A/N Hey everyone! I am aware that the last chapter had a lot of errors. I tried to give you guys an update, both without a Beta and a proof reader installed on my word processor and classes starting. Sorry if it was hard to read. I will revise and repost chapter 16 as soon as possible. Thanks

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Edward took a steadying breath; for if not, his head might as well have exploded. There were now so many cards on the table, and in order to keep Bella safe, he would have to anticipate Victoria and James' moves when it seemed as if they held all of the aces.

"Where's Jasper going?" Bella's careful voice led him from the consuming thoughts.

"He's going to follow James and make sure he was bluffing when he threatened that Victoria was coming after you," Edward answered.

He could only hope that it was all an act to scare and drive them into fear. With fear came panic, and with panic came mistakes, and Edward knew Victoria would try to capitalize on it. But Edward could not make another when Bella was concerned.

"Why would she come after me?" Bella looked up at him, and it was an effort not to take her and fly far away. But then he would doom Jasper and Alice, not to mention all the people he governed.

So he only nodded to his study as he opened the door, "Because you're close to me and that makes you a target." Edward went quiet when he saw how Bella paled. Well, at least he knew she was still human because only an idiot would underestimate a pair like Victoria and James.

But Edward was done underestimating. Every move he made from now on would have to be infinitely more calculated than the last. And the more he looked at his mate, the more he knew he was going to have to do something he never wanted to. He was going to have to risk Bella's happiness for the sake of her safety ... and send her home.

"Would you like anything to eat?" He asked quickly. Edward sometimes forgot that Bella had needs; human needs.

"No thank you," she answered, but was wary to keep her eyes from him as she sat down. Her gaze was confused as she took in the clutter of the study. Usually, Edward liked to keep it neat and tidy, but the past two chaotic weeks of trying to find loopholes to the curse had created a mess.

His magic recoiled at the idea alone, and it was an effort not to groan. He had only just taken the brunt of his magic back from James, but not nearly all of it. Edward wondered if the male even noticed it was gone. But then again, he doubted that.

Only one saddled their entire life with power like Edward's, knew what it felt like to be rid of it. But to be comepletley honest, he had forgotten just how much it took from him. It took brain power to keep it regulated, and strained muscles to retain each surge of emotion.

And right now, he was scared. Beyond the façade he was keeping up for Jasper and Bella's sake, he was terrified of what was going to happen to his friends.

The sheer force of the magic the Gods granted him was immense, and he wished more than ever he knew why they did. Beyond his guilt and stress that was the third portion piled right on top. And he desperately needed to let some of it out.

And as he hurriedly took a seat far away from Bella's own power, he let out a sigh of his mist. Immediately, his muscles relaxed, and his chest eased. And that invisible weight lifted.

"Is that you?"

Edward looked at Bella. Her face was drawn in confusion, just when he felt his mist drag across her skin.

"You can feel that?" he asked. She somehow felt his magic testing her own to see if she would recognize it; recognize him.

She was silent as his mist shifted around her on its own accord. The power was like a living being. Edward had forgotten that if he allowed it, his magic could make its own choices. And apparently, it chose Bella.

"Why can I feel it, but not see it?" Bella asked as she silenced a shiver. Edward would have killed to be able to peer inside her head again; to know if what she felt, might very well be the mating bond.

But it was impossible. When he left Bella's thoughts only minutes ago, he had built a magical wall behind him to stop any other intruder from entering.

Even himself.

"I don't know." Edward said as he glanced to his palms, but he had an inkling of why she sensed it, "Most of the time I have to make a conscious effort for someone to see the magic I emit. Otherwise, it's undetectable, except to the people that are…closest to me." He saw how her eyes had drifted wider as she absorbed his words. But if she understood what he was insinuating, she didn't reveal the fact.

So he carried on,

"Before Victoria took most of my power, I would let a little of it filter out naturally, since it could cause stress to keep so much of my magic bottled up inside. And now that you know I'm not just High Lord of rainbows and sunshine," she scoffed at that, which made a small smile appear on his own face, "—I suppose I have fallen back into the habit. But I don't know how you can feel it with your human senses," She must have been growing into her own power. That was the only solution.

If Edward had any time, he would research connections between mates that held magic. But it was so rare for High Fae to find their equals, let alone Fae such as Edward. Power like that was only created a few times in the universe. So he had an inkling his and Bella's bond would be one fit for the history books.

