“Fuck!” comes her barely audible groan, making me chuckle as I turn my head and gaze up her body at her face. She eyes me with slight apprehension on her face, making me smirk at her, just for the sake of teasing her.“We're done, right?” she asks, her voice anxious. “Because seriously, if we're not, I'm so going to slam a big fat 'yellow' right in your face for anything more involved than lying here and doing nothing!” I'm tempted to fuck round with her a little longer, but I know that I pretty much leached the life from her, so I shake my head after a few moments.“Don't worry, we're done.”She sags back onto the bench, her eyes closed, an elated smile on her face. Still grinning I press my face back against her boob, then flick my tongue over her tortured nipple. Bella whimpers, the sounds getting louder when I take it into my mouth and suck gently on it.“Shit, that feels so amazing!”I grin at her exclamation and keep on for a while, before I turn my head and repeat the same with her other nipple. I love doing that after I've had my cruel fun with her tits, proving with more than words how important she is to me.Bella's fingers thread into my hair and she strokes my neck softly, and when I peek at her again, I'm met with a blissed out look on her relaxed features. I take my time worshiping her breasts, until I feel her nudge my shoulder gently.“Off, I still need to wash my hair, and you know the snide comments that Alice will fire at me when I try to pass off wearing only mascara as full make-up.”I don't move a muscle, but her pushing grows more insistent.“Edward, move it!”“I don't wanna,” I murmur into her breasts, making her laugh.“But we have to, and you know why.”I really don't, but the fact that it's important for her is enough for me. So I take a last lick at her nipple before I push myself up and help her off the bench. Bella is still somewhat unsteady on her legs, but by the time I've picked everything up to carry into the bathroom for cleaning, she is nearly her usual, sure self again.“Seriously, biting my leg? Did you have to do that today? I wanted to wear that cute dress that I got a few weeks ago. But I can't very well show up parading this around.”I glance at where she's pointing, and I have to admit, I'm weirdly happy about the neat set of tooth marks I left at her calf.“You can't wear that dress anyway.”“I could have, before you went all hungry caveman on me! Isn't it enough that you fucked my ass hard enough that I'm likely be sore for days to come?”Actually no, but I'm wise enough to hold my tongue, and kiss her instead.She's still reeking of my come, and if I may say so, we're both rather gross right now, covered in sweat, lube, and our juices in way more places than I remember having touched her.“You didn't protest while I was doing said fucking, Love.” Bella rolls her eyes at me before she pads off towards the bathroom, her butt swaying deliciously in front of me.“Whatever. Why can't I wear that dress?”Because I don't want you parading around in front of him wearing an amount of fabric that can’t seriously be considered a dress, but of course I don't say that out loud.“Because you have light marks on your upper back, and I remember that the dress left you uncovered nearly down to your ass, right?” Where the marks are even worse, but I'm sure that I don't have to worry about anyone but me seeing them—ever.Bella stops and glances back at me, before she turns around and tries to get a better look at her body in the mirrored walls.“Seriously? That didn't even really hurt. I mean, compared to what you did to my hoo ha, or my butt.”No, she didn't – again – I groan inwardly. This is slowly outgrowing the term running gag, and bordering on torture.“Your what?”Bella grins back at me over her shoulder.“My hoo ha.”“I'm sure that's not a real word.”“It is, I looked it up, it's in the urban dictionary, so it's technically a word.” And that's the answer from someone who's an English Lit major.“With what, two entries? Compared to the ten pages of unnecessary explanations for 'cunt' and 'pussy'?”“I don't care,” she shoots back as she steps into the bathroom. “It's there, so it's a word that's in use. Accept it, I'm right.” I roll my eyes at her but leave it at my mute disapproval for an answer. It's her way of getting back at me for every time I call her my slut or cunt or whatever in the playroom.While she steps into the shower I clean the butt plug with antibacterial soap, then soak the ropes in a fresh batch of warm, soapy water before I rinse and hang them up to dry. Bella is still busy washing her hair, and it would be a waste to pass up the last opportunity for the evening to grope her.“Mind if I join you and your hoo ha in there?”She grins at me as I step into the spray and shakes her head.