Edward gave my hand a squeeze as he led me away from the grove and we walked hand in hand down a quiet dirt lane. Fenced fields ran on either side of the road, and I could make out flowering plants running along the rails in the soft rays of twilight. The gentle breeze rustling my hair carried the clean scents of plants and dirt, familiar but indefinably different.
As we walked, the night settled over us. There was a softness to the darkness as if the world had a nightlight. The beauty of this new world bubbled over, and I stopped to face a puzzled Edward.
He smiled tenderly. "You are."
"Esgar's so beautiful."
Edward brushed my hair back from my face, resting his hands on my cheeks. "It's so much more beautiful now that you are here, love," he said.
I thrilled at his words, and he gave me a knowing smile as he continued to lead me around a bend in the road. A cluster of thatched roofed, stone cottages came into view. Blooming flowers led to the door stoop of each home, save one.
"Of this group of fellow-cottages, this one is mine," Edward said as he approached the wooden door of the lone, unadorned one. "The lack of flowers denotes my bachelorhood," he said with a small shrug. I felt a wave of Edward's uncertainty wash over me and ran a comforting hand down his back as he led us into his home.
He moved ahead of me to light a lantern illuminating a comfortable main room. Stone walls surrounded a sunken fire pit. I looked up to see a hole in the roof over the pit. The stars twinkled back at me appearing out of focus in the haze of the sky.
Windows embedded in the thick stone walls invited the sweet evening breeze into the cozy home. Like the hole in the roof, there seemed to be no covering to the openings.
It was quiet and peaceful—welcoming.
It was home.
"You're pleased," Edward said.
I smiled as my eyes roamed over the room. "I'm pleased."
Without warning, the magnitude of the day hit me. A wave of longing washed over me with the thought of Mike and Angela—home.
I had gotten up to go running with Mike and had never made it. My day changed dramatically with a glance out my dorm window.
My breath hitched as my vision blurred. Edward gathered me to him as a sob escaped and he brought me to sit on the pillow-strewn floor near the fire pit. He kissed my temple and ran his hands down my hair as he hummed.
"I'm sorry," I said as I calmed.
He wiped my tears with his thumb as his lips lingered on my forehead. "It's been a long, eventful day."
An inelegant snort from me made Edward pull back to look at me.
"Serious understatement," I said with a sniff.
He gave me a shy grin and drew me back to his side.
I ran my hand up his chest suddenly exhausted. "Can we go to bed? I need to shut down and reboot."
With my words, Edward stiffened.
"What?" I said as a fog of unease filled the room.
He slid apart from me, resting our joined hands on the seat between us.
"Things are different here, Bella. We don't have physical relationships but for our forever-bound, and we don't live in the same domicile until we have bonded before the Great One."
I scooted closer and ran my finger over his knuckles. "So why am I here if we shouldn't be in the same house?"
He gave a little huff and pulled me until our thighs touched and set our entwined hands on his knee. "Because I need to know you are safe and being in my presence is the only way to do that."
"Is it unsafe here?"
He weighed his words before answering. "No, but there are varying opinions concerning my travel and what the open portal means and I don't want someone's prejudice hurting you."
I squeezed his hand. "Thank you."
He gave me a squeeze back and sighed as he rested his forehead against my temple. "Stay with me. Sleep beside me," he whispered.
Feeling his struggle for restraint, I nudged him with my shoulder. "Will you behave? I do have my virtue to consider."
I felt him smile against my hair. "I will try, Miss Swan. Might I ask the same of you?"
My body folded toward him without my permission. "I'll try, Edward."
He kissed my forehead and let his lips linger as his warm hands slid the length of my arms. "I think that's the best either of us can hope for, love."
He stood to help me step up from the pit seating. I glanced around for another door or a hallway.
He opened a panel in the wall and pulled out a thick rolled mat, spreading it on the floor along the windowed wall.
"Grab the bedding, please." He threw over his shoulder.
I grabbed the small pile of blankets and helped spread them over the mattress.
He pulled a tunic from a basket in the closet and laid it on the bed. "I'll—um—just step out for elimination as you change."
His eyes twinkled, laughing at my disgust. "So this is what trips the culture shock? We call it a 'necessary' and, yes, it is the same concept of the crude outhouses of your history. The idea of necessaries in your domicile is just as backward to us, love."
I stared after him and with my heart racing and my mind struggling to keep pace, I grabbed the tunic and stepped behind the closet door to wrestle out of my foreign blue jeans and Nikes. The cool linen slipping over my emotionally heated skin soothed and calmed me.
When I stepped from behind the door, Edward was leaning against the wall near the bed. He had on a matching linen tunic with pants very similar to the clothes Elder Carlisle wore. He was so handsome and with the change, seemed to blend into his surroundings—to become a part of this world.
He belonged here. No matter how many clothes I exchanged, I would never belong here. I was a tourist, an interloper.
He held out his hand, and I went to him quickly, needing to reconnect. He was my lifeline tethering me to this planet.
"I wasn't planning for your arrival," he said as he drew me to him. "I can sleep in the fire ring if you would like the bed alone," he added.
I shook my head as his warm touch soothed me. "I want to sleep feeling you, Edward. I—If you're comfortable with that."
His lips arced in a tender smile as his finger ran along my cheek. "I have lain without you many nights, wondering what this moment would feel like. I need to feel you too, love."
I took a breath and nodded.
He took my hand and brought me to the bed, folding back the covers and laying me down with a lingering kiss. Moving to the other side, he slid in next to me, and without hesitation, held out his arms as I rolled to fill them. I rested my cheek on his chest and took the deep settling breath of freshly mowed grass.
"I'm happy," I whispered.
