than usual, deepening her eyes and lips and looking far more tempting than any woman has any right to.

All the while, she speaks in calm tones, her nervousness belied only by a low vibration in her foot. At length, she reminds me of what to expect tonight, explaining again that this is a social event that will not involve any overt play. I am to refer to her exclusively as Mistress or Mistress Bella, but am under no such obligation with anyone else there.

"Other submissives you may call by name, but any Dominant should be addressed as 'Sir' or 'Ma'am.' If you're not sure if someone's a Dom or a sub, it's better to err on the safe side, of course," she explains, and I nod. There is a small tightness at the back of my throat as it occurs to me yet again that most of the people with my proclivities will be women. Swallowing bile, I fight back the empty pit of shame inside my stomach and touch my collar, a gesture Bella does not miss.

Placing her hand on my thigh as we come to a stop at a light, she turns to me and softens her voice. "I want you to have a good time tonight, sweetie. If you're really uncomfortable, just tell me and we can go. OK?"

I meet her eyes briefly and relax. "I know."

"OK." Flashing a hesitant smile, she withdraws her hand and shifts to face forward once more.

Finally, we arrive at the restaurant, and I grip the steering wheel tightly for a moment to steady myself before getting out and walking to Bella's side of the car where I offer her my hand and hold the door. Instead of thanking me the way she usually does, she simply accepts my chivalry, grasping me by the wrist and leading me forward, grinning at the expression I make every time my steps shift the pressure of her toy inside me.

At the door, she surprises me, though, pausing to touch my face and pull me down for a quick, chaste kiss. "I'm proud to have you with me. You know that, right?"

My spine straightens unconsciously. "Yes, Mistress," I whisper.

And then, together, we step forward.

#~~#~~#

Leaving me to follow just behind her, Bella speaks in low tones to the hostess before leading me back to a private room. Inside, it is warmly lit, the space filled with people of all sorts and the air thick with animated conversation. Some are dressed much as we are, while some are neatly attired in street clothes.

A few, however, make my ensemble look positively modest, and I feel some of my anxiety melt when a man walks by in leather pants and a black A-shirt, a studded collar around his neck.

It returns a moment later when he catches me staring. And winks.

Bella, for her part, seems to give our environs little more than a cursory look, scanning the room until her face lights with recognition. Taking my wrist again, she heads over to a corner, where I see a tall, olive-skinned man waving to her broadly. To my dismay, as we approach, Bella releases me and steps up to him, embracing him loosely and accepting a kiss on the cheek before turning to the woman at his side. They, too, hug, while I stand there alone, waiting to be introduced and trying to keep my eyes respectfully averted, my hands itching to feel the reassurance of Bella's touch.

When she lingers just a little longer than I would like, I find my hand on my collar again, worrying the hammered metal and shifting my weight to feel the fullness inside me as my body moves around it. And somehow, the combination of sensations soothes me.

Finally, Bella returns to my side and places her arm possessively around my waist. "Lee, Carmen, this is my Edward. Edward, Master Lee and his Carmen."

Lee steps forward to take my offered hand, squeezing it in both of his and eying me appreciatively. I want to shrink beneath his gaze, but Bella's hand on my back helps me stay erect in every way.

"It's a pleasure, Sir," I say slowly, enunciating and feeling the small thrill of victory that always accompanies these rare instances of smooth, assured speech.

"Oh, Bella, he's lovely. More beautiful than you'd described even," Lee says, looking at me but never quite addressing me. Lifting a hand to my chin, he tilts my face, and I struggle not to flinch. It is both demeaning and arousing to be inspected like this - like I am nothing but a toy to be appreciated. And yet, it fills me with pride to know that, as Bella's toy, I am admired.

That I reflect well upon her.

"Tell me," Lee continues. "Does he play with men?"

At this, I finally step back a little, a chill at the back of my neck, and for all that she appears unaffected, I can feel Bella's hand tightening around me.

"Sorry, Lee," she says smoothly. "Edward only plays with me."

He grins slyly and steps back. "Pity. But if the two of you ever wanted to play..."

"Thanks," she interrupts, squeezing my hip. "But we're not interested."

"No matter. Just a thought." He holds his hands up in acquiescence, but the look in his eyes tells me he will not be forgetting the idea any time soon, and I realize with a small sinking sensation that he is looking at Bella with just as appreciative a stare as he is me. Still, he forces a smile and blinks rapidly, dispelling the look of lust from his eyes as he refocuses. "Come, then, there are so many lovely people for you to meet." Snapping his fingers, he summons Carmen to his heel. "Show Edward around, dearest."

"Yes, Master," she replies, smiling at me warmly and holding out her hand.

Uncertainty fills me as I glance at Bella, needing both permission and encouragement, and in her eyes I find both. Removing her hand from my waist, Bella motions for me to lean down, pressing a kiss to my jaw, whispering in my ear simply, "Go ahead, Pet. Enjoy."

Reluctantly, I nod and take the hand Carmen has offered me, watching forlornly as Bella and Lee walk away and toward a larger group. When I meet Carmen's eyes, though, they are full of excitement, her posture less demure now that she is not at her Master's side.

"You're brand new, yes?" she asks, and I nod. "Excellent. You'll have to meet everyone." Pulling me through the crowd, she speaks quickly and quietly, and I find myself having to listen carefully just to keep up. "You're so lucky your Mistress brought you here so early. There are so many questions when you're first starting out, and you'll have lots of people you can ask now. I wish my first Master had been so thoughtful."

As I glance back across the room, I find Bella's warm, brown eyes on me, and I smile at her to try to tell her that I am alright. Speaking to Carmen again, I say simply, "I am lucky."

I am so, so lucky, indeed.

#~~#~~#

The next half hour passes by in much the way that these sorts of social events seem to do, a blur of faces and names and whiskey and a rising panic in my chest. Time and again, I find my fingers playing awkwardly with my collar and shifting my weight, grounding myself, and in so doing I manage to keep my face relaxed, my tongue compliant. My occasional stutter is clearly noticed but not remarked upon, and somehow, slowly, I begin to find myself less on the periphery and more involved in conversations.

Most of the talk is about the most banal of things, from movies to restaurants, although all of it is more surreal when discussed by people in collars and corsets. Other conversations revolve around elements of play and gossip about couples who are either separating or newly committed. I try to follow the discussion, and Carmen is kind enough to point out some of the individuals as they are named.

"And what about you, Edward?" a man interjects. He is one of few men in the circle of people, and I eye him up and down, trying to remember his name and which side of the crop he falls on. Finally, my gaze settles on the set of leather cuffs around his wrists, my breath hitching slightly at the sudden realization that what appear to be metal adornments are actually D-rings.

That these cuffs are meant for chains.

That, like me, he likes to be restrained.

"Well?" he asks again, and I jerk my head up to meet his eyes.

Surprised to find myself the focus of attention, I feel a blush spread up my neck, my gaze falling. My brain scrambles, searching for a way to explain my relationship and realizing that there is nothing to say but the truth.

Still, for all that I am growing more comfortable with who and what I am, the truth is not easy to speak aloud.

Worrying the leather cord around my neck once more, I scan the room for dark brown hair, finally connecting with the eyes of the woman I adore. "My Mmmmistress is over there. Mistress Bella," I clarify. "She's new, too."

"Oh, really?" The man raises an eyebrow, then takes a sip of his drink and crosses his arms. "New to the scene or to being a Domme?"

"B-Both." My eyes dart back to Bella's, and she smiles warmly at me, her head tilting in a silent question. In response, I nod.

I am OK.

The man is still speaking to me, and I turn back to our conversation. "And you're comfortable with that?"

Everyone is aware that I, too, am just becoming acquainted with this life, but I do not feel the need to emphasize that point. Instead, I evoke the trust I have in Bella, shrugging as I deflect. "I'm comfortable with her."

In the larger circle, other conversations have begun to crop up, and the man steps in closer to continue speaking with me. More quietly, his expression still bemused, he asks, "Are you two involved? Outside the playroom?"

My blush deepens, wondering if my living room and her bedroom count . Regardless, I nod. "Yes. She's my g-girlfriend, too."

"Very interesting," he remarks. "I'm guessing that came first? Before all of this?" He waves his hand to indicate the space around us.

I shrug. "Not exactly. The two were sort of ssssimultaneous. It only took a few weeks of d-dating before it became pretty clear what we liked."

He tips his head back and guffaws."Fair enough. But neither of you had even dabbled before?"

"I hadn't. She hadn't either, not like this anyway. But she's pretty … aggressive, so I d-doubt she hadn't tried. At least a little." In my mind, I replay the way she counted all her lovers by way of their photographs and her failures, cringing at even her brief description of how they'd rejected her overtures. "No one else was ever interested."

"Well, what can I say?" he says raising his glass and draining it. "It takes a strong man to want a stronger woman."

My bark of laughter is so sharp it makes him whip his head around.

"What?" he asks.

I shake my head. "I guess I never … never thought about it that way."

I never have.

I have never thought of myself as strong.

"It's true, you know." Beckoning me forward, he begins to lead the way back toward the bar. He orders another beer and turns to me in invitation, but I decline, knowing I am already at my limit if I intend to drive. As we wait for his drink, he raps his fingers against the bar before turning to me sharply to hold out his hand. "Garrett, by the way." He winks. "In case you forgot."

"Thanks," I say honestly as I take his hand, pumping it twice. He receives his drink, and for a few minutes we stand there, staring at the assembled crowd. My eyes naturally seek out the form and colors of my Mistress, scanning for dark hair and pale features, alighting for a moment on the back of another woman's head and freezing when I think she looks familiar, but then shaking it off and scanning on until I find my Bella.

She is laughing animatedly with another group of people, several of whom are dressed in the leather that seems typical of Dominants, and I notice with a passing interest that a couple of them are women, too. I smile absently, taking in her happiness and feeling it fill my own chest with a kind of joy I never entirely knew that I could feel.

Garrett regains my attention when he begins talking again, gesturing at a woman with pale blond hair who is standing close to Bella. "You know, Katrina and I have talked about becoming more than this."

"Oh?"

"Yeah." There is something wry to his tone. "I've never had the balls to press the issue, though. Mostly because she typically has me by them," he says, chuckling. Staring forward, he muses, "Once you start down a road like ours, when it's just about servitude and sex - amazing, mind-blowing sex, mind you - it's hard to get past that. I mean, it's a rough transition, you know?"

I don't. "Not exactly," I say carefully. "For Mistress and me, it's always been one and the same. We've never had to really change."

We stand there in companionable silence for a few minutes, each watching the women that own us in so many more ways than just the one. Eventually, he fidgets and flexes his jaw, parting his lips as if about to speak.

Only he never gets a chance.

Because at just that moment, a hand settles on my arm, and I look down, that same chilling wave of eeriness and almost-recognition passing over me.

And then there is a soft voice.

A voice I know.

"Edward?"

Chapter Text

I moved to college a frustrated, terrified virgin. Barely able to meet my roommate's eyes - much less talk to him or his rowdy, womanizing friends - I spent most nights alone in my room, studying and writing and hating everything about the painful stutter and the shyness that kept me from the laughter that surrounded me. The nights my roommate put a tie around the doorknob, sounds of pleasure and sex practically radiating through the door, I slunk off to the library. Sometimes I even fell asleep amidst piles of books, wanting and lonely, the sad music in my ears reminding me that I was the only one who was so incredibly, permanently alone.

The few friends I eventually made were all people I'd been thrown together with in uncomfortable group projects or peers from workshops. Like me, they were quiet and often shy, and even amongst them, I stood out as stiff and awkward, my few broken, stilted words eliciting little more than nods and sympathetic glances.

The one exception was Angela.

Studying in the library or the lounge, she would place her hand on my arm, warm brushes of fingertips on skin that made me burn with all the unharnessed, pressing want, fearing that I would lose my mind if I never found someone to touch. Someone to love.

When I stuttered, she waited, patient and smiling, and one night, when my tongue seized up completely, my brain careening with so much thought and need, she kissed me.

For two strange, uncertain months, we bared ourselves through words, and eventually, we bared other things, too. Finally unleashing some of the desperate desire of my untouched flesh, I let her touch me, so much relief pouring out in every tentative stroke. I touched her, too, eventually, learning the pieces of a woman's body that I had longed for. The day I finally lived out my fantasy of kneeling on the floor and putting my mouth to soft, female flesh, she lay there with her hands above her head, as passive and silent as stone, and afterward, as I wiped my mouth and tried to hide my body, she smiled and told me that I could. If I wanted to. That we could.

That first time, it was easy to dismiss my shuddering whimpers and my embarrassing, shocking quickness as the effects of being a twenty-one-year-old virgin. Her quiet acquiescence and her lack of response weren't so easy to shake off, though.

Especially the second time.

And the third.

Two weeks and so much simmering silence later, I was unsurprised to find myself opposite a cafe table from her, watching her lips as they spoke of incompatibility and of how we should still be friends. I sat there, despondent and yet accepting, hot with the shame of failure and the loss of my only connection to the sort of pleasure I had craved for so long and yet which still seemed so out of reach.

Only it isn't out of reach. Not anymore.

I'm not the same scared and hopeless boy I was then.

And the woman staring at me like a ghost from a past I can scarcely recognize is not the same one to whom I ceded my virginity.

"Edward?" she asks again, and I see a shadow of doubt move down her face.

Reminding me that he is there, Garrett clears his throat. "Edward, you know - "

"Aaaaangela," I supply. At the elongation, I cringe and close my eyes, my hand floating up to my collar, but even that is not enough to calm me.

Garrett is speaking, but all I can see is the small woman before me. The woman I haven't seen in almost a decade.

And the metal chain around her neck.

"I'll just let you guys catch up then?"

Angela turns to Garrett and touches his arm, the gesture so familiar and so reminiscent of things I do not want to feel now that it almost hurts. "Yeah, we're fine, Garrett. Thanks."

Garrett shuffles a bit uncertainly but then nods. "Nice to meet you, Edward."

"You, t-too," I manage, averting my eyes to my feet and shifting nervously.

I don't know how long we stand there, not looking at each other, but eventually, Angela breaks the silence. "Listen, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I just saw you and wanted to say hi. If you don't want to, I can - "

"It'sssss ok-kay." I shake my head and chance a glance up.

She is smiling shyly as she looks at me, tilting her head toward a corner of the room. "Would you like to sit? Maybe catch up for a minute? Or are you here with someone?"

My eyes seek out Bella's instinctively, only to find her with her back turned to me, talking with the same group of Dominants from earlier. I cough and nod, hazarding one more glance back at Angela. "My … my Mmmmm … Mmmmm-m-Mistress is over there."

Angela's smile widens hugely, and I feel her hand at my elbow, touching innocently. I don't like it, but I say nothing. "Oh, Edward. I'm so happy for you." Beckoning me forward, she leads me back to a corner of the room where we each take seats at a high bar table.

After a few more minutes of stilted pleasantries, she smiles again. "You know, I wondered about you a couple of times in the past few years. Once I found all this," she says, indicating the room around us, "it struck me that you might have liked it here. That you would have liked this." This time, she gestures again at my collar.

Then, as I watch, she does the unthinkable, reaching forward slightly as if to touch the rope of leather and steel that binds me to my lover, and I instinctively recoil, pulling back just in time to make her pause. "I'm ssssorry," I say instinctively, self-conscious, as my thumb and forefinger close around the metal.

Angela's hand drops, her face sufficiently chastened. "No," she says, tucking her hair behind her ear and folding her hands in her lap. "I shouldn't have … I know."

"It's just … it's … p-personal."

She nods, but she is smiling. "She must be really great."

"She is."

Awkward moments pass. I have rarely thought of Angela over the years, but her significance in shaping my life's story is not lost on me. As the only woman I slept with more than once - the only relationship I had before resigning myself to years of lonely nights and even lonelier, fumbling encounters - she set a precedent. Still, I bear her little ill will for her disappointment with what I am.

With what I was.

Finally, I find the nerve to break the silence. "And you? Hhhhow have you b-been?"

"Fine," she says, relief on her face. "I'm here with him." She points to a self-assured man, a bit older than we are, standing on the opposite side of the room from Bella, but also conversing exclusively with people who appear to be Dominants. "We've been together for a couple years."

"G-good," I manage. "He lllllooks nice."

She snorts. "He's a hard-ass. But that's why I love him."

The word 'love' is a strange one to hear from between those lips, and I nod anxiously, licking my lips and shifting in my seat. That backfires, though, making the piece of plastic in my ass shift, too, and a low flare of arousal blooms at the stimulation.

At that, I look at the woman before me. In many ways, she is similar to Bella. Both are slim but shapely; both have pale skin, brown eyes and brown hair.

But this woman does nothing for me.

Nothing.

"I just …" she says, interrupting my reverie. "I've felt bad all these years for the way we left things. You looked so broken when we split up, and I've always regretted - "

"It's fffffine," I insist. It is. With no interest in rehashing the past, I scramble for the words to deflect.

"Just let me … let me say this? Please?"

With a sigh, I sit back in my chair.

She laughs darkly to herself. "I really liked you, Edward. I really, really did, and it killed me to break up with you. I always wondered why it didn't work out. Why we never fit."

As she speaks, Angela and I both are fiddling with the bands around our necks. We both seem to notice the mannerism simultaneously, but I am the first to laugh.

At the image of her, silent and unresponsive beneath me as I embarrass myself and come, there is nothing left to do but laugh.

It is far too late to cry.

"Nnnno," I insist. "I g-get it." I gesture at at each of us. At the overtly sexual clothing. At the collars. "Llllike you said. Inc-c-c-comp-patible."

Her lips twist up sadly. "Two subs rarely fit."

"Wwwwas that it?" I finally ask. "Even then?"

"I think so," she says quietly. "I always hoped you'd take control or tell me what to do."

I smile weakly. "And I alwwwways hoped you'd d-do the same."

"Incompatible," she echoes. She looks up at me with an expression that is familiar. I saw it on her face almost a decade ago, sitting just like this, across from each other at a table.

Only now, it looks less like disappointment.

And more like regret.

I can feel my own features softening, my hand about to reach across the table, when the sound of a throat clearing behind me brings me back to myself, and I sit up straighter, sending another hot jolt of arousal through my abdomen. The tingling warmth of Bella's fingers on my neck, stroking the loop of my collar is a relief, and I lean back into it, a sigh of pleasure escaping my lips.

"Doing alright, Edward?"

"Yes, Mistress." I turn to look at her, but her eyes do not meet mine. Instead they stare straight ahead. Glancing at Angela and then back at my Mistress, I offer, "This is Angela. We were fffriends in college." I only hear my words as I speak them, and they shock me.

The lie is so easy.

So wrong.

I wince to hear it, and even more to think how my Mistress will have my ass for it when I confess. Just the thought makes me both panicky and hard.

In these clothes, it is so, so uncomfortable to be hard.

"Angela." Bella nods curtly, her posture stiff and her voice wary as she bids me up. "Ready to go?"

I glance down at my watch before standing, surprised to see how much time has passed. "Yes, Mistress." Raising a hand, I bid Angela farewell. She says goodbye with the same regretful look in her eyes, but all I can do is look away as I follow my Mistress toward the door.

As I do, I leave my past well behind me.

But I still cannot shake the feeling that this window into it is far from closed.

#~~#~~#

The twisting pressure at my ear is sharp, Bella's breath wet and hot against my neck as she pulls me down onto my knees. There, just barely inside the door of my apartment, I yield, falling willingly until my hands meet the floor, and I am level with her sex. My arousal, low and lingering as it has been for the entire ride home, flares quickly, and I am suddenly, painfully erect inside too-tight jeans, the head passing out through the twisted top of the thong.

"Who was she, Pet?"

Beyond the most basic pleasantries, these are her first real words since leaving the restaurant; at the sound of them, I close my eyes and bow my head, trying to collect my thoughts. The flicking sensation at my ear again makes me yelp slightly, but there's something good about it, too.

Something floating.

Something safe, for all that I know that I'm in trouble.

My Mistress's voice is a low hiss now, her hands hard and twisting in my hair as she jerks my neck up. "I know she wasn't just a friend."

"No, Mistress."

"Tell me."

"She … she was my g-girlfriend. My first."

"Your first what? Your first kiss? Your first fuck?"

"Yes," I choke. "Both."

Her hand releases my head, and there is nothing to keep me up as I stay there, kneeling before her. "I'm sssorry, Mistress."

She is pacing around me now, and I have to close my eyes. "Sorry for what? For lying? "

"Yes." I wince.

The clicking of heels pauses, and I hear her breathing deeply. Softer now, more calmly, she asks, simply, "Why?"

I don't know why.

Still, I try. "Because I was ashamed. B-because I don't want to be the man I was then. Because I don't want you to see that p-part of me." I shudder and curl inward, but really I am reaching.

Always, always I am reaching for her.

"Please, Mistress. I'm sorry."

Behind me, I hear the rough, heavy sound of her sigh. "Your room," she orders quietly. "Naked. On your knees."

I scramble to obey, my eyes on the ground. Once inside my room, I strip with speed, my cock aching with relief as it is freed. Folding things messily, I lower myself down.

And then I wait.

For the longest time, it seems, I wait.

Uncertain what Bella is doing in the other room, I take the time to run over everything in my mind. The feeling of Bella behind me in the restaurant. The treacherous words and my nerves. The memories of hopelessness and of my own desperate body - of a time when I was no one's.

And when no one was mine.

Of sex.

Terrible, terrifying sex.

My breath grows quicker the longer I wait, and there is panic rising up in my throat, but there is also calm.

I'm Bella's now.

I am my Mistress's.

My Mistress will make this right.

My Mistress will help me make this right.

When she finally joins me, it is with a quiet intensity, her steps firm and sure on the carpet. With my eyes cast down, I can only see so much, but it is enough to see that she's still fully dressed. From this angle, I cannot see her face or gauge her mood, and I am left dependent only on her words.

"All fours," she directs. Her voice is a low burn on a hotwire to my cock. My flagging desire is back now as I lean forward, feeling so exposed as I point my ass in the air, but the vulnerability of it only serves to make me hotter. Harder.

With every motion, I submit. I take my needs from my own hands and I give them to her.

"Remind me why I'm punishing you instead of giving you your reward."

Something twists inside me, but it is alright. "Because I lied."

"What should you have done?"

"Been truthful with my Mistress," I breathe, clenching my eyes at the feeling of leather sliding its way down my naked spine.

"Ten, Pet. Count."

The first blow is only a little harder than I like, but I grunt all the same. "One." The second is harder, and the next one harder still. At each one, I hiss and groan, and there is pain. In the back of my mind, I know that she has never hit me this hard before - that I have never disappointed her so badly, and that knowledge hurts worse than the lashes.

On the eighth blow, she strikes not just my ass but the bit of plastic still embedded there, and I feel tears well in my eyes, confused and overwhelmed . By nine, I am remembering my safewords, and at ten, I am collapsing forward, thanking her and apologizing.

I'm so, so sorry.

For a moment, I simply hover there on my knees and elbows, my forehead to the floor, trying to find my breath again. Behind me, I can hear Bella's breathing, too, loud and rasping, like she has run for miles, and I am too ashamed to show my face. At the feeling of her hand on my hip, I shiver, pulling away and burying my face in my hands, trying to brush the few lingering tears away, but she'll have none of it. Her touch travels up and down my spine, finally rubbing over the flaming flesh of my ass before traveling back to my shoulders.

When she sits down on the floor beside me, I turn my head away, strangling back the emotion and the shame and gasping for breath when her lips press to the space between my shoulder blades.

"Talk to me, Pet," she says. Her voice has the edge of authority she always invokes as my Mistress, but there is something else there, too, twisting it and making the words catch in her throat.

"I'm fine," I breathe through a quiet, choked sob.

"Look at me," she insists.

I shake my head, uncertain how to, but her hands keep running lines along my back, slowly unfolding me, making my tongue loose. My voice is still tight as I whisper, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, Pet. It's over." So steadily, she keeps touching me, a constant bath of warmth and hands and lips. In spite of myself, I feel the tension leave my shoulders as my hips sink lower. The pain and discomfort fade beneath the firm weight of her touch, and when her mouth moves to my ear, I begin to lean into her, exhaling a shaky sigh as she murmurs, "I forgive you."

Finally, I turn my head and meet her eyes. There is no masking the concern there nor the conflict, and I hate that I have made her doubt herself. With what strength I have, I shift to rest my head on her lap, lying on my side. She exhales deeply, raking her fingers through my hair and speaking quiet words of encouragement. There's "It's okay," and "We're okay," and, most devastatingly of all, "You did so well."

At that, I sniffle and rub my hand over my eyes. "I d-disappointed you, Mistress."

She sighs but keeps stroking my hair and bends to kiss my cheek. "And so I punished you." I can feel her restraint as she reaches to grab my hand, squeezing it reassuringly. More quietly, she asks, "Are you okay to keep going?"

I pause before answering, assessing my body and my mind. My ass is still hot, but my shame is less so, driven back by my Mistress's affection, and I crave more. I crave the chance to make this up to her.

I crave the freedom from my own guilty thoughts.

Still on my knees figuratively if not literally, I nod, my cheek rubbing her thigh, and I brush the back of my hand beneath my eyes.

"Good boy," she purrs. "Such a good boy. "You alright to lie down? On your back?"

I flex my back and feel the soreness, but it is not overwhelming. "I think so," I agree.

At her urging, I move to the bed and lie down gingerly. It's uncomfortable, but not nearly so bad as I had feared, and Bella gives me a moment to settle myself. On the other side of the room, she seems to be collecting herself, too, and I watch in fascination as she strips down to only the corset, her bare legs so white and long, her sex flushed. The entire time, she keeps her eyes down, and when she finally lifts them back to mine, I can see that any traces of doubt have been washed from her face.

Slowly, she walks over to the bed, and I feel the warm stirrings of arousal again, my cock hardening against my belly, and I groan aloud when pleasure eclipses pain as she moves to touch me. With utmost softness, bare fingers trail up and down my body, caressing my ankles and then my knees, while I lie there, still and silent. When she reaches my growing erection, she gives it the same treatment, the same teasing brushes, coaxing it to its full length and making me forget my shame.

Moving back up my torso, her hand reaches my jaw after a time, and she traces back and forth beneath my chin. "Such a beautiful boy," she says quietly, and the sting of punishment fades even lower as her thumb moves over my lips. There is something sparkling in her eyes as she looks me over, and it makes my chest tight to see her gaze at me this way. "You should have seen everyone staring at you, Pet. Wanting you."

I hear the edge of something wistful in her voice, and I search her eyes.

"I only want you, Mistress," I breathe.

And her face looks fragile enough to break when she smiles.

Bella's hand strokes my lips once more before settling to the bed beside my head. Raising one knee and then the other onto the bed, she straddles my chest. Uncertain if I am allowed to move or not, I take the risk and bring my hands to her waist, rubbing the soft, naked flesh of her hips and thighs as she bends to kiss me. She does not chastise me, and I give myself over to the kiss and to the feeling of her in my hands.

Slowly, she trails her fingers down my face and neck, brushing gently over my arms to clasp my hands in hers. Lifting them over my head, she says only, "Leave them there," before rising onto her knees and stretching to reach into our drawer. From inside it, she retrieves the cuffs I bought for her, and I feel something twisting inside at the feeling of being restrained this way. With tenderness that seems almost out of place in this sort of scene, she closes each strip of leather around my wrists in turn, and it feelsright.

Bound to her, heart and soul, it feels right for her to bind my body as well.

"My good, good boy," she murmurs as she sweeps back down my body, only this time it is with her mouth following just behind her hands. Soft, wet kisses slide down my chest, across my stomach and to my hip. My erection is straining toward her, and I groan embarrassingly loudly when she slips the head into the warmth of her mouth.

"Mistress," I plead. My eyes clench tightly shut, and I fight to keep my hips in place, but still I slide a little farther between her lips, the pleasure easing everything. Too soon, she lets me fall from her mouth, and I swallow hard at the lack of warmth, but it is only for a moment. Moving lithely, she climbs back onto the bed, facing away from me as she straddles my hips and glides her sex along my flesh. The feeling of wet and heat and sliding eclipses all my senses, and I wrap my hands around the chain between the cuffs to try to ground myself when she backs up enough for my head to nudge her clit.

Without taking me inside, she makes a few more long strokes, my body fitting just to the softness between her thighs, and I can see the head of my cock against my stomach, just below the perfect curve of her ass as she slides her pussy all the way to the base. Her hands trail up and down my thighs, and when I feel them at the sensitive flesh behind my balls, I tense, still battling back the urge to thrust, longing to be buried inside her - to erase all the lingering ghosts of bad fucks past by fucking her.

By making love to my Mistress.

One hand stays between my thighs, urging them farther apart until she can fit a finger against the plug that's still in my ass, and I twitch hard at the feeling of it pushing against that part of me that makes me desperate to come. Just when I am about to beg, she lifts her hips and slides the other hand to grip my length, lifting me just enough so that the head is pushing against wet flesh, and then there is only sliding heat and her body surrounding mine.

"Mistress," I gasp as she rises up and lowers back down, slickness and the vision of my cock, glistening with her as it disappears and reappears over and over.

"Tell me it's good," she murmurs. I crane my neck to try to see better, but then fall back to the mattress as she taps the plug in time with her thrusts. I can feel her fingertips just brushing the base of my cock, and I can tell from the sounds of sex and wet flesh sliding that she is touching herself as well.

There's another sharp rush of pleasure inside me, and I grunt out my thanks. "It's good, Mistress. So good. Thank you."

"Tell me it's just me."

"Just you," I pant. "Just you, Mistress."

She slides faster and faster on me, her body tensing, and I wonder, near-delirious with the effort of holding back my orgasm, if I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the naked curves of her ass and my body beneath hers - the soft flexing of her hips and the way it all disappears beneath constricting satin, her hair long and wild and hanging halfway down her back.

"Please, Mistress. Please let me come."

She shakes her head in silence, but in just a few more short, rocking thrusts, I feel her tensing.

"Come, baby."

"Oh," I grunt, and I can feel the metal digging hard into my palms from holding onto the chain too tightly as I finally thrust up into her. She moans my name and pushes even harder against the plastic, and with a deep, delirious climb, I feel myself just at the precipice. With one more hard rush up into her warmth, I finally crumble, unable to restrain everything I feel as I tense and pulse and come, lost in her body.

So lost, I scarcely hear the words as they leave my lungs.

"I love you, Mistress. I love you."

#~~#~~#

Bella sits on the edge of the tub as I run the bath. My body is drained beyond the usual, and I am almost tipsy on it. I can feel the absence of her toy and the lingering soreness from her flogger. I can feel the sort of satiation that is unique to our play.

And I feel so, so in love that it is almost too much to contain.

Letting the room fill with steam, I urge Bella to turn so her feet are in the rising water and her back is exposed, peeling her from the corset and placing soft, open-mouthed kisses to every line left on her ribs. She is uncharacteristically quiet, and as we slip beneath the level of the bath, tangled together, I can sense that even though I was the one to bear her punishment, she is the needier one tonight.

Trying to trust in intuition, I bathe her quietly, rubbing her scalp and her shoulders and even her feet, trying to tell her with each touch how I adore her. How I need her.

Leaning on my side so as not to put much pressure on my ass, I finally pull her into my arms and simply hold her, pressing my mouth to various spots below her ear.

"Talk to me?" I ask.

She shrugs and shakes her head, and I try to hide my sigh beneath another kiss.

Sweeping her hair off her shoulder, I continue my exploration of her skin and of her mood. "I'm fine," I promise. "If that's what's bothering you."

"Maybe a little."

"Was it too much for you?"

With my mouth against her shoulder, I can only see the edges of her face, but I catch the furrow in her brow. "No. But it was close. It was … I know it's weird, but I do get off on spanking you. But making you cry..." She shivers as she trails off. "Really hurting you..."

I hold her more tightly. "I know my safewords, Bella. If it had gone on much longer, I'd have used them. But I was okay. I was always okay."

She exhales, and I can feel her relaxing.

"For what it's worth," I venture, "I didn't mean to keep it from you. That Angela was my girlfriend. It just … came out." I smirk slightly against her skin. "And the minute it did, I knew I'd have to confess it to you. I knew what I had coming."

At that, she turns, sliding up until her back is to the side of the tub, her hand coming to rest on my neck. Exhaling deeply, I finally see a hint of a smile. "I can't believe you're so matter of fact about all of this sometimes."

I shrug. "I love it." Leaning forward to kiss her mouth, I add, "I love you. Always."

She slides back down the tub but does not turn away, her head on my shoulder and her hand on my chest. For a few minutes, we simply hold each other in silence, the dripping of the tap the only punctuation to our thoughts. My mind drifts lazily over everything and everyone I met today. Lee and Carmen. Garrett.

Angela.

And somehow, sitting here, naked and warm with Bella, it is as if all my insecurities and uncertainties flow past me.

For one strange, fleeting moment, I imagine being proud of what I am.

Smiling broadly, I shift her to rest more deeply against me and brush my fingers up and down her side. "So what did you think?" I finally ask. "Of the munch?"

She hums and plays with my chest hair, tracing designs against my skin. "It was interesting. The other tops were sort of cool. A lot of different perspectives on the whole thing."

"Tops?"

She rolls her eyes briefly. "Apparently some people prefer it to Dom." Shrugging, she continues, "Lots of people who only play casually. Or who play with multiple partners."

There is something leading in her voice, and I feel a little shiver run up and down my spine. Lee's voice leaps out in my memory, asking if I play with men, and I feel the same bile in the back of my throat that I did then.

With a little lurching in my abdomen, I sit up straighter. In my mind, I see all the times Bella met my gaze across the room. The way she narrowed her eyes.

The coldness of her voice when she approached Angela and me.

And then there is just her voice.

You should have seen everyone staring at you, Pet. Wanting you.

I sit up so fast that Bella slides off my shoulder. I hear the sounds of splashing and her gasp, and my ass hurts against the tub, but all I can do is gape.

Incredulous, I gasp, "You were jealous!"

If her averted gaze were not enough confirmation, the instant flush of her cheeks tells me all I need to know. She crosses her arms and moves to the other side of the tub, a sulky pout on her lips. "Duh," she scoffs, but I can hear the hurt that underlies it.

Only I still can't believe it.

"But … How … I d-don't …" I pause, needing to collect my thoughts. "How could you be?"

She snorts. "How could I not be? And don't think I don't realize it's partly my fault. I dress you up like sex on legs and take you into the PG-13 version of a sex club and then get surprised when everyone looks like they want to fuck you. Throw in a an ex-girlfriend who looks like she wants to lick you and …"

"Angela didn't want to lick me!"

"She did so. Everyone did." She pouts, but beneath the frown there is a reluctant smile as her foot moves through the water to nudge my cock. "Not that I can blame them. You are pretty lickable."

I laugh when her light touch tickles, moving fast to catch her foot between my hands and lift it to rest against my chest, dipping my head to kiss her ankle with a smile. "Still," I say, kneading the arch and staring at her breasts beneath the water.

The idea that I could want anyone but her is ludicrous, but I cannot deny that she seems to think it's possible, and I need to set her right. Working to keep my tone in check, I mutter, "You can't seriously … Bella, you know you're it for me, don't you?"

She's quiet as she waits for my eyes to make their way back to her face. When I do look up, I find her expression vulnerable. Tender. The water swirls up and just to the edge of the tub as she shifts forward to sit atop my thighs, and sated as I am, my body cannot help but respond.

"What about when other men look at me? Are you trying to say you never get jealous?"

Her lip between her teeth is her only tell that, for all my flaws, she is honestly insecure. I lift my hands to stroke her hip bones, swallowing down the low blush of arousal at the softness of her flesh, wet and warm. I shrug and keep my eyes down, one hand lifting reflexively to touch my throat. "Of course I do." Daring to look up, I can only offer, "But at the end of the day, I'm the one wearing your collar."

I pull her forward until she has to catch herself with a hand on my shoulder, and I shudder at the brushing contact of her pussy against my cock. Unlike with Angela, when Bella reaches out to touch the leather around my neck, I do not pull back. Instead, I lift up, pressing my lips to hers.

"I like that you touch it all the time," she says quietly, playing with the metal. "I notice that. Especially today."

My hand moves to intertwine with hers against my throat. "It calms me. Makes me remember."

"Remember what?"

"That I'm yours," I breathe. "That you love me."

"I do, Edward. So much."

Giving myself over to her kiss, I pull her down onto me, exhaling hard at the sensation of being home inside her once more. The water laps as we rock together in gentle strokes, our mouths so close that we share the same air. As the pleasure begins to crest, I bring my thumb down to her clit, touching her in the quick, rough circles that make her moan.

When we come, it is with soft gasps of the other's name. And in that moment, there is no one else and nothing else.

No Mistresses and Pets.

No former lovers.

Just us. Edward and Bella.

Just love.

And just me, trying with all my might to figure out how I can prove to her that she will always be enough.

Chapter Text

Dressed in only my boxers, I stand beside my bed, sinking with relief into my deepest self as I open our drawer. What was once a repository of the most vile pornography is still a shrine to deviance, but now, instead of paltry surrogates, it is the home to devices of true satisfaction. My hands move over various instruments, leather and plastic and metal. Plugs and floggers and rope.

With a tender smile, I find also the newer pieces that Bella and I have purchased together, laughing and kissing as we pored over images on her laptop. The leather straps of the ball gag slide between my fingers, and I just barely resist the urge to taste it, knowing that soon enough I'll feel it gripped between my teeth - that tonight I will swallow my sounds and give voice to pain and pleasure through grunts and wordless cries alone. Together with the two little clamps that scare me just as much as they arouse me, I set it out on the towel I have placed atop the dresser before reaching for my cuffs, floating on anticipation and hard with lust.

When everything is ready, I slip out of my boxers and slide my hand a couple times along the needy length of my cock, smearing fluid along the head and groaning at the pleasure of it before I let myself go. This will be our first time playing together since the munch, and I know it is important. It's important to show her how I want this. All of it. Everything.

Glancing once more at the clock, I complete the final pieces of my routine and silence my phone, slipping it into another drawer before stepping to the middle of the room and sinking happily to my knees.

From there, time begins to slide past me in the best possible way. Floating and preparing to give myself over to the woman I adore above all others, everything in my head is quiet. Simple.

Until I hear a knock.

My head space is slow to clear, my thoughts sluggish and distant, my body almost too relaxed to move. I wait a little longer, a single twitch in my hand breaking through the stillness that has possessed me. When the knock repeats itself, a loud pounding in the distance, I rise higher into normal consciousness, my neck craning toward the door.

At the repeated pleas for entry, I shake my head and rise to my feet, confused and working more on instinct than anything else. A voice in the back of my head reminds me that my Mistress instructed me to wait, and that waiting is what I should do. Another says that my Mistress has a key.

Yet another says I can't let this go.

As the knocks grow more insistent and impatient, some voice of rationality prompts me to grab the towel from the foot of the bed and drape it around my waist before I move. With my erection tucked beneath its folds, I venture out into the living room, finally throwing the door open, half expecting this to be a test.

Half expecting that I have failed.

But as the face before me comes into focus, I realize with a start that there are no words for just how complete my failure is.

"It's about fucking time, Eddie," the gruff voice says, smiling blue eyes staring down at me.

Suddenly, I'm not a thirty-year-old man, waiting naked to be spanked and fucked.

I'm a twelve-year-old boy, too skinny and too small and too afraid.

I cannot breathe.

"Emmmmmm … Em-m-mmmmett? Wwwwhat? What are you - "

"Dude." My brother's eyes sweep up and down my form, lingering for just a moment on the obvious bulge beneath the towel before he shudders and brings his gaze back up to mine, grinning luridly. "Dude," he repeats. "You got, um, company?" His elbow nudges my side, and I recoil from it as he laughs. "Always knew you had it in you. Where is she?" Lowering his voice, he continues, "Is she hot?"

"She's - "

Our stilted, misguided attempts at conversation are brought to a halt by the sound of the door downstairs opening and closing, and I clench my eyes shut, bringing up one hand to run it roughly through my hair before moving it down to my collar. Sharply rapping footsteps land on the stairs. I know from experience that they are the sorts of footfalls made by heels.

"Bella?" I call, knowing already that it is her.

All I can do is hope that she is dressed.

The voice that floats up the stairs is just as pointed as the boots I know that she is wearing. "There had better be a damn good reason why you're out in the hallway, or I'm - " Her words and footfalls are both cut short, and I open my eyes with agonized slowness to take in first my brother's gaping expression and then my Mistress, frozen at the landing between the stairs. "I … Oh."

Giving her my most pleading look, I wrack my brain for a way through this mess, but it is too difficult when she is there and when all the reminders of who I was are here.

Fortunately or unfortunately, my brother is not nearly so tongue-tied. With a low, appreciative whistle, he stares at my Mistress, and I follow his eyes, taking in the fishnet stockings and tall leather boots. The artful make-up and the daring line of cleavage that is clear above the barely fastened front of her knee-length trench.

"Niiiiiiice," Emmett says, and this time it is my turn to shove my elbow into his side. To my surprise, he grunts, his head whipping up to stare at me in wonder.

And it is only then that I realize that, for all that he has kicked my ass innumerable times, I haven't hit him since we were children.

And yet it felt natural to do so now.

Instead of angered, his expression is jovial, and he slaps my arm with his open palm and laughs. "Who knew it would take getting laid to make my little brother grow some balls?" Before I can protest, he steps forward toward Bella, holding out his hand. "I'm Emmett, by the way. You must be Bella."

Bella's eyes dart up to mine, and I shrug helplessly, checking that the towel is secure around my body. She rolls her eyes and climbs the few remaining stairs, accepting my brother's hand and staring him down squarely. "That's right." While still gripping his hand, she casts a meaningful glance at me, holding my eyes even as she's addressing my brother. "I had no idea we were expecting you."

Emmett laughs and jerks his thumb at me. "Yeah, I tried calling, but this guy never answers his phone now that he has a girlfriend, so I just stopped by. Had to check that he was still alive, you know?."

"C-clearly, I am," I insist weakly, finally breathing again when Bella withdraws her hand.

"Sure are," Emmett agrees.

And then, before I can do or say anything, he is pushing past me and into my apartment, leaving me all but naked in the stairwell, facing down my flustered, frustrated-looking Mistress. Her eyes dart toward the open door and then back to me, lingering long on my naked chest as her shoulders seem to slowly deflate.

To my happy surprise, she steps into me, shaking her head. "You could have warned me," she hisses as she leans in for a kiss.

I press my lips to hers and sigh, pressing one hand to the small of her back. "B-believe me, I would have if I'd knnnown. I also wouldn't have come to the door in a t-towel."

She swats my ass playfully through said towel and looks up at me with one raised eyebrow. "And don't think I'll forget that. Blatant disregard for my instructions and all."

My impulse toward contrition is forgotten at the sight of her twinkling eyes. "Wouldn't dream of it," I murmur softly, kissing her once more before adding softly, "Mistress."

Loud noises from within interrupt us just as I begin to probe her mouth with my tongue, followed by my brother's voice. "Hey, Ed, you got any chips? The game's on."

Bella and I both sigh as one. "Raincheck?" I ask her quietly, sliding my hand beneath her coat to palm her ass.

"You better believe it."

I pull away much too soon, placing one soft kiss to her temple. "Thank God you left some clothes here last time."

She laughs as she steps forward. "What? Don't want your brother staring at my tits?"

I growl and pull her back, nipping at her ear and sliding my palm along the curve of her breast. "My tits," I say, possessively and yet with a twinge of anxiety.

Bella huffs but consents to kiss me. "Your tits," she agrees before grabbing me by my wrist. Steadied by her touch, I follow her through the door.

As I do, I know full well that I would rather face her crop than what is waiting for us inside.

#~~#~~#

Bella and I emerge from my room, dressed and frustrated after moments of hushed teasing and clutching kisses. Too nervous to face my brother, I have stalled and delayed, throwing myself into the worship of her body the way we would were we alone, but she has refocused me each time, reminding me that we have company.

I do not know what to do with the idea of company.

Out in the living room, Emmett has made himself at home the way he does, his feet up on my coffee table and his arms spread out over the back of the couch. Beside him is an open bag of chips, and the television is loud with the sounds of football. Over the years, I have been to his house a handful of times - most often when I have needed something or some reminder that while isolated, I am not completely alone in this life. In the five years since he helped move me in, he has never been to mine.

Still, here he is.

While I enter the room slowly and with trepidation, Bella shows no such compunction, setting herself down on the other end of the couch with as much nonchalance as Emmett shows, grabbing the chips from him and inquiring about the score. I weigh my options for a moment, eying the other armchair and its distance from Bella.

I want to be close.