“Nope, you and your beaver cleaver are very welcome!” I don't even ask, but instead catch Bella around the waist and pull her close to me, hungrily kissing her mouth. She's laughing by the time I finally let go of her to reach for the body wash, but even though she's already done, she stays with me in the shower.“You going to be okay tonight?”“Why shouldn't I be?” I try to shrug her question off, but the way she's looking at me I'm not sure my attempt at nonchalance is working.“Just asking. We generally don't talk about what happened, but I can't be the only one who's uneasy whenever we meet Alice and Jazz.” I wonder for a moment if her question is really a trap, but then quickly quell the feeling of paranoia trying to rise in me. She's just concerned, and considering the last five times we were out as a group, she's probably got enough cause to wonder what degree of awkwardness there will be this time.“Nah, I'm good.”Which is a blatant lie, but what else should I tell her? That I'd rather spend the evening with her, cuddling on the couch? That I even considered looking for a residency position in a hospital thousands of miles away from here, so I could hopefully drag her along? That if I could, I'd try to forbid her from seeing him again? Most of that I could never ask of her, and the rest just makes me seem more of a coward than I am. So lying to her is really the only thing I can do.As usual I have no idea if she buys it or not, but after a moment she nods and leaves the shower to start the whole primping ritual. I keep staring at her silhouette on the other side of the foggy shower stall walls, not for the first time wondering just how many barriers there are left between us, where there shouldn't be any at all.But some things I just can't tell her. Because some things I can't even tell myself.Chapter 8I want to be anywhere but here. Really anywhere. Even at the hospital for one of those endless 40 hours shifts. Just not here.Bella's loud groan yanks me out of my glum thoughts. She just put her legs up onto the seat in front of her and is kneading her aching thighs. I probably should have made sure I didn’t wear her out that much in the first place, but I think the time spent cuddling in bed afterwards was worth it.And it's not like she complained about my efforts to gently knead the kinks out of her legs and back again, either.“You know, we can always catch the next bus home and spend the evening on the couch, watching TV or something,” I offer, but even though I try to sound supportive, the words come out more like a whine.Bella shoots me a dark look before she stretches languidly.“We've talked about this before. Like a hundred times. You didn't have to come with me, but I sure as hell won't stay away from my friends just because you want to mope.”I guess I deserve her scorn, and also her snide tone. I can't even hold it against her, the topic has been coming up nearly every time we talk. That doesn't keep me from being a little resentful, though. It's not often that I have a full day and a half of free time close to or on a weekend, and right now I just want to snuggle with Bella and forget about the rest.The cynic in me is having a field day, a chance of drama ahead, me pussy whipped as never before, the perfect recipe for disaster. The realist in me knows that it's something else – something that's probably even independent of my aversion to meeting the people I used to call my closest friends.It's a weird mental state, really. Common literature calls it 'top drop', as opposed to 'sub drop' when it happens to the passive partner. Bella's had a few over the last months, and scared the living shit out of me when it happened the first time, at the end of our second session no less. You get all clingy and weird and need comfort within an inch of your life – which isn't that hard to imagine for a sub after a pretty intense scene that threw her right over the edge of her comfort zone. But it happens to Doms, too, and I feel like I'm hurtling right into a black hole that tries to leach all the energy from me.I don't even need to think hard to come up with an explanation. As much as I love setting a faster pace, pushing her until I'm edging along her limits, when it comes down to the gritty details, I'm hurting the woman that I love.She likes it, we both get off on it, we could both have ended it any moment if we hadn't thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – but sometimes intense scenes where I'm going all out being a bastard, I'm feeling drained afterwards and in dire need of comfort and appreciation.When we cuddle after a scene, it's as much for my benefit as Bella's. We both need grounding, we both need to find our way back to the persons that we are, leave behind the one-sided, black and white world of the playroom where rules are simple and satisfaction is guaranteed. I need to know and feel that she loves me, doesn't see me as the monster I could be if the context were any different. I