Bella simply tilted her head towards a map of their lands, "Is this your continent?"

Edward nodded; waiting for her to ask what she really wanted. Because her brows were drawn and her jaw was clenched; which usually meant another inquiry was on its way.

And sure enough, she asked, "Earlier, I heard a voice in my head ... and it wasn't my own." Her eyes flicked to him, and he swallowed in preparation for the answer.

"That was me," he said tightly. And he recoiled, waiting for the words that usually came after that admission: monster or freak, he had heard it all before.

But his mate remained calm. Although he saw the betrayal seep into her eyes.

"How long have you been in my head? Can all of you read a human's thoughts, or is that just a little trick that the High Lords like to abuse?" She asked; her voice turned to ice.

"No. It's a rather—rare gift," he explained, but her lips upturned at his choice of words.

"Gift?" she scoffed, "People on the other end probably wouldn't call it such."

"Bella," he laid his hands flat on the table, but he could practically hear her teeth grinding, "I promise you that was the first time," purposely, that was, "—I would never do it if your safety weren't a concern. The only reason I did was because James can see into minds too."

She blinked suddenly, "What?"

"Even as weak as his power is, he could have easily let himself in if your thoughts projected themselves strongly enough. That's why I told you to think bland thoughts, or else he would have sensed how intense your fear was and been able to enter." He watched her face lose tention, but he could tell the idea of mind readers still irked her.

And Edward was unable to glance warily to her palms where he sensed her magic coming to a boiling point. Now was as good a time as ever for her power to make an entry since the most powerful emotion was usually anger. Every Fae in history had their powers surface during a fight.

But Bella took a grounding breath before she asked, "Let himself in?" her head cocked in pure ferocity. And Edward got to peer into the window of what she might have been if she had been born immortal like them. Bella might have even been more powerful than Victoria herself, able to take out the witch in one fell swoop of flames. "Did you just let yourself into my mind again? Was it that easy?"

"Yes."

Her eyes widened in fury, and he rushed his hands up in defense as he saw then and there, that Bella was powerful. In her anger, Edward saw how she was about to burst from it. He swore her eyes turned liquid, and perhaps this was his real penance for all sins he had committed over the centuries and that he would pay when she erupted and created his own pit of hell.

But Edward also wondered if he would even want to save himself and not just stare in pure wonder as she burnt down his entire world.

But still, Edward wavered before answering, "But that can change. I can teach you to build a defense against people like me. With practice, you can learn to shield your mind completely." It would take time and a lot of frustration, but he knew she would catch on quickly with Jasper as her tutor.

"You could have told me," she rumbled low, and his eyes went to her hands. He half expected them to be whirling with balls of flame. But they were nothing but flesh and bone.

"If you knew, you would have run for the hills," Edward said honestly. He saw in her eyes how she agreed. "Either way," he continued when she seemed to have calmed a bit, "We have a lot to discuss."

She gave him a soul-peering look, "Like how you are High Lord of two courts? I still don't understand how that's possible."

"It's possible because of my mother's lineage." Edward's eyes went to the map before them, and Bella followed.

He rolled his shoulders before beginning. Edward so wanted to tell her the whole story, but he knew they simply didn't have time.

Victoria was probably already hatching a plan that would be catastrophic to their world. But all of that could wait. His mate needed to know what Edward was made of: the good and the bad, the sympathetic and perhaps the not so sympathetic things he had done in his lifetime. But no matter what, he wanted her to know what contributed to the male he had become.

"My mother was from the Night Court, a very powerful faerie, but a nobody when it came to the family name," he said softly as he stood, and he sensed how Bella's mood suddenly eased. But as he spoke, he was careful to keep his eyes on his mother portrait. Because if not, he might tell Bella what he promised he wouldn't.

"When she met the Lord of the Spring Court, they were on a mission of commerce between the two courts. And when the High Lord saw my mother, he knew—"

"They were mates," Bella finished.

Edward's eyes flashed to where she sat behind him, and it was as if his soul melted. Just her speaking the words made something inside him clench; it was a sickening feeling to know what she would never be privy to. But he would not tell her in light of what he was about to do.

Nevertheless, Edward carried on.

"They were married a month later, and my mother gave birth to my two older brothers within fifty years of being bonded," his attention went to his father's portrait, but Bella remained silent.