Fortunately, Bella senses my distress and grins at me as she motions with her head to the space on the floor at her feet. With half my head still anticipating a day spent in submission, I do not question her, only glancing once at Emmett before I sit, my back to the couch and my hand reaching up to stroke Bella's knee. Her fingertips dip down, stroking the knotted leather chord around my neck before scratching up my skin and raking through my scalp. My purr of pleasure is just barely contained as I let my eyes fall closed, taking what comfort I can from Bella's touch.

Lord knows I need it.

Especially when my brother starts talking.

Lowering the volume on the television and grabbing for the chips, he turns to us. At the feeling of the couch shifting, I open my eyes and meet his. They are questioning, his head tilted as he examines my position, but I feel no need to explain. At Bella's feet is where I prefer to be. So I will be there.

When I meet the challenge in his eyes without blinking or looking down, his mouth opens into a broad smile, his gaze darting to Bella and to her hand on my collar before returning to me. Shaking his head, he extracts a handful of chips from the bag and tips it back at Bella, chewing contemplatively before addressing me.

"So? Were you planning to tell me where the hell you've been? Why you never answer your phone?"

"Nnnot really." There are so few words that I can offer him. I cannot tell him how my hands sweat whenever I see his number on my phone, reminders of who I am and who I've been inside his shadow making me feel small and raw. I cannot describe all the ways that I feel like my own person now.

I can't explain that I can't go back.

"I've just been b-busy," I offer, shrugging and finally looking down. Bella's nails keep tracing tiny circles in my scalp, grounding me as I examine my lap. "I've been writing."

This much at least is true. The ways in which love and a new openness to life have sparked words and paragraphs has not changed, and even my time without my Bella has been filled with the spark of inspiration.

With my words, I have never felt truly alone. Not anymore.

Emmett does not hear what I do not say. Missing the change - the fact that words have now become a medium and not merely an escape - he laughs. "So what else is new? Dude, you've always had your nose in a book. If you weren't reading it, you were writing it."

I shrug, uninterested in explaining myself. "You wwwanted to know what I've been up to."

The defensiveness is clear in my voice, and Emmett begins to backtrack immediately. I feel bad and yet I don't; for so long he has both served as an unwitting reminder of so many things I do not want to remember and as a friend when I have needed one the most. Only now that I need so much less, I don't know how to navigate this friendship.

"It's okay," I interrupt him as he is apologizing, looking up again. "I just d-don't know what to tell you. I've been a ssshitty brother."

"Nah," he says. "I wouldn't go that far. Though I think you could have at least had dinner with me and Rosie to thank me for setting you two up."

The idea of Bella meeting my sister-in-law makes me shudder, memories of cold, unpleasant conversations coming to the forefront of my mind. While Emmett's wife has never been openly hostile, she has never known what to do with me either. More than once, I have overheard conversations I was not meant to hear that have laid plain her lack of understanding.

Her lack of understanding for someone so unhappy with his lot but so unwilling to change it.

"Oh!" Bella says, finally breaking in. "So you're the brother that got him dating."

Emmett smiles his most winning grin, and it makes something bristle inside of me. "The very one."

Bella's hand moves to stroke my neck. When I look up at her, her gaze is on me, and it is so, so warm. "Then I guess we do owe you our thanks."

"Damn straight. So, not to sound like a teenage girl or anything, but you have to tell me how this all happened. I mean, the longest my brother's ever managed to keep a girl around - "

"Emmmmmmett," I break in.

He sighs, and Bella squeezes my shoulder. There are a few moments of silence, Bella's hand warm on my skin, but then it withdraws as she shifts on the couch. "Grab me a soda, babe?"

My heart drops. I know she is trying to get rid of me - not in the way that she does not want me around, but in the way that she wants to speak to my brother more freely.

And while I trust her implicitly, I do not trust him.

"Yeah, grab me a beer, too?"

I grumble slightly but decide I am outnumbered as I rise to my feet. Bella grasps my wrist as I am about to walk away, pulling me down for a quick peck on the lips. "Trust me," she whispers.

I brush my mouth over hers once more. "Always."

In the kitchen, I can still hear them, but it is more tone and cadence than actual words. Glancing out, I catch her eyes and she smiles but waves me away, indicating that I should take another minute. There is something determined-looking about her mouth, and I cannot help but chuckle to myself as I pour, seeing my Domme in her expression.

My lioness with her claws out.

And while I am in no way her child, I know that she would protect me like her cub.

When I can stall no more, I return to the room and pass Emmett his beer, watching Bella with questioning eyes, but her face betrays nothing. She accepts her drink and my presence at her feet again, her hand returning to my hair.

"So, like I was saying," Emmett says, clearing his throat. If I am not mistaken, he seems a little bit embarrassed, his voice less loud and his gaze less brash . "Me and Rosie and the kids are going to dinner at Ed's and my parents' place next month for dinner. You guys should go."

I freeze.

"I d-d-d-d- "

"That sounds like fun."

Bella's and my word's cross, my stilted, broken attempts at refusal overshadowed by her acceptance, and I don't know what to do.

I have not seen my parents in years.

She knows that I haven't.

When I turn to her, she is smiling at me so hopefully, but there is also something fragile hanging around the corners of her eyes.

Something insecure.

I grit my teeth and look to Emmett, who is trying to hide his surprise. My stomach churns, wondering if he made the overture, knowing I would never accept.

Now, though, it would seem I have no choice.

Everyone else is silent, and I swallow hard as I glance between their faces. "We'll ch-check our calendars," I concede. Although I do not know if she will let me use it, I leave myself an out.

Having one helps me breathe.

"Right," Bella adds, her fingers beginning to move again through my hair.

They are not as thorough in their ministrations anymore, though. They are not as comforting.

As we settle into a more uncomfortable silence, our eyes all trained unseeingly on the game, I wonder what I have missed.

I wonder what Bella is not saying.

#~~#~~#

Finally, after the entire game, the post-game analysis and the pizza he somehow convinced us to order, Emmett consents to leave, and I am close to forcing him bodily out of the apartment by the time he does. Unsurprisingly, he and Bella have done most of the talking, although I have been included. I have even willingly participated.

But I am still more than ready for it to be just Bella and me.

When I am finally at the door, narrowly escaping a crushing man-hug and promising to let him know about the dinner with our family, Bella stands beside me, her hand linked with mine. Emmett recognizes the gesture, meeting my eyes as he speaks to us both. "Good to see you guys are doing well. Nice to meet you, Bella. Finally."

"You, too, Emmett," she replies, pausing before echoing his sentiment of, "Finally." And in that last word, I hear a wistfulness I don't completely understand; it makes me shiver the same way I did when she pulled away from me earlier. He does not try to hug her, but there is a moment that passes between them. Even though I suspect that I'm the subject of that moment, it still makes me uncomfortable - like I'm not entirely there.

Once the door is closed and locked, I lean my head against it for a few seconds, breathing and recentering. Bella's hand splays across my back in a familiar gesture. As I turn, putting my back against the door, I reach for that hand, clasping it in mine and holding it, pressing the skin to my lips and then my heart.

"So…" I say warily. All the tension of the last few hours is abating, but even when it is just us - just our own little circle of intimacy - there is still some seed of something less than comfortable.

There are still unspoken words between us.

"So," she echoes. "That was … interesting."

Her smile is incomplete, but it still makes me feel more at home with her. Kissing her hand again, I reach out and pull her entirely against me, burying my face in her hair and feeling her warmth inside my arms. "Nnnot exactly how I expected the day to go."

"No. Definitely not."

"I'm sorry."

She shrugs and leans back, interlacing her hands behind my neck. "It's not your fault. I mean, you didn't know he was coming, right?"

"No." I chuckle wryly. "Believe me, I had no idea. If I had, I'd have found some way to stop him."

No one else would know it, but I can sense her body stiffening, her smile seeming less genuine against her skin.

"What?" I ask. My hand finds its way to her face, lifting her chin when she starts to turn away.

"Nothing." She is pulling, but I refuse to let go.

It's not nothing. It's not nothing at all.

"P-please, Bella?"

She lets me pull her back in against my chest, her ear to my heart and her index finger tracing the leather lines around my throat. "I guess… I just … I don't know why you didn't want me to meet him."

Confused, I tip her head up, but her eyes continue not to meet mine. My lips find her temple. Her cheeks. Her nose. But not her mouth.

Her mouth that is tight. Quivering.

Some realization hits me, and I loosen my grip, letting her pull back until I can see the thin glassiness of her eyes.

"No. No, Bella. Nnnothing like that."

I don't know quite what she's thinking, but it can't be right. It can't be.

"I d-don't talk to him. Or mmmy family. We're just … we're not close."

"I know," she says, nodding and looking down. Her fingertips are playing with my buttons, and the fact that she's still touching me helps ground me. "But you just seemed so hell-bent on keeping me away from them."

"I was hell-bent on keeping me away from them." I duck my head, trying my best to fall into her sightline as I sweep her hair from her face. "I d-don't … I don't like who I am around them."

It's too complicated to explain, too many years of history. Too much resentment on every side.

"B-Bella," I say, trying again to find the words for how I feel as she lets me pull her face up so she can look at me. Her words are all beginning to come together now, some sense emerging from all of it. "If I hhhad a family I was close with, I'd have introduced you to them on our fourth d-date. You couldn't stop me from telling everyone how hhhhappy I am. With you. How much I love you."

She inhales sharply, concealing the slightest sniffle as her hand swipes just beneath her eye. "You mean it?"

I cannot contain my smile. "Of course." Embracing her, I rock us gently from side to side, breathing more deeply when her arms come up around my waist. "The one time I did accidentally pick up when Emmett called, I t-t-told him. I told him I didn't want to go on any more dates. That I'd found ssssomeone. That I'd found you."

I can feel her smile against my neck, her breath warm on my skin as she hugs me more tightly. "I'm so glad to hear that. It was just automatic for me, I guess. I don't talk to my folks much, but my dad knows I'm seeing someone, and my mom knows more than I should probably admit." She blushes and stammers briefly. "Not everything, of course. But that you're amazing and sweet and smart." Bella picks her head up off my chest and lifts her gaze to stare at me. "That I love you."

"I love you, too." Our lips brush softly as we smile and hold each other. When I pull back, it is with a thought I can't quite chase away.

An idea of something I still don't want to do, but that I will. For her, I will.

"D-do you really want to meet my ffffffamily?"

She tilts her head and nods. "Yeah. If you're ready for me to."

"I'm not ready to see them myself," I say, chuckling. "But I'm ready for them to meet you. Wwwant to go without me?"

She slaps my arm and laughs.

"Fine, fine," I relent, holding her wrists and wrapping them once more around my waist. "I'll go, too. B-but only if you make me."

"I am very persuasive."

"Don't I know it," I murmur, rubbing my nose along her cheek, my body reacting to both her proximity and the images her words evoke in me.

Images of all the means she has at her disposal to compel me.

I shiver in pleasure at the thought.

"Sssorry we didn't get to play today."

"It's okay," she replies. "It's early enough we still could, but I don't think I'm really in the right place for it anymore."

I nod in agreement and rest my chin on the top of her head. I have no doubt that I could find the proper mindset easily enough, but I do not need it. Not tonight.

Not so long as she lets me hold her.

"Me, neither. I wwwould like you to stay, though."

"Hmm." She sighs exaggeratedly. "If I must, I suppose."

"Please?"

She lifts up onto her tiptoes and kisses my mouth. "Of course, silly."

"Just checking." The little seed of insecurity sewn inside my heart by her earlier doubt creeps back up, and I find myself giving voice to it. "I d-didn't know. If you were still mmmmad."

The corner of her mouth twists, her eyes dipping to focus on my chin. "I wasn't mad. Just … insecure, I guess? James never introduced me to his family either. I didn't think of it until you said you would have kept Emmett away. Or that you weren't sure about going to your parents' place. It just … it hit a nerve."

My chest and grip both tighten as I bend to whisper, "I'm sorry. It's all… it's all me, Bella. I promise."

"I believe you."

I don't entirely know if she does, though.

#~~#~~#

The next morning, Bella is still a little bit distant as we wake and move through our morning routines. We part ways for a few hours in the afternoon so she can run some errands, promising to meet back at four to pick up the scene we had been forced to abandon it the day before.

After I kiss her goodbye, I walk back into my bedroom and flop down on the bed. For untold minutes, I hold my phone in my hand, turning it and flipping it, staring at the screen and skimming through the short list of contacts.

Finally, I find the nerve to press the button, though.

The line rings three times before it picks up, and my nerves are right back at the forefront when a female voice comes through the speaker.

"Hello?"

"Hhhhi, Rosalie. It's Edward."

There is a pause and then a reserved reply. "Hi, Edward. How are you?"

I close my eyes tightly and try to push myself through these simple lines.

It does not escape me that, a few months earlier, I would have just asked for Emmett and ignored her.

"I'm d-doing well. You?"

"Fine, except for the toddler that refuses to go down for his nap." She pauses, hesitating. "You want to talk to Emmett?"

"Yes, please."

"Okay. It's nice to hear from you. Emmett said you guys spent the afternoon together yesterday?"

"Yes. It was … nnnnice. He g-got to meet my girlfriend. B-Bella."

"Yeah, he said as much. Seemed really happy for you." A deeper voice is audible in the background, some rustling on the line and muffled words from Rosalie before she speaks again clearly. "Here he is."

"Thanks."

A few seconds later, Emmett's gruff voice comes over the line in greeting. We exchange a similar set of pleasantries followed by an awkward, expectant pause. Forcing out the words, I finally manage, "I was c-calling ab-b-bout d-dinner. With Mmmmom and D-Dad."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." I gulp. "Um, B-Bella and I would like to go."

"You'd like to?"

While I have never fully explained my decision to drift away, Emmett is well aware that this is nothing I would like to do. Even though he cannot see it, I shrug. "B-Bella would like to. And I'll … survive."

Emmett laughs. "I knew that girl was perfect for you. The minute she looked me in the eye and asked me what the hell I thought I was doing crashing your little date, I knew."

My stomach flips with the mention of our date, my mind going immediately to what he saw of it and what he must think.

"Ab-b-bout that…"

"Dude," he says, cutting me off. "I so do not want to know. Whatever you guys do ... just ... Yeah. As long as you're happy?"

"Very."

"Then that's all I need to know. Like, please. Don't tell me anything else, okay?"

I manage a chuckle, figuring this is the best reaction I could have hoped for, given the circumstances. "Got it."

In a departure from the norm, we make small-talk for a few more minutes before Rosalie yells for him and he excuses himself. I press the button to end the call and fall back on the bed, smiling for once in spite of the fact that I have just spoken with my brother.

For once, I don't feel less for having talked to him.

I feel like myself.

Glancing at the clock, I am surprised to find that time has gotten away from me, and soon I am getting cleaned up in anticipation of my Mistress's arrival, preparing my body and my mind to serve her. It is harder than usual to sink into the role, though, my mind racing the way it is.

I cannot wait to see my Mistress.

But I can't wait to see my girlfriend either.

I can't wait to tell her that I'll be taking her to meet my parents.

And for all that I am not looking forward to seeing them, I am eager, too, for my parents to meet her. I want them to see that I'm a man and not a boy. That I have a woman in my life.

That, in spite of all my flaws, I have managed to make a woman like Bella mine.

Chapter Text

"Jewelry, man. Always, always jewelry."

I cough and nearly choke on my sandwich, reaching with one hand for my drink and with the other for my collar. Jasper smirks, and I follow his eyes as they move down to my throat.

"See?" he says, one eyebrow lifted knowingly. "Jewelry."

Three days have passed since Emmett barged in on Bella's and my Saturday play - three since I agreed to introduce her to my family.

A week and three days since her jealousy boggled my mind after the munch.

Now Jasper and I are having lunch, and by some miracle - or through some desperation - I have overcome my usual reluctance, confiding a little bit of everything to my friend. In his typical way, he has listened, asking questions where appropriate, and I have spilled more and more of my heart to him. He has nodded sagely at every turn, considering at length before announcing his conclusion.

Namely, that I should buy her jewelry.

My fingertips worry the leather cord around my neck, and I sigh. "You think?"

"You like having something of hers, right?"

I nod, my face growing hot. I do not know if Jasper recognizes my collar for what it is, but clearly he is aware that Bella gave it to me.

"Well, then, there you go," he pronounces, taking one last bite of his sandwich before throwing down the crust. "Don't you think she'd appreciate the same kind of token?"

I stifle my snort with my napkin, knowing that the last thing Bella wants is a collar. Still, Jasper has a point. "I … I d-don't think a necklace is … appropriate," I say, hedging slightly. "Maybe a bracelet?"

Jasper's eyes narrow, staring fixedly at my collar, but then they widen and he smiles. "That could work. Something she can wear all the time, if she wants. Like yours. Except, you know. Not."

My blush deepens until I have to look away. Fiddling nervously, twisting the edge of my napkin between my fingers, I try to imagine presenting her with such a gift, and it lights something warm and unexpected in my chest. It does not escape me that the last time I gave her a gift, it was leather fittings for my wrists, and I marvel for a moment at the irony of purchasing an adornment for her wrist.

Still, I know the symbolism would be the same.

That she owns me. Body, heart and mind.

Squirming, I lift my eyes and meet his as he begins to clear away the remnants of our lunch. "I … " I begin, but I have to pause. "I d-don't even know how to start. Buying something like that."

Jasper shrugs. "It's not that hard. Lord knows I've bought enough jewelry for Alice. Easiest way out of the doghouse for that girl, let me tell you." He rolls his eyes and then glances at his watch. "My next appointment isn't for an hour. You want to go look now?"

I swallow hard, but eke out a strangled, "Sure."

On the way to the door, Jasper gives me directions to a nearby store he's had good luck with before. As I follow him in my car, I try to think of the sorts of things that Bella wears, my anxiety rising. Briefly, I think of what a wreck I will be one day, far in the future, when I go looking for jewelry of another kind.

For a ring.

I stop that train of thought before it can begin. It is a fantasy I have played with more and more of late, but it is still just that. A fantasy. No matter how much I increasingly long for the day that maybe, someday, it will be real. Hoping that she will bind herself to me and to my life.

That she will be my life.

My wife.

I park the car and take a moment to lean my head against the steering wheel, my knuckles white and almost numb. After so many years of loneliness and of assuming I would never find anyone, it is preposterous to be thinking these things after just a few short months. But I think about them, all the same.

Knowing that Jasper will be waiting, I curtail my agonizing and take a few deep breaths before exiting the car. Sure enough, he is already standing outside the door, a contemplative look on his face.

"Your timing works out kind of perfect on this, you know?" he says.

I don't.

"Bella's birthday?"

My eyes widen, and I stare at him blankly as he opens and holds the door. "Her b-birthday?"

"Yeah," he says, then shakes his head. "Don't tell me she didn't tell you."

"She didn't."

"Typical."

"How so?"

"Bella's always trying to get us to ignore it, but you know Alice. Though I wonder if this year..."

As I step inside the door, I pause to think about any clues Alice may have dropped about what, if anything, she's doing. Things between Bella and Alice have improved over the past few weeks, but they are still fairly cool with each other. "D-do you think Alice has something planned?"

"Nothing she's mentioned to me. But she usually insists on torturing Bella one way or another."

"When is it?"

"Next Friday, I think." Jasper takes out his phone and checks his calendar. While he is distracted, I take a few moments to look around, trying to remember if I have ever actually been inside a jewelry store before. The glass displays and smiling salespeople are intimidating in the worst possible way, and I am ready to feign disinterest and leave, when Jasper speaks again. "Yup. September 13."

I nod numbly. A hand claps down on my shoulder, making me cough.

"Hey, don't worry, Edward. You've still got time."

Swallowing hard, I nod, but his statement only pushes my pulse rate higher as I realize that I need to be concerned about finding something quickly now. Never having dated someone during a major holiday or birthday, I am uncertain what to make of any of this, and my mind is quickly spinning beyond me.

To try to hide my panic, I pull out my own phone and scroll over to my calendar, cringing when I see the date of our dinner with my parents marked in red. With unsteady hands, I scroll up to the Friday two weeks before that fateful day and make a new entry for her birthday, casting it, too, in a threatening hue.

"Can I help you gentlemen?"

I look up from the screen to find a blond woman with kind eyes staring at the two of us invitingly, and any success I might have had in distracting myself flies out the window as my chest tightens with anxiety once more. "I..." I begin, but there is nothing behind it. I have no idea what I am doing here, or what I am thinking trying to express my love through something as insignificant as a gift.

Fortunately, Jasper intercedes, clearing his throat and patting my shoulder one more time. "My friend here is looking for something for his girlfriend. Right, Edward?"

The woman's face falls slightly, but she manages to maintain her smile. "Wonderful. Well, I'm sure we can help you find something. Did you have a anything in particular in mind?"

My eyes dart around the store, my hand coming up to worry my neck. The instinctive gesture is as calming as always, but it is also motivating. I love having Bella's name against my skin.

And suddenly, I want nothing more than to be on hers.

I finally focus on the saleswoman's face and her persistent but flagging smile. "A b-bracelet?"

Her face relaxes, and she motions toward another section of the store, speaking all the while of metals and gems, and I am lost in it all. "Mmmaybe I could see a few? I d-don't really know what I'm looking for yet."

"Of course."

Case after case is full of options, each more overwhelming than the last. I know that what little jewelry Bella wears is usually quite simple, with a preference for silver over gold. "Did you have a budget in mind, Mr. …"

"Cullen," I supply. "No, not really." While I am by no means a rich man, years of simple living have afforded me a comfortable amount of savings, and I have no idea what this sort of thing should cost.

Beside me, Jasper clears his throat, and I glance up to see him looking at me meaningfully. My return stare is confused, as he shakes his head and leans in. "Never tell them money is no object. These people can smell a wallet a mile away."

Chagrined, I turn back to the cases, murmuring simply, "Oh." For a little while, I stare at them, my eyes beginning to glaze over until Jasper beckons me to another section of the store.

The expression on his face is tentative as he gestures at a group of bracelets. "What about something like that?" All of the pieces he is looking at are simple. Elegant. Silver. And the design of each prominently features one or more Celtic knots. Jasper clears his throat. "Tell me to fuck off if this is too personal, but I was just thinking that with your guys' relationship … knots might be appropriate?"

My throat dry, I nod, my eyes settling on one as I picture it on Bella's wrist. I catch the saleswoman's eye and ask to see it. When she hands it to me, I run my thumb across the metal, the three looping silver knots and the smooth silver band. As I do, it feels as if the 'B' against my throat is burning through my skin, making my words heavy and rasped.

"Do you do ennngravings?"

"Certainly, Mr. Cullen."

I hazard a quick glance at the price, find it acceptable, and nod. Setting it back down, I say simply, "I'll t-t-take it."

#~~#~~#

"I'll be just a minute." Her eyes sparkling, Bella presses a soft kiss to my mouth, and I hold onto her waist for just a moment longer than I should before letting her go. Leaving me in the foyer of her apartment, she retreats toward the bathroom, walking backward at first, our gazes still holding and her smile as broad as the one I feel on my own face.

A quick snort from the living room finally pulls my attention from the corner around which Bella has disappeared. I turn to find Alice averting her eyes guiltily, her face buried in a fashion magazine and her feet up on the coffee table, cotton balls between her toes. My face reddens at the knowledge that she's been watching and listening, sharing in an intimacy that, while displayed here in the living room, is meant for Bella and me alone. Curling my hands into fists, I fight the warring instincts to finally tell her off and to flee and wait Bella's bedroom. I can do neither. Not tonight.

With a sigh, I walk forward to stand beside the couch. "Hi, Alllllice."

These are the first words I have spoken to her in a long month of simmering silences and harshly held tongues. They are an overture.

They scare me to death.

For a brief second, Alice looks up at me over the page of her magazine, shock yielding to skepticism before she can bury her eyes again, giving me nothing but a grunt as a reply.

I take a deep breath. For Bella, I remind myself. This is all for Bella. "Llllook," I say quietly, "I knnnnow you d-don't like me, but I needed to ask you about Bella's b-birthday."

Without looking up, she says, "What about it?"

"Did you have anything p-planned?"

Alice eyes me again, her disdain still clear, but she keeps it from her voice. Mostly. "Not really. I'm shocked she even told you. She usually doesn't tell her boyfriends."

The implication that I am but another in a long line of unworthy men is clear, but I ignore it. "She d-didn't. Jasper did."

At this, she finally drops the magazine, glaring at me outright, but I do not flinch. "Okay," she says in annoyance. "And?"

"And I want to d-do something for it. Nnnnothing big. Maybe just dinner or something? Mmmaybe the club you guys like?"

"You don't have to ask my permission," she says, rolling her eyes and returning to her magazine. In so doing, she is not dismissing only me, though.

She's dismissing Bella.

Before I even know what I am doing, I am reaching over, pulling the magazine down until Alice's sputtering, outraged face is forced to look at me. "I'm not asking for p-p-permission. I'm asking if you and Jasper wwwant to go, t-too. If you want to be there for your ffffffriend."

Alice stares at me wide-eyed, and it is only at her downward glance that I realize I've crumpled the pages in my hand. I release them with a start but do not back down.

More quietly, I continue, "Bella is ssstill your friend, yes?"

"Of course she is," Alice snaps, closing the magazine and setting it down before rising to stand before me. While I am often uncomfortable with my height, especially when standing beside Bella, I take it for the advantage that it is now, looking down at the woman before me with my arms crossed and my breathing tight. "Fine," she huffs. "Friday."

"Friday," I agree. "Seven."

"Fine."

"Ffffine."

From the back of the apartment, I hear water running and then the bathroom door opening. Remembering myself, I step back from Alice, but I do not drop my gaze, not even when I feel a warm, soft hand on my arm.

"Everything okay?" Bella asks warily.

"Fine," I repeat again. "Allllice and I were just discussing something. Right?"

Alice glares at me guardedly, but finally nods. "Right."

"Okay..." Bella says, rubbing my arm. "You ready to go?"

I tear my eyes from Alice's to look down into the warm brown ones that I love - at the face of the woman I'd do anything for. Bringing my hand up, I brush my fingers down her jaw. "Ready," I agree.

After facing Alice, I feel like I am ready for anything, indeed.

#~~#~~#

"Yes," Bella breathes, her hands entwining in my hair. Refusing to let her say anything more, I kiss her deeply, my tongue hot in her mouth as the water pours over us, my fingertips sliding through the slickness of her pussy before coming up once more to rub her clit.

It is Bella's birthday, and I know we only have so much time, but it is time I plan to make the most of. Sliding one hand from her face down to her breast, I knead it, feeling slippery flesh and supple roundness, groaning against her kiss when she pulls my hair harder. It is uncomfortable and sharp and I love it, my arousal peaking higher until I have to have her.

"Need you," I breathe, quickening my circles on her clit and sliding my naked length against her hip.

"Fuck, yes." Still tugging hard at my hair, she begins to walk backwards, and I follow, groaning obscenely when she glides an open palm along my torso, scratching just above my hip and then closing her hand around my cock. "How much?"

"So much. So badly."

She slides her hand along my erection a half dozen times, stoking the flames but failing to ignite them, and I know it's just a tease. I know she's trying to goad me.

Breaking the kiss, Bella looks up at me devilishly, sparks of desire and mischief both flickering equally, and my cock throbs, each inch of skin on my body now desperate for touch. "There's something I've always wanted to try," she says, her voice low and seductive.

I am wary, sensing that while we are ourselves tonight, she is still pushing, only I'm far too aroused to care. "Anything," I groan, ready to take her hand back to my wanting, swollen flesh. To beg her to stroke. To suck. To fuck.

Wrapping one arm tightly around my neck, she places the other behind her back, hoisting herself until her ass rests on the small ledge at the back of her shower, sending shampoo bottles flying. In my confusion, she wraps her legs around my hips and pulls me into her. At the sensation of hot, wet Bella against my cock, I stammer out a breathless, choked, "Fuck," and drop my head against her shoulder.

"Please, baby," she whispers.

In all the time we've been together, I have controlled our love-making exactly twice - once as her submissive, my hands bound and my flesh red from her crop; the other after hours of coaxing climax after climax from her body with my hands and mouth, only pushing inside when she was completely spent, surrendering to my pleasure after a few short strokes as she begged me to come.

As she rolls her hips against me, silently asking me to enter her, I can tell that she wants me to make love to her without preamble or buildup. To bring her pleasure just like this.

And for once, I know I want that, too.

I want it more than I fear it.

Exhaling and sliding against her, I nod without pulling my face from her skin. She grasps my erection in her hand, still holding tightly with her other arm around my neck, my knees nearly buckling at the feel of my head rubbing up and down the length of her. Her feet behind my thighs draw me forward, and I push into her, my eyes shut tightly, the rush of the water over our bodies louder than the static in my head as she envelops me.

But nothing is louder than my panting groaning of her name.

"Fuck, Bella." The pleasure is too intense, my whole body on fire with the act of making love with her like this. As I begin to pull out, it is with a heady power, an unfamiliar, all-consuming rush of being in control. Of holding both our pleasure in my hands.

Of fucking.

"So good, baby," she breathes, kissing against my jaw as I push back into her and groan at the wet heat surrounding me. "You feel so good like this."

"Love you," I choke out as I push and pull. Instead of guiding me, her hips take up a rhythm that answers my own, flexing forward and back, grinding as I press against her fully.

"I love you, too. So much, Edward. So much."

Our conversation is reduced to broken moans and encouragements, her soft pleas for harder and faster and more, but they never become demands. Her hands, while wanting against my hip and shoulder, never pull. Instead, she lets me move. She lets me take her.

I have never taken anyone like this before.

No one has ever been mine to take.

After long minutes of stroking, needing, thrusting, I feel my flesh become alive inside her warmth, every part of me desperate to come and to let go. Near-delirious with need, I clutch her hand and pull it from my hip to rest in the space between us. "Touch yourself," I beg. "Please."

At the feeling of soft fingers making circles above our sex, I nearly lose it, but somehow I manage to hang on. For a few more moments, I hang on.

"God, I want to feel you come," I plead, one palm rising from the curve of her ass to splay flat against the wall. The only response to my entreaty is a high, insistent whine against my ear, and I know she's close. Wanting so badly to push her over with me, I thrust harder, angling my hips until she gasps my name. I squeeze my eyes more tightly shut against the onslaught of sensation, murmuring senselessly, "You feel so good, Bella. All around me..." She tenses, her breath hot and her hand squeezing my shoulder painfully.

Finally, it's too much, and I blurt, "I can't ... I'm... "

And then I am.

My body explodes, so much pleasure and so much restraint all emptying, and it's so good.

"Oh, God," Bella breathes.

I am almost surfacing, almost ready to face my inability to wait for her, but then it doesn't matter. She is squeezing hard, thighs and arms gripping me. Against my neck, there are even teeth, and then I feel the delirious pleasure of her pussy clenching and her relentless chanting of my name.

"Yeah?" I breath, fucking her through it the best I can on legs that want to yield.

"Yes," she whisper-screams. "Yes, yes, yes." Her grip relaxes, the tight grip on my cock softening. "God, I love you, baby."

I am soaring, laughing and smiling and kissing her. And I'm enough. I'm good enough.

God, I love kissing her.

When she pulls back enough to breathe, I simply trace my lips along her cheek, up her jaw and to her ear, and I can't stop smiling.

"Happy birthday, beautiful," I murmur, jellylike and happy and still buried in my lover's warmth.

"What?"

Fuck.

I cannot even summon the energy to be afraid, knowing that I have let slip that I know, but I don't care. "Don't be mad," I whisper, still dragging my lips over her flesh. "Don't be mad. I just love you and Jasper told me and I want you to have a good day."

To my relief, she grips me tighter and drops her forehead to my neck. "If you hadn't just fucked me stupid right there, you would be in so much trouble right now," she threatens, but there is no force to it. None at all.

My smile widens, and I stroke her skin softly. "Duly noted," I agree.

Eventually we find the strength to peel ourselves from each other, and I slip from her body with a twitching, wincing sigh. I help her down and stand beneath the spray with my arms around her waist, my nose in her hair, and the sort of contentment in my bones that I never imagined I would ever wear.

Triumphant and glowing, I hold her.

And it is so much more than just the heat of the shower that makes me feel so, so warm.

#~~#~~#

Safely ensconced in her room, I sit on her bed in my boxers, leaning back on my elbows and watching her as she sifts through her closet. She calls out to me from behind the door, annoyance just barely hidden beneath the lightness of her tone.

"You know, this would be a lot easier if you'd just tell me where we're going. I mean you already spilled that it's something for my birthday."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I lie, flopping back down to the bed, still smiling and glowing.

She huffs. "Well, at least give me a clue of what to wear."

I rise and pad across the room, eliciting a small squeak of surprise when I wrap my arms around her from behind. Like me, she is in her underwear, tiny blue lace panties and a bra in the same fabric, and I cannot help caressing her breasts. "You could just wear this," I murmur.

She slaps me playfully and pokes my chest. "Whatever. You're the one insisting we go out."

"This and a garter?" I say hopefully.

She pouts. "I'll think about the garter. If you're good."

"Yes, Mistress," I joke. Reaching past her, I sort through her clothes, but I am mostly hopeless. "I don't know. Wear something ... pretty?"

It is such an inadequate word, pretty. Whatever she chooses, she'll be beautiful.

"Ugh. Pretty like a nice restaurant pretty? Or pretty like going dancing pretty?"

"Something in between?"

She pouts and pushes me away. "You're useless."

"I told you."

Giving up, I step over to her dresser and open the top drawer, sorting through it until I find what I am looking for. As I walk back to the bed, I ask quietly, "Come here?"

She eyes me with a single eyebrow raised, smirking when she sees what I am holding. "You were serious."

"I never joke about lingerie." I pat my thigh and look at her expectantly. "Please?"

"I thought this was my birthday," she huffs, but still she consents to place her foot on my leg. I hand her the garter belt and take the first stocking in my hand, sliding it up her skin. "So how come you're the one getting presents?"

I bend to softly kiss her knee as I pull the sheer fabric over the curve of her calf. "Because I've been a good boy. And if you're a good girl, maybe you'll get presents, too."

"Oh, yeah? Like what?"

I slide the stocking through the fasteners with ease this time, and as I do, I reflect on how my life has changed since the last time I dressed her this way. Memories of unspoken love and anxiety float up to me, standing in stark contrast to the happiness I feel today. To hide my face and the emotion I am sure is written all across it, I press my lips higher and higher up her thigh, sliding the fabric of her panties to the side to touch my tongue to sweet, hot flesh. "All kinds," I whisper huskily before drawing back to look her in the eye. Still holding her gaze, I urge her to switch feet and slip the other stocking up her leg, hooking it in and then grasping her hips.

Her hands slide up my neck, one twining in my hair while the other brushes softly against my slick bottom lip. "And what would a good girl do?"

I swallow hard, uncomfortable in the position of telling her what I want from her, but still I manage. "She'd get dressed," I offer quietly. "She'd look so sexy she'd make her boyfriend hard all night just looking at her. And then she'd let him take her out." I pause to kiss her stomach before gazing up at her face. "Let him surprise her. Let him love her."

"Sounds easy enough," she says raggedly, and I can feel the slight shaking in her hands. I press my lips to the back of each one, lingering for just a moment on the bare, white skin of her wrist. It's skin I hope to claim soon, the wrapped package hidden away in the pocket of my coat. Before I can give myself away, I drop my hands and nudge her back, urging her in the direction of her closet.

With a blatantly seductive gait and an appreciative eye cast down to my obvious erection, Bella walks away. "Not as easy as staying in, though," she insists one last time. Sneaking a peek at me from behind her closet door, she adds cheekily, "Naked."

I groan and fall back on the bed, sliding my palm down my cock before pulling it away and closing my eyes.

This night out may have been my idea. But I'm increasingly convinced that it will be anything but easy.

In fact, I'm pretty sure it's going to be hard.

Very, very hard.

And I smile as I realize I wouldn't have it any other way.

Chapter Text

Staring out the window of the taxi cab, Bella's hand is warm in mine, her smile brilliant as she recognizes where we are. When we come to a stop outside her favorite restaurant, I kiss her palm and pay the driver, stepping out and moving to get her door for her. In the short black dress that she has chosen, she is stunning beyond all reason, her legs sinfully long and made all the more so by heels that I cannot help but imagine digging painfully into my ass as she pulls me deeper.

Standing there on the sidewalk, newly emboldened by the love we made in her shower, I resolve to feel just that. To place her on the edge of my table or the back of my couch and to push into her. I resolve to do so while she is wearing nothing but those shoes.

As she stands, she casts me a knowing smirk and surreptitiously runs a hand down the front of my pants, palming my cock between our bodies, forcing out a quiet groan and making my hand grip tightly at her arm. "Not fair," I whisper huskily, grazing her cheek with my nose and kissing her temple in distraction.

"Never said I would be."

I sigh and place my palm on her waist, following her and holding the door.

Inside the restaurant, Alice and Jasper are already seated at a table near the back, and I nod toward them as we enter.

"No fucking way," Bella hisses.

"Way," I argue.

"Lord help us all."

I silently agree, especially when I see the scowl on Alice's face, although I am surprised to find that it is not directed at me for once. My eyes move to Jasper's face, and I am tempted to grab Bella and retreat back to the door when I see the open annoyance on his face. It is a stark contrast to his normally cool demeanor to see him so upset, and already my stomach is roiling, wondering how I can possibly hold this together, when normally I can scarcely even hold myself.

As we approach, Alice notices us first, kicking Jasper beneath the table and eliciting an infuriated grunt from him. He turns to her with hard eyes but is redirected by her pointing, glancing up at us and schooling his expression.

Although Alice remains seated, Jasper stands to greet us, shaking my hand and kissing Bella on the cheek, whispering, "Happy birthday," before sitting back down. We all exchange tense pleasantries, Bella's hand resting on my knee for most of the time. She turns to me with soft, warm eyes and a gentle kiss when Jasper tells her this was all my idea. When her finger traces along my collar, I blush and lower my eyes, reaching down to caress her stocking-covered thigh.

"Lovely," Alice mutters at our display, and when the waitress comes to take our orders, she is the first to request a cocktail. The rest of us follow suit, opting for wine and beer. Alice's thinly veiled glass of vodka stands in contrast to the others when the drinks are delivered, and even more so when she begins gulping it down before I can even raise my glass to offer a perfunctory, mangled toast.

Things do not get easier as the meal progresses, tension radiating from across the table in waves that have Bella and me casting nervous glances at each other repeatedly. As Alice drinks, her comments grow more biting, her efforts at appearing polite less and less effective. When she motions to the waitress for a third martini, Jasper covers her hand and waves the girl away, ducking his head to whisper sharply to Alice to stop, but this only makes her angrier, and before long I am certain that this was all a terrible, terrible idea.

We all pick at our entrees in vaguely mortified silence, my hand rubbing apologetic circles on Bella's leg. She keeps her head down, and I feel my heart fall, knowing all my efforts have been for naught. Finally, Alice excuses herself to use the restroom before stumbling away on incredibly unsteady feet. Jasper and I both glance at Bella, who would usually offer to accompany her friend, but tonight she makes no motions to do so, simply twirling her pasta on her fork and looking down.

Once Alice is out of earshot, though, Bella's posture becomes much less demure, her spine straightening and her voice growing sharp. "What the fuck is going on, Jasper?"

Jasper lets his silverware clatter to the table and drops his head into his hands. "I have no clue. Not a single fucking one. I'd say she was on her period, but it's not true. She's just been a first-class bitch all day."

"Did anything hhhappen?"

Jasper chuckles and dry-washes his face, addressing me as he says, "I wish I knew. I don't think she's terribly pleased with you, though."

I roll my eyes. "Ssso what else is new?"

"No, like really pissed." He casts an apologetic glance at Bella. "Alice always plans your birthday, and I think she was waiting for you to get mad when she didn't. Force a conversation or an apology or something. Then I went and told Edward, so now she's mad at him for messing up her plans. Me for giving him the idea. Hell, I think she's mad at you for having the balls to have a birthday at all and steal the thunder from her little meltdown."

"Jesus Christ," Bella swears, wiping her mouth and raking her hand through her hair.

"I'm ssssorry," I mumble. I am, and at the same time, I am not. Why should I be sorry for wanting to love my girlfriend on her birthday?

"Don't be," Bella says quickly, clearly thinking similarly. "Alice needs to get used to you doing nice things for me."

Jasper casts a sympathetic look my way. "Agreed." He sighs and rakes his hand across his face. "I'll do what I can, but she seems intent on pissing off everybody tonight. And Lord knows I can try to keep her sober, but it's going to be hard when we get to the club."

Bella casts me a sly look, and I sigh. Scowling at Jasper jokingly, I say, "Well, I guess that cat's out of the b-bag."

"Fuck. Sorry, man."

"Whatever. It's okay."

"Ugh," Bella interjects. "She's going to be a mess if she gets hammered. This is so wrong to suggest, but … can't you just take her home or something?"

"No can do." Jasper's eyes dart between the both of us. "I know you wanted to keep this small," he says, addressing me, "but Ali may have had, um, other plans."

My stomach drops. "She d-didn't."

"Yup." Jasper's expression is guilty as he fidgets. "She invited the whole gang."

I drop my own fork and cover my face with my hand. When I dare to look at Bella, it is with an apology in my eyes. While Bella loves these kinds of nights out, everything Jasper has told me indicates that she hates to have the attention focused on her. I am just about to apologize out loud when, to my surprise, Bella takes one look at my guilty countenance and breaks the silence with a wild, hopeless laugh.

Pulling my neck, she brings me down for a kiss. "Well, fuck it, then," she says, holding up her glass. Just as Alice is returning, Bella catches the waitress's attention. "Another round for everybody," she says, but then rethinks. Pointing at Alice, she adds, "Everyone but her."

Alice sinks back down into her seat, shrinking away from Jasper when he tries to interlace their hands.

And then she shoots us all a glare that sucks the laughter from the air.

#~~#~~#

Eager to escape the awkwardness of dinner, we head over to the club a little earlier than we normally would. I am far from drunk, but there is a low, warm buzz about my brain that smooths the edges and makes everything a little easier to deal with. Especially Alice.

The club is not yet crowded when we arrive, but it is still loud and dark, a few scattered bodies moving sinuously out on the dance floor. I remember the last time Bella dragged me out to dance and slide my hands over the bare skin of her arms, knowing it will take much less convincing tonight - knowing I want nothing more than to press against her and to let my body be loose, succumbing to rhythm and touch.

A few of Bella's friends have beaten us here, and they swiftly call us over, beckoning us to join them at the tables they have secured in the quieter back corner of the room. Bella and I slide into the booth, and I notice that Jasper joins us on our side while Alice heads to the other. It is a relief to have that distance from her, and defenses are quickly dropped, my whole side of the table falling into laughter as we strive to talk above the music. As the hours slide by, I lose count of how much I have had to drink, focusing only on the smile that seems plastered on Bella's face and on the sound of her voice.

My voice, too, is easy and smooth, and it is a strange, heady thing to feel so comfortable amongst people.

It is stranger still to be comfortable with Bella swaying against my side, rocking back and forth to the sound of the bass.

At some point during a lull in conversation, she begins to suck and kiss her way down my neck, tonguing the skin around my collar in a way that is painfully arousing.

"Dance with me."

I do not hesitate to oblige, standing on feet that are steady but which feel far away, as if everything is distant and below me. With her hand around my wrist, she tugs me into the throng, pressing bodies out of the way until we are in the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by music and pulsing lights, and I want her. So badly.

"I love the way you move," she says. It is loud but still barely audible, and the words send another rush of need to my hungry flesh. I pull her against me, grinding roughly against her hips, my knees bending to bring me down to her height, and I feel like I could come, just like this.

"I love you," I answer, and I do.

God, I do.

As we grind and dance and kiss, my hands roving freely over barely contained curves, we speak of desire and of what we want to do to each other.

"On your back," she groans. "Tied up. On the floor. I want to sit on your face and watch you fuck me with your tongue."

"Perfect," I murmur back, sucking on her ear and sliding my hands beneath her skirt.

"Then I'm going to fuck you." She lifts one leg and curls it around mine, pulling me closer, and I can feel the point of her heel digging into my thigh.

"Fuck. Will you leave these on?" I slide my hand back down her leg, hitching her thigh higher against me, opening her up before drifting down her calf to touch the strap of her shoe.

She laughs, but it is not derisive. It's warm. Happy. "Kinky."

"Always," I agree, teasing her flesh with my teeth.

"Thank fuck for that."

We dance and grind and touch in silence for a few more songs. Her breath is as ragged as my own, and I pull her in more tightly against me when I feel the way her hands squeeze my shoulders, her sex so hot against my thigh even through my clothes.

