Fifty Shades of Grey

Chapter 26

Chapter Twenty-Six

I wake with a jolt. I think I've just fallen down some stairs in a dream, and I bolt upright, momentarily disorientated. It is dark, and I'm in Christian's bed alone. Something has woken me, some nagging thought. I glance over at the alarm clock on his bedside. It is 5:00 in the morning, but I feel rested. Why is thatOh - it's the time difference - it would be 8:00 a.m. in Georgia. Holy crap... I need to take my pill. I clamber out of bed, grateful for whatever it is that has woken me. I can hear faint notes from the piano. Christian is playing. This I must see. I love watching him play. Naked, I grab my bathrobe from the chair and wander quietly down the corridor, slipping on my robeand listening to the magical sound of the melodic lament that's coming from the great room.

Shrouded in darkness, Christian sits in a bubble of light as he plays, and his hair glints with burnished copper highlights. He looks naked, though I know he's wearing his PJ

bottoms. He's concentrating, playing beautifully, lost in the melancholy of the music. I hesitate, watching from the shadows, not wanting to interrupt him. I want to hold him.

He looks lost, sad even, and achingly lonely - or maybe it's just the music that's so full of poignant sorrow. He finishes the piece, pauses for a split second, then starts to play it again.

I move cautiously toward him, drawn as the moth to the flame... the idea makes me smile.

He glances up at me and frowns before his gaze returns to his hands Oh crap, is he pissed off that I am disturbing him?

"You should be asleep," he scolds mildly.

I can tell he's pre-occupied with something.

"So should you," I retort not quite as mildly.

He glances up again, his lips twitching with a trace of a smile.

"Are you scolding me, Miss Steele?"

"Yes, Mr. Grey, I am."

"Well, I can't sleep." He frowns once more as a trace of irritation or anger flashes across his face. With meSurely not.

I ignore his facial expression and very bravely sit down beside him on the piano stool, placing my head on his bare shoulder to watch his deft, agile fingers caress the keys. He pauses fractionally, and then continues to the end of the piece.

"What was that?" I ask softly.

"Chopin. Opus 28, number 4. In E minor, if you're interested," he murmurs.

"I'm always interested in what you do."

He turns and softly presses his lips against my hair.

"I didn't mean to wake you."

"You didn't. Play the other one."

"Other one?"

"The Bach piece that you played the first night I stayed."

"Oh, the Marcello."

He starts to play slowly and deliberately. I feel the movement of his hands in his shoulder as I lean against him and close my eyes. The sad, soulful notes swirl slowly and mournfully around us, echoing off the walls. It is a hauntingly beautiful piece, sadder even than the Chopin, and I lose myself to the beauty of the lament. To a certain extent, it reflects how I feel. The deep poignant longing I have to know this extraordinary man better, to try and understand his sadness. All too soon, the piece is at an end.

"Why do you only play such sad music?"

I sit upright and gaze up at him as he shrugs in answer to my question, his expression wary."So you were just six when you started to play?" I prompt.

He nods, his wary look intensifying. After a moment he volunteers.

"I threw myself into learning the piano to please my new mother."

"To fit into the perfect family?"

"Yes, so to speak," he says evasively. "Why are you awakeDon't you need to recover from yesterday's exertions?"

"It's 8:00 in the morning for me. And I need to take my pill."

He raises his eyebrows in surprise.

"Well remembered," he murmurs, and I can tell he's impressed. His lips quirk up in a half smile.

"Only you would start a course of time-specific birth control pills in a different time zone. Perhaps you should wait half an hour and then another half hour tomorrow morning.

So s eventually you can take them at a reasonable time."

"Good plan," I breathe. "So what shall we do for half an hour?" I blink innocently at him.

"I can think of a few things," he grins, gray eyes bright. I gaze back impassively as my insides clench and melt under his knowing look.

"On the other hand, we could talk," I suggest quietly.

His brow creases.

"I prefer what I have in mind." He scoops me onto his lap.

"You'd always rather have sex than talk," I laugh, steadying myself by holding on to his upper arms.

"True. Especially with you." He nuzzles my hair and starts a steady trail of kisses from below my ear to my throat. "Maybe on my piano," he whispers.

Oh my. My whole body tightens at the thought. Piano. Wow.

"I want to get something straight," I whisper as my pulse starts to accelerate, and my inner goddess closes her eyes, reveling in the feel of his lips on me.