"Faeries having even one child within a century is unheard of, let alone two within such a short time. And then and there, the High Lord saw my mother was…special. And to celebrate such a rare gift as two male heirs, he threw her a ball."

The more Edward explained, the more he felt his shoulders tense. The history of how he was born was dirty and shameful. But it was something the Gods had created with their owns hands so he could do what he was meant to.

He remembered the words his mother told him when she revealed the truth: that no matter what shame she committed, she did not regret her choice. She did not choose some bond or unworldly feeling ... she chose her own happiness.

And with one look at Bella, Edward knew why what his mother did was so powerful. It might have been a strange magic that bonded Edward with a human, and even if he loved Bella with all his heart, Bella also needed to choose him, too.

"The ball was supposed to be a formal apology to my mother. Because you see, the High Lord, in his greed to keep my mother's strength a secret, had locked her away," Edward was putting it lightly. He didn't want to speak of the cruelty his mother had to endure.

"As a child, I saw how The Lord of Spring drove my mother to her death. By treating her as a possession rather than a partner, it broke her heart."

"Why would he do that to his own mate?" Bella asked forcefully.

Edward blinked, "So that no one could see she was more than just the wife of a High Lord, but a High Lady," he finally turned to Bella, and his throat swelled as he spoke, "She was equally as powerful as her mate and more. They could have built a dynasty together and bettered the world, but he was too scared that my mother would be stolen away." Edward was speaking to Bella at that moment: his deepest truth and greatest fear revealed under the disguise of a story.

If he were brave enough, he would explain to Bella that his instincts were telling him to hide her. But beyond what he felt, he would not become his father.

"Is mating really more about possessing a person than anything else?" Bella asked.

"No." Edward huffed, "For some, but definitely not all." He resigned with a sigh before he ended the story of how he became.

"But evidently, the ball wasn't enough to win my mother over. The betrayal from her mate was too immense."

"What did she do?" Bella was on the edge of her seat now.

"She stayed, of course." Edward shrugged, "But in her heart, she could never forgive her mate. But the night of the ball, it so happened that she encountered her childhood friend from home. He was now a grown male and High Lord of the Night Court. And he was someone who was understanding when others were not. And so, when he made certain—advances towards her, she did not refuse."

He turned to look at his mate, and Bella slowly receded into her seat. But her eyes were saddened. And with one look, Edward's heart softened to know that she was just as deserving as his mother. Bella deserved to make her own choice too.

"I know what you're thinking: and yes, the mating bond is strong. But my mother was betrayed in the deepest of ways, and I don't blame her for turning to another." He turned back to Bella, and she only nodded.

"No, I don't either," Bella finally spoke, "But if she had relations with the High Lord of the Night Court, does that mean…"

Edward leveled his chin as she trailed off, "What I have just told you, only a few people know."

But more importantly than that secret; only Jasper and Alice knew that Edward had also found his mate. But instead a happy ending, he was going to have to leave his own story. The tale of the beauty changing the beast could never have the resolution he wanted.

"I am their son." Edward said instead, "The true heir to the Night Court."

He drank in Bella's reaction, and only after she swallowed whatever thoughts she had, she asked, "Does James know?"

"He, including Victoria and everyone else, think my mother was the lost daughter of a once High Lord of the Night Court, and that's why I have the claim to both thrones. When in actuality, I have no right to the Spring Court. Only Jasper, Alice, and few others know the truth."

"Others?" Bella quirked a brow, as Edward realized what he had let slip.

Emmet and Rosalie, his closest friends in the Night Court. He liked to think they survived Victoria's siege of his home. But it seemed as though the witch had taken it all.

Edward still managed a smile, "Yes. They are my close confidants, currently living in the Night Court and running it in my absence."

He had trusted them with everything. The two were the first of his father's people that he met when he visited the Night Court. And instead of viewing Edward as some outsider, they welcomed him with open arms.

And now, Victoria had killed them too.

And that's what led Edward to his decision soon after James revealed the master plan.

"But Bella, that's not all," Edward admitted with a heavy sigh.

She sat up a bit straighter, but her face fell when she met his eyes.

Pain and regret.

If only Edward had been smart enough to see what the witch had been planning. He knew Bella was the key to it all when he saw her as an infant, and he should have left her alone.