need to know that she needs me to be exactly as I am. I need her.I hate being so vulnerable. Being like that always reminds me of my time with Tanya, and that's not a state of mind that I want to revisit ever again. I know it's an irrational resentment as even if our roles were reversed, Bella wouldn't get off on leaving me raw and bleeding, emotionally. Still, for her I want to be strong and independent, I want to be the rock she can cling to and the light that illumines her life – and what I actually am is a mopey wuss.In a way Bella seems to feel that I'm extra needy tonight as she keeps leaning into me even when she sneers at me, her finger drawing idle patterns on my thigh while she snuggles close, my arm across her shoulder. I still don't want to go to that club, but I know it means a lot to Bella, so of course I'm tagging along.I murmur a belated “Sorry,” into her hair that she accepts with a gracious nod, before she turns her head and plants a soft kiss onto my jaw. I hug her even closer, and we spend the rest of the ride in silence.Too soon we're at our stop, and minutes later inside the dark, loud, heated atmosphere of the club. The girl at the coat check smiles flirtatiously at me but I ignore her and make sure to keep my arm around Bella's waist in hope of avoiding anyone else looking at me. I've never been comfortable with random women throwing themselves at me, and with Bella so close it's even weirding me out. Can't they see that I'm clearly not interested?Thankfully my girl is as oblivious to the flirty looks I'm get ting as she is resistant to any advances from the male crowd. Sometimes I wonder if she's only playing innocent, but I've come to read her quite well over the years, and I think she really has no clue that she's always been a true head turner. Tonight is no exception, and I do my share of glaring and scowling as I follow her through the people milling around, absolutely not minding that she's leading the way as I get a good eye full of her pert ass.With the dress out of commission, she has chosen to wear dark pants and a thin, white and blue striped halter neck top. I have to grin every time my gaze roams down her bare arm to her right wrist where a wide silver bangle is hiding her leather band and the rather ominous grazes she obtained somewhere along our session this afternoon. She was as stunned as I when she found them while we were cooking together, and I got a swat with the dish towel for that. Not that she's angry, it's more like an inside joke between us. We both end up with weird bruises sometimes with no idea how or even when we got them, but this time I'm clearly to blame. It's nothing serious so I don't have a guilty conscience, but it's things like that that define our lives nowadays. Check every bared inch of skin for marks before you leave the house unless you want to answer awkward questions.I'm even more underdressed than Bella in a faded pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, with sneakers completing the outfit. The muscles in my thighs are still complaining from what we got up to before, and my left hip is acting up a little. I also feel like my left arm might be sore tomorrow, the flogger be damned. I usually complain that my weird working schedule keeps us from playing more often, but I think that would likely end with one or both of us in dire need of physical therapy before long. And I'm only twenty-four, I have no idea how I'll survive doing this when I'm forty. Maybe I should have gone for orthopedic surgery instead of trauma after all.I feel my mood lifting slightly as the vibe of the club draws me in. The beat of the music is calling to me, slowly chasing away the bad thoughts with the allure of rhythm and dancing. Even though she has a history of clumsy accidents, Bella loves to dance, and who am I to deny her the chance to wriggle her ass against my crotch for extended amounts of time? We even went to a salsa dancing course this summer, a rather funny and very rewarding experience, although our instructors were less than amused by our constant quiet laughter and sometimes unnecessary groping. But it's not exactly my fault Bella dissolves into a fit of giggles every time anyone mentions the man leading his woman, and I consider myself blessed to be with someone who can be as immature as that sometimes.Sadly I don't get a chance to drag her onto the dance floor before we have to face reality and meet the others as Bella is like a blood hound when it comes to hunting down Jazz. Not that it takes much to single him out in a crowd – tall, blond, trim built, an obnoxiously chipper pixie constantly attached to his arm, even a blind man could track those two down in minutes. Apprehension immediately wells up in me, but I force myself to stay calm and keep any glares to where Bella can't see them. She does not approve, and who am I to