Twilight isn't mine, but my team is amazing:

SueBee0619, Nicffwhisperer & Robsmyyummy CabanaBoy have been my fanfic friends for ages. They're also awesome at what they fanfic do. Thanks & much love, ladies...

When we left off, Bella was... imagining. Anyone think that's what Edward meant when he suggested it? ;-)


Chapter 7

Isabella woke before the cock's crow, having slept longer and sounder than she had in days. She was eager to find her father and inquire about Angela and the new babe, but her primary concerns lay in the barn. She needed to check on her charge and she needed to see Edward.

In fact, feeling more his equal than ever before, Isabella could hardly wait to see the boy again. As awkward as they had left matters between them, she'd lived lifetimes in the interval. She wasn't certain what she'd done as she lay on her sleeping pallet, but she knew what had been accomplished. In mere minutes she had made a days-long, deep ache erupt into a fire so bright that it burnt itself out almost immediately. After days of feeling troubled, she'd fallen into blissful calm she hadn't known since childhood.

Strangely though, just the thought of it all made the restless feeling return. She felt it spreading from below, from where she now knew the little stone lay. Given she had already discerned the answer to her problem, she couldn't keep from solving it once more. In the dim morning light, Isabella discarded her nightgown and stood before her small bedroom mirror, something she had specifically avoided since her body had begun to change. She angled herself so she could see as much of her flesh as possible. The small swells of her breasts were poised above the curve of a narrow waist and the small slope of an abdomen, which led her eyes to where dark brown hair curled, hiding the folds of her sex. Her hips were prominent, her thighs strong. Her fingers flexed, itching to touch, driven not only by desire, but by its resolution.

She rolled a nipple between her her thumb and forefinger and the same shuddering light from last night burst behind her eyelids when she blinked. Her groin ached, and she watched in the mirror as her hand traveled over her abdomen toward the dark hair at the apex of her thighs. With a slight flutter of her fingers and some delicate searching, she found the spot again, rubbed and pressed at the point, and watched her body react. Her chest rose and fell as her breath came faster and stronger. Goosebumps erupted on her arms, her legs went weak and she had to lean against the dressing table for support. Just like last night, she was quickly consumed by a burst of fire that left like an ebbing wave. Like Edward, she had explored new lands, but she'd managed to do it without leaving her home.

After a deep breath which seemed to fill her body down to her toes, her tension released and her mind cleared. Isabella hastened to dress and fasten her hair, and then rushed directly to the barn.

"Edward?" she called quietly as she pushed open the door. "Edward, are you awake? I must-"

Isabella stopped in her tracks, her voice silenced at the sight of Rosalie's open and empty stall. A lonely, bedraggled blanket lay on the trampled straw. Strawberry, Riley and Lord Cullen's gelding each stared at her mutely, if not somewhat impatiently, waiting for their oats and hay, giving away no clues to what had happened. She spotted the mess she and the boy had made last night; a soiled velvet vest littered with bits of weed, the ruined undershirt, the half empty pot of water, and a mortar and pestle covered with hard, dried plantain paste. She picked up what remained of the torn shirt and her body stirred remembering how the boy had swiftly pulled it over his head and given it up in offering, and then later how the rain from her hair had dripped onto his bare chest.

"Maiden, you are awake!"

Isabella spun around to see Lord Cullen quickly approaching, and she offered a hasty, confused curtsy.

The lord shook his head in obvious disapproval, eying the rags in her hands. "Yes, it's all that is left of the garment. It was tied all around that damned mare, like some child playing at being a healer. Would you please bring this up to him?" he asked, holding out a clean undershirt and new tunic. "Perhaps you could also find something for the boy to eat and drink? He is as stubborn as I am, but I am convinced that is where the comparison ends."

"Where are they, my lord?" Isabella asked.

"Your father has been overly graceful, and I imagine I'll have to offer recompense for his land. It will be ruined for food or fowl."

"Would you speak plainly, my lord?" she asked, flustered.

"My girl, I'm sorry. I am simply frustrated we have been waylaid so long, and now for nothing beside a night's passing fancy. My son drowns his sorrows in the farthest portion of your back pasture, still unwilling to leave the beast's side."

"Oh, no! Rosalie has passed? She is gone?"

"If only," Lord Cullen replied, shaking his head in exasperation. "Instead of letting them cart it away for rendering, he intends to bury the beast. He will be digging a week before he can safely inter that rotting sack."

Tears sprang to Isabella's eyes. "Dear heavens! Is he alone out there?" she asked, peering out the door of the barn toward the land they'd left fallow this growing year. She could see nothing beyond golden grasses and the gradual slope of a hill.

"Your father is hence, doing his best at preservation. We have the chill air in our favor, but little else. The boy will not listen to reason."