But Edward was blinded as soon as he knew there was someone out there who perhaps could understand him. And that selfishness had made Edward fall right into Victoria's plan.

But no more.

"Tell me," Bella ordered. And if it was possible for someone to convey so much fire in her eyes, she could. And like the coward he was, Edward only turned his gaze away when he said, "I have to send you away."

There was a swallowing silence between them. It was so dark that he thought it would gobble him whole. But then Bella gathered herself.

"Why? Have I done something wrong? Have I—" Bella sputtered, and his heart broke knowing she blamed herself first.

"No Bella, no. Listen to me," His hands went to her on pure instinct, and he clenched down on the magic that sought to ease her pain. He would take every bit of it if he could.

"I see now that I've kept you here beyond your will," he explained even as her face crumbled slightly, "I thought you would be safer with me—" Edward stopped the thought in its tracks. What he had hoped, and what was actually possible were two different things.

So he said instead, "For you to live here; away from a family that didn't appreciate or protect you, that's all I ever wanted. But I can't keep you safe anymore. James will tell Victoria, and they will take you," he finished.

Bella only looked into his eyes; pleading with her dark gaze, and what she saw in that cursed blackness, the Gods only knew.

"Do you get to make the choices for me now?" Bella suddenly pointed at the line of portraits that hung on the wall and Edward had no idea if she was talking to him or his father. But either way, he and the Lord of Light had both betrayed their mate in their own way.

Edward's nostrils flared, "I will not cage you like some bird and convince myself it's for your safety," He said under his breath. He would sooner build his own bars than have her live in risk of Victoria's grasp.

"But you're okay with forcing that decision on me?" Her eyes narrowed, and Edward waited for Bella to finally break past her human skin and roast him right then and there. But even if he couldn't bear sending her away, he couldn't endure Bella living in fear.

So he rolled his shoulders and the anger dissipated. All his life, he knew that his path was most likely leading him towards this. No matter how he prayed for something else, it seemed as though the Gods had fated him differently. His mother knew it, and perhaps even his father did. And now he would have to face it.

"Don't you understand? You're not safe here." Edward beseeched even as Bella's breathing had turned heavy. And she only continued to look at him with those wide eyes, "So I'm sending you back home for the time being," he said with a heavy heart.

"For the time being, not forever?" Bella clutched at his sleeve to make him look at her, and Edward made himself spit out the lie.

"For the time being," He answered softly, but he turned before she could read the falseness in his eyes, "Tomorrow morning, we head out."

"Tomorrow?" Bella choked, "We're leaving that soon?"

"Yes, I don't want to give James or Victoria any more chances to surprise us again."

"How—how long do you think I'll have to stay?" Bella seemed scared to ask the question. And he had never imagined it would be this hard to lie to her.

Edward glanced over his shoulder, "Until this is over."

"When will that be?" She whispered. And Edward couldn't even answer that question. And as he steadied her shoulders with his hands, he saw the defeat in her eyes. And his own façade nearly broke.

"At the most, a year" he forced a smile across his lips, "Then you can get back to causing us endless trouble." Even if he never saw her again, Edward could never forget those scheming eyes and devilish wit.

They would follow him into the afterlife and beyond.

She gave him a reluctant smile, "I'm not giving up, even if you are," She returned. But there was still a tightness behind her words; a feeling that only followed Edward as he left his mate to face his fate.

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As Edward awoke, for perhaps the last night time in his bed, the reality of his life hit him like a raging storm. He was taking Bella back home. And after that, he would give himself to Victoria in exchange for everyone's lives; a worthy cause.

So he packed his bags in a trance. And when he felt Jasper's presence in the doorway, it was an effort to look him in the eyes.

"So, is this goodbye, then?" Jasper asked with folded arms, "Did you tell Bella what you're really doing?"

Edward simply handed the sentry a piece of sealed parchment. "When Bella is safely settled, give that to her." he looked down just as Jasper did, "It explains everything. The mating bond, what Victoria threatened to do and what I did to make sure that never happened. Promise me, you'll give it to her when the time is right?"

Jasper nodded solemnly, "Bella said she's not giving up on you, and neither am I. I hope you know that, even when Victoria tells you differently, we'll be trying to save you like you saved us."

Edward took a deep breath to silence his emotions, and instead offered his hand, "It's been an honor serving as your High Lord. But I will always see you as my brother."