She's close.

I want her closer.

"I want to make you come," I tell her. "Right here." To show my sincerity, I grab her ass. All around us, other couples are dancing just as seductively, heads thrown back and bodies writhing, and I want this. "Let me make you come."

Her answer is a breathless nod, and I start to pull her up and down my thigh in earnest, pressing just to where I think her clit must be, dry fucking on a dance floor, and she is panting, breathing harder. Squeezing.

"Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck," she curses, a whisper and a scream as she buries her face to my neck, her skin flushed and a new rush of warmth and heat seeping through my pants.

I am close myself, but I restrain the need, wanting to come inside her pussy and not in my clothes. Wanting to wait until tonight.

Wanting to lick my bracelet on her skin when I come.

As her orgasm fades, her grip loosens, her thigh dropping from around my hip, and she is sinking into me. I hold her up and kiss her ear and neck and mouth. At the sound of her laughter, my chest inflates more fully. When she pulls back, it is only to laugh some more, her expression so carefree.

"That was fucking awesome," she says, smiling and kissing me, stumbling slightly before she can latch back onto my neck. Once she is steadied, she lets her hand drift down my body, squeezing me once through my pants. Hot pleasure burns through my abdomen, making me want more, faster, now, but still I retreat

With a grimace, I grab her hand, holding her gaze as I bend to kiss her palm. "Later," I promise.

There is promise to the way she licks my collar in response, but there's drunkenness, too, as she informs me loudly that she needs to piss . I laugh and kiss her and push her toward the ladies' room, straining to see in the dark once she is gone.

Over by the bar, I see Jasper's mop of curly blond hair, and without hesitation I move to join him. Navigating my way through the sea of people, I head to the bar, mimicking his mannerisms as I place a hand on his shoulder to announce that I am there. Yelling to be heard above the music, he asks if I want another drink, and I consent, ordering one for Bella, too. When the bartender returns with four drinks instead of three, I glance at Jasper to find him studiously avoiding my gaze, but still I say nothing.

Together, we carry the glasses back to the table. Although it seemed plenty loud earlier, it is quieter here than it was back at the bar, and I can tell as we approach that there is an animated conversation going on.

I pale when I realize that Alice is the center of it.

"I mean, really," she shouts. "At thirty-three your ovaries are shriveling. I told her she needs to settle down soon if she ever wants a family. But you know Bella."

Alice's back is turned to Jasper and me, three people listening to her raptly, and I feel my stomach twisting.

I know Bella.

And I want Bella to settle down. I want her to settle down with me.

"What about that guy she's dating now? The one with the stutter?"

Alice snorts, and I almost crush the glass in my hand. "Pretty sure you need a dick to knock a girl up. Good luck with that pussy. You should hear about the shit he -"

"Enough."

The voice comes from behind me, shocking me. Two glasses land on the table and then Jasper's hand is on Alice's shoulder, pulling and twisting until she is standing up. Her eyes are unfocused as they turn to him and then me, her jaw dropping when she realizes that we have heard everything.

"I didn't - "

"I don't want to hear it," Jasper spits, but as he does, he is dragging her away from the table and toward a darkened corner. There, he hovers over her, his body language closed, his expression stern, and when she tries to touch him, he rebuffs her.

Every time, he stops her.

"What's going on?" Bella's hand is warm on my neck, her lips sloppy and wet and still drunk, but I am feeling shockingly sober.

My tongue numb, I simply point. Bella turns just in time to catch Alice raise her hand, her eyes flashing, and I wince in anticipation of the slap. Jasper's arm shoots up before her hand can connect with his face, though. Across the space, I cannot hear the words, but there is something final to the way Jasper says them.

Alice's mouth drops open, and my heart wants to hurt at the look of pain on her crumpling face, but I cannot quite bring myself to that level of sympathy. Jasper is already releasing her, turning, unlistening as Alice positively screams, her voice carrying even all the way to us. He does not turn, though.

He doesn't even look back.

Instead, he proceeds over to us, shaking his head and warning off all questions with tired, pain-ridden eyes. I watch, numb, as he bends to kiss Bella's cheek. She asks him something I cannot hear, but he just shakes his head and gives her a sad, soft smile.

"She'd gonna need you," he says, and Bella nods. Squeezing my hand, she shoots me a glance before heading to the corner of the room where Alice now stands alone, her back to the wall and her shoulders peeling away from it, tears streaking deep black lines down the sides of her face.

I watch as the two of them embrace, all the fight seemingly pouring from Alice's body as she clings to Bella, sobbing and then shoving, but Bella doesn't let Alice push her away.

"Sorry if I ruined your night," Jasper says in a tired voice as he clasps my hand.

"D-did you break up with her?"

"Yup." His mouth goes rigid, a stiff line that seems ready to break at any moment. "Sometimes … some things … Well, let's just say it was time."

I stare at Alice and Bella as they cling to each other, barely hearing myself as I say, "But I thought you loved her."

"Always have," he agrees, looking back over his shoulder for the very first time. "Probably always will."

"Then hhhhhow..."

He shoots me an exhausted, cracking smile. "She has some growing up to do. And this time I can't do it with her." Turning away from the sight of Alice's devastation, he claps me on the shoulder and pulls away. "I need to go now."

I nod, my throat dry. "See you later?"

"Absolutely."

And then he is gone.

Although I do not want to, I slide back into the booth, pretending not to care about the conversation that had been going on about me and Bella or about the spectacle of Alice and Jasper's meltdown, but I cannot pull my eyes from Bella or from the way she is embracing her friend.

I cannot ignore her tears.

As they continue to huddle and talk, Bella's arm around Alice's shoulders, I watch my plans for the evening dissolve, and I am not surprised when Bella leaves Alice sniffling in the corner to walk over to me with an apology in her eyes.

I am not surprised. But my disappointment is more than enough to make up for it.

As I stand to meet her, she speaks. "Edward, I - "

"I know," I choke out.

"I promise to come over as soon as I get her home."

Closing my eyes, I lift my hands to cup her face. "If you can," I manage. "If you want to."

"Of course I do. I just have to … Alice needs me."

I smile sadly and look down at her. "I always need you. But I understand." Ducking my head, I kiss her softly, lingering on her bottom lip before letting her go, my fingertips brushing her naked wrist with wistfulness. With regret.

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

Then I watch the only woman I have ever loved move arm in arm across the room with the woman who hates me.

Silently, I watch them leave.

#~~#~~#

As I move around the darkened space of my apartment, slamming cabinets and throwing back another glass of whiskey, it does not escape me that my anger is petty - almost as petty as my fear. Bella's kindness has always been among her very best qualities, and so many times I have been the one to benefit from it.

Still, the idea of Alice speaking poison to her makes me shiver, and I pour another shot, wandering back to my bedroom with the amber liquid in my hand. It spills a little when I set it down, forcing a laugh from my burning throat. From my jacket pocket, I extract the small, wrapped package that I had meant to give to Bella tonight, watching it mock me from its perch on Bella's pillow. As I lie down beside it, I let myself soak up her scent, my hand caressing cottony fabric instead of skin.

Over and over again, I tell myself she'll come. That I am proving myself to be the better person for letting her go. That she'll see that.

And sometimes, as the minutes slip past … sometimes I even believe it.

#~~#~~#

I wake still in my clothes, curled around a pillow that smells like love, whiskey on my breath and sleep in my eyes. Soft fingers twist and twirl in my hair, and whether or not this is a dream, I lean into them, humming with pleasure. My hand reaches out, seeking skin and finding it. A quiet sound escapes my lips, cut off by the soft pressure of a kiss.

"Shh, baby," Bella whispers, her lips drifting gently up my face.

"Bella?"

"Mhmm."

I open my eyes to a darkened room and to soft, kind eyes staring down at me through the dim. Without thought or reservation, I push the pillow to the side and shift my body to wrap around hers, my head in her lap and her fingers still working magic against my scalp.

"You're here," I mumble.

She laughs. "Told you I would be. Are you surprised?"

I shrug. "Just happy."

"I'm happy to be with you, too. Sorry I left."

"S'okay." It is. Now.

The world melts into silence and darkness and the warmth of her embrace. We sit there quietly for a few minutes while my eyes refocus, the world shifting slowly back into view. The tiniest bubble of bile rises up in my throat as I try to swallow, my lungs tight. "How's Alice?"

Bella sighs. "I think she'll be okay. She tried to get me to stay, but I told her I couldn't. Not tonight."

Closing my eyes, I swallow hard. "You could have. B-but I'm glad you're here."

"Oh, baby," Bella murmurs. "You planned such a nice evening for me. I couldn't ditch you after that."

It doesn't escape me that nothing she has said indicates that she wants to be here.

Only that she knew that I would want her to.

My heart flashes cold, and I can hear it in my words that my voice does, too. "You c-could have."

"Edward," she says. Her voice is sharper now. Less gentle. "Look at me, baby." I lift my eyes to find her face soft and open. "Edward, I love you. There's never any place I want to be but here. With you."

The combination of her expression and her words dissipates a little of the cold, and with a rough surge of relief, I lift myself onto one elbow, letting my hand move to her hair to pull her down to me, kissing her softly. "Love you."

She smiles with her mouth and with her eyes. "That's kind of the point."

"I know." Feeling adequately chagrined for my petulance, I lie back down but drag her with me, closing my arms around her and kissing her at greater length. Though I have found no satisfaction - although there is still a needy edge of desire to every fiber of my body - this is the kind of kissing that is not about sex. It's about connection. It's about love and forgiveness.

When I need to pause for air, I only pull back about an inch, staring into her eyes and stroking her hair as I murmur, "Happy birthday."

"Yeah," she says, grinning softly. "Yeah, it was."

There is still a little haze to everything, and I am surprised to see that only a couple of hours have passed since I wandered home alone. The two shots of scotch I downed upon returning are burning low in my stomach, making me feel slightly sick as I dance my fingers up and down my Bella's spine.

I remember why I drank them.

I remember the feelings of inadequacy stemming from Alice's words and from Bella's choice.

I remember wanting her to choose me.

Always.

My fingers find her wrist, stroking soft, naked skin before skimming up to her knuckles. To the third finger on her bare left hand. Effecting nonchalance, I rub the first knuckle of each finger in turn, but I know where my attention really lies.

I know which one I want to mark as my own.

Before I can stop myself, I blurt out my first thought. "D-do you ever think about ssssettling down?"

They are Alice's words. Not mine. But I say them all the same.

Bella stiffens slightly, but she does not pull away. "I don't know. Like … getting married or something?"

"Mmmmaybe. Not now. Not t-to me, necessarily," I offer, cringing at the loudness of my lie. "Just … just in general."

Her answer, when it comes, is slow and careful. Calculated. "I haven't really." Her hand moves to intertwine with mine, stopping my incessant stroking of her skin but still keeping me close. "With how things have gone, I guess I just never expected to. I'm not against it or anything. It's just not something I ever really saw happening. For me."

"D-do you ever think you might … want to?"

"I don't know. Maybe?"

My eyes close, my breath shallow, and I can feel everything swimming all around me. "I know … I knnnnow I just said … This isn't about me. Just … D-do you think you ever might wwwant to? Someday?" My voice is softer than a whisper. "With me?"

If she was stiff inside my arms before, she is now frozen, and there is nothing more I need to hear. Already, I have Alice's words. Already, I have the fears that I have harbored for so many years.

And yet I have months of happiness, too.

Months of love.

With my stomach twisting, I pull one hand from her skin and roll to my back, staring up at the ceiling as if it could hold answers. As if, unlike my future, it is anything but blank.

"I never thought I would, Edward." The small voice from beside me does nothing for the downward spiral of my thoughts. When I fail to turn to face her, she moves her own body to hover over mine, but still I refuse to look. Even if I wanted to, my eyes are unseeing. I am unfeeling.

"I never thought I would," she repeats. There is a little tremor to her speech, some hint of emotion that breaks through the numb, but I can't tell if it is with hope or pain. When she closes in to kiss my lips and cheeks and chin, I shut my eyes, reveling in the burn. "But... " she whispers. "But being with you makes me think I could."

Still unable to bear to look, I pull her in and squeeze her tightly to my chest, rocking and breathing. Feeling. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," she says. It is serious, but there is a relief to it, too, that sounds like laughter to my ears.

I am almost silent as I bare myself to her. "I want that. Someday. With you."

I can feel her nod against my throat. "I can't promise you anything. Not anytime soon, anyway, but …"

"Not soon," I agree, too many years of solitude having scared me off commitments made in haste. Finally opening my eyes, though, I take in the four walls of my room, processing all the little touches that show that she now lives here, too. And there is nothing about it that frightens me. Turning my head to kiss her temple, I repeat, "Just sssomeday. Someday."

Shakily, but with a smile, she says, "I can work with someday."

We lapse into a warm, lingering silence, and all the things that did not make sense to me a few hours ago suddenly do. My life again fits into the shimmering lines that have opened up before me in the wake of Bella's presence in my life.

And I know what I want to do.

"I did g-get you something," I say quietly, breaking the silence and lifting myself up so I can see her. She sits and sweeps her hair from her eyes, cocking an eyebrow at me warily. "Nnnothing big," I promise. Patting her pillow, I am surprised to find the present missing, and I sit so I can scan the room. Eventually, my eyes alight upon the soft gleam of the wrapping paper, on the floor on the other side of the bed. Light-headed and less than sober, it takes me a moment to stand and steady myself. When my feet are once again beneath me, I move across the room to retrieve the small, wrapped package before returning to the bed.

It is only habitual to kneel on the floor beside her as I present the gift, and it takes me a few seconds to understand the terrified look in her eyes as she stares down at me. I laugh and grab her by the neck, kissing her mouth in long strokes of lips and tongues. "It's not a ring, I promise."

The kiss deepens with her relief, the wideness of our smiles making it more difficult to do this properly, but still we try. Pulling back, I press the package into her hands.

And all the while, as she is opening it, I feel as if my heart is in her hands as well.

Slowly, Bella tears away the paper to reveal the box within. I feel my throat grow tight as she lifts the lid, peeking inside with what appears to be an equal amount of happiness and trepidation. For a moment, she simply stares, neither moving nor speaking, her eyes growing wide.

But then her lip quivers, and my heart is seared with the knowledge that I have done alright.

That we will be alright.

"Oh, Edward," she says, a quiet intake of air and even quieter words. Before her, she holds the silver cuff, three Celtic knots set in relief. Twisting it, we watch as light glints off the metal, my hand moving to surround hers, tilting so that she can see inside. To the words that I have etched in metal, much like they've been etched inside my heart.

Her eyes grow soft and damp as she reads:

My Mistress. My love. My Bella. -E.A.C.

Touching her initial on my collar with one hand, I turn the bracelet with the other, pointing to the place inside the band where I have added my own initials. I speak them aloud as I traced my thumb across the metal. "Edward Anthony Cullen. So you would know. Always. That you're mmmine and that I'm yours."

Her face is nearly cracking with the strain of smiling and crying, her body shifting off the bed to join me on her knees. At the feeling of her arms encircling me, our chests pressed together, I hear my own breath hitch, breaking with the force of pulling in air when I am so, so happy.

"I love it," she says, squeezing me more tightly.

"I love you." It is redundant and yet so necessary.

Lacking words, she simply nods, pressing her hands to either side of my face and pulling my lips to hers. In the ensuing tumble, grasping hands and pressing chests and her legs moving to straddle my hips, the bracelet falls. I reach down, one eye open to search it out on the floor. Kissing her again, my tongue insistent in her mouth, I surround her wrist with my forefinger and my thumb, touching the skin that has haunted me all evening, breathing simply, "May I?" before I pull her palm back from my skin.

"Yes."

Kissing her wrist, I slide my grip up her hand, slipping her fingers into the metal band, my chest and eyes both burning when I slide it home, feeling my name and love against her skin like a red-hot brand inside my throat. For a moment, the room is silent but for our breaths, our eyes both fixed upon the silver circle and the three unbreakable knots.

The ties that bind me to her.

Three symbols of all the ways in which our lives have become unbound.

Free from who we thought we were. From who we were supposed to be.

Free to be ourselves and to simply love each other.

The spell is broken when my eager thumb comes up to caress her flesh, feeling cold metal and warm skin and loving the way that they are blending, one into the other. My hand drifts up her arm and to her face, my fingers surrounding her jaw as my palm rests just against her pulse. With our eyes open, our lips brush, the hand with the bracelet coming up to touch my collar in a gesture so powerful it staggers me.

In the next few minutes, it is as if our clothes begin to melt away, leaving us in only skin and names, her body pressed to mine on the floor with my back against the bed. While she is the one to sink down over me, taking me deeply inside her body, there is a single, glowing, crystalline moment when it does not matter who is on top. Who is touching and who is taking. Who is giving.

After all, we are both making love.

As we each approach our pinnacle, Bella places her hands on the mattress to either side of my head, using that leverage to move herself over me just as my own hands on her hips help guide her, sliding her up and down my body. My one thumb comes down to circle her clit as her face grows flushed, breasts brushing my chest with every thrust.

Just as pleasure begins to slam over me, her body tensing and clenching, I twist my neck, looking away from her eyes to rest my gaze on twisted, glimmering metal.

On knots that I pray will never be undone.

And as I crest, spilling inside of her, I press my lips to those shining silver lines.

Knowing that we are tied together just as tightly.

That our futures, from this point on, are one.

Chapter Text

Bella's fingertips are warm against my jaw and neck, brushing gently over sensitive, damp skin as she drags the razor over the last remaining patches of stubble. She sits atop the counter, her legs spread and my body positioned so that I stand just between her thighs. As she sweeps a washcloth across my cheek, I look down at the full swells of her breasts, just barely visible where the fabric has gathered. Almost without my leave, my hand reaches up to caress the soft curves of her body, but she swats me away with practiced ease.

"You really do want me to cut you, don't you?" she says, giggling. "Trying to distract me like that."

"What can I say?" I breathe, still looking down. "They look so good."

A steady hand beneath my chin tilts my face so I must look at her eyes. Smiling and brown, they stare right back at me, one eyebrow raised in silent chastisement, but I can see the mischief just beneath her admonishment. I can see she doesn't really want to stop me.

Patting my face dry with a towel, she lets her lips curl up into a smile. "Well, your attempts at distraction failed completely. I didn't nick you once."

She never has.

"Are you surprised?"

"Nah. Just a little smug." She twists to drape the towel back across the towel bar, dropping the razor in the sink. "You want aftershave or anything?"

I shrug. "Whatever you prefer."

"No, then," she answers, leaning in and kissing just beneath my jaw. "You smell better just like this. All clean and Edward-y."

"Edward-y?"

"Yup." Taking an exaggerated sniff, she sighs and presses her lips again to my skin. "Edward-y."

My hands settle on her hips before tracing their way up her sides, skirting the edges of her breasts without impediment. With one, I follow the curve of her arm to her wrist, stroking the knots of the silver bracelet that symbolizes all the ways that I am hers and she is mine. With the other, I tilt her face up, claiming her lips and exploring her mouth with my tongue.

She indulges me for a few minutes, only pulling back when I step in closer, fitting the line of my arousal to the cradle of her sex, the skirt of her dress now high on her thighs and my pants too tight. "You're trying to distract me again," she accuses.

Grinding myself lightly against her, I agree. "Always."

She shakes her head and pushes me away. The way her fingertips linger on my jaw is evidence enough of her regret. I know that, were we not on a schedule, I'd be taking her here on this counter.

That it would take so little to drop my pants and push inside her.

"Later, baby," she whispers, her teeth nipping my ear, and with a frustrated, rumbling sigh I step back, my hands moving to smooth her skirt back down her thighs.

Later.

I close my eyes and drop my head, my breath growing tight with the knowledge of what is to come between now and the later I want so much. I know that this day is not mine. That, were it up to me, we would not be leaving these four small rooms. That we would not be venturing beyond the city and beyond my comfort zone.

That we would not be exploring my past.

Or visiting my family.

"Baby?"

My eyes drift open to take in the concern on her face, her hands still tender on my skin. I bring one to my lips, kissing palm and fingertips and wrist. "I'm okay. Just nnnervous."

"I know." She pauses, looking at me in silence before saying simply, "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For doing this for me. Taking me to meet your family. Letting me see this part of you."

I laugh, but there is a hollow, humorless quality to it. "Thank me afffter we survive it."

"We will."

"Easy for you to say."

Her fingers entwine with mine, lowering both our hands to rest against my heart. "Aren't I the one who's supposed to be nervous about meeting the maybe-someday-future in-laws?"

My eyes snap up at her words. The topic of our future has come up again once or twice since the day she let me put my name against her skin, but the idea that she could someday be my wife is not one that has left her lips before. Not like this. Not so casually.

Like it's a given for her the way it is for me.

My mouth meets hers with ferocity, the kiss breathless and deep, our lips only parting when it is too much. Gasping for air, I shake my head, each motion brushing my lips against her cheek. "They're not invited to the wedding."

She laughs, a sound that is effortless and free, devoid of the fear that had been so clear the first time I brought up the subject of marriage to her. "Whatever you say. After all, we've got plenty of time to discuss the guest list."

In these last words, I hear the first signs of her lingering uncertainty, and I am quick to reassure. "As much time as you want. As much as you need."

We kiss once more, softly, before I step back. Bella smiles and reaches around me, pointing to the hanger on the back of the bathroom door which holds a plain green dress shirt, a matching tie looped around the top. I retrieve it and hand it to her. She slips the shirt off the hanger and passes it to me, watching as I pull it on and begin to fasten the buttons and tuck it into my pants.

"Come here."

When I stand between her thighs again, she drapes the tie around my neck, the action so seductive and suggestive of the other ways she has adorned me, images of ropes and leather fastenings flitting through my mind and making me harder. With nimble fingers she makes a basic half Windsor, and I can tell that her thoughts are much like mine.

"You remember the last time I saw you in a tie?" she asks, her voice thick. Sexy.

"Our third date."

"You remember what I did with it?"

Shifting, I press my erection against her leg. "Vividly." Impeding her efforts, I lean down and press my lips to her neck, drifting them up to her ear where I pause to taste her skin. "After all, it's not every night a beautiful woman takes me home and ties me to her bed."

Bella stifles a groan, her thighs pressing more firmly against mine, but the motions of her fingers on fabric do not pause. Sliding the knot upward, she tucks the leather rope of my collar beneath my shirt, and I swallow hard at the knowledge that I will not be able to feel its weight inside my hand tonight. Still, I will have it pressed against my skin.

Somehow, that will have to be enough.

As if she is thinking the very same thing, Bella frowns as she is straightening the knot, one fingertip dipping just beneath my shirt to caress both skin and leather. "Not that you don't look hot in one, but are you sure you need to wear a tie?"

I sigh and gather her hands in mine, kissing her knuckles and then her mouth as a way to keep myself calm. "Believe me. You go to the Cullens' for Sunday dinner, you wear a tie."

With her bottom lip between her teeth, she smiles. "Well, just remember who tied it, then."

I chuckle. "Believe me, I know." Lower, just in her ear, I add, "You're the only one who ties me up."

Bella blushes a brilliant hue and digs her nails into my skin before tugging my hair to drag my mouth back to her lips. It is a quick kiss, but it's satisfying all the same. When I pull back, she runs her hands down my neck, smoothing the points of my collar until they sit just right. "So your folks are kind of formal, huh?"

"They're very … ssserious about Sundays. How about that?"

Are they ever.

Memories of cathedrals and whispered words, of guilt spoken in both in Latin and English all wash over me. I think of sweaty, uncomfortable confessions and of hours spent lighting candles in the dark, clutching a rosary and wondering why I always felt wrong.

No one in the Church ever did anything to harm me directly. But my parents' God still left His mark on me.

Somehow, I manage to hide my distress from Bella, smiling and focusing on appropriate attire instead of on the twisting feelings inside of me. When she twists her mouth into a frown, it is with her eyes darting uncertainly to the line of her dress. "Am I all right?"

The absurdity of her understatement brings me back to myself and back to her.

"Bella." I stop, waiting until she looks at me, my hands rising to cup her cheeks. "You're so much more than 'all right.' You're perfect."

"Hardly."

I shake my head and hold hers still, staring at her intently. With a single kiss to her forehead, I say simply, "You're absolutely perfect for me."

#~~#~~#

It is about an hour's drive to my parents' house, and I spend the majority of it with my hands white-knuckled around the steering wheel, my eyes intently focused on the road. The empty places in my chest expand with the growing spaces between the houses as we get farther from the city, and by the time we get off the highway, I am finding it hard to breathe.

Bella sits beside me, her legs curled up beneath her, idly playing with the stereo and talking at random. I recognize her efforts to distract me, and I appreciate them, but it is difficult to focus on what she's saying when I know what is awaiting us. At length, she tells me about the articles she is working on and her ongoing fiction projects that she tries to fit in time for.

"I'm thinking I may have to do another temp job soon," she says sourly, and I hazard a glance at her. I know she hates these jobs, and I hate that she has to take them. I hate that they take time away from the work she loves.

I hate that they take time away from me.

"Oh?"

"Yeah," she says. In my peripheral vision, I can see her worrying her hands, her lip between her teeth as she stares at the road and then at her feet. "I mean, especially if I have to look for someplace else to live eventually."

This is news to me.

"You're mmmoving?"

She shrugs and shifts to look at me. "Maybe. I don't know." Glancing away again, she adds, "I mean, the situation with Alice isn't getting any better."

There is no mistaking the nervousness in her tone now, and the tightness in my chest is rapidly increasing as I think about her finding another place to live.

As I wonder if she wouldn't like to live with me.

It's too soon, and I have no idea if she would want to. I don't even know if I would want her to; while I would love to have her always with me, I wonder what she'd do if she had nowhere else to go. If she was always stuck with me.

She is talking again, and I fight to focus with so much swimming in my head. Her voice lowers with her eyes, and she says quietly, "She … she got really drunk the other night and she … she told me what really happened on my birthday."

I swallow hard and hear Alice's words in my mind - both what she said and what she didn't. What she would have if Jasper hadn't stopped her. With a strangled sound, I manage, "Oh."

"I'm …" Bella's voice hiccups as she continues. "I'm so sorry, Edward. If I'd had any idea what she was saying … At the time, she made out like Jasper just snapped for no reason, but if I'd known... And then I let you go home without me. And you just let me. You must have been so upset."

I steal another look, finding her head hanging and her hands all twisted up in her lap, her expression crestfallen. Needing to touch her, I reach out my hand to pull at one of hers, surrounding it and letting my thumb drift up to rub gently at the skin beside her bracelet. "It's okay," I say, looking forward once more. "You were being there for your friend."

"But she wasn't there for me."

Our eyes connect for the briefest instant before I have to tear mine away to keep sight of the road. Still, even as I am glancing away, I am smiling at her.

"And that's what makes you you and her her."

She is still staring at me as I turn onto the main street in town. We are less than a mile from my parents' home now, and I am surprised when she says quietly, "Pull over."

"What?"

"Pull over. Or into a shopping plaza. Or something. Pull over."

Confused but willing, I obey, turning at the next opportunity.

"Farther away from the road."

I navigate a little ways down, into an empty part of the lot, before turning into a spot. As I shift into park, I turn to question her, but there are no words. Only her mouth, crushed against mine, her tongue seeking entry. I give it willingly, still mystified but happy to oblige, my hand coming up to slide into her hair. She is already out of her seatbelt and leaning over the space between our seats, on her knees and looming over me. The positioning makes me instantly hard as I open to her kiss, moaning roughly against her mouth.

She tears herself away just enough to gaze at me with intense but loving eyes. "You always do this. Always."

"I - "

"Assume the best about people. Do whatever they want. Never take anything for yourself."

"But - "

She kisses me again, hard, silencing any protestations or denials, right up until I feel her hand on my erection through my clothes.

"Bella - "

"You're tense as fuck. And you're going to see your parents. For me."

"Yes, but - "

"Take something for yourself, Edward," she insists, palming me deftly, and it feels so good. "Take something from me."

"Fuck," I hiss as she slides down the zipper and reaches in to pull me out. Two strokes of her hand have me panting, my eyes scanning the empty parking lot frantically until I can't focus on anything.

I can't focus on anything but her mouth.

"Bella," I groan as wet heat envelops me, her head in my lap and my fist slamming against the dash. It's a strangled protest and a warning, and it's please.

Please let me come in your mouth.

"God, that feels good," I breathe. My gaze is dancing between the world outside and the sight of myself, shining wet with spit and gliding between her full, rose lips. "But we … what if…"

My words die in my throat as she moves faster, and it's hard to think of anything but warmth and touch and the way her teeth graze the head as she pulls all the way off only to plunge back down once more. For a crystal moment, my mind is clear of everything. Of all my worries about her friend and where she'll live. About my family.

About someone catching her sucking me.

Breathing hard and giving in, I lift my hand to slide her hair back from her face. I leave it there, guiding gently, and she moans around me. I half expect her to stop and demand I put my hands back on the wheel, but she doesn't. Instead, she lets me.

She gives this to me.

Only a few short minutes later, with a shuddering grunt and a whisper of, "I love you," I take. Closing my eyes, I come, deeply and unexpectedly, and as I twitch, spent and euphoric and in her mouth, it is as if every ounce of tension melts away.

Slipping her lips off of me and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Bella smiles at me smugly and asks, "Feel better, baby?"

"So much," I agree, almost growling as I pull her in and kiss her roughly. Wondrously. "What did I do to deserve you?"

She shrugs and pecks me once on the lips, echoing my own words as she offers simply, "You're you."

And I actually think I know what she means.

#~~#~~#

It is surreal, just how little about my parents' house has changed. For minutes that feel like hours, I sit there, staring at it and trying to prepare myself to go inside.

It's strange, this idea of a homecoming to a place that never really felt like home. Idly, I wonder if it would have been easier if there'd been some incident - some explosive moment when I screamed at my father and kissed my mother goodbye. I wonder what would have happened if I'd said goodbye instead of returning fewer and fewer of their calls until finally they stopped.

"Edward?"

The softness of Bella's touch against my knuckles pulls me back, my hands uncurling from around the steering wheel as I turn to face her, smiling weakly to show her I'm all right. "I'm fine," I say, and I am. Nervous and uncomfortable but fine. It's not the orgasm or the feel of her mouth on my flesh that has eased my trepidation. It's just her. It's that she's here with me.

"Come on," I say, urging both myself and her. "Let's go."

With one soft kiss to her wrist, I open my door and place two feet on the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement at the window, some fluttering at the curtain, but I do not look. From experience, I know it is my mother and that she'll be waiting at the door.

She was always waiting for me.

And I always let her down.

At the other side of the car, I find Bella sitting patiently, waiting for me as I reach for her door. I smile in thanks and offer her my hand, clasping it tightly in my own as I lead her up the walk. As expected, the front door to the house opens tentatively before we can even knock, and through the screen I see grey eyes and a wan face, features that have grown sharper, and honey hair that is faded with grey.

My mother looks like even more of a ghost than she used to.

For the longest time, she simply stares at me, and I stand there, withering beneath the softness of that gaze, uncertain what to do or how to move.

"Edward?"

"Hello, Mother."

With a sudden smile, things shift into motion again, the screen door swinging outward as my mother hovers just inside, one arm extended. I grab the handle and draw it wider as I wrap my arm around Bella's waist. "Bella, this is my mother, Esme Cullen. Mother, this is B-Bella."

I've been talking like this for thirty years, and yet still, standing here, I want to slap myself for my tongue's little tick. My mother winces, too, but I try not to show her that I notice as I force a fake, stiff smile and tilt my head at Bella.

"Ah, yes," my mother says. "Bella. I'd like to say I've heard a lot about you, but … "

I squeeze Bella's side, trying to remind her with my touch that this has nothing to do with my love for her. She seems to need no reassurance, though, extending a hand confidently and completing my mother's statement. "But we both know how private Edward is. It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Cullen."

It does not escape my attention that my mother does not correct her or invite Bella to use her given name.

After a bit more awkward shuffling, I hear my father's voice from within. At the sound, my mother looks over her shoulder before shifting to move out of the entryway. I take Bella's jacket and my own and hang them on the coatrack by the door where I can almost see mine and Emmett's from when we were younger, and I have to shake off the feeling of déjà vu.

Just as I resign myself and begin to head up the stairs, my mother's voice catches me, making me pause. "Edward?" In a departure from our stilted greeting, she reaches suddenly, taking my free hand between her cool, thin ones and squeezing it lightly. "I'm glad you're home."

All I can manage to say is, "Thank you."

Mother drops my hand quickly, as if remembering herself, and gestures for us to go ahead. Still holding tightly to Bella, I move through the hallway with trepidation and turn the corner to enter the living room, where I am nearly overwhelmed by nostalgia and the suffocating sensation of being someplace I had never planned to be again.

Seeing people I don't know how to talk to.

As if he has not moved in the last five years, my father sits in his leather recliner, a highball glass in his hand, his chin high. Like Mother, his age is showing in little ways, but unlike her, the greying at his temples and the lines around his mouth lend him even greater gravitas, making him more imposing. To his left, sitting in his typical, sprawled out fashion on the sofa, is my brother. And in the other chair is the last person I expected to see. Yet I am not surprised.

For a minute, all I can do is stare at him, flashes of my own skinny, shaking frame kneeling with my hands clasped before me stealing what little voice I have.

I don't want to be here.

"Well, well. Your brother told us all you were coming, but I have to say, I'm surprised to see you."

My eyes do not move as I digest my father's words. He knew I'd be here. And yet he invited him anyway.

"It's good to see you again," Father Arnold says, smiling benevolently and rising. My gaze flickers to his white, starched collar, and my hand lifts instinctively to my own, finding only the fabric of my tie. Still, I scramble, my fingertips searching out the little lump of metal against my chest even through my shirt, pressing it as sharply as I can against the skin above my sternum, like I can sear Bella's initial into myself like a brand. Like I can remember who am, even when I'm here.

"Hey, Ed, you okay?" Emmett's voice pierces the bubble, and I take a deep breath and shift my eyes to his. They are wide and concerned, his posture less relaxed as he sits up straight and puts his beer down.

"Ffffine," I choke out, internally wincing and squeezing harder at Bella's hand.

My father's sigh is audible as he shifts to cross one ankle over his knee, and I can see my mother, who has moved across the room to stand behind him as she touches her hand to his shoulder. Placing his hand over hers but still staring at me, he asks, "Aren't you going to introduce us?"

I swallow hard and glance at Bella. Her face is calm, her shoulders back, but I can sense the tension in her frame. She looks every bit the lioness. She looks ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. Forcing myself to relax, I place one kiss to her temple and breathe before turning back to face the room.

"Bella, this is my fffather, Carlisle Cullen." I nod toward the other chair. "Fffather Arnold. And you know Emmett." Addressing everyone else, my voice cracking, I lift my hand to place it at the small of Bella's back, as if I am presenting her for inspection. On some level, I realize that I am doing exactly that. "This is my g-girlfriend. Isabella Swan. B-b-bella."

Father Arnold alone crosses the space to reach for Bella's hand, clasping it between his own as he smiles and tells her how pleased he is to meet her. He reaches for mine just after, and I do not have the presence of mind to pull away until it is already clasped inside of his. As I look up, I find his expression of welcome to be genuine, everything about him projecting the message that he means no harm. He never did.

And yet his God and his Church left me questioning myself for years.

My father speaks up again. "Rosalie is entertaining the children in the family room. I'm sure they'll be in momentarily."

In the background there are the faint noises of play, and another level of nervousness makes my stomach tight. I see my nephews infrequently and have never been comfortable with the role of being uncle to them. Their reactions have always reinforced that they're not certain of my status, either.

As the priest retreats back to his chair, my mother invites Bella and me to sit and offers us drinks, informing us that dinner will be ready soon. I gratefully accept a glass of scotch and Bella wine as we take places on the couch beside my brother with me in the middle.

"So, Edward. Tell me what you're up to these days," my father says, breaking the silence that clings to the air like smoke. Dirty. Heavy. Setting his glass down, he continues, "Since you never bother to keep in touch."

I feel as small as ever as I swallow. "Just the usual. Writing."

"Still in the same place?"

"Yes."

His hum of acknowledgement is half-snicker, and my gut roils.

My mother interjects. "And what about you, Bella? What do you do?"

"The same, actually," Bella says, her voice steady, but I can hear the tension lurking just beneath it. "It's part of what drew me to him. That we could talk about what we did so easily." She pauses and swirls her wine. "Though I'm not as successful at it as Edward is. I still have to take the odd temp job now and then to help make ends meet."

My father's laugh is less veiled this time. "That's what I always told him, from that first time he came home, suggesting he wanted to change his major. There's no money in it. No stability." His hand wraps around the arm of the chair, fingers rapping against the leather. "I always hoped he'd change his mind. That he'd go into medicine like his brother and I did."

Somehow, my father has always seemed to ignore that a doctor has to talk to his patients.

Mother's smile is wide, her voice wistful as she gazes at me, then looks to Bella. "Edward was always brilliant at biology."

With my glass almost at my mouth, memories of the year I spent in endless pre-med classes burning my throat more painfully than the liquor, I manage, "B-brilliant but mmmiserable."

"Yeah, Ed never did go in for that stuff," Emmett breaks in. "But that's okay," he says, playfully punching my arm. "If he's happy with what he does."

"I am."

"That's wonderful," Father Arnold interjects. "We're blessed to find our calling."

My father is not so easily placated, though. "Just because you don't like something doesn't mean you should abandon it."

I do not miss the way my father's eyes dart to the figure of the priest, perched comfortably across the room from us, and at the implication, I think about all the things I've abandoned. All the things I've turned away from.

About the last Christmas I spent here five years ago. About Midnight Mass and refusing the sacrament.

I remember the conflict of feeling both too unclean to receive it and so incensed that my parents would still be trying to literally push something I did not believe down my throat.

"I didn't ab-b-bandon medicine. I chose ssssssssomething else."

Bella's thumb is rubbing my knuckles deftly. "And you're brilliant at that," she says quietly.

I'm not. But I'm good enough. I know that now.

The room quiets again until my mother steps away from my father's chair and smiles self-consciously. "Let me go check on that roast." She retreats, leaving us to our awkward silences and swallowed disappointments.

Finally, Emmett mentions something about the afternoon's football game, clearly referencing a discussion that had been started before Bella and I arrived.

And never in my life have I ever been so relieved to sit there, listening to a conversation being carried on as if I was not even there.

#~~#~~#

"She seems lovely with children."

My head jerks up at Father Arnold's words, his eyes shifting between me and Bella. Somehow, I have ended up near the head of the table with my father at my left and the priest across from me. Unsurprisingly, Bella and Rosalie seem to have struck up a quick and easy friendship, their strong personalities complementing each other. Bella has been drawn into a conversation with her and my mother as they all try to convince my nephews to eat a little more and to stay in their seats.

Yet still, for all that her attention is diverted, Bella's hand has never once left my knee.

"She's lllovely," I agree.

"Have you discussed having any of your own?"

My eyes widen as I refocus again on the man across from me, my tongue seizing as my mouth opens, my jaw clicking as the words fail to emerge.

"For the love of God, son," my father interrupts, "just slow down."

I close my eyes and my mouth and let my fork fall to my plate. Since I was three, he's been telling me to just slow down.

Like I haven't tried that.

The only thing that works is refusing to talk at all.

I've tried that, too.

In long years lost to isolation and silence, I've tried.

Bella's hand tightens on my thigh, and I drop my own hand down to meet hers, squeezing it softly. She speaks up, turning her attention back to my end of the table. "We're not quite in a place to be thinking about that yet, I don't think."

I open my eyes to see Father Arnold smiling warmly. It is that very openness of it that bothers me, I think. It is the intimation of welcome he puts on as the face of a faith whose doors have always seemed closed to me. Addressing her, he asks, "Well, would you like them someday? Children?"

The potential minefield ahead of us looms large, and I brace myself against the ground I expect to have explode beneath my feet. While Bella has never expressed an interest in a family, her skittishness on all things related to the future has led me to never probe her on the subject, and this is not where I want to have this conversation.

She seems to sense the same precariousness, and I hear delicacy in the way she words her answer.

"Not particularly. But if my partner was set on them, it's not a deal-breaker for me."

I exhale deeply, feigning nonchalance as I respond quickly, "And I fffeel much the same." Turning my head, I meet her gaze and see the relief in her eyes as beneath the table our hands entwine.

So broad is my smile that it only flags a little when I hear my father cough. "Well, you never know," he says gruffly. "Your mother thought she only wanted the one, and then five years later she was suddenly desperate for another. Things change."

Bella looks away from me, and I watch her as her eyes focus in on my father. "Yes. Some things." Her gaze shifts back to mine, her grip tightening as she adds, "And some things don't. Ever."

She lets go of me and returns to her plate and to the talk going on at the other end of the table, but I feel no less attended to for her lack of attention. Sensing the shift in mood, Father Arnold segues into other talk of family and sons, and I relax, finishing my meal in my customary silence.

I have almost lapsed into complacency when I notice that everyone is almost done, and I quickly set my knife and fork down. Not long after, my father pushes his chair back and pulls his napkin from his lap. "Well," he says, "let's leave the ladies to it, shall we? I've just gotten some Cubans in if you'd care to join us, Father."

The priest's smile is wide. "I'd love to." He and my father rise quickly, and at the other end of the table I watch as Emmett, too, moves to stand. Still, I sit, nervous and indecisive.

"Come along, son."

The roast sits heavily in my stomach as I look to Bella, seeking out any sign that she would like to leave. In her expression, I see my very questions reflected back to me, some silent conversation taking place between us. There is concern for my well-being in the tilt of her mouth and a tentative desire to stay longer in the way her body angles toward my sister-in-law. Her hand brushes the back of mine as she lets her eyes flit to my father, standing just beyond me. Hovering. Waiting. "You can go if you want to," she tells me quietly.

I hear the word 'want,' and I know I have a choice here. For a moment, I consider feigning fatigue and making our excuses, but I catch the way that Rosalie is staring sourly at me, and somehow, this settles the decision for me. "Ok-kay," I whisper, bending to kiss Bella's temple. "Probably not for llllong, though."

Bella nods and squeezes my palm. Feeling stronger for that contact, I push back from the table and stand.

And then I follow this trio of men that I will never understand as they lead me out into the night.

Chapter Text

As I make my way out onto the patio, I find myself thinking about routines and rituals. For years, I marked my life out in them: the sound of an alarm and the aroma of coffee, the lonely nights spent wanting and the feel of needy flesh inside my hand. Even in these happy months since Bella found me, there have been rituals - actions that demarcate the person I am and what is expected of me. Standing there in the waning light, my fingertips instinctively search out my collar beneath the broadcloth of my shirt, remembering how my lover becomes my Mistress by placing her love against my skin and showing her ownership to anyone who can see.

With my other hand, I accept the cigar that my father passes to me, remembering a whole series of nights just like this one. It is a sign of manhood and of entry into a circle I do not wish to be a part of.

And unlike my Mistress , my father does not ask me if this is who I want to be.

As ever, I hesitate, the cigar feeling strange in my hand, the scent already nauseating as the others cut and light and puff. At the sound of my name, I look up to see Emmett passing me the cutter, and I stare at for a moment before looking up at him.

"Actually," I begin, already beginning to hold the cigar toward my father, "I think I'll p-p-p…p-pass tonight."

"Don't be ridiculous," my father says dismissively.

"Nnnno, thanks."

To my surprise, my father takes the cigar, but then before I can say another word, he's grabbed the cutter, too, and snipped the head off expertly, passing it back to me even as I am still shaking my head.

"Just put the damned thing in your mouth already."

Yellow.

I remember a similar request, and I remember my words. And I wish my interactions with my family were as safe as the ones I have with my Mistress - that my words would be as loudly heard.

"Nnnno, thank you," I repeat, my hands in fists at my side.

"Do you know how much these things cost? It's ruined once you cut it."

I stare back at my father, but I do not move. "Then you p-probably shouldn't have c-c-cut it."

My brother's laughter interrupts us, diffusing the tension incrementally. He lifts his own cigar to his mouth and inhales deeply before puffing out and gesturing, the glowing end becoming an extension of his hand. "Ed does have a point, you know."

I am rendered mute by my father's sudden proximity as he steps toward me, shoving the cigar into my shirt pocket before moving away again, turning to the side and smoking. More descriptively, he's fuming.

And while it still makes me feel worthless and small, the terror does not bloom in my heart this time. In fact, it takes everything I have not to laugh out loud as I stare at him, realizing for perhaps the very first time, that there's nothing he can do to me.

That there's no reason he should have that power over me.

That he doesn't. Not unless I give it to him.