He pauses momentarily before continuing his sensual assault.

"Always so eager for information, Miss Steele. What needs straightening out?" he breathes against my skin at the base of my neck, continuing his soft gentle kisses.

"Us," I whisper as I close my eyes.

"Hmm. What about us?" He pauses his trail of kisses along my shoulder.

"The contract."

He lifts his head to gaze down at me, a hint of amusement in his eyes, and sighs. He strokes his fingertips down my cheek.

"Well, I think the contract is moot, don't you?" His voice is low and husky, his eyes soft."Moot?"

"Moot." He smiles. I gape at him quizzically.

"But you were so keen."

"Well, that was before. Anyway, the Rules aren't moot, they still stand." His expression hardens slightly.

"BeforeBefore what?"

"Before,"... He pauses, and the wary expression is back, "more." He shrugs.


"Besides, we've been in the playroom twice now, and you haven't run screaming for the hills."

"Do you expect me to?"

"Nothing you do is expected, Anastasia," he says dryly.

"So, let me be clear. You just want me to follow the Rules element of the contract all the time but not the rest of the contract?"

"Except in the playroom. I want you to follow the spirit of the contract in the playroom, and yes, I want you to follow the rules - all the time. Then I know you'll be safe, and I'll be able to have you anytime I wish."

"And if I break one of the rules?"

"Then I'll punish you."

"But won't you need my permission?"

"Yes, I will."

"And if I say no?"

He gazes at me for a moment, with a confused expression.

"If you say no, you'll say no. I'll have to find a way to persuade you."

I pull away from him and stand. I need some distance. He frowns as I stare down at him. He looks puzzled and wary again.

"So the punishment aspect remains."

"Yes, but only if you break the rules."

"I'll need to re-read them," I say, trying to recall the detail.

"I'll fetch them for you." His tone is suddenly businesslike.

Whoa. This has gotten serious so quickly. He rises from the piano and walks lithely to his study. My scalp prickles. Jeez, I need some tea. The future of our so-called relationship is being discussed at 5:45 in the morning when he's pre-occupied with something else

- is this wiseI head into the kitchen which is still shrouded in darkness. Where are the light switchesI find them, flick them on, and pour water into the kettle. My pill! I rum-mage in my purse that I left on the breakfast bar and find them quickly. One swallow, and I'm done. By the time I finish, Christian is back, sitting on one of the bar stools, watching me intently.

"Here you go." He pushes a typed piece of paper toward me, and I notice that he's crossed some things out.



The Submissive will obey any instructions given by The Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities which are outlined in hard limits (Appendix A). She will do so eagerly and without hesitation.


The Submissive will ensure she achieves a minimum of eight seven hours sleep a night when she is not with The Dominant.


The Submissive will eat regularly to maintain her health and wellbeing from a prescribed list of foods (Appendix 4). The Submissive will not snack between meals, with the exception of fruit.


While with The Dominant, The Submissive will wear clothing only approved by The Dominant. The Dominant will provide a clothing budget for The Submissive, which The Submissive shall utilize. The Dominant shall accompany The Submissive to purchase clothing on an ad hoc basis.


The Dominant shall provide The Submissive with a personal trainer four three times a week in hour-long sessions at times to be mutually agreed between the personal trainer and The Submissive. The personal trainer will report to The Dominant on The Submissive's progress.

Personal Hygiene/Beauty:

The Submissive will keep herself clean and shaved and/or waxed at all times. The Submissive will visit a beauty salon of The Dominant's choosing at times to be decided by The Dominant, and undergo whatever treatments The Dominant sees fit.

Personal Safety:

The Submissive will not drink to excess, smoke, take recreational drugs or put herself in any unnecessary danger.

Personal Qualities:

The Submissive will not enter into any sexual relations with anyone other than The Dominant. The Submissive will conduct herself in a respectful and modest manner at all times. She must recognize that her behavior is a direct reflection on The Dominant. She shall be held accountable for any misdeeds, wrongdoings and misbehavior committed when not in the presence of the Dominant.

Failure to comply with any of the above will result in immediate punishment, the nature of which shall be determined by The Dominant.

"So the obedience thing still stands?"

"Oh, yes." He grins.

I shake my head amused, and before I realize it, I roll my eyes at him.

"Did you just roll your eyes at me, Anastasia?" He breathes.

Oh f**k.

"Possibly, depends what your reaction is."