Jasper ignored the handshake and embraced him instead. It was quick, but it eased a bit of the pressure that was building in Edward's chest.

"This is not goodbye." Jasper blinked, his face serious in a way Edward had never seen it before.

Edward didn't answer. He didn't have the energy to tell Jasper not to waste his time. He only grasped his friend by the shoulder as they walked down to the foyer together.

"Do me a favor and make an honest woman of Alice," Edward murmured to Jasper as they waited for Bella. He could hear her and Alice's emotional goodbye, and he couldn't bear to listen anymore.

Jasper quirked a curious brow, "What do you mean?"
"Even if I've been busy, you think I haven't noticed you two sneaking off?" Edward gave Jasper a knowing look, and his friend only shook his head with a laugh.

"My family will think it's unsuitable," Jasper grumbled.

Edward handed him another piece of sealed paper. Jasper glanced down before taking it hesitantly.

"Give this to your father," Edward said, "It's a written blessing from me." Jasper blinked as he explained, " It says how only you can rule the Spring Court in my stead, and I want Alice by your side." Edward smiled when Jasper's eyes grew wide, "And if your father doesn't consent to the marriage after that, then his approval means nothing anyhow."

Jasper's eyes had gone a bit watery, "Edward, I don't know what to say."

"Just promise me you'll be happy and forget about all of this. Forget about me," Edward said.

Jasper opened his mouth to answer, but by then, he heard her enter the hall.

Alice gave a knowing look as Edward finally glanced to Bella. She was wearing the gold dress he had gifted. And even if he couldn't see color with his cursed eyes, he knew Bella looked like the sun itself. But he swallowed those feelings away; remembering he would eventually have to say goodbye to her.

"Ready to go?" Edward did his best to give a smile, but there was no energy behind it.

Bella nodded. And as she turned to Jasper with wet eyes, the sentry just gave her a stern look in return, "See you soon?" he asked seriously, but Edward knew Jasper was doing his best to hold back his own sadness.

Bella's lips wobbled slightly at his words, and Edward had to look away.

"See you soon," she affirmed to the sentry. And Edward's chest swelled when he watched Jasper pull his mate into a tight hug. The depth of the life he was taking away from Bella made more guilt rush him like a wave. But a life away from them was just that…A life.

Edward glanced to see Alice watching wistfully, and he got a glimpse of what happiness he could have had with his friends.

But his fate and his dreams were paths not meant to cross.

"I'll hold you to that. I still expect to take you hunting sometime." Jasper teased, and Bella took a careful step back as she then looked to Edward. He saw the strength in his mate, but she would need further help if either of them were going to leave.

So Edward put a gentle hand on her back and wordlessly led her outside. Waiting for them were two horses, already packed with their bags. But he had a feeling the tension from their goodbyes would follow them long past the gardens.

"I hope you don't mind but—" Edward started, but Bella was already disputing.

"You can't be serious. I'll fall off!" Bella gave him a stern look, and he thanked the Gods for the hint of normalcy. Even if he knew she was upset about it, he had forgone a carriage for good reason. Something so loud and extravagant would no doubt get them noticed by unsavory people.

"You could always ride with me again?" Edward shrugged, but Bella clamped her mouth shut a moment later and mounted her horse the next.

"I'm sorry Bella," Edward said as soon as she settled into the saddle. She looked over to him, "I never meant for it to happen like this."

"But it did," she said solemnly, "And whatever you think, or whatever you're not telling me, I will work every day to figure out, and then I will find you again. " He was shocked silent as they towards the woods. It was a sad statement more than an angry one; and as they rode into the wilderness, Edward was doomed to stare at the one thing that would be the most difficult to lose.

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They had dreadful weather. Edward had hoped the Gods would at least grant them a good journey, but the clouds had formed, and their travel was made more dreadful than it already was.

Bella was silent the entire time. Edward couldn't tell by the weight of her shoulders which one, but he knew it was something. He didn't blame her, he knew better than most that goodbyes were never easy. It seemed as though he could do nothing right. No matter how much he wanted to keep Bella safe, he was doomed to do nothing but disappoint her.

By the time they reached the inn where they were going to stay for the night, he himself was exhausted from the cold rain; he could only imagine how tired Bella was.

"How are you feeling?" he called up to her as they steered their horses into the nearby stables. The horses seemed grateful to get somewhere dry, not to mention how happy he knew Bella would be to get out of their soaking wet clothing.