One small, slightly cracked-sounding chuckle does escape my lips as I step backward, leaning against the house and letting my hand drift once more to my neck. This time, I do not hesitate, loosening my tie and undoing the top two buttons of my shirt until my fingers tangle with leather. Until I feel like myself again.

With the metal oval of my collar grasped tightly between my forefinger and my thumb, I breathe in deeply, filling my lungs for the first time in hours, it seems, and look up to find my father's gaze fixed intently on my hand as he lifts the cigar once more to his mouth.

"Is it that girl?" he asks. Even at his tone, I don't shirk. I don't have to.

"Exc-cuse me?"

"She won't let you smoke, right?"

Curling my fingers more tightly, I feel the Chinese character pressing against my palm and hear the irony that's lurking just beneath my words as I insist, "She d-doesn't tell me what I can and c-c-can't do. I just d-don't wwwant to."

My father shakes his head and snorts.

Beside him, Father Arnold blows out a thick plume of smoke before spitting over the railing in a practiced motion he's clearly done a hundred times before. "Good for you, Edward," he says, nodding at me. "Nasty habit, really."

"You know, you're really going to have your work cut out for you with that one," my father says, interrupting. "You're as bad as your brother, in that respect."

Of course I am.

Lord knows I've never been as good as him.

"With Bella?" I ask. There's something shaky to my hands, but it's not the instability or weakness it would usually be. It's anger. It's me, ready to protect what's mine and what I love.

"Of course," he shoots back. "A woman like that or like your brother's wife. Trying to bring them to heel - "

"To what?" My voice is almost a screech, and it startles even me with its intensity.

It does not give my father pause. "A man needs to show a woman who's boss if he's ever going to have any peace - "

"Who the ffffffffffffffff-fuck are you to decide what a m-man is?"

For fear of breaking it, I let go of my collar, feeling the now-warm oval hit my chest just as the side of my fist meets the brick behind me. It is a dull throb of pain shooting up through my arm.

It is silence descending over us all as my father's face turns crimson.

But I'm not done.

Pulling the cigar from my pocket, I cast it at the ground and turn, lifting my arm to rake my hand through my hair. "I don't have to be the sssame k-kind of man that you are. I don't. And I wwwon't ever b-be. I d-don't want a wwwwoman to heel, whatever that m-m-means. I wwwant one who's strong and b-b-beautiful and who llloves me. Just the way I am."

"How - " my father starts, but I'm not listening.

"Ffffather Arnold," I say curtly, nodding at him. "I'm sssorry to have seen you again like this." I turn to my brother and meet his wide eyes, appreciating that his smile is even wider. "Emmett, I'll c-call you."

Without another word, I turn, hearing my father's sputtering even as I pull the glass door closed behind me and storm through the house.

As I walk, I think of all the things I'd wanted to do here. The childhood bedroom I'd wanted to show Bella - the one I'd wanted to kiss her in. The parts of myself I'd wanted her to see.

But I think it's more important to show my father who I am instead.

At the entryway into the kitchen, I am a vibrating line of energy, high on excitement and terrified of the storm I may have left in my wake, but I don't care. Rosalie is the first to look up, pausing mid-sentence in the story she'd been reading to her child, and in the silence that follows, I find all eyes turned to me. It begins to dawn on me just slightly what I've done, but I'm still seeing too much red to think.

And through that haze of red, all I can see is Bella.

She takes in my appearance with shocked eyes, her arms still elbow-deep in dishwater, and I can see her lips parting, so many questions on her tongue that none of them can push through.

"I'm sssorry," I stammer out, looking only at her. "We need to g-go."

"Edward…" My mother's voice is thin and wavering. She is so slight I'd barely seen her, her back to the pantry and a dishtowel in her hands. And her expression is so disappointed it almost cracks my heart.

Almost.

I shake my head and move toward her. Not waiting for a cue, I place my hands on Mother's shoulders and press my lips to her forehead, dropping my arms to clasp her hands in mine. "I'll c-call you. I promise."

I will. For her sake, I will.

"B-bella?"

"Of course," Bella answers, grabbing another towel from the handle of the stove. "Rosalie … "

"It's fine," my sister-in-law says, rising, her child in her arms. Something about her voice calls my attention, and I am surprised to find her focused on me. "Did you finally tell that old coot off?"

My throat is dry as I acknowledge it. "I … I think I d-did."

"Good for you," she offers.

I nod, still looking at her as Bella's hand entwines with mine. It is such a strange thing to think my sister-in-law, whom I have always feared, honestly understands. Stuttering slightly less now, I say my goodbyes quickly, already hearing the back door opening. I do not wish to be caught running.

But that doesn't mean that I am not going to.

Bella and I are already in the entryway, my hands shaking, adrenaline still coursing through me as I hold her jacket and help her slip it on when I hear my father railing at my mother, and I hear him approaching. Still, I do not pause.

"Edward."

Hearing his voice from just down the hall, I fumble through putting on my own coat, my hand reaching for the doorknob as he approaches, his footfalls echoing against the tile.

"Edward. Don't you dare walk out that door without - "

"Don't you," I seethe. I spare my father just one glance as I yank the door open and wait for Bella to step through. "D-don't you dare." I pause and catch my breath before I meet his eyes again, managing just, "Goodbye." Only as I am saying it do I realize I'm enacting the scene I'd always pictured when I'd envisioned how our parting should have been.

And even over his protests, the slamming of the door behind me seems like the loudest sound in all the world.

#~~#~~#

"Pull over, Edward."

Bella's voice feels like it's floating through a fog, and I just curl my hands more tightly around the steering wheel.

"Pull over."

It's sharper now. Stopped at a traffic light, I turn to look at her and see the gleam in her eyes that reminds me of her demeanor as my Mistress .

"I mean it."

It takes a moment before I can realize I'm shaking and that I remember nothing since I got in the car. With a cold sweat breaking out across my neck, I nod numbly and face forward again, somehow managing to pull into the very same lot where she put her mouth on my body just a few short hours ago. Once the key leaves the ignition, my head falls into my hands, and I am somehow surprised to feel a burst of air when the door opens beside me.

Held inside of Bella's arms, I let it all fall away, obeying instructions to unfasten my seatbelt and step out of the car. There in the empty lot, she wraps her entire self around me, my face pressed deeply to the softness of her hair and neck as I breathe.

All I can do is breathe.

Finally, she pulls away and holds my head between her hands, staring up at me with an expression that is tender and loving and everything I need it to be. "You okay, baby?"

I nod, my smile cracking. "I love you," I croak.

Her lips curl up in relief as she pulls me down to kiss me. "And I love you."

Without another word, I press the keys into her palm. She stares at them briefly but then nods and squeezes my hand, waiting until I pull away to get back into the car.

As she pulls back onto the road, I stare out the windshield and replay every moment of the evening in my mind. Each is more awful than the last, every inch of me a conflict between the heady freedom of speaking up and horror at exactly the same.

Knowing always what I need, Bella drives in silence, her hands both firmly on the wheel. While I always crave her touch, for once I am grateful for my space.

I let her steer. And I let myself think.

#~~#~~#

The first things I notice are the familiar streets drifting by, all neon and brick. My chest is lighter, the buildings and spaces that I know settling one of the many layers of discomfort that have built up around my ears, closing my throat.

"Sweetheart?" Bella's voice is tentative, and I vaguely wonder if she's spoken to me before - if I've been too lost in myself to hear.

"Yeah?" I look at her and marvel as always at how beautiful she is.

A flicker of amusement passes over her face, her eyes darting briefly to mine. "So you are still in there."

I chuckle and let my eyes shift back to the world drifting by.

"I was just wondering where…"

"My place," I answer, too quickly perhaps. Too definitively.

"Um…" She hesitates, but I'm not sure why. "Both of us?"

My eyebrows furrow as I reply, "Of c-course." At her lack of a response, I look back to her, and I endeavor to soften my posture and my tone. "Please?"

I may take nothing for myself. But this I can ask for.

I'm not sure what else I need, but tonight I know that I need her.

My breathing returns to normal when she nods and relaxes and slips her hand over to rest on my knee. I massage her fingers gently, pressing my thumb into the sensitive skin of her palm in a silent apology. I'm sorry for making a scene and for making her leave, sorry for my silence and the heavy cloud of spinning thoughts that have kept me from telling her what I need.

Quietly, I murmur, "Thank you."

"Of course. Anything."

"I know."

Few words pass between us as she parks and hands my keys back to me, our arms wrapping around each others' waists as we make our way to my apartment. Inside, we shed coats and turn on lights, moving slowly but never letting much space emerge between us. There's something about being here - about being safe - and it slowly dawns on me more fully that something monumental has transpired.

I am standing in the doorway between my kitchen and my living room when I finally give voice to it.

My voice is shaky as I breathe, "I t-told off my dad."

Bella turns, her eyes connecting with mine and a broad smile spreading slowly across her face. "You did."

My feet close the space between us before I realize I've told them to, my face hovering mere inches above hers, and I can feel her breathe. "I've never done that before."

"He deserved it."

Even I can hear the wonder as I say, "I know."

"How does it feel?"

"It feels … " I hesitate, but there is no other word. I am half-laughing as I answer, "It feels amazing."

There is palpable relief as my lips descend upon hers, hungry and needing. Like I could consume her. Like I can't get my hands close enough to her skin.

"And it's all because of you," I breathe between kisses, her taste on my tongue and her air in my lungs, and I want to be closer. I want everything.

"No, you're - "

"It's you," I insist. It is.

It's always been her.

There's that shaky, powerful feeling in my hands as I wrap them around Bella's hips, pulling her to me at the same time that I press forward, pushing myself against her and walking her backwards till she's pressing into the wall. It's a high that's almost as intense as the one I feel when I am on my knees for her, and yet it's something else entirely. I don't want to let go of it.

And I know what I want to do.

With a strange euphoria that makes my head swim, I slide my hands down her hips to grasp her ass, lush and full, lifting her even as I'm kissing her, and she wastes no time in wrapping her legs around my waist. While we are always so in tune when we come together this way, there's something about the way she takes my cues that pushes the buzzing, thrilling feeling in my head and hands even higher. I thrust my hips without hesitation, the pleasure intensified by the way she responds, her groan so loud in my ears and her breath hot.

Still kissing her, sucking hard on her lip, I place my hand on her wrist and lift it to my shoulder, grunting, "Hold on," before I shift her higher against my hips and peel her from the wall. With her body still wrapped around mine, one hand beneath her ass and the other splayed across her back, I stagger toward my bedroom, and I can do this. I know I can.

When my knees finally hit the foot of my bed, I lift one up onto the mattress before dropping us both down onto it, my cock fitted to the space between her legs as I land between them, my hands braced on the bed so that I lean over her. I duck my head to kiss her mouth in an effort to hide the way my arms tremble until I'm lost in her, my hips sliding against her and my tongue tasting her. Holding myself up on just one arm and breathing hard, I let one hand drift down to her thighs, pushing her dress up, and she arches her back, reaching down to grab the hem as together we pull it off of her.

"God, you're beautiful," I groan as I drag my lips from her mouth and down her chin, sliding them wetly over hot skin until I reach her breasts. I tug the cup of her bra down hungrily before sucking white flesh into my mouth, letting her hands guide my head toward her nipple where I tongue and kiss and nip. At each touch, she pushes her hips against me more forcefully, mirroring my own needy thrusts, as she releases her grip on my hair to reach behind her back, unfastening her bra. I rip it from her body as soon as I feel the give in the fabric, my mouth relentless against her skin as I focus only on touch and want.

Feeling her hands at my throat, tugging at my tie, I groan and push myself against her more roughly, chasing a feeling that I think can be the only possible culmination of all this power coursing through my veins. It's adrenaline and sex and control.

And I'm in control.

I feel like I'm in control of myself for the first time in my life.

Bella slips the tie from around my neck, and I wrest it from her, tossing it behind me in the clearest sign that I can think of to show her that tonight has nothing to do with restraint. It's about giving up and giving in, and I am yielding to instincts I never even knew I had as I chase her fingers down my chest, pulling at buttons until I can tug my shirt free from my pants. As she pushes it off my shoulders, I rise up onto my knees and stare down at her, fumbling with my belt and holding her eyes.

I stand to pull my pants and boxers away, kicking off my shoes and stepping out of them before climbing over her again, naked and needing, my cock leaking with the desperate desire to be inside her and to find an outlet for this energy. To take her and to love her. To prove to myself that I'm still really me.

She lifts her knees and slides her thumbs into the waistband of her underwear, dragging them off her legs. Before she even gets them to her knees, I place my hands on the undersides of her thighs, framing her pussy and stroking along the sides of it with my thumbs. I slowly dance my fingers up the length of her sex, pressing deliberately at wet, hot flesh as my arousal throbs to the sound of her breathing. My eyes follow my hands, my mouth slack at the unbearable eroticism of watching my own fingers slide inside her, hot and slick and silky, and knowing how she'll feel wrapped around me.

My eyes clench closed and my cock twitches, a near-painful spasm of desire pulsing through me to the point where I can scarcely breathe, I want so badly to be inside her. Sliding my hands up to the insides of her thighs, I push them wider and pin them to bed just long enough to fit my hips to hers. With a shuddering breath, I drag the underside of my cock over the deep, flushed flesh of her sex, watching in rapt attention as the bead of fluid at my tip melts into her wetness when I slide the head over her clit. Pulling my hips back, I can feel myself pressing just to her entrance, her pussy yielding, practically welcoming me inside, and at that, I pause.

I swallow hard as I tear my gaze from the sight of my body about to enter hers to stare up at her. And I can swear in that moment, that I have never seen her look at me with so much love.

Releasing her thighs, I drop down onto my elbows with one hand on either side of her head and touch my brow to hers, our noses brushing as I close my eyes to center myself. When I open them again, she is still gazing at me, one hand reaching up to graze my cheek as the other wraps around my back.

"You have to tell me," I whisper unsteadily.

"Tell you what?"

"If I do anything wrong," I manage, drawing my hips back and then pressing forward slightly until just the head of my cock is surrounded by lush heat and that perfect grip of her body. I close my eyes again and drop my head to press my forehead to the mattress, my mouth against her throat as I grunt, "While I'm fucking you."

And then, slowly, powerfully, I thrust.

And I'm home.

"God, yes, baby," Bella breathes. Her legs wrap around me completely, drawing me deeper, and I want to surround her and be surrounded as I begin to push and pull, sliding hot and wet inside of her again and again. Over and over, I bury myself, taking and loving, touching and fucking, and it's good. It's so good.

"You feel incredible," I pant, my cock so deep inside of her and my nerves on fire. I know she feels toogood - that I feel too good, and I know I won't last. But I know, too, that it's okay. Grinding my hips against her clit and sucking at her neck, my hand cupping her breast and rolling her nipple between my fingers, I let myself take.

I let myself fuck.

I let myself love.

Finally, everything begins to crest, the sensation too much to keep at bay. As if she knows, Bella drags my lips to hers, kissing me deeply before whispering, "Let go, baby." She grabs my ass and clenches her pussy to squeeze my cock, and it's all I can do just to keep thrusting through it, the pleasure hits me so intensely. My climax is hot and hard and messy, my entire body seizing with the blinding pleasure of emptying myself inside of her, and I bite down hard on the place where her neck meets her shoulder as I pulse and shudder and come.

"Bella," I groan. "Fuck. Bella."

When I can finally open my eyes again, it is to find the most beautiful, shining ones staring back at me, and I kiss her desperately as my body surges with the aftershocks, everything still wildly sensitive as I pull myself back. I don't let the fact that she still has yet to come overwhelm me that way I once might have as I tug her bottom lip with my teeth and rise up onto my hands and knees over her.

Her hand is already reaching to touch between her legs, but I shake my head and pull her wrist away, chuckling and shivering with lingering jolts of pleasure at her frustrated groan. "Patience," I urge her, kissing back down between her breasts and to her navel before sliding down the bed and attacking her pussy with my tongue.

Pushing two fingers and then three inside her, I curl and thrust, licking and sucking at her clit and groaning against her when her fingers thread through my hair. Rather than repulsing me, the evidence of my own orgasm on her flesh just makes me more determined to help her find hers. In the end, it takes less than a minute of working her body with my mouth and hands, one palm firm on her inner thigh to keep her open for me as she guides my head and bucks her hips, the walls of her sex tightening.

"God, that's hot," she moans. "That's so hot, baby."

She has no idea.

There's nothing hotter in the world than making her feel this way.

"I'm … " she pants. "Edward, I'm …"

And I know it's good. It's so good she can't even scream.

I stroke her through it, slowing my hand and tongue as her body tenses and then relaxes, her pussy rhythmically squeezing and then easing. Finally, when her grip on my hair releases, I slide my fingers back and press one more gentle kiss to her clit before collapsing, resting my cheek against her thigh and splaying my hand out across her abdomen.

Looking up at her, I feel our gazes connect. And when her lazy, satiated smile reflects my own, I wonder if it's possible to be happier than I am right now.

#~~#~~#

"So…" Bella begins, stretching and arching her body against mine as we lie there, naked and entwined. "Not that I'm complaining, but can I ask what brought that on?"

I laugh and run my fingers through her hair. "I don't know. I just … wanted to." It's amazing to just be with her like this. It's amazing to feel so free. When she doesn't respond except to kiss my chest, I feel a small pang of worry, though. I remember stories of lovers who took control from her before. "Was it ok-kay? For you?"

"Mmm." She hums seductively and props herself up on her elbow before leaning down to press her lips to mine. "Definitely. It was just different to see you like that. All confident and stuff. It was sexy."

"Really?"

"Really."

Bella swings a leg over my hips to sit astride me, and I lift my hands instinctively, placing one on each side of her waist as she supports herself with her arms braced against my chest. "Just don't think it's going to make me any less excited to get you on your back next time."

Spent as it is, my cock shows signs of life beneath her, and she nips my lip as my body stirs. "Wouldn't dream of it," I breathe. "You know how much I like being under you."

"I do," she says, pausing to kiss me softly. "Just like sometimes I like being under you."

"Sounds like a good match then."

"The best."

We kiss and touch lazily for a few minutes before she slides back down to lie beside me. Her head settles on my shoulder, my arm wrapped around her securely and her fingers slowly tracing circles on my chest. Soothed by her touch, I relax for what might be the first time all day, all the stress and anger gone, but in their wake there is an exhaustion I had not been entirely prepared for.

My eyes are just drifting closed when Bella begins to stir again. There is something about the way she is squirming that makes me blink one eye open. "What?" I ask, snuggling her closer.

"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want, but …" She pauses, and I hum to encourage her, stroking her side. "I'm just wondering what made you snap. With your dad."

My hand stills against her skin as I blink both eyes a few times and try to find words for what happened.

"It's just," she says, continuing. "You put up with him saying such awful things. Hell, I was ready to slap him when he snapped at you about stuttering. But you just shook that all off, and then … "

I sigh and resume touching her, grasping her hand in mine and holding it over my chest. "And then he said sssome things that I couldn't shake off any more."

"About?"

Shrugging, I press my lips to her temple. I almost say, About you, but I don't think that's a road that I should go down. Still wanting to be truthful with her, I take a different but parallel tack. "Ab-bout being a man. About what it means to love a woman."

She gets my meaning regardless. "Oh."

I shift out from under her and turn so I can look into her eyes. With one hand lifting to brush her cheek, I say quietly, "No one can tell me there's anything wrong with the way I love you. Not him. Not anyone. I may d-doubt myself sometimes, but I could never doubt that."

She stares at me levelly before gripping my hand and bringing it to her lips to kiss my knuckles. "Neither could I." She pauses for a moment, thinking, before continuing, "I'd say I was sorry for putting you through all that, but I'm not entirely sure I am. I'm glad I got to meet them. I'm glad I got to see some of where you came from."

"It's okay - "

With a look, she quiets me. "And I think I'm glad that you got to deal with some things. I was worried at first, because you seemed so freaked, but you seem so much lighter now."

"I am," I agree. "I really am. And it was something I needed to d-do."

"Well, for better or worse, I know you did it for me. So thank you."

I accept her thanks by leaning in and kissing her breathlessly. In my head, though, all I can think is, No, Bella.

Thank you.

Chapter Text

Friday afternoon, I pace my apartment restlessly, tugging at my hair and running things over in my mind. Bella and I have plans tonight - I mentally check myself. My Mistress and I have plans tonight, but I have time. And I'm not ready to be her Pet. Not yet.

Not when I still have something I need to do.

With my pulse racing and my thoughts spinning, spiraling, I remind myself why it has to be now. At five o'clock on a Friday, I know my father will be celebrating happy hour with the other surgeons at the bar. And it's been almost a week since I told her I would. I know.

I know it has to be now.

Breathing in shallow, too-quick gasps, I flick my thumb across the screen of my phone one final time, and then, before I can think on it any further, I press the button to dial. Holding the speaker up to my ear, I close my eyes and lean forward until my brow is pressed against the wall. For three long rings, I wait, every moment talking myself down.

"Hello?"

My eyes fly open and my mouth moves, but no words come out.

"Hello? Is there anyone there?"

Digging my nails into my palm, I finally manage to crack my throat open. "Mmmmmom?"

I can actually hear her smile. "Edward?"

"Yeah, Mom. It's mmme."

"Oh, sweetheart. You said you'd call, and I'd … I hoped…"

Her whole tone makes my chest hurt, disappointment and relief, and she sounds so small. "I know, Mom. I'm sss…sorry."

"Your father's not home, but I - "

"I know. That's … that's why I c-called now."

"He was so angry, Edward." She begins to tell me how he railed that night, and I feel my guilt rising. Still, the way I left is one thing I will not apologize for.

My entire life, that man's been angry.

"C-c-can we not talk about that? P-Please?" I ask, sliding down the wall to sit, curled up on myself against it. "We … we d-didn't get to t-t-talk much the other night. How are you?"

My mother is obviously flustered. "Me? I…"

It is bittersweet to listen to her struggling and to remember that she is the one I learned my own reserve from. As I listen to her hem and haw, an image comes to me, a recollection of the time we sometimes spent together, both avoiding the house for our own separate reasons. "Hhhow was the g-garden this year?"

She audibly relaxes, and I do, too. "Oh, you would have loved it." Tentatively at first but then with growing enthusiasm as I murmur my encouragement, she begins to speak of the tiger lilies that were always her favorites. The other flowers and her little patch of herbs and vegetables.

And she's right.

I would have loved it, indeed.

#~~#~~#

"So tell me about your girlfriend. She seemed like a spitfire."

Smiling softly, I shift the phone to my other hand. I don't know how much time has passed, only that it has gone by pleasantly, my mother talking about her house and her charities and even her church. She's asked me about my work and my apartment, and now, finally about my Bella.

"She's g-great. She's a writer, you remember. And she's good at it. Really, really good. And she g-gets me, you know?"

"That's lovely."

I tell her anything else I can think of, but I am interrupted a few minutes later by the sound of a key in the lock. Trailing off mid-sentence, I look up from where I have sprawled out on the couch to see my Bella standing there, her eyes searching for mine and her head tilting with curiosity when she finds me. With a low rush of panic, I check the clock, surprised to find that time has truly passed indeed. I sit up with a start, hearing my mother saying my name in my ear.

"I'm ssssorry, Mom. I lost t-track of time. I have to go."

"Oh. Of course." She pauses, but I am mute, my eyes still locked with Bella's.

With my Mistress's.

"Will you call again? This was … nice."

It was. Shockingly so.

"Yes, Mother. Of c-course. Next week?"

"Alright then," she says, relieved. "Well, goodbye then, dear."

"Bye."

I hang up the phone quickly and place it on the table, standing and trying to get my head into my role, but everything is off. Everything.

"Mmmmmistress," I begin apologetically, shifting from foot to foot and uncertain of where to begin.

"Pet?" Her voice is unsure, too.

I shake my head. "I…" Crossing my arms over my chest, I search for words. None come.

"What is it?"

She is standing just before me now, so close that I could touch her, and without enough thought as to whether or not I should, I do. Closing my arms around her and dropping my head against her hair, I stammer, "C-can we … just … I need a minute."

Bella leans back to touch my face, tugging at my chin until I look at her. Already, her eyes are softer, her touch unmistakably that of my lover and my friend. "Edward? Are you okay?"

"I wwwill be," I promise. "Sit with me?"

She pulls back from my embrace but takes my hand, urging me back down onto the couch and settling in beside me. "That was your mother on the phone?"

"Yes." Sensing her concern, I seek quickly to reassure her. "It's fine. It was … nice. We just t-talked. I … I mmmmiss her."

"Oh, baby…"

"I'm fine," I insist. I am. "C-can we just sit, though? For a minute? Do we have time?"

She kisses me gently and rests her head against my shoulder. "We have all the time you need."

Holding her against me, I close my eyes and center myself to the rhythm of her breathing.

"Thank you," I whisper. "Thank you."

#~~#~~#

"You want this?"

My Mistress is quiet in her question, but it still resonates.

"Yes. Please."

After half an hour of soft touches and stilted explanations, Bella left me to shower alone, preparing my body and my mind for the submission that is so essential to both, especially when I am frazzled. Ungrounded. Clean and naked now, I kneel before her in my bedroom, staring into her eyes in the mirror as she returns my collar to my neck, clasping it with her initial facing out.

"Good boy," she murmurs before she presses her lips to my shoulder. All the concern of the last hour is gone from her voice. She is firm. Powerful.

She is everything I need.

At her urging, I fall to all fours, breathing hard as she rubs her hands across my ass. With level strokes that build in intensity, she spanks me, knowing full well that after an emotional afternoon, I need that pain to settle me.

I need it to set me free.

All the while, she speaks of the many meaningless transgressions that are her excuse for giving this to me, and I thank her for every stroke. Eventually, when my flesh is hot and my mind sinking into that perfect place where I need only to please her, she steps back, breathing hard and tugging sharply at my hair. Even that pain feels good, and I moan as I lift my head up.

"Now then, Pet," she says, her eyes gleaming. She lets go of my hair but holds my gaze in the mirror as she reaches toward the bag she placed beside the bed. Grinning wickedly, she holds up the piece of plastic and the mortifying underwear I know entirely too well by now. "I believe we have a munch to get ready for."

#~~#~~#

"So, any p-progress on the relationship front?" Sitting on a barstool at another restaurant, the flesh of my ass just slightly sore and my Mistress's plug embedded deeply in my body, I shake the glass of whiskey in my hand to hear the ice cubes clink.

Garrett laughs, his eyes trained intently on the figure of his Mistress standing opposite us in the room. The look of adoration on his face says all there is to say. "Yeah, actually," he admits, grinning sheepishly. "She let me take her out last week. Just as us. It was … nice."

I smile broadly and sip my drink. I nurse it slowly, knowing full well that if I want to play tonight, it's the only one I'll get to have. "That's great."

"It is. It really, really is."

He does not volunteer more details, and I do not press him for any. The ease of our conversation is still a novelty for me, and especially after all the talking I have already done today, I am content enough to just enjoy it as it is. For a few minutes, we lapse into a comfortable silence as our eyes scan the space. Mine settle fixedly on the other side of the room, where Katrina and my Mistress are still talking animatedly with a couple other Doms. In corsets and skirts, the two women are each sights to behold in their own right.

Together, they're enough to make me throb.

Rocking back subtly against the seat, I force the plug even deeper into my body. It's a low rush of pleasure, all the discomfort having faded now that I'm accustomed to it. It's grounding - a tangible reminder that I am owned.

It's also distracting, and I find myself digging my nails into my palm to try to bring my focus back to the conversation at hand.

"I don't know if my Mistress mentioned it to yours yet, but Master Lee and Carmen are having a play party. Next week."

My arousal and my interest are both piqued. "Play party?"

Garrett nods, licking his lips as he smiles. "Kind of like this, but private, you know? Not as many restrictions as being out at a restaurant. Lots of people dress up. Some people scene. Others watch."

My eyes widen and my cock swells inside these too-tight jeans.

"Best of all, he comes from old money, apparently," Garrett continues, his eyes gleaming. "Huge place. Tons of toys. Big rigs, like suspension racks and stuff. Great chance to try out some new things, if you know what I mean."

"Oh," I murmur, my voice low and raspy.

My Mistress picks just that moment to turn around, her eyes meeting mine as a sinful smile lights up her face. "You okay?" she mouths.

I nod fiercely, but I know that she can see the way my skin is flushed and my eyes glazed. I hope she'll come for me soon.

I hope she'll take me home and fuck me.

"Sound like something you guys might be interested in?"

Without taking my eyes off of my Mistress, I answer slowly, "I'll have to ask her."

It's something we'd have to negotiate, for sure. I don't want anyone else to touch me, and I am sick with the idea of anyone touching her. But still, the idea is so much more than intriguing.

From across the room, her eyes smolder, and she mouths a single word. "Ready?"

"Always."

I am always, always ready for her.

#~~#~~#

"Did you have a good time, Pet?"

I wince and throb with the onslaught of sensation, internally grateful for the wad of her panties that fills my mouth as I stand there, naked and bent over my kitchen table, my chest and cheek flush with the wood. Grunting, I manage to nod my head, but even that response is cut off when she begins to extract the plug. My body is entirely on edge, my cock painfully swollen with need, and the way she twists the plastic inside me just makes everything hotter. Harder.

"I had fun, too," she says roughly, pulling the toy completely free and eliciting a deep growl of longing from my throat. Before I can even try to imagine how to beg for more with my voice stolen from me, she replaces the clenching emptiness with her fingers, pushing harder and stretching me. I groan when I imagine what she's stretching my body for.

"I love watching you," she explains as she pushes forward and back. "I love the way everyone looks at you. You're so beautiful, Pet. Especially when you're all dressed up for me."

My eyes dart to the pile of my clothing we left near the door. While her choices are still far too revealing for the everyday me, I have come to relish the feeling of being sexy.

Of presenting myself as the submissive man that I am.

Her hand withdraws, leaving me shaking and wanting. There are sounds of movement behind me, and I bite down hard on the wad of fabric in my mouth to try to contain myself. My hands are bound only by her command, but they had might as well be tied with chains, I want so desperately to please her. I want her to want me and to take me.

I want her inside me.

Then there's slick silicone between my ass cheeks, and just as she is opening my body even more widely, she breathes, "I love knowing what I'm going to do to you when we're alone."

Behind the gag, I cry out at the intensity of the pleasure, my eyes rolling back in my head when she slides all the way home. For a while she just grinds lightly, the vibrator in the harness buzzing loudly beneath the sounds of my panting and her moaning.

"Do you like that, too, Pet? Do you like having everyone know that you're mine? Having them know what I'm going to do to you?"

I nod with all the presence of mind I have left, bracing myself with my arms to push up slightly, craning my neck until I can meet her eyes. They are aflame, passionate and beautiful. And I know her passion is all for me.

"Do you like when I fuck you?" she asks raspily, moving faster now. Harder.

Again, I nod, but it's not true. Like is so inadequate a word.

I love it. I love her.

"Good boy," she purrs, fucking me in earnest now, and I cry out in relief when her fingers wrap around my aching cock. "When you're ready, Pet."

I try to hold off, but it's useless. Only a few more minutes pass before the flame shoots through me, my balls tightening and her hips angling to thrust against the part of me that feels like she is literally fucking the come out of me. Gasping out her name even through the barrier of the gag, my head falls back down to the table, and I release in hot streams, coming all over the kitchen floor.

Turning the vibrator up to the highest setting, she holds still within my body as I come down. I am floating, numb to everything but her grip on my hip and her moans.

I hear nothing but my name as, still buried inside me, she comes.

#~~#~~#

My Bella is achingly beautiful in the morning. Having gone to bed with her hair still damp from the bath, it is a tangled mess of dark brown waves, sparkling red and gold where the light from the window hits it. It is rare that I wake before her, and for a few minutes I simply lie there, basking in the way her hand rests possessively against my naked hip as I breathe her in.

The quiet peace of the moment doesn't last, but my happiness does.

"Are you watching me sleep?" she mumbles, blinking one eye open before shifting and pressing her face to my chest to hide from the light.

I laugh quietly and stroke her hair. "Maybe."

"That's creepy, dude."

"No, it's not. Not when you sleep in my bed."

She huffs and burrows more deeply, pulling up the covers until I can only see the top of her head. I wrest them from her, keeping her face shielded from the sun but gapping the blanket just enough to enable me to watch her.

Even after all this time, I still need the proof sometimes that she's really here and lying naked against me.

"You're so beautiful," I breathe as I lift my head to kiss her hair.

Her answering grunt is accepting if not approving, and a minute later, she throws the blanket back, discarding with it her pretense at sleep as she climbs up my body to kiss my mouth. "And you, my dear," she says, "are crazy."

"About you."

She rolls her eyes and lets my tongue into her mouth. We kiss languidly for a few minutes, my hands moving in slow arcs over her skin and my morning arousal increasing. "I want you," I breathe as I slide my lips to her ear.

She shivers against me, opening her legs to slide one across my thighs, and I know it won't be a struggle to convince her. But then she winces. "My hips are sore from last night."

I laugh as I push her onto her back. She tried to hide this from me the first time, but now that she has taken me that way on a couple more occasions, I know that the act of thrusting is not entirely comfortable.

But then again, for all that I love it, neither is receiving.

"So is my ass," I say playfully, moving to suck the tip of her breast into my mouth. "You don't see that stopping me."

"Whatever," she scoffs, but there's no mistaking the flush to her skin or the way her legs stay open as I hover over her.

"I'll do all the work," I promise, settling between her thighs. There's still a tinge of nervousness as I slide myself against the slick flesh of her outer lips; we haven't made love in this position since the day we had dinner at my parents' house last week. But I can. I know I can.

"Will you now?" she asks, her eyes flying open and her voice cracking as I rub the head across her clit.

"I will." With that, I place one hand on her thigh and use the other to guide myself toward her entrance, holding myself steady as I push slowly, deliciously inside. Her body is hot and wet, so welcoming at it surrounds me. "God, you feel good," I moan when my hips at last meet hers.

"Mmm, so do you." Her hands tangle in my hair, pulling me down into a slow, soft kiss. Tasting her lips, I grind against her gently, pushing my pubic bone against her clit the way she likes to sometimes when she's on top. She groans in pleasure and slides one hand down to grab my ass, holding me against her and suggesting the rhythm she wants my body to move to. "The only problem with bending you over," she says in broken gasps, "is not getting your cock. Fuck. I miss it."

"It misses you, too," I breathe, chuckling and marveling that we can be like this - laughing and making love, so disarmed after a night of harder sex and play. As we touch and stroke, my body moving in and out of hers more fully but still pausing every few thrusts to grind against her, our banter stops, our eyes connecting. With her hands, she guides me, and with her body, she loves me.

When she comes, it is a soft, prolonged series of spasms around me. And as I let go, pulling almost all the way out before sliding back inside her completely, it is with pride. It's with love.

And when I release inside her, it is with her name on my lips, on my skin, and etched indelibly, eternally on my heart.

#~~#~~#

After a lazy breakfast, I retreat to take a shower by myself. When I emerge, damp-haired and dressed only in an undershirt and boxers, it is to find Bella hunched over her laptop on my couch, her reading glasses firmly planted on her nose. Uncertain if she wants to be bothered right now, I put my hand to the arm of the sofa and dip my head to kiss her cheek, knowing she will make her wishes known.

Still a little raw from the night before, I am feeling clingy, and it is a relief when she smiles and beckons for me to join her. I sit beside her, draping my arm over the back of the couch and leaning into her side. A quick glance at her laptop screen reveals a pornographic image of a man tightly bound to a table, but I do not let my eyes linger for long enough to read the accompanying text as my eyes dart back to hers.

Bella laughs at my reaction and kisses my jaw, letting her fingertips graze the word 'Beloved' on my collar as she touches my chest. "So Garrett told you about the party Lee's throwing next week?"

I remember mentioning it on the ride home, but if there was any real discussion I do not remember it. I remember only wanting nothing more than to get her home. To touch her skin.

"He did," I agree. Pressing my lips to her neck, I hesitate before saying, quietly, "I think I want to go."

While I'm still not completely comfortable expressing my wishes so openly, I know that it's important this time. I know that Bella and I trust each other implicitly, but that she grasps entirely too well her Pet's desire to go along with his Mistress's wishes. She knows how I love to please.

"Really?"

"Really. If you do, too." I kiss up toward her ear and bite gently at the lobe. "I want everyone to see how you own me."

She squirms satisfyingly, her breath quickening, but after a moment she pulls away and regards me chastisingly. I can't even be bothered to look guilty, smiling even as I back away to give her some space. "No distracting me," she says with a playful shove.

"It's only fair," I reply, shrugging. "You always distract me."

She does. Just by breathing, she distracts me.

Bella rolls her eyes and sets her laptop down on the coffee table, shutting the lid and shifting to face me. "I want to go, too, but I thought we should talk about it first." At her pause, I nod encouragingly. "Apparently," she begins, darting her eyes to her computer and then back to me, "some pretty wild stuff happens, and I don't know what you're willing to do."

I take her hand in mind just for something to hold on to. "Well…" I say, thinking. My hard limits are easy, but I'm not sure what other assurances she will want from me. "I don't want to play with anyone else. Not directly. I don't want anyone else playing with me." My nerves show slightly as I admit, "And I d-don't like the idea of you with anyone else."

Bella nods thoughtfully and rubs my palm. "I don't want that either. Though I'm not going to lie, it might be hot someday." At my skeptical expression, she lifts my hand to her lips and kisses it. "But definitely not anytime soon. And definitely not if it's something you don't want."

"Okay," I agree, relieved.

"How about other things? This is going to be a pretty serious party, from everything Lee and Kate told me."

"Other things?"

"How about watching? People will be scening. Some demonstrations. Things like that."

"That's fine," I say. The tightness of my voice betrays exactly how 'fine' that is by me.

Her eyes lift to mine, staring at me intently. "And what about me playing with you?"

I harden in spite of two orgasms in eighteen hours, and my throat bobs roughly as I swallow. "That might be okay," I answer gruffly. "Only…"

I want it. I want her to work me in a place where others can see, but I am still shy. I am still me.

"Only?"

I run through a list of possibilities. "I d-don't think I want to be naked. Not yet."

"Okay," she says slowly. I can hear her skepticism, but still I continue.

"I don't think I want you to be either."

She laughs tightly. "I almost never get naked when I'm topping you. So no worries about that."

I smile, relieved. Thinking for another moment, I keep going. "Not with the st-strap-on. It's too … vulnerable? Intimate?"

She frowns. "Technically, there's no penetration allowed anyway. So no, definitely not me penetrating you. Though if we could sneak away from everything... Say, if Lee gave me a key to a private room. How would you feel about good old PIV sex? Knowing there was the chance that someone could see?"

"PIV?"

"Penis In Vagina."

Even as I'm laughing, my cock is visibly twitching, and my muttered, "Okay," sounds strained.

"Spanking?"

"Definitely."

"Tying you up?"

I can't not be close to her, and I lean in to kiss her as I breathe, "Yes, please."

Her hands frame my face, pulling my mouth to hers more deeply as our tongues tangle. "Sounds like a plan to me."

"A good plan, even."

"It's you and me," she says softly, her thumb sliding down to stroke my collar as she kisses me. "Of course it's good."

I smile against her lips. "What else could it possibly be?"

Chapter Text

As I pull the keys from the ignition, we are plunged into silence, all of the activity outside fading to leave me just these few square feet of air. I turn to my Mistress, seeking her assurances and her touch, and she gives me them in spades. Beckoning me from across the obstacle of the armrest, with her hand on my jaw, she pulls me into a kiss that is full of possession and desire. There's love there, too, and I soak it in, giving her entry to my mouth and sinking more deeply into the part of myself that is unquestioning.

Taking my bottom lip between her teeth, she bites down with just enough of an edge to hurt but not so much that she breaks skin. I moan into the sharpness of it, and she laughs. With a seductive growl, she pulls my hair to place her lips to my throat and then my ear.

"Lose the coat."

A low tremor of both nerves and desire shoots through me as I follow her command. When I look to her again, she is already reaching for the handle of the door, and I follow suit, passing my keys to the man who is waiting. Well-trained to his position, he does not let his eyes stray from the ground as he passes me a number and moves to take my place behind the wheel.

He does not look at me. And if he judges me, he does not give me any sign.

"Pet."

Moving quickly now, I join my Mistress on the sidewalk, shivering with pleasure when she hooks a small chain to the ring in my wrist cuff, tugging it gently as we walk forward.

With every step, I feel eyes on my body, both real and imagined. My Mistress has allowed me to wear my own jeans, but that is the only relief. I wear nothing else but my collar and my cuffs, and even that partial nudity is bracing, as unaccustomed to it as I am.

Tonight, though, I am not too skinny and too pale. Tonight, I am hers, and however she likes to show me is exactly how I choose to be seen.

Inside, she is quickly greeted by a number of familiar faces, but for my part, I meet no one's eyes. Unlike a munch, this party is not an opportunity for me to socialize, but to serve. I am under instructions to speak to no one but her unless it is by her direction. As we move farther into the space, I can feel my silence like a chain of its own, a deviant act that thrills me.

Before Katrina and Garrett, I merely nod.

And this time, in the hallway, when Angela attempts to say hello, I do not even react. Mistress tells her something - and sharply at that. I smile when Mistress tugs the chain attached to my wrist a little harder. Without question, I follow her.

Almost anywhere, I would follow.

She does not lead me wrong.

For a while, we simply explore, Master Lee walking ahead of us with Carmen naked at his heel. Every time he stops for more than a few seconds, she sinks to her knees beside him. As we go, he speaks loudly and pauses often, as proud to be showing off her submission as he is the sprawling expanse of their home.

And what a home it is. Room after room has been set up specifically for this event, each more intriguing than the one before. With a flourish, he confides, "Normally, most of this is tucked away in the basement, of course, but for tonight …"

"A marvelous collection," Mistress says. Her voice is steady, but I can hear the awe. I feel it, too.

There is so much to see. So much leather and metal and flesh. And for a moment, all I can think of is how there was a time when the only skin I saw was in magazines. I wonder at what I would have done had I known a world like this, unembarrassed and unrepentant, had waited for me.

As we walk, I take in the cables and pulleys that hang a woman from a ceiling, padded tables and chains. Briefly, we pause to watch as another Dom does the most intricate rope work, scarlet lines crisscrossing a naked form in diamonds and stripes.

"What do you think, Pet?"

To her alone, I breathe, "Beautiful."

"It is, isn't it, though? Something maybe I should learn."

"As you wish, Mistress."

In my current mindframe, this is my way of saying, 'Please.' As I watch, I can almost feel the ropes across my own body. I can imagine how they'd rub against my skin.

"Oh! Katrina and her boy are on soon," Master Lee says, glancing at his watch in surprise. "I'm sure you'll want to see that." He taps Carmen, and she rises from her knees. "Come along."

My pulse quickens as we move even deeper into the house, eventually stopping in a large bedroom. Its décor features red satin sheets and dark walls. My eyes skip over all of that, though. Instead, they stop on the cross.

The enormous, tilted metal cross. The deep X that it makes against the wall.

Mistress tugs at my wrist until I lower myself, her breath warm at my ear as she whispers, "Saint Andrew's Cross. You see the hooks all along the sides of it?"

"Yes, Mistress."

"So many options for places to restrain a sub."

My mind is envisioning them all.

"Someday, Pet. Someday, when we have a playroom of our own."

I clench my teeth to suppress the groan. My desires are too manifold, my fantasies ranging from the simple act of being so bound to wilder imaginings.

I can't stop thinking of the idea of 'a playroom of our own.'

More people enter the room, and I am surprised to find it fairly crowded by the time Katrina leads Garrett in and turns some quiet music on. When last I'd seen him, he'd been clothed, but he is bare now. The sight of his naked body is uncomfortable for me, but the way he kneels for his Mistress, anticipating her, orienting himself toward her… those are instincts I know.

Before long, I am riveted.

"Your friend Garrett likes pain," my Mistress breathes. "Even more than you do."

My arousal pulses as Katrina directs Garrett to his feet and then to the cross. With his body pressed to the wall, she fastens ankles and wrists, leaving him spread-eagle. Vulnerable.

My Mistress's voice is so quiet. The faintest whisper. "Would you let me do that to you? Chain you up in a crowded room? Turn you so you couldn't even see who was touching you?"

I'd know her touch anywhere. I gulp hard, hesitating only briefly before I nod.

Katrina begins with light strokes of her hand, warming the flesh before trading up to more serious implements. Some I know first-hand while others are new to me. My Mistress names them all, the flogger and the crop, the strap and the cane.