Isabella plucked the proffered garments from Lord Cullen's hands, offered a perfunctory curtsy, and dashed to the house. Glancing about the kitchen, she tossed apples and dried meat into a sack and ran to the well with large flasks to fill with water. No longer distracted by the world betwixt her thighs, the girl plainly spotted the heavy cartwheel tracks leading the way from the barn to the back pasture. She dashed up the the small hill and finally caught sight of Edward, still topless, bent with a shovel in hand. A cart rested next to him, filled with what looked like mounds of burlap and a large, misshapen lump. Her heavy heart fell into the pit of her stomach and the tears which had been welling trickled like two small streams down her face.

Isabella spotted her father making his way down the embankment. He waved a hand in greeting and hurried his steps, and she ran to meet him.

"Father, was it my fault?" The girl asked frantically, choking back a whimper. "I should have been there with them last night! I should have waited on your return!"

Charles held Isabella at arms' length. "I would have done the same as you, dear girl. You know my medicine well and have proven a very worthy apprentice."

Isabella sniffed and wiped at her eyes. "But still, there she lays, lifeless."

"All life must end, Daughter. The horse came to us afflicted. We gave her days more to spend with the boy. Count it a success - our extraordinary care was more than most would have afforded the beast. From what I have gathered, there is nothing that would have helped her in the state she was in, save a miracle."

Isabella could hold back her grief no more. She quietly sobbed and Charles took her full into his arms, and shushed as he patted the back of her head. The girl let him hold her like a babe, giving herself up to the childish sentiment of mourning the loss of an animal. She wept tears held for too long; tears of loneliness she'd bore with quiet perseverance, tears for her lost youth, and tears for a childhood relationship with her father she could never reclaim. She cried for the broken heart of the lonely boy on the hill, who loved more fiercely than anyone she knew, aside from her father. She cried for her failure, and she cried for the uncertainty of whatever would come next.

She heard shovel meet ground, over and over, steel striking soil, as Edward toiled over Rosalie's resting place. Every strike hurt her heart. Every strike a reminder of something lost that could not be recovered. Isabella only broke from her father's embrace when she heard the rhythmic cadence falter.

Charles glanced over Isabella's head to survey the tired worker on the hill. "I should be off to find him help. The boy means well, but the horse will turn to dust before he can dig a trench deep enough to safely bring her to ground."

Isabella held tight to her father's hands and would not let him leave. "How does Angela fare, father? And her babe? Did they survive the night?"

"Thank the heavens, Angela's fever broke as twilight fell and the babe could finally suckle at her breast. She healed under new starlight, and I felt the peace of your mother's presence with such a blessing."

"Oh, that is good news!" Isabella exclaimed. Flooded with relief for Angela, Ben and their child, tears sprung anew to her eyes. Love had certainly moved Ben; her former friend's actions were a clear demonstration of the depths of his devotion.

"Yes, it is a relief," Charles agreed with a smile. "For it is difficult to raise a child to be as quick-witted and kind without a mother to help mold character."

Isabella shook her head. "I know the purpose of your flattery, dear father. No matter your words, I still failed my charge last night."

"Last night 'twas the horse who required a healer, but today there is another." Charles nodded up the hill to the boy.

Isabella followed her father's gaze. Back at work on the grave, Edward's muscles rippled with every stroke. "He has been minister to me," she murmured.

Charles glanced down at his daughter. "We should talk of your evening spent with the lad. I did not intend to leave you two to your own devices. Now, though, the young lord is in dire need of both a shirt and a friend. There are many ways to bring about healing that need no medicine at all."

Isabella squeezed her father's hand and thanked him with a small smile before he continued toward their home. Brushing the tears from her face, the girl slowly made her way to the young nobleman. As she came closer, she saw Edward wince with every cut of the shovel, perspiration glistening on his chest and arms, and dirt caked along his hairline. He didn't meet her glance as she approached, but knelt over the growing hollow, spent and gasping for breath. His eyes were red and wet with tears, his hands swollen, blistered and bleeding.

She knelt beside the boy and peered into the shallow grave. The task seemed impossible. "Edward?"

He shook his head but didn't reply, concentrating only on the fresh earth before him.

"Edward, I am so sorry Rosalie is gone."

She watched him swallow before he looked purposefully away. His sniffled and shook his head.

"Edward, please, let me help you?" she asked.

"I've only one shovel," he muttered. The boy tossed the tool in frustration and wiped at his face. He cringed as his palm made contact with skin.

"Come now, that is not what I meant, sir,"

Edward chanced a look at Isabella, and she immediately ducked her head, unsettled by the naked pain contained in his eyes.

"It is the only way anyone could help," he replied. "She is gone, and she will be gone forever. It is not something that can be undone with your imaginations."

Edward's words stung, but Isabella attempted to put aside the pain. This latest passing had likely torn at the tender wound left by his mother's death, breaking his heart anew. Her father's suggestion she help the healing process seemed an impossible assignment.

The boy leaned over the grave and gingerly grabbed for the shovel. He cringed and his body shuddered as he took the handle firmly in his hands. Clearly, his heart was not the only piece of him that required mending. Glancing toward her homestead, she watched her father and Lord Cullen as they lingered by the well. The nobleman gesticulated wildly, pointing up the hill in their direction. Recalling his callous words from moments earlier, she knew it best not to bring the boy back to the yard and his father's attention.