"I'm thinking that Jasper could have taken me home ... but you are instead," she narrowed her eyes at him as he only looked past her towards the inn.

"I'll take care of this, you go inside and get warm," he offered as she walked around him with a knowing gaze that made his stomach drop.

Bella was more determined than he gave her credit for. But she could never find out what he was planning, or else she might do it herself.

He only gave a heavy sigh as he watched her go, as well as the many stares she got from the few patrons that were smoking outside.

They had at least gotten well past the Spring Realm into the human one, only another day's ride from her home. But the danger was not yet out of sight, and it only made Edward's teeth grind to see how men leered at Bella, and that he would never be there to protect her from them or from Victoria.

But he shut down the thought and only made quick work of the horses. Bella could handle herself if he went through with the plan.

So before pulling his cloak over his head, Edward hurriedly entered the place where they would have their last night together.

The inn they were staying at was just a glorified pub that just also happened to have a few rooms for rent upstairs. It was filled with dirty men and a few women, who no doubt earned their living with their bodies. It was the last place he wanted to bring Bella, but it was also their only option.

He found her instantly. She was seated on a stool, and surprisingly, had an ale in her hand and was sipping away at it quietly. So after he saw she was in no immediate danger from a lustful onlooker, Edward felt content to leave her alone a moment longer to find the clerk.

"A room please," Edward asked from under the shadow of his cloak. The last thing he needed was someone realizing he was from the Fae realm and cause an uprising. The relationship between the two worlds was complicated and messy, and he was determined not to mess it anymore.

"We have one room left; I assume a single is okay," The clerk barely grumbled, "Here's your key, don't lose it, or you'll have to pay for it," the man eyed him warily when Edward had yet to move.

"I need a double," Edward asked as nicely as he could, but it was more like an order. "Please," Edward added a second later when the man had yet to answer.

"That's funny, friend. But I suggest you take what I give you before someone else does." The clerk motioned to the several couples that were moving a little too vigorously for it to be categorized as dancing.

"Fine," Edward grumbled to the grumpy human and swiftly joined Bella at the bar. Thankfully she was still alone.

"Nice place, eh?" he murmured low, and Bella merely looked at him before glancing towards the several pairs of drunkards and harlots. And when her eyes landed back on him, she merely shrugged,

"Forgive me if I'm not in the mood for jokes right now," she said dryly.

"All right," Edward said a bit too brightly, "I got us a room if you want to change into something dry," Edward nodded to the creaky set of stairs, "And I'll bring us some dinner."

Bella only clenched her jaw.

Since they had left, there had been nothing but blank stares and silent answers. Perhaps he had taken and taken so much from Bella that she had nothing left to give.

No, she would survive after this, even if it took her a while.

She would get over him.

Thankfully Bella gave a forceful nod as she took the key from his hand. Sparks followed from her touch and spread up his arm. He was used to it now; how even her touch could make his skin ignite in heat.

Edward gave a glance to the couple who were full out groping each other in the corner before turning his attention to the bar.

"Your hottest meal please, and quickly," Edward ordered the tender; who barely nodded before setting a tray of bread and stew in front of him. Apparently, none of them wanted to deal with a stranger.

He couldn't blame them.

"Thanks," he grumbled. This would be he and Bella's last meal together. He had once prided himself in guessing what she wanted each breakfast, but he had the inkling some mystery stew was the last thing she wanted now.

But either way, it would grant them the energy they needed to move on tomorrow. The day he would undo all that he had done, while returning Bella to where she belonged.

He swallowed the emotion that again rose. The entire trip he had been silencing his thoughts and pushing down his feelings for her. But in the back of his mind, a voice was screaming that Bella belonged with him, not with her family.

But he pushed on, barely able to ignore the uneasiness in knowing that tonight he was going to have to sleep in the same room as his mate .

He found the room easily; all Edward had to do was follow Bella's scent, and he was in front of a door that barely fit under the low ceiling. He had to duck his head and situate the tray before he could even knock.

Bella answered quickly, and he sent out one last hope to the Gods that the room would at least be spacious. Because after a day of travel and frustration, his magic had several ideas as to how they could relieve the stress.

But if he was in the same space as his mate, for perhaps the last time in his life, Edward would enjoy only her company.

But he gulped when he saw the size of the room.