"I'm whole," he whispered back as he kissed my forehead and shifted toward me encouraging me to mold into him. We lay safely cocooned in each other and without another word, we drifted into a contented, dreamless sleep.
The sun's muted glow gently woke me. My heart and mind began to race as memories flooded me and I turned toward Edward as he slept peacefully on his back, his hands resting on his abdomen.
As I watched the soft sunlight wash over the face first seen when framed by a broken car window, the warmth of peace enveloped me. That was what my heart had been searching for—I belonged here; I belonged with him. That thought set my feet on solid ground. As I lay next to my forever-bound, a surety of my place at his side surged through me.
It wasn't long before the morning sounds from the open windows drew me outside to investigate. There were birds in hues of corals, blues, and russets chirping and flitting in a canopy of expansive ancient trees. Although different in species, they were familiar, and this was what was hard to grasp. There were no flying cars, no metropolises. It was as if I had stepped back in time, not across galaxies.
I breathed in the dewy morning air and began looking for the outhouse, finding it to be quite 'necessary' at the moment. It was a clean and roomy stone room with a platform that held a lidded seat. As I sat, I watched the birds in the trees through the open roof. A stack of hemp-like clothes and a bucket of ash sat next to the platform. I used a cloth, dropped it in, and sprinkled ash in afterward. Aromatic herbs perfumed the small room as the ash made contact with the moisture below.
Leaving the outhouse, I crossed a flagstone patio to stand at a split-rail fence dividing Edward's garden from a broad field. My breath caught as I looked at an alien horizon. There were two suns beyond the morning haze, a large sphere looming near and a distant one, half the size of the first.
"I'm not in Kansas anymore," I whispered.
Strong arms wrapped around me from behind as I took a deep, steadying breath.
I leaned into him. "I can't seem to wrap my head around the fact that I'm so far removed from my world—my sky." Looking at the two suns, I took one more stuttering breath as Edward rested his chin on my shoulder, sharing my view.
"Our worlds are very different, that is true. I'm not sure how to help you adjust." he ran a hand over my forearm as he thought. "Perhaps if you pretend you're on vacation it will help your mind to relax," he said with a kiss to my shoulder.
"Wow, what a vacation," I murmured with one more glance at the beautiful, alien skyline before turning in his arms. "Kiss me."
"I love you, Isabella Marie Swan," he whispered against my cheek as he drew his arms tighter and lowered his lips to mine.
Without letting go, he retrieved a ceramic mug from a fence post and handed it to me as he turned me in his arms to face the horizon. I sipped warm, sweet, lemon water and the warmth ran through me.
"Mmm, Not coffee but nice, thank you," I said as I leaned against his chest.
The movement on the pond beyond the field caught my eye, and I watched as dragonflies danced and darted over the water's surface.
"Those are the first bugs I've seen," I said as I took another sip.
His stillness had me turn to see him frowning in confusion, so I continued. "I noticed your house has no windows—or roof for that matter. "What do you do when it rains?"
He gave me an indulgent smile. "It doesn't rain here. We have a mist that arises from the ground in the early morning, and we do have bugs, but they are not the nuisances that you have in your world. They serve the plants and feed the birds.
"Are those dragonflies?" I asked as I point toward the pond with my mug.
He took the cup and grinned over the rim before taking a sip. "Those are not bugs, my beautiful, little Earthling."
"What are they?" I asked as I watched them dip and dive over the water's surface.
"Those are fae gathering their daily water."
"What—like fairies?" I laughed.
"Bella, much of the myths and legends of your world have a foundation of ancient truth. Just because they are extinct on Earth does not mean they never existed."
"Extinct." The word sobered me and hurt to imagine.
Edward leaned on the top rail and watched the small dance over the glassy surface. "From what I have gleaned, the fae succumbed to the effects of your world soon after the portals closed. I believe your people grieved their loss and kept them alive in their stories, passing the knowledge to generations who would never meet their wonder."
He thought a moment. "The fae are acutely attuned to the emotion. Bitterness, hatred, anger affect them on a physical level. On the other hand, they echo back the positive emotions keeping a balance in our world.
I looked out over the water. "So they're like emotional filters?"
"Yes, they are beautiful creatures, Isabella," he said in hushed awe.
"Can I get close to them, meet them?" I asked.
He turned away from the view to look at me. "After we meet with the Council they will come again this evening."
"The Council, do we need to go now?" My heart began racing at the thought.
He ran his soothing hands along my arms. "No, let us eat first and then we will go to the Great Hall and afterward perhaps we can return to the grove, and I can share with you." He kissed my temple and wrapped his arms around me. "There is little to fear, love. You will be here for a year. We need to begin to acclimate you to our ways."
"Okay," I said as I tucked my hair behind my ear. "I guess Pop Tarts are not a breakfast food around here."
He smiled, "No, we have honeyed grains for our morning meal."
"Oatmeal—I could do that."
He tugged my hand and led me back to his house.
My beautiful Bella was here. As she had slept beside me, I felt enveloped by her warmth in my slumber. How many nights had I envisioned this moment?
As we walked hand in hand toward the Great Hall, I felt her mind racing to take in all that was around her. I noticed that she was light-headed from the pure air, and her heart would race with emotion, but she was responding well to the change in atmosphere.
I felt curious eyes on us as we passed fellow-cottages and the penetrating gazes as we passed the Great Woods and drew her nearer to me letting all know she was my forever-bound. There was pride in the movement but also warning.
I didn't want to alarm her, but we were walking into the unknown. In the years I had been returning to Earth many mixed opinions arose—fear ranking the highest. The fear of the unknown could be quite debilitating. I needed to protect Bella, but I needed to protect Esgar, and the Great One's design for us as well.