"Same as always," he says, shaking his head slightly, his eyes alight with excitement.

I swallow instinctively and a frisson of exhilaration runs through me.

"So... " Holy shit. What am I going to do?

"Yes?" He licks his lower lip.

"You want to spank me now."

"Yes. And I will."

"Oh, really, Mr. Grey?" I challenge, grinning back at him. Two can play this game.

"Are you going to stop me?"

"You're going to have to catch me first."

His eyes widen a fraction, and he grins, slowly getting to his feet.

"Oh, really, Miss Steele?"

The breakfast bar is between us. I have never been so grateful for its existence than in this moment.

"And you're biting your lip," he breathes, moving slowly to his left as I move to mine.

"You wouldn't," I tease. "After all, you roll your eyes." I try reasoning with him. He continues to move toward his left, as do I.

"Yes, but you've just raised the bar on the excitement stakes with this game." His eyes blaze, and wild anticipation emanates from him.

"I'm quite fast you know." I try for nonchalance.

"So am I."

He's stalking me, in his own kitchen.

"Are you going to come quietly?" he asks.

"Do I ever?"

"Miss Steele, what do you mean?" he smirks. "It'll be worse for you if I have to come and get you."

"That's only if you catch me, Christian. And right now, I have no intention of letting you catch me."

"Anastasia, you may fall and hurt yourself. Which will put you in direct contravention of rule number seven."

"I have been in danger since I met you, Mr. Grey, rules or no rules."

"Yes you have." He pauses, and his brow furrows slightly.

Suddenly, he lunges for me, making me squeal and run for the dining room table. I manage to escape, putting the table between us. My heart is pounding and adrenaline has spiked through my body... boy... this is so thrilling. I'm a child again, though that's not right. I watch him carefully as he paces deliberately toward me. I inch away.

"You certainly know how to distract a man, Anastasia."

"We aim to please, Mr. Grey. Distract you from what?"

"Life. The universe." He waves one of his hands vaguely.

"You did seem very pre-occupied as you were playing."

He stops and folds his arms, his expression amused.

"We can do this all day, baby, but I will get you, and it will just be worse for you when I do.""No, you won't." I must not be over-confident. I repeat this as a mantra. My subconscious has found her Nikes, and she's on the starting blocks.

"Anyone would think you didn't want me to catch you."

"I don't. That's the point. I feel about punishment the way you feel about me touching you."His entire demeanor changes in a nanosecond. Gone is playful Christian, and he stands staring at me as if I'd slapped him. He's ashen.

"That's how you feel?" he whispers.

Those four words, and the way he utters them, speaks volumes. Oh no. They tell me so much more about him and how he feels. They tell me about his fear and loathing. I frown.

No, I don't feel that bad. No way. Do I?

"No. It doesn't affect me quite as much as that, but it gives you an idea," I murmur, staring anxiously at him.

"Oh," he says.

Crap. He looks completely and utterly lost, like I've pulled the rug from under his feet.

Taking a deep breath, I move round the table until I am standing in front of him, gazing into his apprehensive eyes.

"You hate it that much?" he breathes, his eyes filled with horror.

"Well... no," I reassure him. Jeez - that's how he feels about people touching him?

"No. I feel ambivalent about it. I don't like it, but I don't hate it."

"But last night, in the playroom, you... " he trails off.

"I do it for you, Christian, because you need it. I don't. You didn't hurt me last night.

That was in a different context, and I can rationalize that internally, and I trust you. But when you want to punish me, I worry that you'll hurt me."

His gray eyes blaze like a turbulent storm. Time moves, and expands and slips away before he answers softly.

"I want to hurt you. But not beyond anything that you couldn't take."



He runs his hand through his hair, and he shrugs.

"I just need it." He pauses, gazing at me with anguish, and he closes his eyes and shakes his head. "I can't tell you," he whispers.

"Can't or won't?"


"So you know why."


"But you won't tell me."

"If I do, you will run screaming from this room, and you'll never want to return." He stares at me warily. "I can't risk that, Anastasia."

"You want me to stay."

"More than you know. I couldn't bear to lose you."

Oh my.

He gazes down at me, and suddenly, he pulls me into his arms and he's kissing me, kissing me passionately. It takes me completely by surprise, and I sense his panic and desperate need in his kiss.

"Don't leave me. You said you wouldn't leave me, and you begged me not to leave you, in your sleep," he murmurs against my lips.