"Tawse," she breathes, supplying the name of an instrument I've never seen before. I watch in rapture as Katrina sweats to bring the heavy leather tongues across his shoulders, leaving them fiery and red.

The whole room backs up when Katrina uncoils a long leather whip. My Mistress is pressed so close against me, and I am achingly hard, my skin tingling with the desire to know these sensations. To know them intimately.

At the cracking sound of leather snapping through air, my own flesh burns. Garrett howls.

"What color, Pet?" Katrina asks.

He breathes hard before choking out a gasping, "Green."

My Mistress presses herself against my front at the second blow, her ass warm against my erection, and the friction is sublime. My hands want to lift themselves, to grip her hips and thrust against her as the whip comes down a final time, but I stop myself and keep them curled at my sides. As if she knows, she steps away, placing an inch of air and a mile of sexual frustration between us.

She's a tease and she's a goddess.

I hope she'll taunt me even more before she takes me.

"Watch."

Some of our fellow voyeurs are beginning to trickle out, but Mistress and I continue to look on as Katrina lets Garrett down, taking care to support his weight as he all but collapses. His shoulders and ass and thighs are a fiery red, but as she turns him, it's clear that he enjoyed it - or at the very least, that the pain did not diminish his arousal.

It's a strange thing to look upon his body this way, knowing only how it feels from the receiver's end.

But my Mistress knows.

"You're even more beautiful," she whispers. "Your body, when it's been worked to its limit. It's gorgeous."

I watch with an uncomfortable but rapt fascination as Katrina keeps her submissive on his knees and wraps her hand around his cock, murmuring and stroking. Never before in my life have I watched a man come. But I watch it now.

And I am becoming desperate for touch.

In a haze of desire and submission, I stand there as the rest of the scene plays out. Katrina gets Garrett on his stomach on the bed and rubs cream into his wounds, talking to him quietly all the while. For his part, it is as if there is no one else in the world except his Mistress. As she helps him down, his face, eyes closed, is beatific. Glowing.

I know exactly how he feels.

My Mistress exchanges a few quiet words with Master Lee, whose presence I had nearly forgotten. I had nearly forgotten about everything except the scene before me and the woman beside me. He smiles and touches her shoulder before handing her something, nodding at me. With my eyes down, I follow my Mistress from the room and back down the hall into less crowded portions of the house, eventually stopping at a door to a room we had not visited before. There, she pulls a key from her pocket, my expectations rising as she fits it to the lock.

Beyond its privacy, the room is not so different from the others, the lighting dim. Still, metal and leather gleam, and my throat goes dry when she closes the door and turns the lock before leading me to a long, padded table. Following her instructions, I lie on my back with my hands above my head. She pulls them until I feel a subtle stretch and then secures them, hooking chains from the underside of the table to my cuffs. My chest arches, my arousal hot and my breathing tight as she stares at me, slowly making her way down my body with whisper-light touches to tease along my arms and ribs, passing over the place where I am clearly wanting as she moves to brush my thighs and calves and feet. These, too, she restrains, securing my legs together so that I form a single, long line of need.

"You look so good in chains, Pet."

My approval is a low sigh of pleasure, the sound deepening when she returns to my side and briefly places the weight of her palm against my cock through my jeans, and she smiles wickedly at the way my breath hitches. I watch, anxious but trusting as she then reaches for the buttons, undoing each in turn to reveal the way my erection pushes against the confines of the too-small briefs she's dressed me in. Urging me to lift my hips, she pulls my pants down to my knees but leaves the underwear on, and the utter vulnerability of lying there, half-naked and at her mercy strikes me tenfold as I wait to see what she will do with me.

"Maybe I should just leave you like this. Open the door up," she muses, trailing her fingers up the length of my thigh before tracing one in a circle around the tip of my cock. "Let anyone come in here and look at you. Like a piece of art." She returns to the head of the table to breathe in my ear, "Or a piece of meat."

I groan and throb, tensing and then relaxing when she withdraws, moving just beyond my view. Her threat is meant to titillate and not to scare. I know she'd never leave me. Not like this.

She proves me right a moment later when she climbs up on the table to straddle my knees, a leather flogger in her hand. "Lee got this for me specially for tonight," she tells me quietly as she ponders its braided strands. "A little heavier than the one we have at home. It does look like fun, though."

Eliciting soft sounds of desire from my lungs, she drags the ends down my chest and cock and thighs, snapping it gently to let the falls move across my skin. She holds my gaze as she lifts the instrument a little higher, lets it strike harder.

"Green."

With slow, even strokes, she takes the weapon to my flesh, turning my thighs a warm red that makes me feel like I am glowing from within. I lift my neck to better see the skin and in so doing, take in as well the dark spot of pre-cum on my underwear. My hands flex and turn to fists, my whole body itching for more. She gives it to me, time and time again.

The impacts to my chest are lighter, more careful, and each one feels amazing. I want my skin as red and bruised as Garrett's, but I know she won't take it that far. Not tonight. Not when she's already taking me to places I have never been.

I hear the sound of a key turning in a lock and the quiet voices of others as they enter the room, but my Mistress's face is so intense, her eyes so deep that I do not dare to look away from her, in spite of my surprise. She holds my focus unerringly as she takes the leather to my flesh again, the impacts coming more quickly now and with a little more force. They are all-consuming, and any concerns I might have had about being observed all melt away.

Everything except her melts away.

"Please, Mistress," I breathe. I don't even know what I'm asking for.

She does. Dropping the flogger to the side, she climbs up my body and kisses me passionately, her breasts and skirt both brushing tender skin and setting them aflame. I am burning.

"Please."

She climbs higher, her thighs settling to the sides of my arms, her pussy so close to my face that I can smell her, and I groan deeply when she slides a hand beneath her skirt to push red satin out of the way, revealing hot, wet skin to me.

"Tell me what you want, Pet."

"Let me, Mistress. Please. Let me taste you. Make you come with my mouth."

"Certainly."

She lowers herself onto my lips, and my erection is steel as I open to her, sliding my tongue along flushed flesh, teasing her opening before grazing her clit. Her other hand goes to my hair as she grinds her pussy against my face, and her skirt falls over my eyes until I can see nothing but her.

There's nothing else I need to see.

She works herself over me, grunting and murmuring encouragements, telling me how much she loves my mouth, and I do everything I know to please her. With her clit between my lips, I nip and lick and suck then push my tongue just inside her when she bucks forward. Over and over, I repeat, my hands aching to touch her, but the feeling and the sounds of the chain rattling are almost as arousing as the taste of her.

Finally, her body begins to give, her flesh wetter and softer, her thighs shaking as she positions herself where I can only reach her clit. I know what she needs, and I give it to her, taking up a steady rhythm with my tongue and lips until her fingers tighten in my hair, her deep groans of pleasure louder than anything in my ears. I feel her throb.

And God, I need her.

"Such a good boy. Such a good boy," she says, moaning as she pulls her flesh from my lips and replaces it with her own hot mouth, licking herself from my skin and staring at me with such fire in her eyes.

She slides down my body until her thighs surround my hips, and I feel the slick skin and satin against me, her hands moving between us. There is a low flash of fear as she reaches into my briefs and pulls me out, but I recognize with a grunt of relief and need that her skirt still covers everything.

"This is mine," she tells me huskily, squeezing at the base of my cock. I feel her touch everywhere. "Mine to hold or suck or fuck. Mine to use to pleasure me. Mine to see."

"Yes, Mistress," I breathe.

I almost stop breathing as she lowers herself down onto me, the whole act of it even more erotic because I know it is forbidden. And yet, here in our own little cocoon, anything is a possibility. Embedded in her warmth, I tip my head back and choke out a rasping exhale, a wordless plea. So slowly, she begins to move, wet sliding.

"My pleasure," she reminds me. "I could pull off you right now and leave you screaming for release. But I want to feel this inside me. I want to grind on you. Feel your cock fill me."

I have never felt more her toy. Her possession.

"Yours."

I have never felt more alive.

She places one hand on my chin to keep my head steady, my eyes trained on hers as she rides me. Up and down, over and over, I feel her body consume mine, enveloping it, and I'm on edge already. The way her skirt hits my still-raw thighs, her nails making light circles over the lines of impact on my chest, the way her pussy sucks at me - it all feels so good. Exquisite.

And I am hers.

"So good, baby," she groans, her thighs pumping faster now. I want to thrust up into her, to drive her even closer to release, but there is no slack in these chains. I'm here for her to enjoy. Not to participate. I'm here for her to take.

"Fuck," she grinds out, and my eyes are glued to the flushed features of her face, feeling the way she holds her breath, tenses. Her hand stays firm on my chin as she opens her mouth wide and closes her eyes, succumbing. "Oh, fuck, Pet."

"Yes, Mistress. Yes. Please." I'm begging for her orgasm, even though I'm so close to mine. It hits her seconds later, a long stream of curses, breaths that sound like keening, and that subtle closing and fluttering in the way her body grips me.

Her eyes fly open, and before I know what's happening, she's pushing my head to the side, forcing my eyes to take in the faces of Master Lee and Carmen, sitting in the dark, watching us fuck. Watching her hurt me and love me and take me.

"Come, Pet."

Knowing exactly what they are seeing, I do.

For the longest time, I pulse and spasm, emptying into her and riding on a wave of pleasure that could drown me.

And it is all the more perfect because everyone knows. Everyone knows that I belong to her.

#~~#~~#

We stay a while longer, watching and touching, my silence persisting until the very last moments of the night. At the doorway, standing opposite Master Lee and Carmen, my Mistress urges me to thank my hosts.

"Thank you, Sir," I offer quietly, lifting my eyes.

"You're welcome. Any time. You and Bella both."

As he regards me, I sense something different in his eyes. It takes me a moment to recognize that, for all I am 'beneath' him in the power play, he is looking at me with respect.

After thirty years of shame, I wonder if it's because I respect myself for once.

Nodding at him, I step back to Bella's side and direct my eyes down, but I cannot help the smile that flits across my face. As I step through the door, the dimly lit rooms and this world of proud, overt sexuality fades. But it doesn't matter. I take it with me.

And with my head held high, I follow my Bella out into the night.

I follow her out into the rest of our lives.

Chapter Text

"Do you know what you want?"

Bella's knee is bouncing beneath the table. I smile behind my menu and place my hand atop her thigh, my thumb grazing lightly over the side. Without moving, I peek at her out of the corner of my eye. "Besides you?"

She rolls her eyes and playfully slaps my upper arm. "I meant to eat."

Looking back at the menu, my lips shift into a smirk, my bicep tensing for another blow. "So did I."

I'm not quite prepared for her to flick my ear. "Hornball."

She's wearing knee-high boots and a skirt. Stockings and a garter. What else would I be? I hum my own contentment to myself and slip my hand beneath the hem of her skirt, darting only high enough to feel the place where lace gives way to flesh. "Maybe."

Even after all this time, we still go out on Fridays when our schedules allow. Tonight is a little different, though. Instead of sitting across the table from me, she is at my side. Instead of ordering, we wait.

"Oh, there he is!" Bella drops her menu to the table and stands, pointedly smoothing her skirt back down as I let my hand fall. Following her gaze, I see Jasper striding toward us across the restaurant, and I rise to greet him, too. He moves to Bella first and catches her up in a warm embrace, trading kisses on cheeks. Watching them, I smile.

She'd asked me several days ago how he was doing. It wasn't the first time, but her question had had a certain wistful edge to it that it hadn't had before. While Jasper and I had been getting together with some regularity, I'd not fully realized that Bella hadn't seen him since his and Alice's parting. I hadn't known she'd missed her friend.

He squeezes her once and then backs away, looking to me with a warm smile and reaching out his hand. "Edward," he says, nodding.

"Hey, Jasper." I clasp his hand and then release it, holding out Bella's chair and pushing it in behind her as she sits.

And somehow, even after all this time, it still pleases me when she allows me to do this.

We order and eat and talk. Well, mostly they talk, but it's not uncomfortable, and I enjoy listening as they catch up. I enjoy letting my fingertips drift along her spine and watching her smile. Dinner passes quickly this way, and when the waiter brings the check, I grab it quickly and insert my card.

"You're not going to let me give you my share, are you?" Jasper says, scowling.

"Nope."

"Fine." One of his eyebrows is raised in challenge. "That means the first round is on me."

I smile as I pass the folder to the waiter, glancing at Bella to see if she's receptive to staying out for drinks. With a glance, she tells me that she is. "That's acceptable."

We don't make it any farther than the bar attached to the restaurant, where Bella and I are lucky enough to find a vacant couch while Jasper sinks into an adjacent chair. It's a frequent hangout of ours, within stumbling distance of Bella and Alice's apartment. It used to be a favorite of Jasper's, too, back when he was in the neighborhood more often. Our server recognizes him and gives him a hard time for staying away so long, winking before she goes to get our drinks.

Bella leans over and swats Jasper's knee, pointing at the woman's retreating form. "You could totally tap that."

He chuckles but shakes his head sadly. "I'm not quite there yet."

It's the first allusion anyone has made to the reason we haven't seen him recently. And yet all night, the topic has been hanging in the air.

Bella understands. "You will be," she offers, her hand resting on his knee, squeezing comfortingly, before she releases him and leans back into me.

"Maybe someday." He doesn't sound convinced. When our drinks arrive, he takes his with a neutral expression, doing nothing to lead the server on, and we each sip quietly, listening to music that is loud enough to make our conversation seem private but not so loud that we can't hear. Over and over, Jasper turns the bottle in his hands, taking a long pull and staring at the label before speaking. "How is she?"

Bella looks to me, and I can see that she is torn. While I have not seen Alice much of late, I volunteer, "Llllonely. But all right."

Jasper considers at length then asks, "So she's not seeing anyone?"

"Would it mmmatter if she was?"

"No. Not really. But it would make me feel like shit for still wallowing."

Bella interjects, speaking quietly but firmly, "She's not. Seeing anyone, that is. Wallowing … In her own way, she's doing plenty of that."

I restrain my laughter, knowing Bella is being tactful. 'In her own bitchy way,' would be more like it.

Jasper's throat bobs and he nods, looking up to meet our eyes. "Thanks."

"If there's anything you need…" I offer, trailing off. I've offered so many times before.

He sighs heavily, the care he still has for his ex so clear in his eyes. "Nah. There's nothing really. Except…" He pauses to drain the rest of his beer, then holds it out toward me. "Except maybe another?"

"Now that, I can do." When the server comes around again, I request another round for each of us. As I do, I feel my tongue slide fluently, my mind just barely aware of each passing victory.

Others are more aware of it, though.

"Jesus," Jasper exhales, sliding down into his chair once the waitress walks away. "If the Edward I met a few months ago could see you now."

I hug Bella's shoulder to my chest and grin shyly, my face warming with equal parts self-consciousness and scotch. Leaning down to kiss her temple, I keep my eyes on Jasper as I say, "You don't even know the half of it."

For hours, we stay and drink and talk, lingering long enough to close the bar. Now that they've caught up a bit, I can feel them both drawing me into the conversation, requesting my opinion a little more than is necessary. I don't mind. Sitting there with my best friend, my lover in my arms, I bask in the warmth and the comfort. The companionship. The love.

At one point, I stop, wondering just what it would have meant to me a couple years ago to know that I could be this happy. I shake my head to clear it.

And then I just enjoy.

#~~#~~#

From the door of the cab, Jasper waves at us. Too loudly, we tell him to go home.

And it is the strangest thing to stand there with my lover in my arms - to watch someone else go home alone.

Following our own advice, Bella and I head back to her place as soon as he is out of sight, choosing to brave the risk of Alice rather than find ourselves a cab to get to my apartment. Laughing on the sidewalk, we pause as we walk to kiss, sucking tongues into mouths and running hands over each other's bodies. In her building's entryway, I stand behind her as she fumbles with her keys, my hips against her ass and my fingers tugging at her skirt. We are drunk.

Everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts.

The key turns in the lock, and somehow in our state, we make our way up the stairs to her apartment. On the landing, I turn her and push her into the wall, kissing hard at the lushness of her mouth and grinding against her. My hands support her bottom as she lifts herself to wrap her legs around my waist. Sliding one hand beneath her skirt, I brush the edge of her stocking and moan. "I can't wait to get you out of these. All night, I haven't been able to think of anything else."

"Even when you were talking to Jasper?"

"Especially then. Cockblocker."

Holding her to me, I wrest her keys out of her hand and manage to get her door open, laughing and telling her to hang on. With her body wrapped around mine, I carry her inside and slam the door, pinning her to it as I move to kiss her again.

My tongue is already in her mouth when I notice the lights are on.

We both freeze at the same time. Bella slides down the door to land on less-than-steady feet. Wiping her mouth, she is a picture of dishevelment and sexual frustration.

Alice, on the other hand, is a picture of irritation.

She stands beside the couch on the other side of the room, arms crossed, and her gaze is like a spotlight, throwing Bella's and my foreplay into sharp relief. It feels dirtier now. But I'm not ashamed.

"The whole fucking building can hear you two carrying on, you know," she grumbles angrily.

"Sorry," Bella says. But as she does so, she teeters and laughs, falling into me and wrapping her arms around my waist.

Alice glances up at me disdainfully and then down at Bella. "Can I talk to you?" Her eyes narrow and her head tilts meaningfully. "Alone."

Bella rolls her eyes, her hands in fists, tugging at my shirt. "No. I'm busy."

My chest expands. I cannot help but think of all the times that Bella's friendship with Alice has come at the expense of her relationship with me.

It's such a tiny thing. But in my head, I can hear her choosing me.

"Come on," Bella says, tugging me toward her room. I follow willingly, loving the way she leads me by the wrist. We almost escape, too.

"Bella," Alice hisses, grabbing her sleeve.

I would never hurt a woman. But my hand is on Alice's immediately. "Don't."

"What are you going to do to me?"

"Don't t-try me." It only takes a little twist to loosen her grip on Bella's shirt. As she lets go, she glares at me.

Bella sighs heavily. "We're going to bed. Whatever you need to talk to me about can wait until morning."

We are almost to Bella's door before Alice calls after us, "You guys had better not be doing anything but sleeping. I don't need to be up all night listening to whatever kinky - "

"Alice." Bella whips around. I keep my hand at her waist to steady her. "For your own sake, do not even think about finishing that sentence. I live here, and I will do whatever I want to in my own home."

"It's my home, too, you know."

"Yeah, well, maybe it shouldn't be."

The room goes silent suddenly, everything still but for our breathing. I stand behind Bella, wrapped around her protectively, but she doesn't need protecting. She never has.

At the end of the hallway, Alice fumes.

But there are cracks in that exterior, too.

"Bella..." Alice finally manages before trailing off. The fire of her anger is the hot red of coals, the embers riddled with the blackened crackling of insecurity. She knows what Bella means.

But neither wants to step across that precipice.

Bella shudders and then shakes her head, her hand on mine at her waist. "Goodnight, Alice." It is firm.

And the whole moment has the feeling of a reckoning.

Sparing Alice one last glance and a nod, I turn to follow Bella, my head held high. I will not be ashamed. As Bella's guest here, I will not feel out place.

No matter how much Alice's glare implies I should.

Bella and I step forward into the warm darkness of her room. We close the door, and in so doing, we close out the world.

And then we fall into each other once more.

#~~#~~#

"Can't I even go to the bathroom in peace?"

There are voices through the haze of darkness. My head pounding, I pull the covers up over my eyes.

"I thought you said you weren't going to bring him around any more. I might have had plans. Hell, I could have had someone here."

"As if. Sorry if we interrupted your little pity party, but we were drunk and didn't feel like catching a cab. I do pay half the fucking rent still."

"Well, you could have at least texted me. You know how I feel about - "

"And you know how I feel. Edward is part of my life, and chances are he always will be."

At the sound of my name, I emerge a little further into consciousness, groaning quietly as I throw the covers off and open my eyes. The room spins and my stomach is churning as my hands instinctively reach out for Bella. The sheets are still warm, but she's not there.

I focus and recognize her voice among the increasingly loud ones coming from the other room.

I recognize Alice's, too. "That doesn't mean that I have to - "

"Yes. Yes, it does if you still want to be part of my life. I've put up with so much shit from you over this, but I'm done. Okay? I'm done. If you can't support the person I chose than you can - "

"Support? Are you fucking kidding me? I've been supporting you for years. God, ever since you dragged him home, you've turned into such a - "

A scream of pain rips through my skull as I stumble to my feet. I find just enough presence of mind to pull my pants on before I move to the door and throw it open, squinting hard at even the dim amount of light in the hall. Following the angry voices of my lover and her friend, I make my way out to the living room. With a glass of water in her hand, Bella stands there in just my shirt, her shoulders back and her expression fierce as she stares down Alice, spitting venom right back.

In her words, I hear all her resignation and her hurt of the last few months.

I hear her anger spilling over.

"How dare you - "

"Support doesn't mean keeping your mouth shut when you see someone making a huge fucking mistake and acting like a total cunt."

Stepping forward at those words, my vision red, I don't have time to act before Bella is in motion, her hand lifting, connecting with Alice's cheek in a resounding smack.

Alice's stunned eyes widen, her face reddening as her own arm goes up to catch Bella's wrist.

I am glaring at that hand. "If you so much as t-t-touch her..."

Both of them turn to me, and Alice immediately drops her arm. Bella doesn't back down, but she does step away, her hand flexing at her side the way it always does after she has landed a particularly painful blow. Though it's an expression I know, I've never seen her strike out in anger before. Shaking with her rage, she turns back to Alice. And the quiet in her voice is scarier than the screaming. "He's not going anywhere. Ever. If you can't figure out how to deal with that, then you can start packing tomorrow. This is over."

She makes to walk away when Alice begins, "You don't mean - "

"I do. And if you don't want to end up completely alone, you'd better take a long, hard look at yourself and stop behaving like a hateful bitch. Because I'm the last person you have left, and as of right now, I'm done."

Bella's hand just grazes mine as she storms out, slamming her bedroom door behind her. For a minute, even as Alice is turning purple as she stares at Bella's door, I stand there, stunned.

I'm even more shocked when she crumples.

"Jesus," I whisper, watching Alice dissolve into a puddle, her back against the wall, her body wracked with silent sobs.

She lifts her head, eyes blazing, face red and tears streaming down her cheeks. "Get the fuck out of here." When I hesitate, she screams, "Go!"

I don't know why I waver.

"You heard her," she spits, gesturing to Bella's room. "You won. So don't pretend you give a shit about me." Returning her head down to her knees, she chokes out, "No one gives a shit about me."

Even though her tone is as hateful and selfish as ever, I can see and hear the hurt in both her posture and her voice. And I've heard enough from both Bella and Jasper to know that she's just pushing everyone away.

And I know what that is like.

Compelled for some reason to stay, I lean against the opposite wall, my eyes darting from Bella's door to Alice's broken form. "If she didn't c-care, she wouldn't be so mmmad." When she doesn't respond, I try again, "Lots of people c-care about you." Unable to suppress the image of his face as he asked about her, Jasper's name comes unbidden to my lips. "Jasper - "

She laughs, a hollow sound, empty and aching. "He stopped caring a long time ago. Now go. Just fucking go."

I stare at her for a long moment. "You might b-be surprised," I offer quietly.

When she doesn't respond, I finally sigh and leave her alone. But my thoughts don't.

Bella accepts me back into her bed with hardly a word, just curling up into me, her head on my shoulder and her arms around my waist. I hold her tightly, listening as she drifts off to sleep. I try to sleep, too.

But every time I do, I wake to the sound of sobs.

And I know what it's like to feel completely unloved.

I know what it's like to find out that isn't true.

Finally, when dawn is breaking outside, pale light filtering in, I give in to the fact that sleep is far away, my mind spinning. Stealing out from under Bella's sleeping form, I make my way to the bathroom, still half-dressed.

In the other room, I can hear Alice's angry music and her whispered screaming. And I can't help the way her voice makes my chest seem to ache.

I lock myself in the bathroom before I fumble in my pocket for my phone. For the longest time, I stare it. And then, finally, I dial.

When the line picks up, it is with a mumbled, gruff, "Hello?"

"Jasper," I answer, swallowing hard. "It's Alice."

"What happened?" He sounds instantly alert, and I hear him moving, clothing rustling and static on the line. "Is she all right?"

"No. I mean, she's not hurt, but ... We're here, at Bella's place. Just ... C-could you..."

There is no hesitation. Just resolve. "I'm on my way."

#~~#~~#

When the buzzer rings, I get the door. Jasper flies in, hair everywhere, his coat thrown haphazardly over pajamas and loafers , and I point him to Alice's room. As he knocks, I stand in the hallway, watching, even though I feel like a voyeur. He is speaking quietly, and after a few interminable minutes, the door finally cracks open.

I see the relief on his face as he slips inside.

Back in Bella's bed, I take her into my arms and kiss her just behind her ear. She doesn't wake.

Holding her tightly, I follow my thoughts in slowing circles. With my guilt no longer plaguing me, I fall heavily, finally to sleep.

#~~#~~#

At almost noon, alone in Bella's room, I wake to the sounds of voices yet again.

But at least they're not yelling, now.

Having slept in my pants, I only stop to find a t-shirt before emerging out into the apartment, following the quiet tones toward the kitchen. There, I find Alice and Bella at the table, sipping coffee and picking at muffins as they fail to look at each other, each woman's body language closed.

In a cool tone, Bella glances down and says, "I mean, there's no rush."

"No. You're right ... it's time. And I think I'm ... I'm ready, you know?"

Still looking away, Bella's face gives off the faintest hint of a smile. "Yeah. I do."

At that point, shuffling awkwardly, I lift my hand to my mouth and clear my throat.

And Bella turns the most beautiful, shining eyes at me.

I am ready to fall into them when I am brought back to myself by the sound of Alice's chair as it scrapes across the floor. She rises and looks at me with all the challenge that has been in her eyes before. But I'm pretty sure there's a new hint of gratitude there, too.

"Jasper will be back any minute," she says as she crosses the room to drop her dishes in the sink. Her eyes meet mine again, and this time I nod.

Aware that this is all the acknowledgement I'll get, I turn my attention to Bella, who is approaching me as Alice is retreating. With her hands on my chest, Bella rises up on tiptoes to kiss me soundly, and I smile against her lips, telling her, "Good morning," as she's pulling back.

"Yeah," she says, sighing and yet eying suspiciously. "It is. Alice seems ... better."

I turn to grab a mug and pour myself some coffee as I hum in agreement. From behind, Bella's arms encircle me, her lips at my neck as she whispers, "Don't think I don't know you had something to do with that."

Smirking to myself, I shrug. "Maybe."

"You are much, much too nice."

"She nnnnneeded a friend. And, honestly, I think Jasper needs to take care of her."

Bella pulls me back to the table and places a muffin on a plate for me. "I didn't say you were wrong. Just way too nice."

It's too hard to explain the kinship I felt for someone who's been nothing but hateful to me. Instead, I change the subject. "So did they work things out?"

"Yes and no, from what little she told me. I think they're dating again, but it sounds like Jasper's holding her at arm's length."

"Good." While I don't want Alice to be alone, I don't want my friend to be hurt either.

"And she's moving out."

The hunk of muffin lodges dryly in the back of my mouth. Sputtering, half-choking, I cough until I can speak. "What?"

Bella sighs and reaches for my hand, stroking it absently. "We talked about it this morning, and we both think it's for the best. Friends or not, it isn't working out, having her here. She's going to try to get a place in Jasper's building, or somewhere close. Says she wants a fresh start."

I am listening, but in the back of my mind, all I can think is that Alice is moving out.

And Bella will be here. Alone.

"And what about you?" I manage.

"Well, I can't afford this place on my own, obviously. Though I have a few ideas for ways to swing it." She is staring at me meaningfully, and I feel the world resolve down to just her and me and a moment.

Alice is moving out.

And Bella will be here.

Alone.

I don't ever want to be alone again.

Bella is talking to me, and I hear what she is saying about the other plans that Alice has made. But I'm not processing.

Dry as it may be, I find my voice. "Alice is moving out."

"Yup." Bella is smiling.

God, she's beautiful when she smiles.

There is silence in the world beyond me, and there's a roar inside my ears. And I know what I want to do.

I put the mug down and push my plate away from me.

I can barely hear the words as they escape my lips.

"Move in with me."

Bella is staring at me, eyes sparkling, and her smile is so wide. She's touching me, and I'm numb and terrified. And yet, for the first time, stepping out to this dangerous edge, I do not fear rejection.

I know that she'll say yes.

So it's all the more devastating when she places her hands on either side of my face.

It's so much worse to see her lips as they whisper, "No."

Everything inside of me is falling, but Bella is still touching me, her mouth still curling into a smile that I would swear was happy. Over the dumbfounded numbness, she presses her lips to mine.

"Nnnnno?" I breathe.

"Your place is so small, baby," she says, laughing, eyes shining. I still don't fully understand. But somehow, some way, my heart is still beating as she beams even wider and kisses me again. "I want youto move in with me."

Chapter Text

"Where does this one go?" Emmett lumbers through the door, an unmarked box in hands, and I almost choke.

"Play-" I stop myself just in time, closing my eyes and remembering. "Sp-spare room."

The one good thing about a history of stammering is that no one suspects you when you correct yourself mid-word.

Ignoring Jasper's stifled laugh, Emmett disappears into the Alice's old room, and I hold my breath until he returns. Everything is still in boxes, so there's nothing too incriminating for him to find. I think. To my relief, he emerges quickly, saying nothing of the dark grey walls or the other oddities of the décor. Instead, he sits down heavily on Bella's and my new couch and flips on the TV.

"When are the girls due back, anyway?"

I wipe my brow and spare a glance down at my phone. "Any minute now."

While Emmett, Jasper and I unload the last of my things here, Rosalie and Bella are at Alice's new apartment, helping her paint. It is a peace offering of sorts between Alice and Bella - their first afternoon together since Alice moved out.

I can only hope that it goes well.

Emmett groans and hauls himself back up to standing. "Then I should probably move the truck, huh?"

"Yes, p-please."

After the door closes behind him, Jasper and I sit in a comfortable silence as I unpack books and he puts back together another of my shelves. My eyes dart from the pictures on the wall to the furniture, to the orchid that my mother sent me as a housewarming gift. The room is crowded and homey, and it looks like Bella, and it look like me. Just sitting in it makes me happy.

Jasper sighs, and I hear him put down the tools that he is using. "This place seems so weird without Ally's things."

I laugh. "I was just thinking how much I like how it llllooks now."

"Yeah," he says, sighing. "Me, too."

"How is that, anyway? Between the two of you?"

"Hard, honestly." He pauses, thinking. "I mean, it's good, too. God knows I missed her. But we're both on edge, me looking for signs she's really changed and her waiting for me to leave her again. And fuck, it's hard not to just forgive her for everything, you know? I still love her. Just…"

"Yeah."

"But she's trying. Really. I think. She's more open now. More willing to let me tell her when she's being difficult and pushing me away."

"That's good. She's been a less … awful. To me."

She really has. The faint traces of gratitude she showed after the night I called Jasper haven't gone away. In their own way, I think they've morphed into respect.

And I'm no longer willing to accept anything less from her.

After a long pause, Jasper volunteers, "She was so jealous of you."

The book that I am shelving slips slightly in my hand. Looking down, I fumble with it, hearing Alice's words in my head.

You won.

"Yeah. I k-kind of figured." Pulling the last two books out of the box, I sigh. "I was never competing, though."

"I know. And so does she, on some level. But she's always had such issues with commitment, and Bella did, too. Seeing Bella give in and find happiness … Add in that she couldn't deal with Bella's, er, lifestyle choices and …"

"I get it." My understanding doesn't make it any less unpleasant.

"It's something she's promised to work on."

"Hmm?"

"Admitting that she's wrong. Because she is. About you and Bella, but about you especially."

I swallow hard before simply saying, "Thanks."

Jasper finishes his task in silence and then shifts to sit on the couch. "So … You really ready to do this with Bella?"

I cannot stop the smile that spreads across my face. "Yeah. I've never been more ready for anything."

"From the looks of the 'spare room' I'd say that's an understatement."

My face heats as I turn back to my wall of books. But I deny nothing.

A few minutes later, the door to the apartment opens to reveal Emmett, who has apparently managed to intercept the girls on their way back home. They file in, laughing, and Bella tosses a bag down on what used to be my old chair. It's our chair now.

"Hey, beautiful," I murmur as she sits beside me on the floor, placing a quick peck on my lips and leaning against me. I work to catch her eyes to show her my meaning as I ask tightly, "Did you have a nice time?"

She smiles genuinely, and I am instantly relieved. With her gaze flickering to Alice, she says, "It was good." She re-centers on me, her posture easing as she asks, "How about you guys? Looks like you got a lot done."

My arm goes around her waist. "We did."

I lean in close, preparing to whisper in her ear how I almost told Emmett what we've done with Alice's old room when he interrupts me. "Break it up, love birds. I believe we were promised pizza for helping."

I pull away from Bella with a sigh but brush my mouth across her cheek. "You were," I agree. As I dig my phone back out of my pocket, I look to Alice and Jasper and ask, "You guys staying, too?"

"Sure. That sounds nice," Alice says, her voice restrained. There's a foot of distance between them, but at her neutral tone, Jasper reaches for her hand, smiling.

For the first time in my life, I order more than one pizza. And because they are all for my friends - or people I hope may someday become my friends - I know what everyone wants.

And as I speak into the phone, I am not asked to repeat myself. Not even once.

#~~#~~#

As my brother changes stations on the television, I rise, kissing Bella's cheek before gathering up glasses and plates. As I begin to fill the sink, I hear the clink of yet more dishes piling up on the counter beside me.

Still, I startle when I hear the voice.

"Need any help?"

Glancing at Alice and then down at the rising water, I have a flashback to the last time we were in this position. To the night I spoke my love without intending to. To the night that Bella collared me and told me that she loved me, too.

This is nothing like that night.

I force a smile that looks just as stiff and plastered-on as Alice's. "No, I've g-got it. But thank you."

"Sure. Just let me know."

At her escape, her relief is as palpable as mine.

The dish drainer is halfway full when warm arms slip around my waist. Kissing the base of my neck, Bella murmurs, "You don't have to do these now, you know."

I smile for real this time. "I know. I wanted to."

"Okay." Bella knows. She knows that for all I love to be surrounded by friends now, I am still the sort of man to need a moment to myself sometimes. "Well, come back to us soon."

Twisting to kiss her lips, I promise. "I will."

#~~#~~#

"Oh fuck, Pet, yes."

Mistress rides my face, her thighs so hot around my ears. Towering above me, she is soft and supple, hard and commanding.

She's everything.

We've been christening our playroom for hours now. It's all tastefully done, the toys in drawers or hung up in the closet, the Saint Andrew's cross we built standing beside a giant picture frame that could cover it at a moment's notice. It's a spare room, should we need it to be.

Tonight, we need it to be something else entirely.

The words 'our playroom' run through my mind again, and my cock pulses against my stomach, my tongue redoubling its efforts at her flesh. It's safe here. It's safe for her to be her and for me to be me. Her pet, her toy, I focus on her pleasure and my accompanying joy. Her breaths are quickening, the rocking of her pussy on my mouth increasingly insistent, and I know it's almost there.

"My … Pet … has the … best … fucking … mouth. God, yes, right there."

Like I could go anywhere else. I lie beneath her with my hands bound behind me, my back arched deliciously painfully, a leather ring around my cock. As she pauses and shudders, I spell out, "Mistress," on her flesh with my tongue. I spell out, "Please," and, "Come," and, "Take me."

Finally, she silences, all her will bent to this orgasm - to taking her pleasure from me. I groan with the relief of her pussy tensing, spasming. Her hands rip at my hair, and there's elation at her scream.

Everything she does feels good.

"God, Pet. Fuck," she breathes as she comes down and dismounts me.

I've not permission to speak right now, so I simply regard her, staring up beseechingly.

"You are such a sight, Pet." Standing, Mistress runs her fingers through my hair, and I can feel the dampness there. Slick and sweaty, bound and hard, I know I must look wanton.

A few moments later, she shows me.

Rolling me over to my side, my Mistress instructs me to be still as she sets up the mirror on what used to be my kitchen table, but which is now just another place for her to tie me and fuck me. Lying there on the black satin sheets we've used to cover my old bed, I am shockingly pale. Except, of course, where I am flushed. Marked.

As I look, my Mistress moves around the room, grabbing something from a chest of drawers before returning to my side. Uncertain what she wants of me, but desperately hoping that she'll let me come, I turn my eyes to hers to find her smiling smugly.

I groan when she holds up a plug. A new one.

It's shaped like a cock.

"Kiss," she breathes, holding it before my lips.

I close my eyes, remembering I'm safe here. I'm so safe.

My lips touch plastic, and I know it's all she wants. Still, she lets it linger near my mouth. I look up at her, asking questions with my eyes.

I know I don't have to.

But still, watching her all the while, I take the very tip inside my mouth.

Her eyes shine as she rasps, "Such a good boy. Such a good, good boy."

Before either of us can push me too far, she withdraws the plug and moves behind me. In the mirror, I watch her coat it with lube before coaxing my legs apart. She slides it in so slowly. There's pleasure and pain, and I moan loudly when I feel it all the way inside of me.

With one hand on my hip, she bends to kiss my sweaty forehead. In her reflection, I see her smirking as she lays one playful swat against my ass. "Relax. Rest."

She walks beyond my sight, and from the sounds of her heels, I think she leaves the room entirely, but there's no way to be sure.

Imagining that I've got some time, I sink down into the mattress and into my restraints, shifting slightly to feel the fabric on my skin and the tugs of the ropes. They're just right tonight - not tight enough to hurt me, but tight enough to form bright lines of bondage on my body. They're tight enough to cut into my mind.

Bit by bit my breathing slows; though, thanks to the ring, my arousal doesn't really stop throbbing. I pull my thoughts back into myself and into my submission, knowing that there is more to this than just an opportunity to rest. Slowly, the passage of time glowing ever so slightly, I let my eyes roam the room. At this angle, though, there's not much to see. There's nothing, really.

Nothing except me.

Deciding this must be my Mistress's intention, I settle my gaze on the mirror before me. Though it does not bother me so much now, I'm still not one with an appreciation for regarding my own reflection. But tonight I make an effort.

In the glass, I see my body, muscles slightly strained with the way the ropes pull my shoulders back. I see the ever-present circle of my collar and the contrast of the bright red ropes against white skin, the flush to my thighs where she has spanked me. I see the circle at the base of my cock, and I see my own flesh, swollen and glistening with need.

And then I look closer to see her name, etched possessively around that leather strip.

I zoom out to take in the whole of me.

Possessed.

I look possessed.

A bound, well-fucked, submissive man, I look like somebody owns me. Like Bella owns me.

And fuck me if I don't look deliriously happy.

"That can be arranged."

My eyes dart up, away from my own face to find my Mistress's reflection, her body just behind me. And my cheeks redden sharply as I realize I've spoken out loud.

She watches that knowledge cross my face, and she pulls the flogger back into her hand, retrieving it from where she'd left it by my side. "'Fuck me?' was it, Pet?"

I am not so naughty as to reply.

Though I am almost tempted to, to earn another stroke.

"Two then," she says evenly, her smile wicked. Rolling me to lie a little more on my stomach than my side, she orders, "Watch."

We've never done this in front of a mirror before. Not like this.

I've never gotten to watch her punish me.

She's magnificent.

The blows are hard and fast, just the way I wish she'd fuck me, and I grimace at each. Still, I can't take my eyes off her expression, gripping in its intensity. Tenderly, afterward, she massages my burning skin. "Good boy. You're such a good boy."

Were I allowed a sound, I'd purr.

When I'm back on my side again, she whispers, "Just like this."

My muscles lock down in an effort to obey, but it's hard as I watch her walk around the bed to stand before me. Wrapped tightly in glossy, black PVC, her curves are devastatingly sexy, and the ache in my balls is almost too much to take. I am close to begging her as she stands there, staring at me.

But then she sinks to her knees.

Fuck. Me.

She takes me in her mouth instead, my whole body convulsing at the feeling of my head at her throat, the muscle relaxing to envelop me. I'm grateful for the ring, so close already to coming after hours of being worked this way.

She pops off to tell me, "Watch."

It seems so wrong to feel this good, to so enjoy watching my Mistress suck me as I lie there, bound for her pleasure, and for mine. My exhales grow more and more belabored, the pleasure rising hotly, and just when I am close to breaking my silence to beg for some release, she removes her mouth from me. Internally, I groan.

"Up, Pet."

With great difficulty and without the use of my arms, I bring myself to standing. I'm light-headed, but her hand on my hip is enough to ground me.

Still, it makes me dizzy when she lies on the bed with her legs spread, her pussy open. Inviting me. With her ass at the edge of the mattress, she's at the perfect height for me to drive into her.

"Fuck me," she breathes, inviting me to do just that.

With my eyes half rolling back inside my head, I stagger to the edge of the bed. Her legs begin to snake around me, heels digging into my ass, and she reaches out one hand to guide me.

High on how good she feels, I slowly sink in.

"Fast and hard, Pet. Just the way you like it."

Biting my tongue, I do just as she says, struggling without my arms to support me. Not that it matters. She's there to hold me up.

Her one hand goes to her clit while the other one rests on my side, above my hip. And for all that I am fucking her, she is the one who is clearly in control of me.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

After a few short minutes of thrusting, I feel my will-power crumbling, the ring not even enough now to keep me from coming. I must be blue in the face from how I barely allow myself to breathe.

Finally, she groans the words, "Come for me," and I gasp raggedly.

As she spasms around me, I feel my orgasm gather in every nerve between my legs, a teetering, elating feeling. A moment later, it surges outward.

And I fall forward onto the bed, twitching uncontrollably as I pulse and shatter and empty.

Afterward, she strokes my hair. "I love you, Pet."

I bend to kiss her throat. And rules or no, I whisper, "Mistress, I love you, too."

She doesn't punish me.

#~~#~~#

I haul the last bag of things to take to Bella's place out into the living room and set it by the door. Wiping my hands on my jeans, I turn to find Bella in the middle of the room, turning in a slow circle contemplatively.

"It's looks so … empty," she says to the four bare walls. "Kind of lonely, really." Her eyes drift up to mine, her expression soft. "But then, it always did have a little bit of that feel to it."

I shake my head and smile as I approach her. "Only until you came along."

Pulling her into my arms, I kiss her softly, and she accepts me willingly. Her hands tug me closer, but they also pull me down.

"Come here."

We sit against the wall in the empty room for a while, making out like I imagine teenagers would do. With Bella, I feel just that young, and everything seems new. Eventually, our kisses deepen, hands straying. "One last time?" I ask, breathless as she palms me.

Her mouth twists sourly. "That makes it sound so sad."

I shake my head and slide my thumb across her lips. "It is, in its own way. This is where I fell in love with you."

"It's where I fell in love with you, too."

We regard each other for a moment, fingertips soft on skin, eyes warm.

"One last time," she says finally.

We move slowly tonight, kissing until we each feel fit to burst before sliding away clothing, touching gently at all that is revealed. Still, it isn't long before I find myself naked on my back on the bare floor. As Bella sinks down over me, I say goodbye to a place that saw me at my loneliest, but which also saw me find the courage to look for more and the strength to love with all my heart.

With her body one with mine, I open myself to a future that's so bright with possibility.

One where the only ties that bind me are those that link my life to hers.

Chapter Text

My skin is sticky with come and slick with sweat and lube, my hands restrained above my head. Mistress has deprived me of my senses, blindfolding me and placing earbuds in my ears, blaring music. Prone on my back, naked and euphoric, I am at her mercy.

Just the way I want to be.

For a while, I float.

Her proximity buzzes in and out of my consciousness, warmth and small touches, but for the most part she leaves me alone. Wanting.

The next thing I'm aware of is heat, and I cry out at the feeling of wet fire on my chest. The wax is barely cooling before there is another splash and then another. Along my arms and thighs, I feel the telltale tightening on my skin. For a few moments, it's all I feel.

Nimble fingers tease my cock, sliding up and down, and there's a hot breath across my balls. My panting is a dull echo over the music in my ears.

"Please, Mistress."

I cannot hear her response, but a moment later she pulls away.

Cool metal on my skin begins to work at the wax, and I remember how the blade once terrified me. While we do not engage in any kind of cutting, the instrument itself is no longer a problem for me, dull as I know it to be. As I feel my skin revealed, wildly sensitive and cool, I would go so far as to say I love it when she uses it on me. There is a warm cloth and something slick like oil and then the blade again. Peeling.

Freezing.

My back arches at the sensation of wet and cold against my skin. Ice? She traces wide patterns on my body, loops and curls.

The last time she did this, I watched her paint my name.