defy the woman I love?I guess our greeting would seem normal to an unknowing bystander, as Alice basically jumps first Bella, then me with her emphatic embrace and air kisses, and Bella and Jasper's hug is as warm is it always was. Personal record for me, five seconds into being close around him, and I already want to punch him in the face for touching her. I know I'm overreacting, but that doesn't help keep my bile from rising. Jazz and I barely nod at each other, without making eye contact. There's only one other guy I greet with less enthusiasm, and it's heartwarming how the man who was my best buddy now ranges at the same level as the idiot who tried to end my career before it even really started.Alice and Jazz already got a pitcher of beer, so at least I don't have to flag down a waitress to get some booze. Alice is all excited about Bella's birthday so we do the stupid “cheers!” thing even though it's still a week until the actual date, and I can finally take a deep draft to wet my parched throat. The usual chit chat between the girls ensues, and I just sit back and listen, idly drumming along to the beat of the song with my fingers on Bella's thigh.“I'm so sorry I can't make it to your party next week, but you know how important the NY fashion week is, I just have to be there to promote my new line, everything else would be bordering on suicide!” Alice chirps, doing some crazy eye rolling and gesticulating with her hands. As usual, she's all dressed up in some flimsy layered pink top and tight leather capri pants, some rose ornament head band keeping her spiky hair in check. Not for the first time I wonder how I could ever let her drag me so far into her world that I actually know that those shorts are referred to as capri pants.Or something like that. Alice must be out of her mind because of fashion week approaching as for once Jazz looks as if he was allowed to pick his own clothes for the evening – beige cargo pants and a blue shirt with some weird design on it – which is saying a lot.If I could for one moment forget just why and how things went down, I could even say that Jazz and I are not that different from each other. Both fools, both madly in love with a woman we know we don't deserve, and for whom we're more than ready to sacrifice everything. I mean that's exactly what he did – he cut himself out of my and Bella's life, burned all the bridges, and of course, got the girl, because we're living in a world where the end justifies all means. Only that he's a deceiving little shit who everyone just welcomes back with open arms after he hangs his head and shuffles his feet for five minutes, while I take all the blame and still can't look into my own eyes in the mirror.I try to push those thoughts and memories away before I do something that will end with one phone call for me, and instead study the menu that's printed on the paper place mats on the table. Most of the club is taken up by the dance floor, but Alice hasn't shut up over the delicious snacks they have, so I might as well find out for myself if she was right, even more so if it keeps me from getting gratuitously violent. Bella meanwhile does some uncomfortable blushing and simpering because of some promise of a present from Alice, but I don't really pay much attention, except for the“you'll get it next week from Jazz” part that, of course, only fuels the 'Hulk smash!' reaction inside of me.“So who's coming to the party next week? You said your dad and Sue would come up from Forks? I wonder how they'll do with Renee and Phil.” Bella shrugs, rather unimpressed.“I'm not really worried, I mean Mom and Dad always got along well after the divorce, and I think since Charlie finally found a woman to cook for and love him as he is, mom's a lot more relaxed. I just don't know if Phil can make it, he has a game on Friday and there was something about the plane schedule. Edward, did Renee say anything last time you talked to her?” Ah right, Renee and I skype. Because someone apparently explained to her how the program works, and Bella was too lazy to sign in with her own account one weekend, and ever since her mother has mine in her contact list. As it seems we're the only ones on said list, and whenever I'm stupid enough to go online, Renee literally jumps me and tells me every insignificant detail of her life she can think of until I come up with some moderately believable excuse as to why I have to head out. I have no idea what it is with me and women that they think they have to abuse me as their stand in best girlfriend – Alice does it, Bella used to do it before she became the real deal, and now her mom is next in line. At least she tells me every week that I have her full approval and that I'm the perfect son-in-law that she's always wished for. I still haven't figured out of that's a good thing, or the worst insult to my masculinity ever.