Oh... my nocturnal confessions.

"I don't want to go." And my heart clenches, turning itself inside out.

This is a man in need. His fear is naked and obvious, but he's lost... somewhere in his darkness. His eyes wide and bleak and tortured. I can soothe him. Join him briefly in the darkness and bring him into the light.

"Show me," I whisper.

"Show you?"

"Show me how much it can hurt."


"Punish me. I want to know how bad it can get."

Christian steps back away from me, completely confused.

"You would try?"

"Yes. I said I would." But I have an ulterior motive. If I do this for him, maybe he will let me touch him.

He blinks at me.

"Ana, you're so confusing."

"I'm confused too. I'm trying to work this out. And you and I will know, once and for all, if I can do this. If I can handle this, then maybe you - " My words fail me, and his eyes widen again. He knows I am referring to the touch thing. For a moment, he looks torn, but then a steely resolve settles on his features, and he narrows his eyes, gazing at me speculatively as if weighing up alternatives.

Abruptly, he clasps my arm in a firm grip and turns, leading me out of the great room, up the stairs, and to the playroom. Pleasure and pain, reward and punishment - his words from so long ago echo through my mind.

"I'll show you how bad it can be, and you can make your own mind up." He pauses by the door. "Are you ready for this?"

I nod, my mind made up, and I'm vaguely lightheaded, faint as all the blood leaves my face.He opens the door, and still grasping my arm, grabs what looks like a belt from the rack beside the door, then leads me over to the red leather bench in the far corner of the room.

"Bend over the bench," he murmurs softly.

Okay. I can do this. I bend over the smooth soft leather. He's left my bathrobe on.

In a quiet part of my brain, I'm vaguely surprised that he hasn't made me take it off. Holy f**k this is going to hurt... I know. My subconscious has passed out, and my inner goddess is endeavoring to look brave.

"We're here because you said yes, Anastasia. And you ran from me. I am going to hit you six times, and you will count with me."

Why the hell doesn't he just get on with itHe always makes such a meal of punishing me . I roll my eyes, knowing full well he can't see me.

He lifts the hem of my bathrobe, and for some reason, this feels more intimate than being naked. He gently caresses my behind, running his warm hand all over both cheeks and down to the tops of my thighs.

"I am doing this so that you remember not to run from me, and as exciting as it is, I never want you to run from me," he whispers.

And the irony is not lost on me. I was running to avoid this. If he'd opened his arms, I'd run to him, not away from him.

"And you rolled your eyes at me. You know how I feel about that." Suddenly, it's gone

- that nervous edgy fear in his voice. He's back from wherever he's been. I hear it in his tone, in the way he places his fingers on my back, holding me - and the atmosphere in the room changes.

I close my eyes, bracing myself for the blow. It comes hard, snapping across my backside, and the bite of the belt is everything I feared. I cry out involuntarily, and take a huge gulp of air.

"Count, Anastasia!" he commands.

"One!" I shout at him, and it sounds like an expletive.

He hits me again, and the pain pulses and echoes along the line of the belt. Holy shit...

that smarts.

"Two!" I scream. It feels so good to scream.

His breathing is ragged and harsh. Whereas mine is almost non-existent as I desperately scrabble around my psyche looking for some internal strength. The belt cuts into my flesh again.

"Three!" Tears spring unwelcome into my eyes. Jeez - this is harder than I thought -

so much harder than the spanking. He's not holding anything back.

"Four!" I yell as the belt bites me again, and now the tears are streaming down my face.

I don't want to cry. It angers me that I am crying. He hits me again.

"Five." My voice is more a choked, strangled sob, and in this moment, I think I hate him. One more, I can do one more. My backside feels as if it's on fire.

"Six," I whisper as the blistering pain cuts across me again, and I hear him drop the belt behind me, and he's pulling me into his arms, all breathless and compassionate... and I want none of him.

"Let go... no... " And I find myself struggling out his grasp, pushing him away. Fighting him.

"Don't touch me!" I hiss. I straighten and stare at him, and he's watching me as if I might bolt, gray eyes wide, bemused. I dash the tears angrily out of my eyes with the backs of my hands, glaring at him.

"This is what you really likeMe, like this?" I use the sleeve of the bathrobe to wipe my nose.

He gazes at me warily.

"Well, you are one f**ked-up son of a bitch."