I imagine she is doing the same, shivering and moaning as warm lips chase the trails of frigid water on my skin all the way down to my cock. Behind the blindfold, my eyes snap open at the wet heat as it engulfs me, breathing raggedly at the sharp tease of teeth. She works me until I am ready to explode. When I beg her to let me come, she slides her mouth off of me, leaving me tingling and desperate.

But then I feel her fingers on my lips, and they are wet. They taste like her, musky and sweet, and I try to pull them deeper into my mouth, licking at what she leaves behind when she removes her touch.

Pulling away, she leaves me to ponder for a moment, slowing my breathing and hoping for more. When I have almost gotten control of myself, I feel a shifting of weight on the surface of the table. She touches no part of me except my cock, but that touch is so perfect, so all-consuming.

Heat.

Sliding.

Inside.

She takes me in slowly, forcing a hot groan from the very bottom of my abdomen, and she rides me just like that. Slowly. Steady. There is a faint vibration, and I imagine the way she moves a bullet on her clit as she's fucking me.

I can imagine so many things.

I have to imagine less interesting things if I have any chance of holding off on coming.

My mind has settled on a particular plot line of a story when I feel her hand clutch at my thigh, and it is only then that I realize she's probably riding me backwards. I am flooded by the image of her ass, the curves of her sides. The way her hair spills down her spine.

"Mistress," I manage as the feeling rises up in me.

The music stops.

"Yes, Pet. Come for me. Come in me."

My hands close up in fists against my bonds as I thrust up into her just as her body begins to tense around me. I hear her cries and my own, my orgasm overwhelming me.

At thirty-five, I'd had no idea that I could come so many times and still want more.

But with my Mistress, my Bella, my wife ... I always, always want more.

#~~#~~#

The bathtub in our master bathroom is wide and deep. Still shaky, I slide to sit on the floor beside it, just watching Bella as she runs the water. She's naked now and so beautiful. My hand drifts up to touch her thigh, longing for her skin.

She laughs and bends to kiss me. "You're so adorable when you're like this."

It was a good scene. A great one. I'm even loopier than usual.

"You're always adorable."

She rolls her eyes and stands back up, tugging at me lightly before urging me into the tub. It's only half full, but I don't care. The water feels good. Having her spine against my front, my arms around her, feels even better.

She turns the water off when it has risen nearly to my shoulders, and I sink back, taking her with me.

We stayed in her old apartment together for three blissful years before deciding to buy something larger. We said it was our wedding present to ourselves – a little townhouse in the city, still close to all our favorite places. It has enough room for an office for each of us and a playroom in the basement. And it has a bathtub. An enormous, luxurious bathtub where my lover allows me to hold her after my Mistress has worked me to the point of exhaustion.

We wash each other gently, and when her fingertips meet the places where the wax adhered to my skin, I thank god again that we invested in the sorts of candles that are designed to not pull out hair. Still, she has to scrub a bit to get the last remaining streaks of blue and red off of my chest. I don't mind.

Once we're clean, we sit there, soaking and loving, my hands always moving on her skin. Eventually, I interweave her fingers with mine and rest them between her breasts. Our rings touch when we hold hands like this, and I find myself watching the glitter of the band.

I remember the moment two years ago, sitting in the bath together just like this, my body raw and my heart so open, and asking her to marry me.

"Of course," she'd said, laughing and turning to kiss the surprise off of my mouth.

Apparently, she'd been about a month away from breaking down and asking me herself. But she'd known it was important to me, so she'd waited long enough for me to get my nerve.

A few weeks later, we'd stood before a justice of the peace. Jasper was my best man and Rosalie was her matron of honor. And nothing had made me happier than sliding that ring onto her finger.

I turn it gently. She didn't want an engagement ring, so she wears just this one platinum circle, a diamond and a sapphire set so they lie flush against the surface. Because sometimes things are crystal clear. Because our future is as open as the sky.

Because in our lives, nothing is ever just one thing.

Because no one – not even a stone – should be alone.

Bella says it's because she likes the color blue.

"What are you smiling at?"

I smirk and kiss her neck, wrapping my arms around her more tightly. "Just you. Thinking about when you agreed to marry me."

She hums. "That was a good day."

"One of the best."

We lapse back into quiet, but her fingertips are more restless on my skin, so I know she's thinking about something.

"Was that what you needed?"

I was the one to ask her for this scene. I asked her to take me someplace deep, and I asked her to do it tonight.

"Yes," I murmur, kissing her ear. "Exactly. Exactly, exactly what I needed."

"I'm glad." She pauses and tilts her neck, inviting me to slide my lips along damp skin. "Are you nervous?"

It's a fair question. But at this moment, I can't think of anything except how good I feel and how much I love my wife. "No," I answer truthfully. "Not even a bit."

#~~#~~#

By the time we arrive the next morning, I am so nervous I can scarcely breathe.

"You're going to be fine," Bella insists. Her face is just in front of mine, her hands on my cheeks. With wet lips, she kisses me again and again, and I do not miss the way her fingers trail to linger on the necklace that serves as my collar. "You're brilliant and amazing, and you can do this."

"I'll t-t-try."

I have shifted her to sit across my lap, her chin against my hair and my face pressed to her neck. Eventually, though, it's time.

"Mr. Cullen? You're up in five."

I smile weakly, but I feel a little green. Bella slides down off my lap and stands; I miss her warmth immediately. Rising, I pull her into my arms and kiss her brow. "You're sure I can't take you with me?"

"I'll be in the very front row." Her lips meet mine before she steps away to take my hands in hers. "And I'll be smiling because I am so, so proud of you."

I nod and suck in a shaky breath. The man who came to fetch me leads me out, and I follow him. My neck twists twice to look back at Bella, and she watches me until the very moment that the door swings closed between us.

With the metal of my collar between my finger and my thumb, I wait in the wings, allowing someone to fix whatever make-up Bella may have smudged and staring forward.

Everything grows hushed, and I feel the panic rising. There is a woman's voice, booming across the set, but I can't listen. All I can do is look. Across the sea of people spreading out beyond the curtain I am clinging to, I search for just one face.

And there she is. Sitting beside my mother, my wife is in the front row, exactly where she'd promised she would be.

And she looks so beautiful.

"Folks, we are so pleased to be able to introduce to you, in his first major television interview, the best-selling author of Freedom of Speech, Edward Cullen."

There's a tap on my shoulder when I freeze and fail to move. There's a whispered, "That's your cue."

Swallowing hard, I take the first step forward to the sounds of applause. It's deafening and bewildering. But the moment I emerge from the curtain, I find Bella's eyes on mine. I watch her mouth the words, "I love you."

And I'm okay.

In the center of the stage, I shake hands with the host, exchanging awkward air kisses and blushing before I can even sit down. Trying to appear more relaxed than I am, I sink into the chair and place my elbow on the armrest, fidgeting and looking at the people who are watching me.

The host smiles warmly. "So how are you?"

It's an easy question.

Right?

I close my eyes for half a second and touch my collar, tapping the metal of my wedding band against it once for luck.

"I'm doing very well," I manage.

"Well, we're delighted to have you here." She talks a bit about random happenings, and I listen, nodding and responding and ignoring that there's an audience peering in on our chat.

Every word comes more easily than the one before.

"Now, tell us a little bit about the book."

This much I've rehearsed before. "Well, at its heart, it's a lllove story."

Of course it is. It's the book I started in those first heady months when Bella came into my life.

I explain a little more about the plot before the host interjects. "I understand that, in the beginning of book, the main character chooses not to speak for an extended period of time, is that right?"

I nod. "Three years."

"Could you talk a little about that? How did that happen?"

"He ... he feels that no one is listening to him. And he feels sort of out of control. This is something he can take control of, so that's what he does."

The host nods. And I know what's coming next. "Now, it's generally known that when you were growing up you had a speech impediment."

My throat grows dryer and my tongue thicker, but I push through. "Yes. I had a t-terrible stutter." My nails dig into my palm. I hide my tension with a smile, glancing at Bella and then back down. Weakly, I admit, "It still shows up sometimes. When I'm nervous, for example."

She laughs. "Well, we'll try to keep you comfortable."

For the most part she succeeds.

I keep myself relaxed with my own techniques as well. I touch my collar and my wedding ring. I look at Bella. And in the moments when I do not have to speak, I scan my body for the soreness that belies what happened the night before.

Finally, the man beside the camera raises his hand, and the host begins to wrap things up. Holding up a copy of my book she asks, "So, in just a few words, if there was one message you hope people would take away from your story, what would it be?"

My eyes connect with Bella's across the stage. And it's so simple.

My throat is tight, but not for the usual reasons. This is not a hesitation born of a problem with my speech.

Breathing in deeply, I exhale out the words, "That ... if you're open to it ... that love will set you free."

#~~#~~#

After the show, Bella and my mother are waiting for me. In an uncharacteristic display, my mother moves in for a hug, there in front of everybody, and I let my arms close around her reciprocally. "You did so well, sweetheart."

"Thanks, Mom."

Over the past five years, our relationship has had its stops and starts, but on the whole we have built it back into a warm, living thing. We speak on the phone, and she comes over regularly to help with the tiny patch of a garden behind Bella's and my house.

She lets go quickly, and my eyes immediately seek out Bella's. Pulling her against my side, I meet her lips in a soft kiss. She, too, is effusive. "I told you. You nailed it."

"I did my best."

"You were wonderful."

I scoff. "Like I could have gotten here without you."

I mean it in so many ways. After years of freelancing and odd jobs, Bella took a position as an editor at a major publishing company shortly after we moved in together. She was the one to show my novel around.

She was the one who inspired me to write it in the first place.

With her hand on my face, her voice serious, she intones, "You could have gotten anywhere you wanted to."

That may or may not be true. I'll never know. I never want to.

"But there's nowhere I want to be without you."

#~~#~~#

Arriving at Emmett and Rosalie's house, we are immediately attacked by a flying bundle of girl.

After deciding that we didn't want to become parents ourselves, Bella and I became determined to be the very best aunt and uncle we could be. For the most part we've fulfilled the roles in spades, getting to know my brother's children and watching them as they've grown.

It hurts to think of all the time I missed out on, being as afraid of them as they were of me.

Squatting down, I catch my niece and kiss her cheek, lifting her to carry her on my hip.

"I saw you on TV, Uncle Edward!"

I smile in spite of myself. "Is that right?"

"Yup. Mommy said you did real good."

I chuckle. "Well, coming from your mother, that's high praise indeed. And what did you think?"

"I thought you were excellent." Her tiny arms wrap around my neck and she kisses my cheek.

"Well, thank you."

"Aunt Bella?"

"Yes, sweetie?"

"Can we read my princess book later?"

"Absolutely."

My mother follows behind us and chimes in. "Can I read with you girls, too?"

She has to think about this. "Yes. But no boys."

I sigh dramatically as I open the door and step inside the house where my sister-in-law is waiting to take the little girl from me. Rose hugs me and then Bella, congratulating us both, and she is followed soon by Emmett, Alice and Jasper, who quickly offers me a scotch.

"Thanks," I reply, sinking down into a chair.

It is a small party. In my opinion, that's the very best kind.

"Son."

My father hovers in the doorway, his own drink in his hand. I nod but otherwise do not respond. Little has changed between us on the whole, but he no longer looks at me with disdain in his eyes. I don't know if it's my new life and my headstrong wife, or my success, or if it's just the way that I now meet his gaze head-on instead of shying away.

We'll never be close. But for now we are okay.

As we all talk, there are sounds of children in the background. One of them – Alice and Jasper's son – sneaks onto Alice's lap at some point, and she lets him sit there, cuddling him tight. Time and motherhood have softened her, as has Jasper's patient love. They're happy. And while they're still close – if no longer best – friends, she and Bella haven't had a fight in five long years.

Neither have Alice and I.

Rosalie beckons us all into the kitchen before long. It's a messy affair, full of little hands and big ones. After all, it's family.

And never in my life have I been so delighted to be part of one.

#~~#~~#

I am standing at the picture window, watching Bella and my mother with my niece out on the lawn when I hear the clearing of a throat behind me.

I turn to see my father as he steps to stand beside me, shoving the curtain farther back so he can see.

"Bella's been a good addition to the family."

It's so obvious to me that it seems strange he even needs to say so after all this time. I grunt a vague affirmative, watching through the window as she tucks my niece's hair behind her ear.

My father sighs. "You've been a good addition to the family."

My spine straightens slightly, my body tensing.

"I'm glad you're part of it again. I'm glad you've let me be a part of yours." He pauses, his voice stiff. But I can't mistake the tone of apology. "I don't tell you that kind of thing enough."

Slightly stunned, I let my gaze meet his, finding nothing insincere to his expression. "Thanks, D-dad."

"Anytime, son. Now I was wondering..." He trails off as he reaches into his jacket, pulling out a copy of my book. Along with a pen, he holds it out to me.

I shake my head but take them both. On the inside page, I hover for a moment, uncertain what to write. In the end, I simply sign my name.

"Thanks." He takes it back from me, looks at my signature and sighs. Clapping his hand against my shoulder, he looks ready to say something. Internally, I'm tensing. But then he lets go, patting my back once.

He lets whatever it was remain unsaid.

The girls come in a little later, and they find us both still standing there, not speaking but not fighting either as we stare out the window. Bella comes to me immediately and wraps an arm around my waist. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah. Just let me say goodbye to everybody." Nodding at my father, I offer a quick, "So long," restraining my expression of surprise when he holds out his hand and meets my eyes.

"It's a damn good book," he says quietly.

I hadn't known he'd read it.

There's a warmth in my chest. "Thank you," is my only reply.

#~~#~~#

Back at home, Bella and I retreat to our own separate offices, and it is a relief to have a moment to myself. Still, we don't get far into the evening before I miss her company. When I wander out, I find her on the couch, reading. From her expression, I can tell that she's been waiting for me.

Smiling broadly, she opens her arms, and I sit beside her, kissing her once before leaning back into the cushions.

"How are you doing?" she asks, stroking my hair.

"Fantastic." It's true. "You?"

"About the same."

She stretches, and it makes her chest arch forward.

All the nervous energy I've been carrying all day centers down into just one notion.

Smirking at my expression, she feigns innocence. "So what do you want to do tonight?"

I don't suppress the growl at the back of my throat. Dipping my head, I place a series of kisses down her neck and heading toward her chest. "I can think of a few things."

"Oh really?"

"More than a few."

There on the couch, I kiss her mouth and feel her body, pressing her down into the cushions until she is lying there beneath me, her legs and body open. With all the tenderness and reverence I feel, I strip her down. She does the same for me.

Naked above her, I make love to her. It's slow and perfect, and I am in awe.

For all that so much has changed in all these years, this hasn't. What I feel for her ... what she does to me...

Feeling her body tense around me, I bury my face against her neck before I spill into her, whispering, "I love you," again and again.

#~~#~~#

We are still lying there, embracing when her phone rings. Against my half-hearted complaints, she disentangles herself from my embrace to stride across the room, still nude.

I listen to her side of the conversation with a lazy, sated smile across my face.

"I don't know. Let me check." She covers the mouthpiece and turns to me. "Any interest in going out tonight?"

Stretching, I slide my hand across my face. Staying in, curled up around my wife tonight, is tempting. But friends and drinks don't sound half bad. "Sure."

An hour later, we emerge, dressed and laughing, to hail a cab toward our favorite bar. The people there were once her friends, but now they're ours, and it isn't long before I find a glass being pressed into my hand, congratulatory smiles meeting me everywhere I look.

We talk. We drink. We have fun.

At some point in the evening, I find myself amidst a circle of people discussing a film I want to see, and I notice that a couple of the faces there are new. During a lull in conversation, I hold my hand out, introducing myself. As I do, my voice is smooth.

The woman takes my hand and says her name, and then she asks, "So what do you do?"

There are so many things. I write. I read. I get tied up, and I please my Mistress. I spend time with friends and family.

And I love. Above all else, I love.

Glancing at my Bella across the room, I meet her eyes and smile.

And then I answer, simply, "I live."

Chapter Text

With the silencing of my computer's fan, my apartment is utterly still. Stagnant.

Pushing away from my desk, I turn off the monitor and stare with eyes full of dread at the remaining hours of my evening. Already, I can feel the pointless passage of time and the continued hum of isolation.

I do not know how to break free.

I do not know what to do.

Tugging at greasy strands of hair, I rest my elbows on my knees and close my eyes, staring at the nothingness found in the creeping loneliness of my own stunted mind. I stay that way for a while, just breathing and thinking.

And trying not to think of the things which have been haunting me.

Standing at last, I make my way to my kitchen, the bare sparseness of it taunting me as I go about assembling another meal I have no taste for. Shivering at the chill of ice cubes tumbling into my glass, I breath deeply at the sound of crackling as I pour in more whiskey than I should.

But not as much as I would like to.

As the microwaves hums, I stand in the doorway to the kitchen and nurse my drink, watching the silent telephone and the locked-up door. Even though by now I should know to ignore them both.

Palming myself through my pants, my mind is unwillingly drawn back yet again to the disaster that was the previous weekend - to how a strange fit of anger at myself and my life pierced the fog of lonely grey and sent me scrambling desperately out of the safe cage of these entombing walls. My body shivers at the memory of touch, my hands numb from too much alcohol and my lips bruised as they sucked at a mouth too sickly sweet with gloss, all my awkward discomfort rising as I rose up on my knees above the naked body of a girl whose name I can't even remember. I grimace and harden simultaneously as I relive the wet heat, sliding and embarrassment as I peaked after barely half a dozen strokes, coming and cursing and shame overwhelming me as I drunkenly fell off of her, trying to reciprocate the act of pleasure, only to be batted away.

The microwaves dings.

I pulse.

And I disgust myself.

Eating alone at a table that I don't even know why I own, I swallow over and over, but it does nothing to force the disappointment down, longing for connection and some way out of this stifling space.

I have done this before. So many times I have almost given in to some idea of moving past myself and my broken speech and self-imposed confines, and a small handful of times I have even taken the steps out into that terrifying night. And each of those times, if I defy the odds enough to find a partner, it has ended in nothing but a shameful and too-quick orgasm between scornful thighs. A failure to exchange phone numbers.

Another night alone feeling even worse than before, my need higher.

My unsatisfied arousal harder.

I hear my fork clattering to my plate as I clench my fists, punching the table.

I need a way out.

And I need to come.

Pulling my erection from my pants, I have already taken myself in hand by the time I arrive at my bedroom, making idle passes of my palm over rigid, seeping flesh. As always, it is a strange thing to be taking my misery out on myself this way, emotion and desolation rising in my chest with almost as much intensity as the sensation building in the nerves that are screaming for attention. I want to sob. To fuck.

To feel something other than alone.

Pulling a magazine from my night stand, I prop myself up on my hip so that I may flip through the pages and continue my assault on my own tender flesh at the same time. Images pass through me, and there is a pang in my chest as I realize how little real flesh I have ever felt or seen, how foreign so much of this is to my pathetic experiences.

I realize, too, how little the majority of these images even do for me.

Rejecting out of hand the ones of men biting and fucking at passive forms, I search with hungry eyes and aching flesh for something else. Something more.

With a gasping inhale, my fingers pause both on the pages and around the base of my cock. And I stare.

It's a simple picture, really. A woman. Strong. Sexy. She is only half naked, too-large breasts spilling over black leather, a bare pussy showing beneath the edge of the corset.

The thin pad of a riding crop poised beneath the pouty swell of her fake, red lips.

And behind her, a man, half his body obstructed by her figure.

His face and his look of desire obstructed by a blindfold.

Hissing lightly, I feel so much of the emptiness in my chest being replaced by the stinging pain of giving in, of allowing myself to be aroused by things I never wanted to want. There's hot pleasure and a sickening sensation as my mind rushes to complete the scene, her ass in my view as she rides him in every way imaginable, his hands helpless.

Bound.

At that idea I groan out loud, pumping myself harder and twisting my hand repeatedly over the head in a punishing rhythm that is excruciating ecstasy. Over and over again, my hand rushes over my flesh, another stab in my abdomen as I try to push myself toward my peak, but remembering how I fell off of it too easily with an actual girl.

Remembering how I failed.

Remembering shame.

And imagining a more visceral – a more physical pain.

With a single cry, I release, come pulsing down my hand and onto my stomach, and for a moment my mind is quiet.

Until everything else comes rushing in.

Disappointment and emptiness.

Disgust.

I reach over to my side, searching blindly until my hand connects with the box of tissues I am sad enough to keep for just this purpose, to try in vain to scrub away the tell-tale signs of my masturbation. Almost whimpering, I swab at myself roughly, relieved to be done with this task and yet feeling no true release from myself. From my guilt and my unhappiness.

From the pained continuance of my own sad company.

Tucking myself away, I rise and stash the magazine away, striding out into the kitchen to make another cocktail that I shouldn't have. With the cool glass in my still slightly shaking hand, I settle down on my couch and let my thumb play over the remote. Hollow people flash across the screen, caricatures and characters, and none of them are real.

Nothing is real.

Downing the rest of my drink, I let the burn follow me down into the bowels of this night, my eyes fuzzing over and numbness slowly spreading. Channels flip past me, but even without the alcohol, I am beyond caring.

Eventually I settle on a station, recognizing a face I have seen before. It's a rerun of a crime procedural I have seen a couple of times, the distance in it feeling safe somehow. When the title flashes across the screen, I chuckle to myself.

Bones.

Something then to make my skeleton of a life feel even less complete.

In careless pre-occupation, I watch the opening scenes, a gruesome body and witty banter all playing out across the screen. I smile faintly at the main character and the intimations of her loneliness, her rational, detached mind keeping her emotions locked away.

I frown when the scene shifts to one of red sheets.

Naked flesh.

Knowing that even the most detached of characters on television get their chances at connection.

The bitter bile rises even higher as I pour another glass of whiskey and sit back against the arm of the couch. I zone out a little bit, but am snapped back to attention when I see a flash of metal.

For while it is not unusual to see a pair of handcuffs on a crime show, these handcuffs are different.

These handcuffs are for sex.

The illicit concept of it makes my spent cock stir, the deepest pits of desire that I keep so carefully hidden away breaking through the depths of my own misgivings and the uncertain, guilty feelings I have wrapped them in.

I hear the main character's words, an anthropological discussion of sex and play, stating with clinical fascination, "Seeking sexual gratification through the manipulation of power. Probably the oldest of fetishes, master-slave. It's all about dominance."

Rapt and passive, I watch with growing arousal, only to have my breath punched from my lungs as her partner, in all his gruff masculinity, modeling everything I know that, as a man I should aspire to, scoffs.

"Well this sort of thing only comes up when the bloom goes off the rose, if you know what I mean... You know when the regular stuff... when it gets old you need to spice it up or it's over. If the sex is good you don't need any help."

Shivering and shriveling, I wonder if that is my problem indeed. If it is my own ineptitude that makes me crave things, longing with an appetite I don't know how to sate.

If I will never be adept at the "regular stuff."

If I will never feel normal with a woman.

My eyes are drawn in sudden attention to the screen again to find that the scene has changed, an interrogation room now occupying the frame. With the same arrogance and derision, the male partner posits a hypothesis, and I find myself sitting up straighter.

"Here's what I was thinking: female, dominant, strapped for cash meets wealthy teenager on the outs with her parents, convinces her submissive husband to hold her for ransom."

For a moment, I feel dizzy.

Submissive husband.

And for a scant fraction of a second, as the camera pans to a woman with fire in her eyes, I try to picture it. My body, naked and on my knees.

There is a brief interchange, and then the woman appears again. And while she's not particularly physically attractive, her words cut me to the core.

"Why don't you come at me? Are you threatened or do I turn you on?"

To myself, I whisper, "B-b-b-both."

Because for me, it is always both.

My attention is only half on the program as it moves back to its more usual rhythm. Fully aroused again, I am contemplating possibilities I so rarely allow myself to consider, all my will bent so much of the time toward trying to be normal, even though I know that I am anything but.

And I can almost imagine it.

Almost taste a kind of satisfaction that has always seemed unattainable.

But then a harsh voice emanates from the speaker. A voice that is chastising.

Cold.

Cruel. And not at all in the way that I would like for it to be.

"When these S&M perverts walk on this, it'll be on your head."

The speaker, a dark-haired woman who, besides a certain sharpness about her face, is actually somewhat appealing to me, huffs in anger and then turns away.

But her words are still with me, even as my thumb numbly moves on the remote to turn off the TV.

Perverts.

Perversion.

Sick.

I have heard the words before, but they are a harsh splash of cold water on the warmth that had almost begun to take the chill off of the most frightened, small-feeling parts inside of me.

Without another look, I lift myself off the couch, depositing my empty glass in the sink and moving toward my bathroom.

Brushing my teeth in slow, distracted movements, I stare at myself in the mirror. At the hollow eyes and pale skin. The skinny, unattractive expanse of my chest.

And yet I still see more.

I see the ugly, unlovable parts within.

The pervert.

I spit and splash cold water on my face before stumbling to my room, grabbing the magazine I'd stared at while pathetically giving in to the unmet need inside my body and throwing it in the waste bin. Turning off the lights, I strip and lay myself naked on my bed.

Wondering, there in the dark, if there is a world in which I could possibly hate myself more than I already do.

#~~#~~#

I wake with sunlight streaming in and music blaring from somewhere near my head. Wiping the drool from my mouth and feeling the pain of waking all over again, I roll myself in the sheets, fumbling until my hand connects with the plastic surface of my phone.

The time flashes at me as I answer, and I know that another night of going to bed half drunk on loneliness and liquor caused me to forget to set an alarm. That the day is even more wasted than usual.

And yet there is still so much of it to face.

My thumb finally connects with the button to answer the call, and I place the speaker at my ear with a wince.

"Hhhhhhe-l-lo?"

At the sound of my own voice, I drag my hand down the side of my face before jabbing the heel of my palm against my temple in a series of fast, hard raps.

"Edward, man, how are you?"

My stomach sinks and my eyes close as I curl instinctively into a ball.

"Fffff-f-fine," I lie, but even I can hear the flatness in my voice.

My brother pauses.

"Seriously man, you don't sound good. Are you sure you're OK?"

There is nothing but silence as unbidden tears blur my vision, hanging precariously in the corner of my eyes as I open them.

Staring as always at nothing.

And I don't know what to do.

But then my mouth begins to speak as I cover my face with my hand.

"Nnnnno, Em-m-m-mett. I'm not. I'm really, r-r-r-really nnnnnnot."

#~~#~~#

My brother's hand is warm on my shoulder, but as always it is somehow too big, everything about him too close to me, and I withdraw. He is used to this bizarre behavior by now and laughs it off, pressing a beer into my hands and leading me down a corridor toward his den.

In the entryway to the living room, he pauses to wave at his wife, who looks at me with the same dismissive expression she always has while wrestling with the toddler on her lap.

"You good, Rose?"

She makes a face and fusses with something on my nephew's chin. "Yeah, just don't forget that we have to be at your parents' at three."

Emmett nods, but my stomach just sinks further. If he notices, he ignores it, and soon we find ourselves sitting side my side at his computer. I resist the urge to roll my eyes at his forcing me to do this here, when I am the one always 'glued to a screen,' as he puts it so eleoquently.

I recall his statement from our lunch the previous week, shortly after I'd finally confessed to the desperate state of my wretched mind.

"Because, Edward," he'd scoffed. "If I left it up to you it would never get done."

I look on with trepidation and skepticism as he begins filling out a profile with basic information, uploading a picture from when I was an usher at his wedding that no longer even looks like me. I want to protest, but he'll have none of it, assuring me that it's alright to post a picture that's a little more attractive than reality.

Silenced, I sink back into my chair, biting my tongue before I remind him that clearly nothing is attractive about me in reality.

"Isss th-there a ssss-spot on there ffff-for 'is a ssst-tuttering id-d-diot?'" I murmur, but even my not-quite-joke can't pass my useless lips unmangled.

There's a pause, the clacking on the keyboard silenced as Emmett thinks. He is still faced away from me when he says quietly, "You know I hate it when you talk about yourself that way."

Even more nervous now, I gulp down half my beer before resting it in my lap and fussing with the label.

Near silently, I whisper, "And you kn-know that I hhhhate … t-talking." I put the bottle down and take my head in my hands. "Hhhhow the hell am I supp-p-posed to t-talk to a g-g-g-girl?"

He turns and waits until I meet his eyes.

"The only way you get better at anything," he says, clapping his hand against my shoulder and looking at me encouragingly.

"Practice."

#~~#~~#

The whiskey burns as it goes down, a niggling voice in the back of my head reminding me that it is a bad idea.

But then again, absolutely nothing about this adventure is a good one.

Slamming the shot glass down on the counter, I retreat to my bathroom one more time to check myself, staring at my own still-damp but already messy hair, my too-bony cheeks and the circles that still linger beneath my bloodshot eyes. I straighten my shirt and check my fly before turning away from my own judgmental stare.

It is with a profound sense of resignation that I make my way out to my living room and pull on my jacket. I stuff my wallet and my keys into my pockets and sigh as I turn out the light.

Bathed in darkness, I still wonder if this is right.

But after so much time spent bereft, going on a blind date is at least doing something.

Resolutely, I jerk open the door. And then finally I step out into the light.

Chapter Text

"Ready, Pet?"

I nod and begin to reach for the handle of the car door, but Mistress stops me, tugging on my sleeve. With a low smile that belies my state of mind, I turn, only to meet the softness of her lips and the scratch of fingernails raking across my scalp. My body succumbs to it, mouth opening and tongue ceding to hers. After all, the rest of me gave in so long ago.

Ultimately, the kiss is brief, and as she eases us out of it, her hand slides down my neck, her fingertips touching the line of my collar. On her wrist, I see her bracelet, glinting brightly in the sun.

My hand wraps around it softly. "I love you, Mistress."

She smiles. "And I you."

Out of the car, we stride together up the walk, my head cast down and my body always one step behind hers. As deep as I am right now, it is easy to anticipate her movements. My entire being is attuned to hers - to what she wants and to what she wants of me.

All day long, we have been immersed in one of our most intense sessions ever. Since dawn, she has kept me as her collared plaything, and in this capacity I have fed her and bathed her. I've made her climax with my mouth and hands, and bent over the sawhorse in our spare room, my flesh has soaked up the lingering sting of her discipline.

Floating within and above my own mind, I have never felt more in tune with myself.

I have never felt more in tune with her.

As she rings the doorbell, I acknowledge somewhere within my mind that my headspace is a good thing and that she's has worked long and hard to get me to this state. We are pushing boundaries today, and it is her knowledge of my misgivings about playing with others that has led us to this arrangement. To hours of subspace and individual connection.

Before I can think much longer on just how connected we are right now, the door before us swings open, and I know that it is time.

My Mistress embraces Katrina readily with air kisses on cheeks and a certain lengthening of both their necks. I watch Mistress's spine straighten, her curves achingly beautiful. My hands can almost feel them, my skin itching to touch her. But that's not my privilege. Not yet.

"Where's your boy?" Mistress asks, looking around the foyer, and Katrina laughs.

"Naked in the basement. Where else?"

Mistress turns to me with a low smile and a comforting touch to my wrist. "Exactly where he should be," she says. Addressing me, she adds, "Pet?"

"Yes, Mistress?"

"Join him."

The glowing space I am ensconced in ripples, but it does not crack, and I nod my consent, kissing her hand before stepping forward and past these two women.

Bella and I have been to Katrina's home before, but only in a social capacity. Never like this. Never to play. Still, my feet remember the floor plan, and I move through the space comfortably, the door to the stairs opening beneath my fingertips. With each step, I descend physically, but I do so mentally as well.

And when I emerge into the cold, stone space below, I am a different man.

Even more than a submissive, I am a toy. And I am not shocked by the sight of another one.

Naked, on his knees, Garrett waits with his head down, leather cuffs adorning but not restraining his wrists. He is hard, and yet I take this detail in with a passing interest only. There is no panic. My Mistress knows my limits, and she will not push these particular ones tonight.

With a still-even haze of calm buzzing through my head, I undress, folding my clothes the way I would were I at home and leaving them in a pile beside Garrett's. My eyes take in the pillow a few feet away from the one that he is kneeling on, and I approach it without hesitation, aware it is for me. Then, with the sort of grace I am only aware of in moments like this, I sink slowly to my knees with my arms behind my back and my eyes down.

Together and alone and wrapped in a low static of anticipation, we wait.

For an untold period of time, my mind drifts in idle circles, everything soft and so calm. Even the sound of feet on the stairs does not lift me from my trance. Nor does the sound of voices.

Only the warmth of a hand against my spine begins to rouse me, and when I hear my Mistress breathe my name across my ear, I feel my body responding. Already hard, my flesh grows only more desirous, a faintly electric hum settling over the surface of my skin, crackling with every brush of her fingertips and palms.

Too soon, her touch retreats, but my gentle level of alertness remains. Behind me, I can hear Katrina and Mistress conversing quietly, my pulse and breathing both increasing when the words are punctuated by a whistling sound - the motion of a weapon cutting air.

"My Pet loves it," Katrina coos, louder now. "Don't you, boy?"

Garrett groans wantonly, and instead of turning me off, it serves to make me more aroused.

"Good boy."

There is the same whistling sound, two, three swishes, and then a cracking slap that makes my cock throb. My Mistress touches me again, her lips on my cheek even as her hand is tipping my gaze up and to the side. "Watch, Pet."

My eyes rise just in time to see Katrina bring the cane back down on Garrett's ass. Her eyes are black and focused, the fine muscles of her arm clear as she executes each stroke. Dressed only in matching black undergarments and lacy thigh-highs, she is regal in her domination. She's beautiful. Sexy.

"Look at him," Mistress whispers. With difficulty, I obey, tearing my gaze from the supple curves of a woman in control to take in the man she is controlling. Naked and grunting, he is already covered in a fine sheen of sweat. Every time she strikes him, he shifts forward, grimacing, but every time, he leans right back into her, begging for more. "See how he asks for each stroke? See how hard he is?"

"Yes, Mistress," I agree.

"Beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yes, Mistress." It is.

"Not nearly as beautiful as you. When you beg me to hit you."

Melting back into her, I preen.

"Would you like that?"

We have discussed this, and nothing about my wishes for today have changed. "Please, Mistress."

"How you please me," she says quietly, kissing my neck and giving my cock one slow, torturous stroke before letting go and pushing subtly at the center of my back. "All fours, then, Pet."

The vulnerability of the position strikes me with more sharpness than a physical blow as I bend to her command. Naked on a concrete floor, my ass in the air as others look on, I soak in the feeling of being so exposed and yet so safe. I know I'm safe. I know that nothing bad will happen to me here.

I try to remember that as Katrina passes the cane over.

"It's a tricky thing, you see. Try it on mine first," Katrina urges her, and Mistress agrees. With my head down, I am reduced once more to only listening, my body crackling as I hear my Mistress take an instrument of pain and pleasure to the body of another. There is no jealousy within me, though. If anything, I feel my desire and my love both rising as I acknowledge the way she cares for me. I know she will not hurt me.

At least not more than I want her to.

The cane makes a quiet crack against Garrett's backside, and I hear his muffled grunt. I hear the discomfort that lies beneath it.

"Gentler to start," Katrina says. "See?" There is another impact, softer this time, and the difference in Garrett's reaction is clear. His enthusiasm is even clearer.

I want it. I want it to be me.

"Good, good," Katrina says, encouraging her. For a half dozen more strokes, my Mistress works my friend, and I listen intently to the way the noises of wood on flesh vary, imagining how beautiful she must look. My body is vibrating with desire and anticipation to the point where I hear a needy whisper pass through my lips. It is met with a quiet roll of laughter from the side as the sounds of impact cease.

A moment later, my Mistress's hand settles softly on my shoulder, sliding too gently down my spine when I want hard. "My poor deprived Pet," she breathes. "Shall I give him a taste, Katrina?"

"Needy little thing, isn't he?"

Being discussed like this while I am naked on all fours is embarrassing, but it's exciting, too. "He is," my Mistress agrees, her tone as much admiring as it is teasing. I feel her move closer to my ear as she whispers, "And I always give him what he needs." Her tongue licks cruelly at my skin before she adds, "Eventually."

Slowly, Mistress circles me, and I am contradictorily melting and tensing, wanting to appear perfect and feeling like, somehow, when she looks at me, I already am.

Her pacing finally stops, and I can feel her behind me, every sensation intense, like my skin can feel even the currents of air the cane makes as she plays with it. As she plays with me. My posture is just beginning to soften, my uncertainty about when the crack will land just surfacing, when I hear the whistle. The smack.

And my body lights on fire with the bright, white line across my ass. My voice chokes out a cry that is everything at once, pain and desire and satisfaction all mixing as I try to process. The heat dissipates and blooms simultaneously, leaving a warm glow that is the equal to the soft, fuzzy space I have been floating in all along.

"Green," I breathe. I mean it. More. "Green."

I lose count quickly of how many times she's struck me. All I can do is float, and everything feels sogood. The next thing I am fully aware of is the way the blows are lightening, and I can feel my Mistress's signature hand in the way she eases me out of the storm of brilliance and sensation. Eventually, they stop altogether, and I am left panting and sweating, shaking with euphoria that is only a whisper away from climax. My cock is beaded with desire, that part of me so hard when everything else is soft. My backside is still humming with the echoes of pain, a low ache settling in to replace it, and I can almost feel the individual stripes that mar my flesh.

I wonder if they'll bruise. My erection throbs at the thought. I hope they will.

The only sounds in the room are those of my pleasure and of my Mistress's heavy breathing as the world stills. A few crystal moments pass before things begin to move again, footsteps echoing throughout the space. I hear Katrina's low whistle and then her voice as she murmurs, "Beautiful."

"He is, isn't he?" my Mistress asks.

"What I'd love to do to that ass," Katrina muses.

"You and me both."

"Why don't you then? My Pet and I would love to watch. Wouldn't we, boy?"

Garrett's voice is low. Pained. "Yes, Mistress. Please."

"What do you say, Isabella?"

I remain where I am, silent but for my panting, and I can feel my Mistress approaching. Her hand on my tender flesh is excruciating and perfect as she rubs it gently, making several slow passes over the cheeks of my ass before trailing a single finger through the space in between. I groan wantonly when I feel her touch rubbing softly over the sensitive circle of my entrance, and I unthinkingly open my legs.

"You want it, don't you?" Mistress asks, leaning in close before adding, "My little slut. You want me to let them watch me fuck you?"

"Yes, Mistress," I breathe. My cock is aching where it juts forward from my body, untouched and desperately aroused.

"Good boy. Such a good boy."

Her touch retreats, and I can hear movement all around me as the entire feeling of the room subtly shifts. My focus is so intently fixed on my own body and my Mistress that I am hardly aware of what Katrina and Garrett are doing. The moment Mistress returns to me, wet fingers probing gently around my opening, it is as if everything else completely disappears, and I am those few inches of yielding flesh. Implicitly, I know that I am being watched, but nothing matters. Nothing but what my Mistress wants. Nothing but her touch.

A fingertip pushes firmly inside, breaching me, and I moan embarrassingly loudly as I lean back against her, beckoning her to enter me more deeply, wanting only to be hers. Her voice is low, her words blending together with, "That's a good boy," and, "Show me you want me." At her command, I slowly fuck myself on her hand, the pleasure hot and close as she reaches that secret part inside of me that only she has ever found.

Finally, when I am ready, she withdraws her hand, and I keen lowly at the feeling of emptiness that burns inside me, anticipating more. I want more.

"Green," I breathe. It is a begging sound. It is a prayer. "Please."

"Please what, Pet?"

"Please, Mistress. Please fuck me."

I choke on my moan when I feel the cool plastic against the still-hot flesh of my ass, the straps of the harness scratchy where my skin is most tender. In contrast, her lips are soft as they whisper across my spine, her hand cool as she threads her fingers through my hair and lifts my head, tugging it ever so slightly to the side.

And the sight before me makes me throb almost as desperately as the feeling of her lining herself up, poised to push inside.

Katrina sits on a cushion on the floor with Garrett between her legs, his cock hard and flushed with need as she languidly strokes him, her lips pressed just to his ear. His eyes are focused intently on Bella and me, lust plain on every inch of his face as he leans back against his Mistress. I can just make out the way his arms are trapped behind his body, and it strikes me with another spike of arousal that Katrina has bound him and that he revels in it.

It strikes me all over again that I am not alone in loving to be owned.

With my head still gripped tightly in my Mistress's hand, I continue to watch the two of them, my eyes widening at the way Katrina closes her fist more tightly around the head of Garrett's cock at the same instant that my body begins to be forced open. I see the way she strokes downward at the very rate my Mistress pushes into me.

And I see stars as Mistress sinks the entire length of her cock into the depths of me.

"Yes, Mistress. Fuck."

"With pleasure, Pet."

She pulls out in time with Katrina's slow pleasuring of her submissive, and it is on the second stroke of her body within mine that I feel the low vibrations begin, plastic brushing that throbbing center with a low hum that intensifies everything. Already, I am on the edge of coming, but I grit my teeth and close my eyes.

"Look, Pet." Mistress tugs at my hair harder as she begins to fuck me in earnest, and it's good. It's so good. "Look at how they're getting off on me fucking you. Do you have any idea how beautiful you are like this? Naked? Your ass all red from my cane? My cock in your ass, moaning like a little whore?"

"Please, Mistress," I beg. I don't even know what I'm begging for, and I'm babbling. "Please touch me. Fuck me. Harder. God. Please."

She intensifies only the motion of her hips, driving in and out of me faster and hitting deeper, the slapping of her skin against the raw flesh of my ass pushing me even harder against oblivion and into the buzzing storm of submission. Of giving. Of begging her to take everything from me.

My control.

My body.

My need to be completely hers.

As the keening noises of pleasure and desperation my throat is making grow wilder and louder, my Mistress too begins to give the subtle signs of her own impending climax, and I groan at the sound of it. Her hand curls tightly around my hip, while my aching cock wishes she would move it just a little lower, knowing the lightest touch will set me off.

"Please, Mistress. So close. Please."

"What do you think, Katrina?" my Mistress asks. Her voice is gravelly and low. "Has he been a good boy? Does he deserve to come?"

I stifle the high whine that wants to break forth after a day of submission without release. An evening of being fucked while others watch. A lingering soreness where she beat me so deliciously.

And yet I hold tenuously to my control, knowing full well that my pleasure is hers to either grant me or deny me.

"I don't know," Katrina muses. "Garrett?"

"Yes, Mistress. Let him come. Please. I want to see." His eyes are focused on my cock, and I swell even further with the knowledge that he's admiring me - that the sight of my pleasure and torment is arousing.

"Very well," my Mistress grunts, and with another few long, deep thrusts into my body that feel like they will shatter me, she reaches down, her hand so soft as it finally clasps around the place where I am hard. I cry out at the contact, the sound shifting to a keening scream as she whispers, "Come, toy."

My arms collapse beneath me with the sheer force of the explosion that happens inside of me, my cock pulsing and surging in her grip, my ass burning with every deep slide of her cock within me, that secret place the center of my world as everything erupts. Pushed forward by the way she's fucking me, I feel the deep rush of my body emptying, come surging forth in thick spurts to paint the floor beneath me, and my eyes close with the force as my forehead hits concrete.

For what feels like years, I stay there, my ass in the air, her body still pounding into me, everything draining forth in an onslaught of pleasure.

And then, just as the full rush of it is ending, I open my eyes. I see the glazed eyes of the people watching me be dominated. Fucked.

I see Garrett arch his back. I watch him come.

And then I hear the unmistakable signals that my Mistress, too, is there. Falling, slumped over me, she calls my name and bites deeply into the flesh above my spine. Finally, groaning, she stills.

And it is as if all the world is silent. Perfect. Clear.

Through the rush of sensation, the euphoria and the overwhelming wonder of being so satisfied, I am dimly aware of what is happening around me. I feel my Mistress withdraw, leaving me empty but so full. With idle fascination, I watch from my position as Katrina kneels and puts her sex to Garrett's mouth. As Mistress rolls me over, holding me gently from behind, we watch him bring his mistress pleasure. But it seems impossible that anyone's pleasure could rival my own.

Finally, after infinite minutes of rubbing herself across his face, Katrina, too, reaches a pinnacle, quietly shuddering before pulling herself off of her submissive, shifting back and bending to kiss him full on the mouth. At long last, she uncuffs him and sinks to sit beside him on the floor, leaning against his shoulder and gazing across the room to stare at Mistress and me. Of any of us, she is the first to laugh. It is a full sound, warm and happy.

And I am the one to join her. As I roll to kiss my own Mistress, wrapping her in my arms, I realize just how happy I am. I'm happy to be here, in love with the woman who brings all my fantasies to life. I'm happy to be able to share it.