It was a joke.

There was barely space for one bed, and dresser pushed in the corner of the attic ceiling. Did he mention there was only one bed? A bed that currently held his damp, cold mate who was dressed in his clothing as she waited for him with shivering shoulders.

"This was all I could manage from the cook since the kitchen is closed. Don't bother asking what's in the stew, but at least it's hot," he glanced down to the tray before quickly setting it down on the bed.

Edward backed away a moment later but was unable to stop from watching how she scooted closer before ripping a piece of bread to place into her mouth. "Thanks," was all she said, and he watched her as she hummed as chewed. He was going to categorize this moment, even if he had pushed her away to the point of not talking.

All of it was too domestic; them sharing a meal together in a close space as she wore his clothes. It was as if the Gods were mocking him with a future they might have had.

"Well, I guess I know why they laughed in my face when I asked for two beds." He glanced around before bending to his pack, "There's barely room to stand in here."

Bella surprisingly laughed through her food, "I guess I got my wish after all." If there wasn't a bite to her tone, he could be led to believe she wanted this.

He just said, "I can sleep on the floor."

"Nonsense. I wouldn't do that to you. We can share," she offered lightly, and Edward hung his head with a sigh. Did she not know what that would do to him? The mere fact that she was warming to him made his knees weak to her every demand.

"Okay," he barely answered, "I just have to change first." He wished he could have used his magic, but he didn't want to run the risk of Victoria sensing it, and having a way to track him to the human realm.

But even if he couldn't change in one snap, and Bella was watching his every move, he was desperate to get out of his old clothes. Edward felt how his cloak clung to his back even through the two layers underneath. And one small comfort, even if he would be in agony all night with his mate lying next to him, was that they would at least be dry and warm.

But as he shed his pants first as his cloak covered him completely, the room…changed.

He glanced over his shoulder after he unbuttoned the cloak to change his shirt and Bella was watching closely.

"I'm sorry," she said huskily, "I just don't know when I'll see you again. And I—" she pressed her lips shut as his arms froze mid-motion. It was such a strain on Edward to be leaving her that he didn't bring into account how much she would miss him too; maybe perhaps as much as him.

And if she meant it or not, Bella's eyes had turned dark, and her mouth hung open slightly. It made him shiver knowing she liked what she saw. And as he continued to undress, it was an effort to forget the weight of her gaze.

Because Edward felt the tension between them; it was radiating from her just as it was from him. But as he pulled on a dry shirt and she looked away, he silently scolded the side that wanted to wrap her in his arms.

They could not be intimate now. Bella deserved more than a male that deserted her a moment after they took everything she offered.

But his mouth went dry just thinking of holding her against him even if it was only for warmth, it would be heaven.

And he remembered their kiss, it felt like eons ago, and it had been just yesterday. And no matter how he tried, Edward could not ignore he wanted to do it again.

But he cleared his throat instead, "I take it that the stew wasn't too bad?" Edward looked to her bowl that was almost empty before taking a seat at the end of the bed. He was forcing conversation to forget the heat between them.

But it did not dissipate.

"It was actually kind of good once I stopped trying to guess what was in it," she shrugged with an enchanting smile and Edward laughed quietly. It was a relief to see how her shoulders lightened.

So they continued to eat in silence. Hunger and the chill forcing them to hoard their food like starving men. But through it all, Edward still saw how Bella sipped her wine a little too willingly. Either it was to fill her belly with more warmth, or something else…Until eventually they had finished their meal with nothing left between them but space.

Edward looked at the tray like it was the last real defense between them. And now that it was gone, it meant they would have to go to sleep.

Together.

And even if he did sleep on the floor, Edward would still be able to hear her every shift, every breath as Bella dreamed away. Even that would be too much.

"Well," he offered, "We both have a long journey tomorrow, we should probably get as much sleep as we can." Edward removed the tray and placed it on the dresser. And he heard her pull back the sheets, the sound filling his mind as he turned to her.

Bella just looked at him with her big eyes, and no words had to be spoken for him to understand what she wanted.

One last night; one last moment together for her to hold.

And he couldn't help but give it to her.

It was a comfort to know that one thing would never change: he would always be weak to that face. And as he joined Bella under the sheets, he ordered himself that it would be the only request he granted her that night.

Nothing more.

But then she started shivering.