"Ana," he pleads, shocked.

"Don't you dare, Ana me! You need to sort your shit out, Grey!" And with that, I turn stiffly, and I walk out of the playroom, closing the door quietly behind me.

I clasp the door handle behind me and briefly lean back against the door. Where to go?

Do I runDo I stayI am so mad, angry scalding tears spill down my cheeks, and I brush them furiously aside. I just want to curl up. Curl up and recuperate in some way. Heal my shattered faith. How could I have been so stupidOf course it hurts.

Tentatively, I rub my backside. Aah! It's sore. Where to goNot his room. My room, or the room that will be mine, no, is mine... was mine. This is why he wanted me to keep it. He knew I would need distance from him.

I launch myself stiffly in that direction, conscious that Christian may follow me. It is still dark in the bedroom, dawn only a whisper in the skyline. I climb awkwardly into bed, careful not to sit on my aching and tender backside. I keep the bathrobe on, wrapping it around me, and curl up and really let go - sobbing hard into my pillow.

What was I thinking Why did I let him do that to meI wanted the dark, to explore how bad it could be - but it's too dark for me. I cannot do this. Yet, this is what he does, this is how he gets his kicks.

What a monumental wake-up call. And to be fair to him, he warned me and warned me, time and again. He's not normal. He has needs that I cannot fulfill. I realize that now.

I don't want him to hit me like that again, ever. I think of the couple of times he has hit me, and how easy he was on me by comparison. Is that enough for himI sob harder into the pillow. I am going to lose him. He won't want to be with me if I can't give him this.

Why, why, why have I fallen in love with Fifty ShadesWhyWhy can't I love Jose, or Paul Clayton, or someone like me?

Oh, his distraught look as I left. I was so cruel, so shocked by the savagery... will he forgive me... will I forgive himMy thoughts are all haywire and jumbled, echoing and bouncing off the inside of my skull. My subconscious is shaking her head sadly, and my inner goddess is nowhere to be seen. Oh, this is a dark morning of the soul for me. I'm so alone. I want my Mom. I remember her parting words at the airport, Follow your heart, darling, and please, please - try not to over-think things. Relax and enjoy. You are so young, sweetheart, you have so much to experience, just let it happen.

You deserve the best of everything.

I did follow my heart, and I have a sore ass and an anguished, broken spirit to show for it. I have to go. That's it... I have to leave. He's no good for me, and I am no good for him. How can we possibly make this workAnd the thought of not seeing him again practically chokes me... my Fifty Shades.

I hear the door click open. Oh no - he's here. He puts something down on the bedside table, and the bed shifts under his weight as he climbs in behind me.

"Hush," he breathes, and I want to pull away from him, move to the other side of the bed, but I'm paralyzed. I cannot move and lie stiffly, not yielding at all. "Don't fight me, Ana, please," he whispers. Gently, he pulls me into his arms, burying his nose in my hair, kissing my neck.

"Don't hate me," he breathes softly against my skin, his voice achingly sad. My heart clenches anew and releases a fresh wave of silent sobbing. He continues to kiss me softly, tenderly, but I remain aloof and wary.

We lie together like this, neither saying anything for ages. He just holds me, and very gradually, I relax and stop crying. Dawn comes and goes, and the soft light gets brighter as morning moves on, and still we lie quietly.

"I bought you some Advil and some arnica cream," he says after a long while.

I turn very slowly in his arms so I can face him. I am resting my head on his arm. His eyes are flinty gray and guarded.

I gaze at his beautiful face. He's giving nothing away, but he keeps his eyes on mine, hardly blinking. Oh, he is so breathtakingly good-looking. In such a short time, he's become so, so dear to me. Reaching up, I caress his cheek and run the tips of my fingers through his stubble. He closes his eyes and exhales slightly.

"I'm sorry," I whisper.

He opens his eyes and looks at me puzzled.

"What for?"

"What I said."

"You didn't tell me anything I didn't know." And his eyes soften with relief. "I am sorry I hurt you."

I shrug.

"I asked for it." And now I know. I swallow. Here goes. I need to say my piece. "I don't think I can be everything you want me to be," I whisper. His eyes widen slightly, and he blinks, his fearful expression returning.

"You are everything I want you to be."


"I don't understand. I'm not obedient, and you can be as sure as hell I'm not going to let you do that to me again. And that's what you need, you said so."