I'm happy to be secure enough in Bella's love to push myself past my own shy limits for her.

As we begin to pick ourselves up off the floor, the roles slowly seep away, leaving us as four people, flawed in our own ways and no more or less than what we are. Bella gives me the comfort of her touch, and while it is not our typical ritual of coming down, my hands on her skin are enough to ground me until I can claim that pleasure, too. Dressed as our everyday, non-kinky selves, we part ways from Kate and Garrett in the entryway to the house, and I watch with a low smile as the two women embrace. It does not escape my attention that Bella thanks Kate profusely, and I am left curious, resolving to ask her later about exactly what the two of them discussed while Garrett and I waited.

So focused am I on the two women's interaction that I do not notice Garrett approaching me until he reaches down to clasp my hand in both of his. "Nice show there, Edward," he says, grinning wickedly.

Disarmed, I feel a blush warm my cheeks, and I laugh at myself, realizing that my embarrassment is foolish after what has just transpired. Pumping his hand twice, I echo his smile and say, "You, too."

Bella's hand settles on my elbow, and I fold my arm around her waist, keeping her close as we say our goodbyes and head back to the car.

We are halfway home before she asks if I'm all right.

I turn my eyes to hers for a moment, gaping as if she is insane. This whole day was her idea. Her fantasy. But it's ludicrous to think it wasn't fantastic for me. "Of course," I reply. "I'm … amazing. Still a little floaty." I pause, thinking, as my thumb strokes the back of her palm. "Good. Really good."

Bella seems instantly relieved, and she lifts my hand up to her lips. "I'm so glad to hear it."

Stopped at a light, I have a moment to face her more fully, and I do so with the utmost seriousness as I pull her toward me, mad to kiss her lips. "As long as you're there with me," I tell her truthfully. "As long as you're there … I can do anything."

It's true - in our sex lives and in all the other little ways I am now engaging the world.

With Bella by my side, there is nothing I can't do.

And there are more than a few thing left that I still want to…

Chapter Text

Naked and half hard, I kneel in the middle of my bedroom, trying to quiet my mind. Always racing, ever reeling, my thoughts only slow when I'm wrapped around my Bella.

They're only ever silent for my Mistress.

After my brother's interruption yesterday, my body is all the more keyed up, my whole being eager for the release of submitting to the one I love. The one who owns me.

But still, I'm restless.

Time and time again, I seek out that space inside my head where I can give myself over completely, but there's so much movement amidst my thoughts. There are memories of awkward silences and shame, my brother's laughter and my father's quiet disdain. There's Bella's face and there's hurt. A hurt I put there when I failed to adequately explain.

And there's fear.

I am afraid to bring my lover to meet the people that have always made me feel so small.

One by one, these concerns drift to the top of my consciousness, and I push them each back down in turn, striving for quiet and for stillness, but neither will come. Finally, much too soon, I hear the sound of a key in a lock, a door opening and pressing closed. Heels click across the floor, and my erection fills, my breath quickening in anticipation.

At the doorway to my room, her footfalls pause. I can feel her gaze, and from the corner of my downcast eyes, I can see the gleaming leather of her boots.

"Pet," she says. Her voice is low, like a caress across my spine. At the sound of it, my body sinks just a little bit deeper into itself, preparing to give and to submit.

God, I want to submit to her.

"Mistress," I echo back to her.

She enters the room with a tangible weight to her presence, the whole space feeling fuller, the air warmer. Already aroused, my body keys up even further, like every hair is standing on end, my skin prickling with want for her touch.

Pausing at the dresser where I have laid out the objects we agreed on using today, my Mistress hums approvingly. "My Pet's been a good boy for me. Getting everything ready."

My cock twitches at the image I have in my mind of her picking each item up in turn, leather and metal in her palm. Rubber.

I think I am most looking forward to rubber.

I am looking forward to something new.

So focused am I on these images that I am only vaguely aware of her movement toward me, and I swallow hard at the feeling of her breath beside my ear, her nails tugging gently on my hair. "Are you ready for me, Pet?"

"Yes, Mistress."

With another sharp tug that makes me grunt, she releases my hair and trails her fingertips down my neck, reaching the clasp of my collar and releasing it. For a brief moment, I am truly naked in every sense, but then cold metal hits my chest, and I exhale deeply at the relief of it.

Licking the shell of my ear, she rasps, "I love seeing my initial here." She runs her nail along the edge of my collar, scratching deliciously at my skin. "It turns me on. Knowing your mine. Does it turn you on?"

"Yes, Mistress," I groan. As if the leaking of my cock were not evidence enough.

Turning her hands sharply, she rakes them down my back hard, and I grunt at the sudden pain, my spine arching. "You like being owned?"

"Fuck!" I gasp. "Yes, Mistress."

"Good," she says. "Because I fucking love owning you." I feel her nails change direction, two long curves of fire trailing across my flesh, and I am left panting, stunned by the level of my arousal when I recognize that she's scratching her initial in my skin. I can feel it, hot and raw against my spine.

I wish I could see it.

"What shall I do to you tonight?" she muses, stepping back. The withdrawal of her touch is a faint buzzing sensation, anticipation and want forming a layer of static stretched taught across my skin.

"Whatever you wish, Mistress."

"True. So true," she says. She begins to circle me, an inspection I am familiar with now, and just the rhythmic motion of her footfalls has my eyes rolling back in my head. I love the way she looks at me.

I love feeling worthy of her attention.

Slowly, evenly, she begins to speak. "I could spank you. Turn that ass red. I could ride your face." Her words wash over me until I am immersed in only her desires and my own, everything else in my head simmering down to a background drone. I relax into the feeling.

I'm where I need to be.

And so is she.

"I could fuck you," she suggest, closer now. "Or I could tie you up and fuck myself. Make you watch until you're so hard you beg for it."

At that image, a needy sound falls out of my throat, and she pauses in her circling. "But first…" she breathes.

I can hear her rustling with something, and I throb as she approaches. She threads her fingers through the hair at the back of my neck and tugs my head back. I acquiesce easily, grateful for the chance to raise my eyes. They rake over her, taking in bare knees and a short skirt in a glossy black. A halter top in a deep satiny red.

And then there's more red and a scent of rubber, followed by fingers in my mouth. "Open."

I do, letting my tongue slide over her skin as it slips between my lips, probing as I suck. "Wider, baby," she purrs. My jaw goes slack as her fingers pull down on my bottom lip. "Good boy." She holds up the sphere of the gag we chose so I can see it and asks me quietly, "You want this?"

Speaking around her fingers, I manage a low, "Yes, Mistress," before letting my jaw relax again.

Before she fits it to my mouth, she ducks to kiss me, wet and hard, lips and tongue. All too soon and yet not soon enough, she pulls away, and a second later, I taste rubber as she slides the ball between my teeth and invites me to bite. With the sliding of the straps around my neck, I feel another layer of my control slipping away, melting in rivulets along my skin and fitting to the lines of leather that secure the gag to me.

"Can you breathe?"

I slow myself down enough to take a few experimental inhales and nod.

"Good boy." She kisses my cheek and over to my ear. "Such a good, good boy."

My whole body thrills at the way my moan of pleasure is stifled by the obstruction in my mouth, and I am positively floating by the time she grips my wrists behind my back and fastens a cuff around each one. Pressing a ball into my hands, she instructs me to squeeze, emitting a sharp squeak as my fingers close.

"If anything goes wrong, Pet, anything at all, that's your safe word. You understand?"

I grunt and nod, and I'm hard. I'm so, so hard.

Her fingertip traces my lips, stretched wide. "Perfect," she murmurs, and I strain for more of her touch. She denies it to me, though, sliding her hand down my chin and then away. Moving to stand behind me, she rubs her hand briefly over my ass, prodding me to sit up taller on my knees before bringing her palm down in a light, stinging slap.

"Since you can't tell me what you did to deserve this, I'll have to remind you." She spanks me again, just a little harder, and it feels good as the heat blooms. "For leaving your position yesterday to answer the door." In a gentle rhythm, she continues, landing a series of low, glowing strokes. Even as she is spanking me, she slides one hand across my hips to stroke once along my cock, making me groan around the gag. "And for touching what's mine."

The impacts increase in intensity, but the pain never rises beyond the point of arousal. This kind of spanking is about play. It's about pleasure.

And my Mistress knows exactly what it does to me.

"You like that, don't you?" As she lands another quick series of sharp slaps across my flesh, I grunt and nod and throb. Her mouth is at my ear, her voice low and gritty. "My little slut."

My body jerks and the most wanton noises strain my throat.

She's never called me that before.

It feels dirty. It feels good.

I want to be dirty for her.

"Yes," she breathes. She reads me so well. "Yes, you are my little slut."

I groan even louder as she trails her hands up my body, the thin welts where she scratched her initial into my back burning low and perfect as she rubs her palms across my skin. They round my shoulders, descending down my chest. When her fingers graze my nipples, I am surprised by the level of sensation she provokes in flesh that has never seemed that sensitive before. Deftly and deliberately, she pulls and twists, pain and pleasure mixing the way they always do when she works me, and before long I am arching, pushing into her touch and begging her to torture me. To touch me.

Just when I am set to beg her through the gag, she pulls her hands away suddenly, reaching down to squeeze my erection before standing and moving across the room. She returns to me with the two little clamps in her hands, sliding one after the other across my lips to get them wet. Even though I know these clamps are made for beginners - that we have set them to their gentlest possible tightness - I feel a thin rivulet of fear rip up my spine as she squeezes and teases at one nipple and then the other, kneeling before me and pulling the first between her teeth. Finally, she gives me the only hint of warning that she will, releasing me from her mouth and meeting my eyes.

The pinch of coated metal around my skin is fire and lust, and I half-scream from the intensity of it, reeling when she shows no mercy, moving quickly to the other with lips and teeth and then the deep bite.

"Good boy," she whispers, holding my head in her hands and pulling my cheek to her chest. I pant and hiss and turn, pressing my face more directly to her flesh, and I need to breath. "Relax, baby." Nodding, I do.

And once relaxed, there's nothing to do but feel.

A thin line of wetness pushes past the barrier of the gag as I give in more fully. It's embarrassing and debasing, and I don't care. I don't mind that I'm a mess for her, spit sliding down my chin and my cock seeping, my nipples chained and my body covered in sweat and the fuzziness of need.

Urging me back, she lets her eyes follow the same path that my internal ones did, and I do not mistake the arousal in her voice as she speaks to me. "You have no idea how good you look like this, Pet. I wish I could take pictures. All chained up like this for me." A single finger loops itself in the line of metal that's draped across my chest, tugging gently, but it still feels like fire.

It feels so fucking good.

I watch, dazed and delirious with want and with the perfect haze inside my head as she stands and slips a hand beneath her skirt, flipping it up and revealing her pussy to me. It's slick and flushed, and I want desperately to put my face to it - to rub my nose along her clit and fuck her with my tongue. I want to suck and love and make her come.

When she slides a finger through her lips, parting them and sliding along that perfect flesh, I whine with desire, and she laughs. "I bet you wish you could taste this." She takes a glistening finger to her mouth and sucks on it noisily. I want her so badly I can scarcely breathe. Gliding her hand along her pussy again, this time she offers it to me, brushing wet, hot Bella across my top lip so I can smell her. Passing the tips of her fingers over the exposed rubber of the gag, she taunts me. "Too bad my slut can't seem to be quiet tonight."

I groan in frustration, but I know that she's just playing with me. And I love it.

"I'm going to uncuff you for a little while," she says quietly, running her hands down my arm. "And I'm going to give you five minutes to get me off with those fingers of yours. If you do, I'll let you come in my pussy. If not, the only release you're getting is from jacking yourself while I watch."

My head falls at the allure of her promise and her threat, and I feel my hands twitch when she tugs at the cuffs. Freed, I flex and follow her, walking on my knees as she backs away to recline on the edge of my bed. I set the safe word ball down on the floor beside my knees and reach for her, but she stops me.

"Wait," she says, turning her head, and I follow her eyes to the clock. As the display turns over, she lets go of my wrist and places my palm on her pussy. "Okay," she breathes. "Now."

I moan and dive in, wasting no time as I brush my fingertips over her skin in the teasing sorts of strokes that always get her going. Leaning my cheek against her thigh, I focus on the hot, wet flesh between her legs, desperate to eat her or to bury myself inside her. I don't, though.

Instead, I am her good little boy. Her docile slut.

Instead, I work frantically with my hands to make her come.

As she begins to open more fully for me, her flesh becoming even wetter and more swollen, I attack her in earnest. With my right hand, I make light circles on her clit, and with my left, I slide two fingertips inside. I know I have no time, but still I only give her a little. I want her desperate. I need her to beg me to give her more.

When she groans my name, I feel my cock twitch. In response, I rub harder, stroke deeper, fucking her with my hand and curling my fingers. She begins to arch, one hand on her thigh and the other on her breast, her pussy soaked, and I can feel that needy place inside of her.

I know I'm close.

God, I need her to be close.

Just as my arousal is becoming desperate, my eyes frantic as they dart to the clock and then back to her sex, she finally begins to tense, and I almost cry with the relief of it when she begins to curse and clench. My teeth bite down on the gag hard at the unbearable arousal of feeling her orgasm on my hand when I want her to come around a different part of me.

I want so badly to feel her pussy wrapped around me.

"Fuck," she groans. One hand comes down to grasp mine, stilling me, and with both reluctance and eagerness, I withdraw. Sitting back on my heels, I look up at her with trust and with such love and lust that I think she might need to restrain me. If she doesn't, I don't know if I can contain the intensity of everything I feel.

I don't know if I can contain myself.

Somehow, she peels herself up from the bed and slides her hand through my hair, reaching down to caress the chain between my nipples. "Four minutes and thirty seconds, Pet. Not bad."

I practically preen.

"Get on the bed. On your back."

I am only too eager to obey. As I lie back, my hands instinctively reach up and over my head, and my Mistress is quick to grasp them, securing each in turn and moving pillows, fastening the chain between them to the hook in the headboard I've installed for just this purpose. "Okay?" she asks as she tests the restraints.

They're so much more than okay. Keyed up the way I am, they feel nothing short of necessary.

She puts the ball back in my hand, and I hold it gently, but the only safeword in my head right now is green. As she moves down my chest, flicking her tongue torturously over the clamps, my head keeps repeating it.

Green.

Green.

Green.

She slips off the bed for a moment, and I hear a drawer open and close. A shudder moves through my already straining body, wondering what more she could want to do to me. What more she could want to use on me.

When I hear a quiet buzzing, I almost come off the bed.

My eyes wide, I watch her approaching the bed again and climbing up to kneel above me, one leg to either side of my thighs in a wide straddle. "Open up a little," she urges, and I do, spreading my legs a few inches until they meet the flesh of hers. Holding the bullet vibrator between her forefinger and her thumb, she strokes it lightly across my chest, deliberately hitting the chain between my nipples. My head floating, my body singing, I feel every inch of the path she traces over my flesh, drawing a low, tingling circle across my abdomen before glancing it over the head of my cock.

My growling curse doesn't make it past the obstruction in my mouth, the sensation of vibration all along me almost overwhelming as she drifts the shining metal down toward my balls. For a moment, I wonder if she'll go lower, but she seems uninterested in my ass tonight. Circling each ball once, she slowly pulls the vibrator away, and I find myself panting, near-desperate now to come.

It strikes me with a low pang of arousal that I am helpless, though. I cannot move. I cannot even beg.

I am at her mercy.

And I don't know if I've ever felt so turned on before.

"My beautiful boy," Mistress whispers. "My good little Pet. I bet you want to come, don't you?"

I nod fiercely, looking up into her eyes and feeling the need written all over my face. She shifts to walk her knees up my body, stopping when they are astride my hips. Hovering there, she lowers her hands and slides the vibrator through her wet, pink lips, and I moan at the sight of it, reveling in the sort of taunting that's as much torture as it is delight.

"I did promise I'd let you come inside me. I didn't say when, though."

The sound that rips through me is almost a sob, but I am nowhere near crying. If anything, I'm flying.

"Maybe I should tease you more. Make myself come again and make you watch. Would you like that, Pet? Watching me get myself off when you can't even touch me?"

My only answer is to stare at her plaintively. Every nerve is on overdrive, and I'll take whatever she will give me, even if it's just the joy of watching her come.

To my surprise, she only teases me for another minute, the vibrator circling her clit as her breathing deepens, her stance widening, and she's so close. I can feel her wet flesh glancing me, just brushing the underside of my cock. "Or maybe," she breathes, settling down astride me and rubbing her pussy over me, "maybe I want to ride you. Maybe I want you to fill me when I come."

Please.

Her free hand slips between us, angling my cock, and then with the most delirious sliding, wet and hot, she starts to take me in. My back arches as my head slips inside, my hips begging to thrust while all my will is bent on stilling them. At her own pace, she takes me. Long and slow.

When I'm all the way inside her, she clenches and flexes, nearly coaxing my orgasm from me, but somehow I manage to hold on. She keeps me inside of her, barely moving as she presses the vibrator to her clit more firmly. Through our connection, I can feel it, the low buzzing drilling through my bones and making my balls tighten, the muscles in my abdomen screaming with the restraint needed not to thrust.

"God, you feel good, Pet. I love your cock. It's fucking perfect."

God, I love her pussy.

Leaving me hovering on the edge between madness and release, my Mistress begins to move over me, and my head pushes back into the mattress, my arms taut and my skin screaming. With slow, deliberate strokes, she fucks me. She takes me.

And I want to give her everything.

The only warning I can give her when my orgasm begins to hover too brightly over me is a long, keening groan. At the sound, her eyes connect with mine, her stare fierce.

"Little slut wants to come, doesn't he?"

Please.

Her eyes close, and I tense, trying desperately to keep my body chained as tightly as she's chained me, and for a few long strokes it works. Her body, too, is flexing, the walls of her pussy tightening, and I can only pray that she'll come with me. That she'll let me …

"Fuck fuck fuck," she groans, and she's coming.

God, she's fucking coming, and so am I. I can feel the pulsing gathering in my balls, her body moving faster now, and then her hand drifts up my chest.

It's just as my orgasm crests that she pulls the first and then the second clamp off of me, and I swear I almost black out with the burning mix of pain and pleasure. My chest and groin both on fire, I empty into her and scream into the gag, and I've never felt this alive before.

Never.

But as my Mistress collapses onto my chest, I know it's just a matter of time before I feel this good again.

I know we take each other to this place together.

And I know we'll do it again and again and again.

Chapter Text

Bella runs the bath a little hot tonight, and I lower myself into it with a raw hiss, wincing at the heated water on my tender flesh. My reaction doesn't go unnoticed.

She stands beside the tub and stares down at me, frowning. "Are you okay?"

"Mostly," I reply, shifting uncomfortably.

"I knew I was riding you too hard."

After years of rough sex and role play, I am still sometimes dismayed by Bella's misgivings. Sinking back into the tub and trying not to let the low echoes of pain show on my face, I roll my eyes before closing them, self-satisfied. "It was worth it."

The water laps the sides of the tub as Bella gets in, but I don't bother to look quite yet. Now that the initial sting of entering the bath has receded, the heat of it feels good, and all I want to do is relax. To bask in the vibrant hum of pleasure and life that comes from letting my Mistress use me.

Bella, though, is clearly still perturbed. "I will never understand you."

"Of course you don't," I mumble. "Sadist."

"Masochist."

"Damn straight."

A low smile spreads across my lips at the way Bella huffs at our exchange. With a sigh, she begins to rub a washcloth up and down my calves, inching higher as she goes. I am utterly sapped, but still, when she reaches to the space between my legs, I open them wider, inviting her touch.

"Feels good," I murmur, shifting slightly as she runs a fingertip along my reawakening arousal before cupping my balls.

My eyes snap open when her hand drifts lower, though, grazing the place where she just took me, and I back away instinctively.

Her own gaze seems to burn. "Damn it, Edward. Why didn't you safeword?"

"Because." I sit up and pull away from her touch, grabbing her hands and gripping them tightly. "You. D-did. Not. Hurt. Me."

"You're sore."

"I'm always sore when you fuck me like that! But you don't see me complaining about it. It feels good."

"But – "

I continue speaking right over her. "Other than being inside you, I can't think of anything that feels better. A little bit of soreness afterward is a small price to pay." Smirking, I continue, "And you know I g-get off on that part anyway."

She shakes her head but doesn't fight me anymore, so I let go of her wrists. Spreading more soap on the washcloth, she resumes washing me, leaning in closer as she rubs circles on my chest. But from the way her teeth tease at her lip, I know she's thinking.

"It really feels that good?"

I shrug. "To me, it does."

"How so?"

We've discussed this sort of thing before, each trying to help the other understand what is about our play that is so satisfying. Only, coming at it from such different sides, it's always hard to explain.

"I don't know," I begin, taking another washcloth from the basket by the tub and preparing to care for her the way that she has cared for me. "It hurts, but it's just good. It's all mixed up together. Until you get all the way inside, and then ... " I harden just thinking about it. "When you hit my prostate. Jesus."

She is listening in rapt attention, and I find myself moving closer to her, finally leaning in so close that I can breathe across her ear. "It makes me come so hard. There's nothing like it."

I kiss her jaw and pull back a little to find her gaze intent. Her hands close on my face, pulling me back toward her mouth and kissing me deeply. When she releases me, it is with her breathing hard. If I were to reach between her legs, I know I'd find her pussy slick and ready.

"Well, when you put it that way," she says raspily. Reaching down, she slides a hand along the length of me, and I groan at the relief.

"Come here."

The water splashes over the side of the tub with the sudden motion as I slide to sit with my spine against the back of the tub, pulling her with me and eliciting a squeal. We need no prelude or preamble for me to place her on my thighs, her knees to either side of me and her pussy hovering just above my cock. Even though I know she's ready, I take a moment to kiss her mouth and tease her nipples before sliding one hand down to cup her, probing the silken skin that I long for.

I only take two passes at her clit before she's pulling my hand out of the way and sinking down, taking me inside in one sure stroke.

"Fuck, Bella," I groan, my head falling back as her hips meet mine.

As she begins to move over me, responding to the guiding motions of my hands around her waist, her lips find my throat and kiss their way up to my ear. "I love that you love it. When I take you like that."

My answer is a muted cry as I thrust upward into tight heat. "I do. So much."

"I want to know."

"To know what?" I manage, my thoughts muddled with the pleasure of making love with her.

"What it's like." As if she knows I'm still confused, she grabs my hand from where it's resting on her waist and places it on the lush swell of her ass. And then she leads it lower.

My head snaps up when she drags my fingertips along the crack between her cheeks. "B-Bella – "

"I want you to," she whispers, then leans in closer to kiss me, biting at my lips. "I want you to fuck me. Like that."

A rough surge of desire and fear shoots through me. "Have you...?"

"Never," she admits. "You'd be the first. The only."

"Oh, God." I push into her more quickly now, trying to imagine how it would feel. Tighter. Hotter. I swallow thickly before letting my fingertips explore, grazing the tight circle of flesh where she says she wants me. But still, I am not entirely assured. "I c-couldn't hurt you."

"I'd tell you. You know I would." She kisses me deeply, and I can feel the soft walls of her pussy flexing around me. "Will you, baby? Will you fuck my ass?"

I have only time to hiss out, "Yes," before she's clamping down on me, coming hard and whimpering my name. I help her ride it out and then return my hands up to her hips, thrusting up into her for a few last pumps before I empty, releasing in a hard, hot stream.

As soon as I am done, she collapses onto me, her arms around my shoulders and her face against my neck.

"Wwwhat brought that on?" I ask in breathless wonder. "I had no idea you wanted ... that."

She laughs and pulls back to press her lips against mine. "I've always been curious."

"But you don't like pain."

"No, but somebody keeps telling me how good it can feel." Pausing for a moment, she places her palm against my heart. "And I want ... I want to have something I can do with you. Something neither of us has ever done before."

I raise an eyebrow at her. "And you've brought the st-strap-on out for how many of your other boyfriends?"

"You know what I mean," she says, slapping me playfully. "Something that isn't about submitting or domming."

"I know." Holding her in my arms, I urge her to lay her head back down against my shoulder. For a few minutes, we sit there just like that, my body still inside hers. Only, now that the fog of sex and impending orgasm has begun to fade, I feel my nerves returning. "You rrreally want that?"

"I do."

"When?"

She laughs and strokes my hair. "Are we really trying to schedule butt sex?"

"I just want to know."

"Whenever you're ready."

"Okay," I say. Somehow, I manage to keep my voice steady.

Inside, though, I feel anything but.

...

Bella doesn't repeat her proposition, but so subtly she teases me, raising an eyebrow when I press my hips against her backside while she's cooking. Leaving the lube out on her nightstand, when we both know it belongs in our playroom.

I tease myself, too.

After making love one night, I lie there beside her in our bed, watching her breathe. She is on her stomach, the dim light gleaming off her sweat-slicked skin. So beautiful.

With a careful hand, I ghost my fingers over her spine and lower, touching the shallow hollow of her sacrum before following the curve of her backside. I imagine pulling those cheeks apart.

And I imagine inching so slowly, so carefully inside.

The next day, while she's at work, I take a break from editing my novel to look for answers about how to pursue this fantasy. It is a dirty feeling to Google, "anal sex," but I can't deny that I have searched for advice on things that have been much, much worse. In the end, everything I read is in line with what she's done to me, but that is no surprise. I know full well the difference between the slow, delicious slide of her cock into my body when she has been patient in preparing me and the sharper pain of being taken more suddenly. And while I enjoy them both, I know my lover well enough to guess what she would want.

I know how cautious she is in ceding control of her body. And as always, I am humbled that she would hand that power to me. Especially when I am so hesitant to take it.

A week to the day after she suggested trying anal sex, I find myself behind her, naked and wanting. She is on all fours, looking back at me over her shoulder as I line myself up, sliding the head of my cock along the length of her slit before circling her clit. Finally pushing inside, I feel the slick heat of her pussy surrounding me, and I hold her hips inside my hands. The flesh there is so soft, the curves of her ass so round and full.

Thrusting slowly, I watch my own hand in fascination as I pull the cheeks apart and slide my thumb toward her other opening. Without entering, I simply press against it, rubbing gently and measuring her body's reply. At her low moan, I push my cock into her more fully, probing slightly harder with my thumb.

"Edward. Please, baby."

I shudder with pleasure as she squeezes with her pussy, and the very tip of my thumb moves just inside.

All the air seems to leave her lungs, and she freezes. My heart does, too, until she hisses, "Yessss."

Groaning with relief and with the eroticism of touching her this way, I continue fucking her, keeping my thumb just where it is, but I want to press deeper. To see how much of me she'll take. When she whispers for more, I let out another low moan and bend to kiss her spine, pulling out of her with a tremor, missing the heat of her already.

But I can't hurt her. I can't.

"What – ?"

I kiss my way down to her hip, where I dart my tongue to taste her skin and murmur, "P-patience."

The bottle that's been taunting me for days now feels strange inside my hand. Once or twice, my Mistress has ordered me to prepare myself before she fucks me, but I've never been in control like this before. Keeping my trembling just beneath the surface, I pour a couple drops into my palm before returning to my Bella. She's sunk down onto her forearms, her ass on display for me. Begging for me.

Wetting my fingers with the lube, I slide once more against the tight circle of her opening. "D-does that feel good?"

"Yes," she breathes.

"More?"

"God, yes."

So slowly, I ease the tip of my thumb once more inside. This time, though, I keep pressing. Her entire body stills beneath me, and my chest aches with the tension and worry, but then I hear her long moan. I feel her pressing back against me.

"You're so sexy," I whisper, rubbing her hip with my other hand and dropping kisses all along the space between her shoulder blades. "So beautiful."

"He says with his finger in my ass," she says, her voice gravelly and lilting with the hint of a barely suppressed laugh.

"Tell me how it feels."

"Good. Tight. It hurts a little but – oh!"

I slide my thumb in deeper while she's talking, slowly fucking her with it as she sucks in a shuddering breath. "Still good?"

She nods forcefully, then drops her head. Part of me wants to push this all the way tonight, to give her what she asked for and to take what I need, but caution stops me. Deciding that we've pushed enough, I keep my thumb inside the clenching tightness of her ass and move to kneel behind her once more. "Someday," I whisper as I use my other hand to guide myself toward her pussy, sliding back inside that heat with a low groan. "Someday soon."

"Please."

"You want that?" With more confidence than I am sure I have, I fuck her with my cock and with my thumb, pressing one and then the other, withdrawing and proceeding. "You want me in your ass?"

"Fuck, Edward. Yes."

The rush of pleasure and pride floors me, my balls tightening.

And then I make the mistake of looking down.

The list of fantasies that I've fulfilled with Bella is a mile long. Most of them involve my body tied down or taken, my submission so integral to the pleasure that I crave. This is none of those things. But there is still something so primal to it. There is a sense of claiming and of working to a place where we can experiment this way. Where I can push myself to give her anything.

Where my thumb is deep inside her ass and my is cock glistening, sliding in and out of her pussy.

"Jesus, Bella. I'm ... "

Her position shifts, and I feel her fingers graze my balls as she gathers wetness on her fingertips before reaching up to touch her clit.

For a few infinite moments, we are lost inside this pleasure. The room is reduced to a low throb of hot sliding and her body's grip, sounds of sex and fucking and of her hand on wet flesh.

And then, when I cannot take another instant of this torment, I feel everything gather in the center of my body. In one long, desperate rush it pushes outward, and I clench my eyes and close my throat, feeling the strain in my lungs as they scream her name.

Endlessly, I pulse, bracing myself with one arm as she collapses to the sheets, trembling. Spent, I hold myself above her and continue pushing, feeling the way her body tenses and clamps down, and I beg her in babbling sentences to come.

When she finally does, I feel it everywhere. In my oversensitive cock. In the way her muscles squeeze my thumb.

Careful not to crush her with my weight, I let myself fall, kissing so gratefully at the place where neck gives way to shoulder. She turns her head to face me, her skin flushed and the smile that paints her mouth so wide. Still, I am unprepared for the sudden shaking of her body and the volume of her rasping laughter.

"That was fucking awesome."

I feel something glowing inside, my own smile stretching the corners of my mouth. "I love you," I whisper as I kiss her lips.

"So much," she agrees, then cranes her neck to meet my kiss. "So, so much."

...

A few days later, I am cleaning up the playroom, taking a cloth to polished leather to remove the signs of what we did the night before. As I do, I cannot help but think of how I'd lain there, bound and gagged. Red from my spanking and begging for her to take me in her mouth.

I wash our toys with reverence, but as I go back to the chest that houses them, I am struck by one of them. Licking my lips, I open up the bottom drawer and stare at metal and plastic.

I know how each one feels. How they hurt me and arouse me. How they make me come.

After thinking for a moment, I select a medium-sized plug from the collection – one I know I've sterilized – then close the drawer.

If Bella sees it by the lube when she comes home, she says nothing of it.

That night, after dinner, we sit beside each other on the couch the way we often do, her head against my chest and my arm around her shoulder. There is a movie playing, but I scarcely catch a word.

Instead, I touch her. I kiss her temple and her hair and run my fingers down her throat. In the middle of a love scene, I rub the soft swell of her breast and squeeze her hip, pulling her against me to leave her no doubt that I am hard.

"I want you," I whisper in her ear.

After that, she doesn't seem to focus on the movie, either.

As the credits roll, my hands and mouth grow more bold. I brush the apex of her breast and slide my palm along her thigh up to the curve of her ass. So softly, my lips drift from her ear to her jaw down to her throat. And by the time I kiss her mouth, she is shifting against me, climbing over me to straddle me.

"Fuck," she hisses as she presses herself against my cock, grinding hard, and I moan out my agreement. "Thought that movie would never end."

"Me, neither." I pull her harder against my flesh, circling my hands around her hip and thigh. Her teeth close on my neck, a delicious jolt of pain arcing through my chest, and I can feel my will receding.

I want to let her take me. To lie back and strip her down and watch her ride me, her naked breasts inside my hands.

But I'm ready to give her more.

"G-get up," I urge her, pushing lightly at her hips. She looks back at me in confusion.

I am not exactly one to give directions.

Kissing her mouth, I shift us toward the edge of the seat and slide my hands to her thighs. "Bedroom." As I stand, she squeals and clings to my shoulders, wrapping her legs around my waist.

"Edward! What – "

"You'll see."

At our door, I pause to lean her back against the wall so I can turn on the little paper lanterns that I love, but as I am reaching past her, she grabs onto my shirt. My fingers barely graze the switch before I am pulled back to her, caught in a blistering kiss. "Edward Anthony Cullen," she pants, deep and low. Sounding less like my lover and more like my Mistress, she asks me, "What on earth do you think you're doing?"

I kiss her back and cup her ass, shifting her against me so my hips press to her pussy, driving her back against the wall. "You."

Without another word and with no ceremony, I lift her higher against me and stumble backwards before throwing her onto the bed. Even as I am crawling up her body, though, I make sure to check that she is with me. Her legs and arms are open, her eyes glazed. Hungry.

Still, when I reach her mouth, I have to ask, whispering, "Is this okay?"

She nods and puts her palm to my shoulder and my hip, drawing me closer.

Deep in my heart, I know that we will never switch. She has never asked for it, and I have never offered. Sometimes, though, when we are in our bedroom making love, the lines are blurred between submissive and dominant. It doesn't scare me like it used to, lying atop her. Taking her.

I am sure in what I am to her. And I am confident enough in what I know my body can do to hers.

We strike a pace between the frantic fucks we're sometimes driven to and the slower kind of loving that I insist on when her beauty is too much to bear. Sure hands find hems and buckles, zippers and buttons. When we are finally both bare, I take a single stroke along the cleft between her legs, feeling the slickness and the heat of her. And then, even though it pains me, I withdraw.

Making sure that she is watching me, I reach over to her nightstand for the lube and plug. She does not stop me. Not when she sees the plastic in my hand. Not when I trace its tip along her body, circling nipples and navel and down to her hip. So slowly, I let it slip along the juncture where her pussy meets her thigh.

Then, with my tongue, I follow it.

Over breasts and stomach and to the curve of her hip, I lick and suck, moving slowly to the tender flesh between her legs. The moment I caress her clit, a soft brushing of my lips, she melts, a long, low sigh helping her body to deflate. For a while, I love her just like that, fitting my mouth against her and feeling her relax and tense. I feel her giving herself over, trusting me to give her what she needs.

I know the sensation all too well.

When she starts to the make the kinds of noises that imply a shift from accepting my touch to chasing something deeper, I shift back on my haunches, sliding one hand to the back of her thigh to push it up. She opens for me beautifully, and soon I can see everything. Everything.

Slowing slightly in my efforts with my tongue, I work the cap of the bottle open to coat the plug with slickness. When both it and I are ready, I slide my mouth against her pussy and look up at her.

At first I only tease her, pressing the plastic to her other entrance with just the slightest touch. She tenses, and I pull my face away to ask breathily, "Okay?"

"Okay," she agrees. One hand comes down to touch my neck and guide me back toward her clit. Keeping my eyes on her face, I obey, making my lips soft as I surround that needy flesh.

And as I do, I press.

The very tip of the plug slides in, and Bella groans, a sound I feel like a caress. "Edward." It's a low sound. A needy one.

Closing my eyes with relief, I move my tongue and my hand. Inch by inch, I work the plug inside, pausing constantly to fuck her with it in slow, short strokes. Bit by bit, she opens for me.

And the noises she makes.

God, the way she breathes.

My Bella's never been a quiet lover, but she does show some restraint. Not tonight, though. Tonight, every movement that I make evokes a grunt or a sigh. There is my name, and there is, "Baby."

And then there are no words. Just the sounds of sex. Of pleasure.

When I reach the very widest part, she squeaks and tenses, and I pause, retreating slightly as I suckle with my mouth. "It's okay," she promises. After another minute of caresses and slow strokes inside her ass, I advance again.

This time, she makes no protest.

This time, it slides all the way home.

Our groans twin together in a matching, soaring tone. Achingly hard against the sheets, I am almost overcome to see the way the base rests flush against her ass. With my lips so slick with her, I pull my face away to breathe and press my mouth against her thigh. "I can't wait 'til that's my cock," I whisper. My eyes clench closed against the pain of wanting.

Of being so, so aroused.

I pull the plug back slowly and then push it in again. Bella howls, her hands so tight in my hair. It's a good sound, though. I know it's good.

Opening my eyes, I look at her, and I know that my expression tells her everything. "You want that? You want me to fuck you?" For emphasis, I thrust with the plug again. "Like this?"

"Yes," she groans. Her breath feels almost dangerously fast, and I can see the way her sex is convulsing. Wanting.

I know my Bella needs to come.

Ordinarily, I'd let her. I'd fit my mouth back to that ripeness, and I'd suck and bite and tongue. But I know I need her desperate. I need her so, so close.

From my own experience, I know.

"Tonight?" I ask.

"Yes."

My cock throbs. "Now?"

"Yes."

"Fuck," I breathe, and then I press my tongue once more against her clit. But before it can go too far, I withdraw.

As fast as I can move, I am crawling up the bed toward my nightstand. The box of condoms there is new, and I fumble to open it with my hands as needy as they are. Bella and I have never used them, and it is a strange thing to tear one off again after so much time.

It is a strange thing to use protection when I have absolutely nothing to fear.

With the packet in my hand, I throw the rest back in the drawer and turn back to Bella to find her panting, legs open, the base of the plug both alluring and obscene. With her eyes on my cock, she slides a hand down to her wetness, slipping a finger through that flesh and trembling as she rubs a little circle on her clit.

My heart pounds as I reach out and grab her wrist to stop her. My chest is tight, my throat rough. But still, I manage to choke out, "Not yet."

Her pout is both frustrated and silly as she lets me move her hand back up to lie beside her head. "Then when?"

I kiss her deeply, surging with arousal when she licks around the edges of my lips. Without breaking the kiss, I get the packet open, and groan as I stroke myself and roll the condom on. "When I'm inside you."

At that, she grabs my shoulders, sliding hot palms down my back to rest against my hips. She tugs and pushes, urging me to settle on my knees between her legs. I find the lube again, tilting it to pour some in my palm, but she wrests it from me.

"Let me." She makes her fingers slick before surrounding me, sliding up and down my length and squeezing none-too-gently.

God, it feels good.

Again, I push her hands away, but this time the tremor in my limbs is more unbridled need than discomfort at the fact that I am telling her what to do. She huffs, but lets me do this my way and at my pace.

Slow.

Everything has to be slow.

With renewed focus, I work the plug in and out a few more times, and with each stroke, she moans. When I finally remove it, my eyes are drawn down to that opening, watching it close.

"I'm a lot bigger than that," I whisper as I set the plastic down.

Her hand is on my hip, urging me close. "So I bet you'll feel even better."

Lying over her, I let my mouth brush hers, and at the same time, my cock strokes just against her hip. "You have to tell me. If it hurts."

"I will," she promises.

I know exactly how I trust her with my body.

I know she's trusting me with hers.

With one hand, I line myself up, pressing at that persistent tightness. And then, so slowly, so carefully, I push.

"Jesus Christ." My other palm hits the mattress with a smack, my forehead pressing to her neck with the intensity. With just the head inside of her, I stop, breathing raggedly. Her ass is almost painful, it's so tight. And hot.

So hot.

Her hand digs into my side and her legs are tense around me. Remembering myself, I lift my head and press a wet kiss to her neck before looking up at her, only to find her eyes closed, her chin tilted back. With all the tenderness that I can muster, preparing to fuck her like this, I stroke her hair and flutter fingertips along her throat.

"Keep going," she croaks.

My hips jerk at just the thought, but I steady them after sinking less than half an inch inside. "Holy fuck," I breathe, and then, "Are you okay? Tell me if you're okay."

"Yes." Her head is nodding jerkily, but her eyes are still closed.

"Relax for me," I beg. I kiss her lips and eyes, her cheeks and her nose.

Bit by bit, she does. And then I slip a little deeper.

She groans out loud as I pull back in an incremental thrust. And I can hear the change. Working so slowly, just like with the plug, I tease and push, gradually getting myself deeper and deeper. And the farther I go, the more she accepts me.

When finally my hips are flush against her ass, she exhales out a keening moan that makes me pulse. The sensation of her body wrapped around me like this is overwhelming. Good and frightening. Strange and wonderful. Lifting up onto my arms, I look down between our bodies and shudder at the sight of it. At my body buried deep inside her.

It's illicit. Wrong. Dirty.

"So amazing," I whisper.

It is.

Her eyes roll back in her head with the slight jostling, and she does something internally, squeezing. Tight becomes vice-like yet again.

"I have to move," I beg. "Please."

"Yes," she urges. As I pull back, watching myself slide out of her ass, she begins again the low chorus of wordless noises and panting breaths. Shaky moans. "So full. God, I feel so full."

"Is it good?"

It's exquisite.

Perfect.

Please, please, please be good.

"Yes," she breathes. "It's good. Oh!"

I slide back in with a long, slow thrust. Things are building too quickly now. I cannot look.

"Now, Bella. Touch yourself now."

She doesn't hesitate. A slender hand sneaks in between us, and I groan at the feeling of her wrist against my abdomen, the rough, quick motions that she uses when she's just about to come.

Letting one arm bend, I lean down to press my lips to just below her ear. "I want to feel it. When you come. Can you? Can you – "

I'm interrupted by a scream the likes of which I've never heard from her before, and for a moment I am terrified, heart thundering, cock jerking as I try to pull out. Her other hand clamps down, though, one hard pull against my ass until I sink back all the way inside of her.

And then I look at her.

I feel her pulsing.

"Oh my God." My eyes close, and I cannot take a moment more.

Not a second.

"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my – "

My own mouth twists, my head falling back.

The tightness.

It's so sudden, the way my pleasure hits me. Wave after wave, and through all of them, I'm falling, her cries still echoing.

And I'm in her. Where no one's ever been before.

Where no one will ever be again.

Explosively, violently, the feeling tears through me until I have nothing left, leaving me a shaking mass atop her, wanting to collapse, but knowing that I can't. I can't hurt her.

Even as I am still trembling with my aftershocks and with hers, she places her hands on either side of my face and pulls me toward her. I open my eyes to find hers shining so brightly, her smile wide and beautiful.

And then we kiss and kiss and kiss.

...

Afterwards, we both head toward the bathroom. Part of it's because we are, literally, dirty.

Part of it's because this seems like where we're meant to go after we've pushed ourselves.

It doesn't feel quite right to run a bath the way we do when she has topped me, though. At the same time, we both suggest, "Shower?"

"Perfect," I respond.

As we wait for the water to heat, I go to retrieve the plug. Ever since we moved in together, it's become part of my job as her submissive to clean up after our scenes. And so I am all the more surprised when she stops me and takes the toy from me. "My turn," she insists.

I look at her in confusion, but she just rolls her eyes at me and slaps my hip. Shrugging, I let her take on this responsibility and step into the tub. I let the heat of the spray wash over me.

When she is done, she joins me in the there. Slowly, we wash each other. Much like when we bathe after a session, she allows me to hold her, there beneath the spray.

And much like those times, as we stand there, my thoughts find their way to my throat. "Was that what you wanted?"

"You're always what I want," she answers quietly. I am just about to protest, when she turns to face me and pulls me down to meet her lips. "And yes. It was."

"Did you like it?"

Bella nods. Flushed from the heat of the water, I can barely tell that she is blushing. But she is. "It was intense. Really intense. But good." She hesitates, and I wait for her to find her thoughts. "I liked ... You know I prefer to be on top. But with you, I trust you so much. When you're that confident ... I love it when you just go for things sometimes like that."

"You make me confident."

"I know." She wraps her arms around my waist and rests her cheek against my chest, facing away from the spray. Her quiet chuckle breaks the heaviness of the moment. "And how about you? Dumb question, maybe, but did you like it?"

"Amazing," I groan, life returning to my cock at just the memory. "Though there are other things that I like more."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." I lean in close before whispering, "Like when you do that to me."

She leans back and smirks evilly, reaching up to touch my collar. "Good. Because tomorrow, it's your ass's turn."

I growl against her throat and hug her closer. "Yes, Mistress. Yes, please."

Chapter Text

"Please, Mistress." There is an edge of desperation to my voice that terrifies and thrills me. Tied to every corner of the bed the way I am, her body riding mine relentlessly, there is nothing I can do. No way to go slow or to refocus my attention. The words I am supposed to whisper in my head to calm myself are gone.

They are all gone.