"You're still cold?" he joked half-heartedly.

"That's what happens when a human gets wet and has no way to stay warm," she whispered in reply, and he wondered what she was insinuating.

And damn him for giving in…again.

"Come here then," The words left his lips before he had the hope of stopping them. And before he let the moment go tense, he added, "It's just body warmth, Bella, nothing else."

Lies.

It was everything to him to have her fall asleep in his arms.

"But you emit the cold," her wavered voice answered. But she shifted a bit to test it, and he sucked in a breath.

"Just come here," Edward clamped down on the leash of his self-control one final time, and at the same moment, he let his magic run free. He willed it to be as warm as a summer breeze, "You'll be surprised."

The only sound was their breathing as she scooted her back to fit his chest. And he could have growled at the Gods for making her mold so perfectly against him.

Bella only sighed softly as she melded into his chest that much more. And all he could do was close his eyes when she tucked her feet under hers.

Gods help him.

But the beast inside him only snickered. Because his mind had long forgone its seat as captain.

"Now, isn't that better?" he cleared his throat rather forcefully.

Bella hummed in agreement, and he looked over to see her eyes closed and her face soft.

But Edward was anything but.

As he drank in the sight of her slightly damp hair and slender neck, her scent settled around him and called to his magic. Gods, everything about Bella made his mind spin and his self-control strain against the leash that held it. And he swore he felt Bella's fire magic ebb in response.

The wicked thing.

As Edward glanced down, he realized that he had somehow wrapped his arms around her without noticing. And now that he did notice he realized that he was holding her shoulders and lower abdomen, a sudden rush went straight down to his groin.

It was the worst kind of hell; to be finally doing something he had dreamt of, only for the sunrise to take it all away.

And suddenly, the beast he hadn't heard speak since yesterday, was beginning to plant ideas in Edward's mind. Like if he leaned in and placed a kiss on her neck, would her breathing hitch? But he was jolted out of his mind by Bella's voice.

"A thought for a thought. I want to know what you're thinking back there," she asked. And the lilt in her voice alone told Edward she was probably smiling.

"I thought you were angry with me," he said, deftly moving past what he was really thinking.

"Even if I am, I can still see you're only trying to protect me like you always do for everyone you care about."

Edward swallowed.

"So, are you going to tell me the truth?" Bella asked. Edward was doing his best to think of something; anything to tell her than his real thoughts when her fingers started to trail along his arm that was wrapped around her stomach.

"You know what I'm thinking," Edward finally said.

"Please tell me," Bella shifted slightly. And the feeling of her made his beast rumble deep and true.

Edward couldn't hold on much longer.

"I'm thinking—" Edward splayed his hand in search of her own, and she surprisingly gave it to him "—that I want to do much more than just keep you warm." The words rushed from his chest in a great breath.

And all he could do was wait.

Risk.

All of it was a risk.

Giving into the desire while in the human realm, no less. And in such a tiny space that it could be dangerous for her, and dangerous for every human in a fifty-mile radius.

But all Bella had to do was say the word, and Edward would forget it all.

"What do you think of that?" he asked when all he could hear was her ever-increasing breath. And the voice that left his mouth sounded more like his beast than anything else. Edward didn't quite understand the need that was growing. It had been so long since he had allowed it to.

That was until Bella.

"I'm thinking that I want you too," she finally breathed. And he tightened his arms in agreement. "I think some part of me wanted you from the very first time I saw you," Bella said with finality, and Edward almost let loose a snarl.

Bella gasped when she felt his lips at her ear, and Edward only dragged his mouth down to her neck. Somehow, throughout all of the travel and stress, she would always smell like the sweetest candy and Edward had to close his mouth before allowing himself to bite and taste just for sure.

"What do you want from me?" Edward growled darkly, but it was more like a plea than a question. Perhaps a question for the Gods for tempting him so thoroughly. And he wondered if he was strong enough to refuse the forbidden fruit if she was dangling herself in front of him.

Definitely not.

"If you can't give me everything, give me something," Bella's voice was thick among the darkness, and he heard the strain in her words, "Give me something to hold onto."

Edward felt his phantom heart thud once in response before it went silent. He knew what she was asking; what she was realizing. That if they couldn't be together for an eternity, at least grant each other a taste of it.

So with every ounce of himself, Edward murmured into her ear, "Then allow me the pleasure of giving it to you."