He closes his eyes again, and I can see a myriad of emotions cross his face. When he reopens them, his expression is bleak. Oh no.

"You're right. I should let you go. I am no good for you."

My scalp prickles as every single hair follicle on my body stands to attention, and the world falls away from me, leaving a wide, yawning abyss for me to fall into. Oh no.

"I don't want to go," I whisper. Fuck - this is it. Pay or play. Tears swim in my eyes once more.

"I don't want you to go either," he whispers, his voice raw. He reaches up and gently strokes my cheek and wipes away a falling tear with his thumb. "I've come alive since I met you." His thumb traces the contours of my lower lip.

"Me too," I whisper, "I've fallen in love with you, Christian."

His eyes widen again, but this time, with pure, undiluted fear.

"No," he breathes as if I've knocked the wind out of him.

Oh no.

"You can't love me, Ana. No... that's wrong." He's horrified.

"WrongWhy's it wrong?"

"Well, look at you. I can't make you happy." His voice is anguished.

"But you do make me happy." I frown.

"Not at the moment, not doing what I want to do."

Holy f**k. This really is it. This is what it boils down to - incompatibility - and all those poor subs come to mind.

"We'll never get past that, will we?" I whisper, my scalp prickling in fear.

He shakes his head bleakly. I close my eyes. I cannot bear to look at him.

"Well... I'd better go, then," I murmur, wincing as I sit up.

"No, don't go." He sounds panicked.

"There's no point in me staying." Suddenly, I feel tired, really dog-tired, and I want to go now. I climb out of bed, and Christian follows.

"I'm going to get dressed. I'd like some privacy," I say, my voice flat and empty as I leave him standing in the bedroom.

Heading downstairs, I glance at the great room, thinking how only hours before I had rested my head on his shoulder as he played the piano. So much has happened since then.

I have had my eyes opened and glimpsed the extent of his depravity, and I now know he's not capable of love - of giving or receiving love. My worst fears have been realized. And strangely, it's very liberating.

The pain is such that I refuse to acknowledge it. I feel numb. I have somehow escaped from my body and am now a casual observer to this unfolding tragedy. I shower quickly and methodically, thinking only of each second in front of me. Now squeeze body wash bottle. Put body wash bottle back in rack. Rub cloth on face, on shoulders... on and on, all simple, mechanical actions, requiring simple mechanical thoughts.

I finish my shower - and as I haven't washed my hair, I can dry myself quickly. I dress in the bathroom, taking my jeans and t-shirt out of my small suitcase. My jeans chafe against my backside, but quite frankly, it's a pain I welcome as it distracts my mind from what's happening to my splintering, shattered heart.

I stoop to shut my suitcase, and the bag holding Christian's gift catches my eye, a modeling kit for a Blahnik L23 glider, something for him to build. Tears threaten. Oh no...

happier times, when there was hope of more. I take it out of the case, knowing that I need

to give it to him. Quickly, I rip a small piece of paper from my notebook, hastily scribble a note for him, and leave it on top of the box.

I gaze at myself in the mirror. A pale and haunted ghost stares back at me. I scoop my hair into a ponytail and ignore how swollen my eyelids are from the crying. My subconscious nods with approval. Even she knows not to be snarky right now. I cannot believe that my world is crumbling around me into a sterile pile of ashes, all my hopes and dreams cruelly dashed. No, no don't think about it. Not now, not yet. Taking a deep breath, I pick up my case, and after placing the glider kit and my note on his pillow, I head for the great room.

Christian is on the phone. He's dressed in black jeans and t-shirt. His feet are bare.

"He said what!" he shouts, making me jump. "Well, he could have told us the f**king truth. What's his number, I need to call him... Welch, this is a real f**k-up." He glances up and doesn't take his dark and brooding eyes off me. "Find her," he snaps and presses the off switch.

I walk over to the couch and collect my backpack, doing my best to ignore him. I take the Mac out of it and walk back toward the kitchen, placing it carefully on the breakfast bar, along with the BlackBerry and the car key. When I turn to face him, he's staring at me, stupefied with horror.

"I need the money that Taylor got for my Beetle." My voice is clear and calm, devoid of emotion... extraordinary.

"Ana, I don't want those things, they're yours," he says in disbelief. "Please, take them."

"No Christian - I only accepted them under sufferance - and I don't want them anymore."

"Ana, be reasonable," he scolds me, even now.