There is only her. On top of me. All around me. Hot and slick and dressed in thigh-highs and heels and a corset and—

"Please. I can't— I— Mistress—"

It's too much, and I can feel the first wave. She slows a little in the way she rides me, but I know she's almost there, her eyes closed as she leans back and groans out, "Wait, Pet. Just a little..."

It's.

Too.

Much.

My chest is already heaving, the sting too painful in my lungs at disappointing her as everything spills over. My vision goes blank in a hot rush of tainted pleasure, an orgasm I do not want to have but which I lack the means to prevent.

She realizes it a moment after I do.

Immediately, she lifts herself up off of me, leaving the least few pulses to land in white ribbons on my abdomen, shameful heat across my skin, burning.

My Mistress is still wanting, though, and she straddles my face. Through the ache of having failed her – through my own revulsion at the way she tastes of my forbidden release – I fit my mouth to hot flesh in a fruitless effort to redeem myself. Closing my eyes against the threat of angry, frustrated tears, I lick and suck. I try to be less than worthless as her toy.

But all I feel is empty. Disappointing.

For months now, we have been working on this. On trying to control my pleasure. On lasting longer, no matter how she teases me or tortures me. Sometimes my orgasms are easy, and sometimes she makes me work for them.

Sometimes I fail, and sometimes I succeed.

Here, in this moment, though, all I can think of is failure. Even with her climax ripping hot against my tongue, I know. I know that, this time, she promised she would punish me.

Finally, she spasms, collapses over my body and breathes. Her body is still tense in spite of her release, and I know she's thinking of exactly what I am. Of what she will do to me.

In the past, there have been spankings. An extra day spent on my knees without the hope of her touching me.

But I know this will be worse.

She gets up without a word, and a harsh cold settles in my stomach as I lie there, helpless and restrained. As I wait. Minutes later, she returns and takes a washcloth to my flesh, wiping away the evidence. But it can't removes the traces of it from my heart.

In the back of my mind, it registers that this is strange. We usually move swiftly from our playroom to the bath to coax and touch and help each other down. There we wash away our roles. We wash away the sweat and lube and come.

But she is washing me now.

Slowly, finally, my Mistress begins to speak. "You've disappointed me, Pet."

I've disappointed myself.

"I'm sorry, Mistress—"

"Shush." The cloth drags roughly over skin that is painfully sensitive, and I wince as I obey her order for silence. "After how hard I've worked to train you. When all I asked was for another minute. What are you supposed to do when you get too close?"

My voice is a whisper. It breaks on every other word. "Sonnets. I recite sonnets in my head."

"And did you?"

"I tried." There is a pinch at my side that makes me whimper. "I tried," I say again, but I feel the first hot drop of a tear as it winds its way toward my ear. "But I failed."

She works in silence for another moment, and I chance a single glance. Her face is down, her expression intent. One hand flexed against her side, and in it, I see all of her comfort. Her instincts to treat me with love and with care.

She loves me by keeping me in check, though. She cares for me with discipline she knows I need.

"Apparently..." she says quietly. "Apparently, my punishments have not been enough." With a single motion, she discards the washcloth on the floor and reaches to her side to pick up something I have not seen before. Not in real life.

My pulse rate rockets and my mouth goes dry.

"You know what this is, Pet."

"Yes," I rasp. "Mistress, please—"

I am silenced with a look.

"You've forced my hand, Pet. If the only thing you treasure is your cock, then you've left me no choice for how to punish you."

We've talked about this. How, while I am willing to try almost anything, this is the sort of punishment that makes me most uncomfortable.

How I give her everything.

But there are some things I still want to control.

She must be so, so disgusted with me.

The tears fall faster now, but I keep the sobs inside as I watch on with a near-clinical detachment at what she's doing to my body.

It's not my body that I'm worried about now. It's my heart.

It's my regret.

"It's called a CB-6000," she says as she coats my now-soft cock and balls with lube. "Only the best for my Pet. Even when he's been bad."

Her hands are not completely steady as she slips a piece of clear plastic behind my balls, attaching another piece above my cock to create an interlocking ring. She takes her time, smoothing the skin away and making sure that nothing pulls.

I don't mean to cry. To be such a mess as she is taking care of me, her love so clear even as she is doing this to me. But as she slides the clear tube over my cock, I cannot help it. I whimper out, "I'm sorry," and, "Forgive me."

When she inserts a little plastic lock through the pieces, my voice falls off, and I close my eyes.

Her voice is weary as she strokes my thigh. "It's supposed to be safe for upwards of a month."

My eyes pop open.

"But we won't leave you like this for that long. Three days should do."

I can't remember the last time I've gone three days without coming. Between Bella's sex drive and my own idle masturbation, I have developed quite an appetite. Already, I am panicking.

I don't know how I'll concentrate. How I'll work. How I can possibly...

Her lips are kissing wetness from my face, and then her hand splays out across my jaw, forcing me to focus and to look at her. "You are so strong, Pet. You can do this."

And though the weight of punishment is still heavy on my chest, the very worst of my frustrations and fears dim at the love in her eyes.

"Now thank your Mistress."

"Thank you," I choke out. And my gratitude is as real as everything else that I feel.

With gentle, nimble hands, she unties me from the bed, and I sit up experimentally, unreasonably aware of the piece of plastic that imprisons my cock.

Of how, even as she reverses my collar and returns my body to me, she owns me.

We make our way to the bath the way we always do, but we each seem quiet today. I hold her in my arms and kiss her hair, but the chastity cage is between us, literally and metaphorically. It is something we must talk around.

Until Bella addresses it directly. "I know I said three days," she says. "But we'll see how it goes. Your first time wearing something like that ... I don't want to hurt you or anything."

"I know," I answer, stroking the bracelet around her wrist.

I do.

"You know I'm not really mad, right?"

I shrug. It's hard to explain how the lines get blurred. How my failures make me angry with myself. How the fear of disappointing her is punishment itself.

"I hate messing up," I mumble. "I hate being a d-disappointment to you."

She shifts in the bath, and water sloshes to the lip of the tub. Facing me, she strokes damp hair from my temple and touches my cheek. "You could never disappoint me, Edward. Never. Something you did, maybe. You never fail me. You do your best, and I am always so proud of you. So amazed by what you give me. If the punishment's too much... If..."

"We'll see," I break in. I force a smile, but I know it's not entirely genuine. "I'll try."

"Okay. But you have to promise to tell me if it's too much. It's a punishment, so it's not supposed to be fun, but if it's a problem, physically or just mentally, or ... I want to know, okay?"

"Okay." We kiss gently, but it's just a peck. I'm afraid to make it anything more.

Already, just thinking about not wanting to get hard, I am becoming ever more so. It's uncomfortable to begin to fill the plastic cage this way. Strange.

Arousing.

I groan.

These very well may be the longest three days of my life.

...

The next morning, I wake with discomfort, a not-quite-pain between my legs. I need only reach down to scratch the skin around my sac to remember why. My would-be morning wood is pressed against the plastic of the cage, and my whole body feels imprisoned. Like it is not my own.

For once, that doesn't feel like a good thing.

My stomach lightly churns, my eyes closed, but then I feel the pressure of Bella's hand on my chest. "Good morning, gorgeous," she mumbles, lifting up. I look into her eyes and meet her kiss. Only, when she moves to slide her tongue into my mouth, there is frisson, electricity in parts of my body that are now forbidden to me, and I pull away.

For a moment, she looks hurt, her mouth frowning. Then her eyes flit down to where the sheets would normally be tented, and her expression shifts to somewhere half between amusement and apology. "Oh," she says. "Right." She kisses my cheek and slides out of the bed, leaving me there alone.

The rest of our morning proceeds much the way it usually does, except that this time Bella showers alone. Naked, she invites me to join her, but I decline, still wrapped in our sheets and in my shame, uncertain how to move. I listen to the water falling on her skin and long to be there with her, kissing and touching, washing the softness of her breasts and tasting just behind her ear.

This is not helping.

Finally, unwilling to look down at my emasculated flesh, I slide on pants and head into the kitchen to make coffee and toast. When Bella joins me, she is fully dressed, sinful in a pencil skirt and glasses that speak of every naughty librarian fantasy ever known to man. I have to look away.

The distance echoes as she pours herself a mug of coffee and slathers butter on her toast. She says nothing of any consequence, and neither do I. When it's time for her to leave, it comes as almost a relief.

"Have a good day," she says, one hand on the back of my chair as she stands over me. Before I can respond, she sets something down on the table. I look down at the little tube of lube and nearly choke on my toast. "In case anything's uncomfortable. I don't want you chafing."

My face heats. "Right."

"I love you."

There's something vulnerable to her voice – something that says this is just as hard for her as it is for me. I lift my face and my eyes, only realizing as I do that it's the first time I've met hers since she put this punishment on me.

It feels so good just to look at her, to see her looking back at me with all the love I know she has for me. With the same respect she had for me yesterday and the day before.

I touch her cheek and pull her down to kiss her more thoroughly. "I love you, too," I murmur. Because I do. So desperately, I do.

A few minutes later, the door swings closed behind her, and I am left with nothing but silence and myself. I finish up breakfast and start up my computer, checking my messages the way I always do. As I settle into the comfortable rhythm of work, I am distracted, though.

A little after nine, I give up and head to the bathroom. With the same awkwardness as the night before, I manage to relieve myself, feeling fumbling and useless as I lower my pants to my thighs and hold myself through the plastic to aim. When I am done, I strip the rest of the way down. Avoiding looking in the mirror even long enough to shave, I turn the shower on and set the heat to scalding before stepping under the spray.

So many mornings, I've taken my time like this, touching myself and remembering things my Mistress has done to me. Today, I take my time, too. I inspect and grimace and try to slide a pinky into the tiny space left by the ring. It's constricting and uncomfortable.

It's funny that Bella didn't want it to chafe. Everything about it chafes.

For a few minutes, I study the little plastic lock that holds the whole assembly together. It's flimsy at best. I could snip it with a pair of scissors; in fact, I suspect that, when she chooses to take it off, that's what Bella will have to do. The bottom of it is numbered, and I suspect that's part of the security. That if a bad sub was to cut himself free, his Mistress would know that the lock had been changed.

I grimace at the very concept. As much as I want out, the idea of releasing myself is repugnant to me. I serve at my Mistress's pleasure. Or at her displeasure, as the case may be.

Clean but still feeling dirty, I turn off the water and dry myself off. I keep the towel draped around my waist to hide my body before retreating to our room to dress in the dark. Knowing I'm not going anywhere, I pick a fresh pair of pajama pants and a T-shirt, then return to my computer.

It's such a struggle to work.

That night, when Bella comes home, I'm still not really dressed, but she doesn't comment. As we go about our usual routine of dinner, I fight to remember how she sounded that morning, telling me she loves me, and I force a smile onto my face. I talk as freely as I can without breaking down and begging for forgiveness and relief.

For the first time in years, I sleep in my clothes.

I failed.

I failed and I can't breathe and…

And. And. And.

Over and over, I try to refocus, to get something done or to think or even to simply stop the panic in my throat. It's the second day of my punishment, and I am clawing at the walls of our home and of my mind, my lungs so tight.

And I'm a failure.

All I can see is the scene. I feel the bindings on my wrists and my body cresting. I remember how I should have fixed it, how control can taste against my tongue. How good my Mistress is to me, and there's a part of me that knows I'm not worth it. I never have been.

I put my laptop down and press my spine into the corner of the couch, lift my feet onto the cushion and put my head between my knees. Absently, my fingers spin the metal of my collar, flipping it from submissive to lover, like my hands don't even know who I am today.

Like I don't know whose I am.

All the tricks to try to clear my mind fail me, the panic refusing to subside. This doesn't happen often – maybe twice in the past two years. But I know what Bella would tell me to do.

Eventually, I get the nerve and reach for my phone. Hovering over her picture in my contacts, my face cracks at how beautiful she is, how wicked her private smile is. The smile that's just for me. I close my eyes and dial.

My heart pounds harder with each of the three long rings, and by the time she picks up, my fingers are gripping my collar so tightly I fear it's likely to break. That in and of itself sends my panic spiraling even higher.

"Hi, Edward." Her voice is warm. So sweet.

It should be screaming at me.

I speak the only word I have.

"Yellow," I whisper.

There's a muttered curse beneath her breath, and then she says, "One second." I hear rustling, sounds of movement and muttered voices. Then there's silence.

When she comes back on the line, her tone is one I know, and I can see her face in my mind. Domineering and beautiful and everything I crave. Everything I need. I need her so much right now. "Pet. Tell me what's wrong."

I feel so weak with my relief. "I'm sorry, Mistress. I'm so sorry." Then it occurs to me how much I have to apologize for. "I shouldn't be bothering you at work—"

"Of course you should. Now tell me what's wrong."

I take a long, deep breath. It's my first in hours. "I panicked, Mistress."

"Your punishment?"

"Yes, Mistress." Of course she knows. "I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing. Just talk to me."

My heart squeezes at how she understands what I need. Right now, it's to be forced to talk. The words tumble out, a low stream of failure and reliving the scene again and again and how constricted I feel. How angry at myself.

How out of control.

"Shh, Pet. It's okay. It's all okay."

"I know, Mistress. I—" I stop myself before I can tell her I am sorry again.

"Edward. I need you to do something for me." Thank God. "Are you listening?"

"Yes, Mistress."

"Okay, first, take a nice, deep breath." At her urging, I do just that. It feels amazing, both to fill my lungs and to follow her command. "Okay?"

"Okay."

"Good. Now, repeat after me." She pauses and then says quietly, "My Mistress loves me."

It hurts my heart to say it. It's a truth I need so badly. With a shaking breath, I echo, "My Mistress loves me."

"Mean it. My Mistress loves me."

My voice is steadier this time. "My Mistress loves me."

"In her eyes, I am perfect."

I repeat it back to her, the fear inside of me easing with every word. "In her eyes, I am perfect."

"I am worthy of her discipline," she insists.

"I am worthy of her discipline."

"I am so strong."

It feels silly, but I say it. And it makes me feel better. "I am so strong."

She is quiet for a moment. When she speaks again, it is clear that I am not meant to repeat. "What color are we, Pet?"

I think about it before replying, wanting always to be truthful with her. The panic is gone, but I still feel uneasy. I know if I say yellow, she will find a way to come home to me, to take care of me. And I don't need that. Not right now. "Chartreuse," I answer honestly.

She laughs, and it eases me further. "How I love your words." She pauses, then asks, "Is there anything you have to get done today?"

"Just a couple of edits on an article."

"Will you be able to focus?"

"I think so. Now."

"Good boy. Take your time with them, and when you're done, I want you to take a bath and get dressed. And not in the same pajamas you've been wearing since yesterday, understood?"

I don't know how she knows I haven't showered yet or changed. But she does. "Yes, Mistress."

"Then I want you to go to the bookstore and pick yourself out something nice."

There's a momentary flash of fear. I don't like the idea of going out like this. It seems like everyone will know.

That you're not a man. That your cock is not your own.

"Mistress…"

"It'll be fine. Wear a long dress shirt, untucked, if it makes you feel better. Get yourself something you've been wanting to read, and then you have the rest of the afternoon to yourself. Read. Relax. If you get too restless, you can clean the apartment or something. But I'd really prefer it if you just enjoyed yourself. No pressure. Nothing you have to do."

Reading all afternoon sounds wonderful.

"Okay," I breathe.

A hint of vulnerability cracks into her voice as she asks, "You going to be okay?"

"I think so."

"Good. I'll try to sneak out early, but if you need anything—"

"I'll call."

I can hear her smile even over the phone. "Cheeky." Before she hangs up, she adds, "I love you."

"I love you too, Mistress. Thank you."

The whole walk to the bookstore, I keep one hand in my pocket while the other clutches the edge of my shirt, tugging it down. I feel as everyone is looking me, even though I know there's nothing to see. My jeans are not so tight as to give anything away, and the shirt is another layer of protection. Sure enough, when I glance around, there is no one paying any attention to me. My shoulders straighten, and I walk a little taller.

Once inside the store, one of the workers greets me with a smile. I'm regular enough of a customer that she knows my name, and we exchange some basic pleasantries. My voice is not as steady as usual, but I only stutter once. I cough to cover it. I don't think she notices.

Letting her go back to what she's working on, I head to the back of the store. It doesn't take me long to pick out the fantasy novel I've been eying for a while now. With the book in hand, I browse a little. I'm back into popular fiction when I notice a dark-haired woman looking at me.

I immediately check myself. Feel the cage around my cock and the heat of my collar. I glance back at her, and she winks.

"See something you like?" she asks.

"Www-what?"

Her smile is licentious, but her tone innocent as she gestures at the pile of books. "I always have such a hard time picking what I want to read next. Just wondering if you'd found something you liked."

I grasp the novel in my hand more tightly and lift it so she can see the cover. "I'm good, actually."

"Oh, I love that series." She pauses before moving closer, continuing, "It's so nice to meet a man who reads books, you know? I feel like so many men just stick to magazines and the sports section."

I cannot deny that I like how she refers to me as a man. I shrug but step back, keeping a certain distance between us. "I love books."

She smiles and holds out her hand. "My name's Bree."

"Edward." I shake her hand perfunctorily and start to pull away, but then I realize there's a piece of paper in her palm. She clasps my hand with both of hers, and my breathing quickens. There's a little arousal, but it's mostly anxiety. Only Bella touches me like this.

Pushing the slip of paper into my palm, she says, "In case you want to talk about the book. After you finish it."

She lets go, and I glance down to find a name and a phone number.

And suddenly I get it.

I laugh in spite of myself, mostly from shock. She's hitting on me. I'm worried about people realizing I'm being punished by my Mistress – that I'm less than a man – and this woman wants to date me.

I haven't felt this tall since Mistress locked me in this cage. "I'm sorry," I say, trying to keep my tone as kind as I can as I pass the number back to her. "I live with someone."

Her expression is clearly one of disappointment. "Does that mean you can't make new friends?"

"No, not at all." I think of all the friends that I have made since Bella came into my life. But none of them are attractive, single brunettes who've tried to pick me up. "But still. Thank you. I just wouldn't feel comfortable."

Her eyes look me up and down. "Pity."

"Sorry."

After she takes the piece of paper back from me, I nod at her and walk away. I pay for my purchase and head back home, smiling all the way.

It's not the first time someone's flirted with me in the past two years. Honestly, more women have probably approached me since Bella became my lover than in all the years before. I've never once been tempted to stray, but it's a nice thing to be wanted. It's a nice thing, indeed.

Back at home, I do just as Bella ordered, sinking into our couch and into another world full of magic and intrigue. On some level, it reminds me of my life before her, when I spent so much time escaping from my bleak reality. In a stark contrast with my panic of the morning, my collar and the state of my cock are both reminders that my life has changed. That I am loved. And, occasionally, owned.

True to her word, Bella makes it home about an hour earlier than usual, and as always I'm delighted to see her. At the sound of the key in the lock, I mark my place in my book and look up. There's a tension to her body and a tightness around her eyes at first, but then her gaze meets mine and she sees my smile. Her whole posture melts, and she comes to meet me on the couch, where I wrap her up in my arms and place kisses in her hair.

"You seem…" she says.

"Better. Much, much better."

"I'm so glad."

"Sorry to have worried you. I was just…having a moment."

She pulls back and presses her lips to mine. "Then I'm glad you called."

"Me, too." I squeeze her lightly. "You always know exactly what to say."

"Not always." Extracting herself from my embrace, she sits beside me and intertwines our hands, then gestures at the book. "So how did your errand go?"

"Good, actually." I can't help the way the corner of my lip turns up at the memory.

Her eyes narrow, and there's suspicion to her tone. "What aren't you telling me?"

My smile becomes a full-on smirk. "I got hit on at the bookstore."

"Of course you did. You look fucking hot."

It doesn't matter how many times she tells me this. I'll never entirely believe it. "If you say so."

"I do. Adamantly and repeatedly."

I won't argue. Instead, I lean in to kiss her more thoroughly, only stopping when the pressure starts to build. I hum and touch her face and pull away, regretting that I have to and ruing the circumstances that keep me from making love to her right now. "So what do you want to do tonight, since you don't have to take care of a b-basketcase, after all?"

"Don't talk about my Edward that way," she says. She's always saying things like that. Without skipping a beat, she suggests, "How do you feel about going out? Dinner? Maybe a couple drinks."

I see now why she wanted me to go out on my own this afternoon. A little trial run to see if I'm all right being out in public this way. I drag my hand through my hair and nod. "Sure."

She stops me for a second before I can get up. "If you had needed me tonight, if you'd wanted to stay in or the punishment had been too much, that would have been fine. You know that, right?"

My heart tightens. "I know."

"Okay." Her eyes search mine, her hand coming up to rest against my chest. "I know I'm pushing you with this. I want to make sure you know you're pushing you, too, okay? That it's hard, and it's not weakness on your part that it feels hard."

I try to imagine a world in which I could love her more. I kiss her mouth and murmur, "I know." And then, because I love her playful just as much as I love her insightful and serious, I add, grinning, "Though, really, I thought the problem was that I can't get hard."

At that, she slaps me and lets me stand up.

Still talking, albeit about more mundane things, I follow her into the bedroom and put myself through the bittersweet torture of watching her change. Before long, we're ready to go. We grab an early dinner at a Thai place around the corner and then head to our usual bar, where we get in a round before any of our other friends show up.

In spite of my fears, none of them seem to notice anything different about me or about Bella's and my dynamic. I know I'm a little clingy, choosing to stay by her side instead of socializing by myself. She doesn't begrudge me the comfort of her presence or of her hand in mine, and bit by bit I relax, almost forgetting my predicament.

Only it's impossible to forget once we get home.

Half-drunk and wanting after two days without contact, the minute we make it through the door, I have her pushed up against it, my hand on her ass and my tongue in her mouth. It's uncomfortable, my cock hot and swollen and constrained, but I don't care. I want sex, but I need touch even more. I need her.

So she's the first to pull away. It doesn't hurt my pride that it's with a growl of frustration. "Three days?" she groans. "What was I thinking?"

I shake my head and kiss her again, pressing one palm to the place between her hip and her sex so there's no mistake. "I'm the one who messed up. Not you. You don't have to suffer." She groans and I move to suck the skin beside her ear. "I'd love to put my mouth on you."

I know it'll hurt, but I don't care.

Tomorrow. I'll get my relief tomorrow.

She hesitates and lets me grind the heel of my hand against her pubic bone, but then she sighs and tugs at my wrist. "No. If you can bear it, then I can, too."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure." She pushes off of the wall and squirms out from underneath my arm. As she walks toward the bedroom, she looks back over her shoulder, her eyes all sex and smolder. "Just make sure you get plenty of sleep tonight. Because tomorrow I am going to take you for hours."

At her words, I ache.

But as I follow her, I cannot help but smile.

I wake on the third and final day feeling ready to burst, my skin sensitive and my sac heavy. Declining to shower with Bella, I sit in bed with the sheet draped over my hips, and when she comes in to change, I watch her, feeling perverted and territorial and wanting all at once. She drops the towel and puts on a garter belt and stockings, the straps framing her bare sex, and I know she's thinking the same things I am. Before she can dress any further, I beckon her over to me and kiss her deeply, letting my hands wander.

"I can't wait for tonight," she says, her voice deep and breathy.

I groan and push her away. "Me, neither."

The day is a whole new kind of torture, and as I while the hours away, my mind drifts aimlessly, to dirty things, to wonderful things. I think of sex and touching and of what it will feel like when she gives my body back to me. I imagine a hundred million ways we could make love and how many times she'll let me come. Right now, it feels like I could go off at anything. Like I could never stop.

I fantasize about her mouth and how it feels when the head slides just inside her throat, about the space between her breasts, hot sliding. I think about thrusting into her pussy and her ass and her hands. I want them all. Everything.

By five, I'm ready to melt through my skin, my mind already sinking into the place where I am hers and hers alone. Her Pet. Her plaything. So proud to be the one she chose to better through her discipline. And I'm so ready for the punishment to be over - so ready for the chance to prove myself again. To please and to be pleased by her.

Half an hour later, I hear her at the door, and I am up out of my seat before she can pull her keys out of the lock. As she closes the door, I fall to my knees at her feet, my collar already off. I hold it up in the palm of my hand and look up at her with all the love and submission I have in my heart, begging for her to let me make this right.

"Don't worry, Pet. I'll take care of you."

My mind fuzzes around the edges at the feeling of her fingers in my hair, her nails scratching at my scalp in a gesture that is so comforting, so home.

I wonder how she'll make me come. If she'll suck my cock or jerk me off or if she'll ride me.

But at that last thought, I shudder in spite of myself. I know I'll never last. And I can't stand to disappoint her again.

She takes the collar from my hand and wraps it back around my neck, her initial facing out, but I stop her with a hand around her wrist. She looks down at me in surprise.

"Just-" I start. "Before you collar me. You need to know. I can't wait. I can't. It's been so hard, and if you tease me at all, or if you make me wear it for another minute, I'll..."

I'll safeword. I know I will.

"Shh, Pet." She strokes my face and falls to her knees, too. "I know. I know what you need."

Thank God.

I release her wrist and drop my hands down by my sides, lowering my gaze and my defenses as I give her my body. My submission.

She takes them both.

As she secures the leather strands around my neck, a shiver rushes through my body, and everything goes soft. With a finger at my jaw, she tilts my head and meets my lips with kiss full of promise and love. "Playroom," she murmurs. "Naked."

She stands, leaving me there on my knees, and walks away. Her feet aren't entirely steady. I follow her command and rise, pushing through the door of that wonderful room where I'm free to be exactly who and what I am. I strip quickly, hands shaking with anticipation and my skin tingling everywhere my hands brush over it.

For the first time all week, I look at the sad, captive curl of flesh between my legs with something other than disgust. I look at it with hope and need.

I've just finished folding my clothes when she walks in, holding the blunt-tipped scissors from her knitting bag and a wet washcloth. Immediately, she kneels before me, and I have to close my eyes against both the inequity and the eroticism of the pose. I hate being above her when I'm like this, but there is nothing about her that doesn't speak of being in control.

"Stay still, Pet."

With one decisive cut, she opens the lock, and I exhale in a rush, babbling. "Thank you. Thank you, Mistress. I'm so sorry to have disappointed you-"

She hushes me. "You're forgiven."

Her hands fumble slightly as she pulls apart the interlocking pieces of the contraption. The instant I'm free, I feel it in every inch of my body, a flow of life in my fingers and my toes, like I'm glowing. Even the rough friction of the washcloth on sensitive skin is not enough to keep me from getting hard.

"You did so well, Pet. So well." Her eyes meet mine as she cleans me. "You can come as many times as you want tonight. Whenever you want."

"Thank you," I whisper, my cock steel inside her hands.

"Tell me what you want."

I don't hesitate at all. "Mistress, please. Please suck me."

The last syllable gets lost inside a hiss as she swallows me whole. Warm and wet all around me, her mouth is heaven, and I know I won't last. I don't even try.

"God, Mistress. So good. That feels so good."

She hasn't told me not to, so I tangle my fingers in her hair, just to feel those strands slipping as she moves, bobbing, engulfing.

"I'm close..."

When I moan, she moves her head and pumps me, spit-slick sliding, with her hand. Within three strokes I clench my fist and my eyes. My come pours out of me in the kind of rush I feel with my entire body, like she's touching me everywhere.

Coming down to earth a minute later, I feel like myself again, my head clear.

"Thank you, Mistress. Thank you so, so much."

Then I see her spattered in my come, and my brain goes foggy once more.

She smiles and wipes away the stripes of white from her chest and hand, leaving only one slick trail between her breasts. This she scoops up with her finger, and then she rises to stand before me.

"Open."

I let her finger into my mouth and suck at it, tasting bitter come and sex.

But there's none of the bitterness of the last time. None of the shame of coming without permission.

"Taste good?"

I release her finger with a wet pop. "Not as good as you."

"Mmmm," she hums. "Good answer." She takes my hand to the zipper at the side of her skirt, and at her encouragement I pull it down. The fabric slides away to reveal her long legs and the lingerie I love. She never did put on panties, and the possessive part of me is aroused and incensed, thinking of her at the office all day, crossing and uncrossing her legs, knowing anyone could catch a glimpse of her perfect pussy.

But she comes home to me. She wears stockings and garters for me.

I slide a finger through the lips of her sex and run my nose down her cheek. "May I kiss you, Mistress?"

"Yes."

I tease her lips with mine and find her clit with my fingers. "Here?"

"Fuck, yes."

She pulls me with her back to the bed in the corner of the room, where she sits, legs spread, wet and glistening. "Well, Pet?"

I groan, "Mistress," and dive in with tongue and lips and teeth, my fingers in her, stroking just the way I know she likes. Unlike me, she has no problem guiding me, and her hand is hard on the back of my head as she tells me what to do.

"Harder. Oh, yes. Suck..."

I pull her clit between my teeth and push another finger inside, curling up, and within minutes her hand tightens in my hair, her legs tense and her heel a hard pressure against my spine.

"Yes, Pet. Yes. Make me-"

I groan against her pussy, my cock already hard again as she comes apart against my mouth, the spasms around my fingers so arousing. I want them around me. I want inside.

She wants it just the same. "Oh, fuck me, Pet. Fuck me."

"How?"

"Just like this." She tugs on my hair and grabs my shoulder, pulling me up the bed until my hips are cradled by her thighs.

She's still coming when I slide inside. I feel each aftershock like a pulse, and I bury my face against her neck, overwhelmed with how good it feels to come back home like this. To make love with my Mistress. I pant her name and thrust my hips, eating up her sounds of pleasure as I fill her again and again.

Her fingernails dig in hard, deep crescents of welcome pain at my shoulder and hip. With her hands, she sets the pace, and with her teeth at my neck she marks me. Her body has no sooner relaxed from the orgasm I gave her with my tongue than she is tensing again. One hand slides between our bodies, and I redouble my efforts at the sensation of fingertips rubbing circles on her clit.

Everything feels good.

Too good.

Just as the pleasure starts to crest, I pause, surprised by the pressure of anxiety inside my chest, a frisson of fear, and my rhythm falters as I try to remember a single sonnet.

I need her to come.

"Please, Mistress," I beg as my mind goes blank. It's so familiar, so similar to the moment I've relived for three long days.

And pleasure stinks of failure.

"Come, baby," she murmurs, but I shake my head. Not yet. Not yet.

I tell myself this even as her heels dig into my ass, driving me to keep pushing into her, and I'm trying so hard to keep it in.

"Give in," she whispers.

"No. Please."

But then she grasps my hair and yanks my head from her throat, forcing my eyes to meet hers, and they are fire. "I love you, Pet. Come."

With that, I'm undone.

Sliding in frantic, uneven thrusts, I let the pleasure build, refusing to let the release taste bitter in my mouth. I've had enough of disappointment and of anger with myself. And my Mistress wants me to come.

She feels my renewed effort and throws her head back, rubbing harder between us. As I shoot the first hot jets of come inside of her, she moves to grab my neck and calls my name.

Coming. She's coming.

My whole body explodes as she pulses around me. It's euphoric and perfect, and I'm laughing as I'm falling forward, stilling my hips against hers and digging my face into the mattress, delirious with love and triumph.

For a few hot, quiet moments, Mistress and I lie there just like that. And in that instant - that one brief, brilliant instant - everything is right, all my mistakes forgiven. All I have to do is look at her to know it's true.

To know, flawed as I am, that I am perfect in her eyes.

And I dare to hope that maybe, just maybe, I can live up to that perception.

Chapter Text

"Scotch on the rocks?"

I've scarcely hung my jacket on the back of my barstool before the bartender is there, reaching for a highball glass and asking if I'd like my usual. I smile and nod. "You know it."

As I take my seat, I hear the jangling of the bells above the door and crane my head to see Jasper striding in. He spots me immediately and waves. I turn back toward the bartender, but he's already smiling. "And a Sam Adams, I'm guessing?"

I laugh and agree. While he's pouring our drinks, I stand and hold my arm out to Jasper, pulling him in for a quick two-pats-on-the-back sort of man-hug.

It's our standing arrangement. Every Wednesday night, we meet here at the bar for drinks and conversation. Sometimes we watch whatever game is on, and sometimes we retreat to a booth to talk about something more important. Sometimes we hardly have to talk about anything at all.

Outside of spending time with Bella, it's the best part of my week.

Drinks in hand, we settle into our seats and make small talk about our work, our friends. Our partners.

"So how's Bella?"

"She's…" I pause, staring at my glass and frowning. It's a hesitation that encapsulates the worry that's been haunting me for weeks now. Two weeks.

The two weeks since she punished me.

The time has passed, but it feels as if it's been standing still. I can still feel the twinge of regret, the nip of plastic against my dick. The pinch of guilt. The fear.

Every time I make love to her, be it as her boyfriend or her Pet, it is with a hint of fear.

"Edward?"

I put my glass down but keep staring into space. "She's fine. But we're…" I don't know how to explain it, but I find I want to talk about it. I want it out of my head. "We've been having some trouble."

"Really?" Jasper's concern is real, and I can tell I have his full attention. "You guys have been so solid."

We have been. Ever since we made the leap to live together, things have been smooth. Almost shockingly so. The only issues we have had have been related to my lifetime of bachelorhood and her history of living with girls. There's been friction around little things, like cleaning schedules and how we spend our time when one or the other of us wants to be alone. But nothing between us. Nothing until now.

"It'sssss…" I start, then hesitate again, deciding how to phrase this. While Jasper knows about our sex life, it's not something I feel comfortable talking about too plainly, so I couch my fears in general terms. "It's probably nothing. I just—I sc-screwed up a couple weeks ago."

"Ouch. Something big?"

"Nothing t-too major. She forgave me for it three days later." Three long, painful days. "It's mmmme, really. I can't – I can't lllet it go, you know? And now I'm wwalking on eggshells all the time, afraid I'll do it again."

I chance a glance at Jasper to find him looking pensive, the corners of his mouth twisted down. As he usually does, he turns the issue around on me. "Have you talked to her about it?"

"Ad nauseum." We really have. Over and over again, we've talked about limits and punishments and what I can and cannot handle. But as always, the problem isn't her. "I just… I d-don't know how to get beyond it, you know?"

He looks at me pointedly. "Have you told her that?"

"Maybe not in so many words…"

"Then you should. Soon. When things like this fester, they can turn into real issues."

"I know." My ribs twist with the ache that always comes with thoughts like this.

Thoughts like how we may not be able to work past it.

I drop my head into my hands and breathe out a shaky exhale. "I d-don't know what I'd do. If I lost her. She's…"

"Everything," he offers quietly.

I drop my hands to cover just my mouth and nod. "She's everything."

"Then make sure she knows that."

I do. With everything I am, I do. Every day.

And yet…

Jasper is still talking as my mind drifts to the ways we've settled in over the years, becoming comfortable with each other and our roles, both in our play and in our lives. And while I worship her every moment, I can't remember the last time I did something for her just because.

"Edward? Are you listening?"

I shake my head and refocus on him. "Sorry. I got d-distracted. You're right. I need to do a better job. Showing her what she means to me."

He smiles and pats my shoulder. "Good. But there's more to it than that."

My heart sinks. "There is?"

"For you? Yes." His expression serious, he says, slowly and deliberately, "It's not easy to forgive yourself. It takes conscious effort. It takes choosing to let it go, every time the guilt starts to nag at you. Every time."

My stomach does a little flip. "I know."

We sit in silence for a minute while we each digest what we have said. He's right, of course, and as I think about the idea of letting go, I have another flash of the moment when I earned my punishment. When I couldn't control myself.

The anxiety that comes with the guilt is a dancing heat against my skin. It makes my chest tight.

But I breathe through it. I take a sip of my scotch. And the best I can, I push the guilt away. It's out of sight. Out of mind.

But I still know that it's there.

On the way home, I stop by the all-night grocer's on a whim. The floral department is small, but it's all I'll be able to find at ten o'clock. In and amongst the sad bunches of roses and carnations, I spy a little bundle of soft-budded purple irises, their blooms just about ready to burst open.

They just need time.

Patience.

I pay for them, feeling lighter than I have in days, and head home with a spring in my step. Jasper's words have opened something in my mind, and as I put my key into the lock of Bella's and my home, I let that sensation wash over me the way I did right after I moved in.

It's Bella's and my home. Our home.

Ours.

I push the door open and poke my head around the corner. The living room and kitchen are empty, but the light over the stove is on, so she must be home. Probably already in bed. That thought alone has my body stirring, an eagerness to make love to her that I haven't been able to summon for weeks now. I grasp the flowers in my hand more tightly and shut the door behind me with care. Wanting to surprise her, I move silently through the apartment, toeing off my shoes and hanging up my jacket, my smile so wide.

But then, as I move into the hallway, I hear a voice. Voices.

My heart stops. I stop. For a moment, everything does.

There's a light on in the playroom, the door closed but for a crack, and for an instant I fear the worst. The absolute worst.

My Mistress loves me. My Bella loves me.

Scarcely breathing, I move to the door and peer inside, relief flooding me to find it's only her. Just her.

"I just don't know what to do!" she says, throwing her hands up in the air. She's facing away from me, staring into the closet where we keep our more interesting toys.

The digital quality of the reply is obvious now that I'm closer, and I gulp in a deep inhale as I recognize her phone, sitting on the table beside her, screen on. Speaker phone. "Slow down. Tell me everything."

It only takes a few words for me to recognize the voice as Lee's. He and Bella have remained good friends over the years, and he's been something of a mentor to her. He's who she goes to when she isn't sure about something or when she needs to talk things through. I've never been privy to their conversations. I shouldn't be privy to this one now.

Bella sighs loudly and scrubs her face with her hand. "I've told you everything already. He's just… he's not getting over it. At all. In the playroom, he acts like he's afraid of me, and even outside of it, he's so nervous. It's like back when we first started dating all over again, only worse. At least back then he wanted to have sex with me."

My cock, already deflated, shrinks into my body at her words.

"It's only been a couple weeks."

"Did you just hear yourself? A couple weeks? For Edward, that might as well be a year. He usually wants to do it every day, practically."

"Wait," Lee says. "Are you telling me you haven't had sex at all?"

We have. Of course we have.

Bella groans in frustration. "Yes, but only maybe twice outside the playroom, and it's me initiating. And when we did, he… he wouldn't look at me, Lee. He kept his eyes shut the whole time. And he won't… he won't finish inside me."

It's not true. In the playroom I did.

But then I remember how I've stopped myself when we've been just ourselves. I've opted to go down on her. Asked her to suck me. Once I pulled out when it got too much and stroked myself to come across her breasts.

I pretended it was just because I thought that it was sexy. And it was. But it was more. And she knows it.

"Have you talked about this with him?"

"Yeah, but he says everything is fine. I just don't know what to do. I'm so worried he won't get past it, and..."

She sounds choked up as she trails off, and my own throat gets tight. I want to go to her. To make this right.

But I don't know how.

Lee pauses for a moment and then asks, "Do you want my honest opinion?"

"Why else would I be calling you?"

He still hesitates. "Really, Bella, I'm not sure what you expected. You take a man with a history of issues with intimacy, one who has, under duress, confessed to having struggled with premature ejaculation in the past. One who wouldn't even get on top of you until you forced him to as his dominant. One who uses sex not just as pleasure but as comfort and validation of his manliness. And then when he comes without permission, you take his cock away from him, a punishment he's told you he isn't comfortable with. How exactly did you think this would go?"

"I—I—"

I can't listen to any more. With Lee's dissection of my flaws still ringing in my ears, I back away, almost forgetting the flowers in my hand until the plastic wrapped around them crinkles. My heart aching, I look at that gesture, at that symbol of what I need.

I place them on the floor beside the playroom door. And then I retreat into our room.

There, I strip down to just my boxers and a T-shirt and climb into the bed. In the dimness, I draw my legs up to my chest, curling in on myself and hugging my knees. The sounds of Bella's conversation drift in through the walls, but I'm not listening. All I hear is her telling Lee what's wrong with me. All I see is how she looked at me when she put the cage on me.

After what feels like an eternity, the cadence of the voices in the other room changes, bringing me back to myself in time to hear them saying their goodbyes. There's a minute of silence during which I want to be even smaller, but there's no more space to huddle into. Finally, a shaft of light opens out into the hall. Bella's footfalls cease, and everything goes still.

My breath. My heart.

Plastic crinkles, and then she calls my name. "Edward?"

I open my mouth, but on the first try, no sound comes out. I clear my throat and find my voice, but it sounds as raw as I feel. "In here."

The light in the playroom goes dark, and the floorboard creak as she approaches. She flips the lights on and I wince. It's just as well. I can't look at her anyway.

She makes no movement to approach, and the distance yawns, a tangible, aching thing.

"How long have you been here?"

Her voice is frighteningly neutral, like she's holding so much back.

I know she is. There all kinds of things she's been keeping to herself these weeks. Things she only tells her friend. Things about me.

"A little while." I'm still staring at her pillow, my eyes adjusted to the brightness now but still unable to really see.

"How much did you hear?"

"En-nnnough."

"Oh, baby…"

It hurts to hear her speak that way, to hear the tenderness seeping through the cracks. And to know it might not be enough.

Something breaks inside me and I press my forehead to my knees. My inhale is ragged, the sound of it pained.

"I'm sorry."

I'm sorry for so many things.

"Edward, no…"

My shoulders shake.

I can't lose her. I can't.

But what if I can't get over this?

She's on the bed beside me before my thoughts can spiral any further, her touch a heat that sears so deeply into me, rattling everything.

"Edward?"

I can't not look at her.

She's on her knees, her lip between her teeth, brows furrowed with a worry that echoes my own, her hand on my shoulder. The flowers lie on the mattress near her thigh. She moves her fingers up to stroke my cheek, and some of the tightness eases until I can breathe again. "Edward, baby, no. I'm sorry. I–"

I cut her off, shaking my head, only I don't even know what I'm saying no to. Her apology. Her kindness. I reach my hand up to cover hers and bring it to my mouth, kissing each knuckle gently, begging for time with my touch. Finally, I clasp her hand in mine and drop them both to the mattress between us, loosening my posture. I lean back against the headboard and let my legs stretch out.

Staring into those wide, brown eyes, I reach into the center of my fear and my need. "I love you. So much."

"And I love you."

"I nnneed things to be ok-kay between us."

She only hesitates for a second, but the pause is louder than any words. "I want that, too."

"B-but?"

"No but." Her lips are tightly pressed together, her head shaking almost imperceptibly as she squeezes my hand. "I want that."

I press. "But…"

She gazes at me with an intensity that makes me think she can see right through. "But we can't just ignore it. We can't just makethings be better without fixing them."

"I know." I focus my eyes on the sight of our hands, joined between our bodies.

"Talk to me?"

There's so much to tell, but none of it is really new. Jasper's advice rings in my head, reminding me of the important things. The things I haven't given weight to.

Trying to relax, I play with her fingers and stare at our skin against the sheets. "You're the mmmmost important thing in the world to me. You know that, right?"

"Yeah." The word comes out on an exhale, a deep gust of breath. It's the kind of thing that isn't always easy for her to admit. "I know."

"I don't show you that enough."

Her laughter cuts the tension in the air. "Of course you do. Every day." The plastic wrap around the flowers crinkles as she touches it. "You don't have to give me flowers to show me that."

"I know." I shrug, feeling lighter. At least I haven't screwed that up. "But I wanted to."

"And I love them." She leans in to press a kiss against my cheek. Her lips are soft and perfect, burning through me and reminding me that, beneath it all, we are okay. We will be. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. I just… I need you to know." As she pulls back, I meet her eyes. "I'll do anything. I'll be…b-better."

Her eyes go liquid, the dark circles of them softening as her lip quivers. "No. No. You don't have to. You're perfect. I'm the one who…" She stops and takes a deep breath, pulling her hand back from mine to scrub it over her face. "I made a mistake."

I shake my head again, this time knowing exactly what I'm protesting. "I'm the one who—"

"No. Me." She puts her hand against my cheek, holding my face and keeping my gaze on her. "I'm the one who made a mistake."

She believes it, too.

And maybe she did. She pushed me, and maybe it was too far.

I wish I wasn't so weak.

My chest shivers, but I force the corner of my lips to smile. "We both made mistakes." I grab her hand again, holding it in mine. "And we'll make them right."

I love saying the word 'we'.

"I'm so sorry."

"So am I." I press a finger to her lips, even though it makes my heart pang to silence her, closing her mouth when I see her about to argue. While wry, my smile is genuine. "I'm the one who can't let it go. I'm trying, though."

I am. Starting tonight, I really, truly am.

With that thought in mind, Jasper's words about choosing to forgive myself at the forefront of my mind, I lean in and kiss her mouth, soft and wet and slow. It's the kind of kiss that has always melted me, arousing m