"I don't want anything that will remind me of you. I just need the money that Taylor got for my car." My voice is quite monotone.

He gasps.

"Are you really trying to wound me?"

"No." I frown staring at him. Of course not... I love you. "I'm not. I'm trying to protect myself," I whisper. Because you don't want me the way I want you.

"Please, Ana, take that stuff."

"Christian, I don't want to fight - I just need the money."

He narrows his eyes, but I'm no longer intimidated by him. Well, only a little. I gaze impassively back, not blinking or backing down.

"Will you take a check?" he says acidly.

"Yes. I think you're good for it."

He doesn't smile, he just turns on his heel and stalks into his study. I take a last lingering look around his apartment - at the art on the walls - all abstracts, serene, cool... cold, even. Fitting, I think absently. My eyes stray to the piano. Jeez - if I'd kept my mouth shut, we'd have made love on the piano. No, f**ked, we would have f**ked on the piano.

Well, I would have made love. The thought lies heavy and sad in my mind. He has never made love to me, has heIt's always been f**king to him.

Christian returns and hands me an envelope.

"Taylor got a good price. It's a classic car. You can ask him. He'll take you home."

He nods in the direction over my shoulder. I turn, and Taylor is standing in the doorway, wearing his suit, as impeccable as ever.

"That's fine, I can get myself home, thank you."

I turn to stare at Christian, and I see the barely-contained fury in his eyes.

"Are you going to defy me at every turn?"

"Why change a habit of a lifetime?" I give him a small, apologetic shrug.

He closes his eyes in frustration and runs his hand through his hair.

"Please, Ana, let Taylor take you home."

"I'll get the car, Miss Steele," Taylor announces authoritatively. Christian nods at him, and when I glance around, Taylor has gone.

I turn back to face Christian. We are four feet apart. He steps forward, and instinctively I step back. He stops, and the anguish in his expression is palpable, his gray eyes burning.

"I don't want you to go," he murmurs, his voice full of longing.

"I can't stay. I know what I want and you can't give it to me, and I can't give you what you need."

He takes another step forward, and I hold up my hands.

"Don't, please." I recoil from him. There's no way I can tolerate his touch now, it will slay me. "I can't do this."

Grabbing my suitcase and my backpack, I head for the foyer. He follows me, keeping a careful distance. He presses the elevator button, and the doors open. I climb in.

"Goodbye, Christian," I murmur.

"Ana, goodbye," he says softly, and he looks utterly, utterly broken, a man in agonizing pain, reflecting how I feel inside. I tear my gaze away from him before I change my mind and try to comfort him.

The elevator doors close, and it whisks me down to the bowels of the basement and to my own personal hell.

Taylor holds the door open for me, and I climb into the back of the car. I avoid eye contact.

Embarrassment and shame washes over me. I'm a complete failure. I had hoped to drag my Fifty Shades into the light, but it's proved a task beyond my meager abilities. Desperately, I try to keep my emotions banked and at bay. As we head out onto 4th Avenue, I stare blankly out of the window, and the enormity of what I've done slowly washes over me. Shit - I've left him. The only man I've ever loved. The only man I've ever slept with.

I gasp, and the levees burst. Tears course unbidden and unwelcome down my cheeks, and I wipe them away hurriedly with my fingers, scrambling in my bag for my sunglasses. As we pause at some traffic lights, Taylor holds out a linen handkerchief for me. He says nothing and doesn't look in my direction, and I take it with gratitude.

"Thank you," I mutter, and this small discreet act of kindness is my undoing. I sit back in the luxurious leather seats and weep.

The apartment is achingly empty and unfamiliar. I have not lived here long enough for it to feel like home. I head straight to my room, and there, hanging limply at the end of my bed, is a very sad, deflated helicopter balloon. Charlie Tango, looking and feeling exactly like me. I grab it angrily off my bedrail, snapping the tie, and hug it to me. Oh - what have I done?

I fall onto my bed, shoes and all, and howl. The pain is indescribable... physical, mental... metaphysical... it is everywhere, seeping into the marrow of my bones. Grief.

This is grief - and I've brought it on myself. Deep down, a nasty, unbidden thought comes from my inner goddess, her lip curled in a snarl... the physical pain from the bite of a belt is nothing, nothing compared to this devastation. I curl up, desperately clutching the flat foil balloon and Taylor's handkerchief, and surrender myself to my grief.

End of Part One

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