"You are wrong, sir. There are other ways I might be of assistance. You cannot dig this grave with those open wounds. I cannot bring back your friend, not even with the powers of my mind, but I might help your hands." She stood and swung the sack over her shoulder. "Take a moment's respite and come with me?" she asked.

Edward looked at her balefully and tried unsuccessfully to blink back tears. His face twisted in sorrow and he bit at his lip as he tried to quash his grief. When he finally dropped the shovel at his feet, the girl took it as a sign he would heed her words and follow.

She led the way over the hill and through the tall trees at the edge of their land, picking her way around the thick underbrush, searching for a path she knew by heart but hadn't travelled in many months. Bright red and orange leaves fell through the air and danced around them, then crunched underfoot as they trudged on. Gradually, a soft, rushing murmur grew to the overpowering roar of swiftly moving water.

"This is where my father would take me to swim," she explained as she led him down to the riverbank and knelt at the water's edge. She peered up at the red-faced lad. "The cold water will relieve your sore hands."

Edward knelt beside Isabella and dipped his hands beneath the surface of the glittering stream, hissing in response to the cold and the sting of water against raw flesh. She wished she knew words which might begin to assuage the pain in his heart as well as she'd known what would begin to sooth the pain in his hands. There was no platitude that would not fall flat at his feet, nothing material she could offer which he could not acquire on his own.

Thinking of Edward's advice from the night before, Isabella attempted to put into words what had led her to this place. She tried to lead with love.

"When I came here as a child I was so strong and so free. You've helped me remember how that feels," she offered.

The girl watched the boy's silent tears fall into the water like spring rain. "While my relationship with my father has changed, the memories of our shared past still exist and bring me joy. Your memories will bring you joy, Edward. You will be led by the love you felt for your beast. I know you loved her. Your love kept you here, your love brought us these past four days. I am ever so grateful for them."

Edward glanced at Isabella with damp, red-rimmed eyes laced with sorrow… and something else - something that made her body quake. He stared at her with tender intensity, so raw and vulnerable she knew not whether to flee or to fall toward him. It tore at her senses and burned her with a heat incongruous to the chilly autumn air. His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat and he licked his lips. The boy smelled sharply of hard work and dusty fields.

And quickly, so as not to leave time for fear to forestall her impulsive actions, Isabella loosened the silken ties binding the bodice of her brocade gown. She eased the heavy cloth from her shoulders and let it fall to the ground. Then, kneeling to quickly unlace her boots, she realized her stockings would also have to go. With deft fingers and a determined tug and tussle, she pulled the rough cloth down her legs and finally freed her toes. The sandy soil felt cold beneath her bare feet. She knew the temperature of the water would be more severe still.

"It is not the ocean's crest at the Sunset Mountains, but this is the closest I might come to granting you your wish."

Taking a deep breath, Isabella charged into the river. After three long strides she leapt into the ice cold current, which nearly shocked her senseless. Her heart tore at her chest like a knife's edge with each beat, while needles pricked every spare inch of her skin. With strong strokes, she swam toward the deepest part of the flow, where a tree trunk had lodged against a rock and she could grab hold and catch her breath.

She was surprised to hear splash from the shore, like a sack of rocks had been tossed into the water. A sack of rocks cannot pant though, and Isabella spun around to see Edward's red face and bare arms as he swam out to meet her.

"What are you doing?" she gasped.

"I don't know," he replied through ragged breaths. "I could ask the same of you."

"You said you'd like to see me swim."

"Ha!" Edward laughed. His smile made her heart flutter, or perhaps it was the freezing rush of the stream. "Well done, then."

"I'm sorry for your loss, Edward. Whether steed or slave, whatever you chose to call her, she was your friend. You gave her the best life you -"

Isabella's words were lost in a surge of river water as the trunk she'd been clinging to broke free from it's resting place, unsettling her footing and pulling her under the rushing stream. She tumbled in the torrent, pelted with pebbles, and struggled to right herself, until two large hands closed on her shoulders and moored her so she could find her footing. Gasping for air, she pushed her hair from her eyes to find the topless boy very nearly holding her in his arms. Isabella gasped and Edward released her immediately, but she burned where he'd touched as if his hands were made of fire. Her breath came heavy as she gazed up at him.

"I told you I would watch until forced to save you," Edward teased, a delightful half-smile settling on his countenance.

How dare he taunt when he'd managed to incite these feelings inside her? In retaliation, Isabella skimmed the stream with her hands, splashing freezing water on his face. Edward shook the water from his head, but held his ground. Emboldened, Isabella lunged and used both arms to send a wave of water crashing over the lad, and with that Edward returned the favor. The two jumped, splashed, and dove, pushing and shoving playfully. Isabella knocked Edward over and pulled him under, where they tussled below the surface amidst air bubbles and the fallen leaves and gravel that were tumbling in the rapid stream. Finally their heads emerged and they gasped for air.

Edward looked lighter, like a weight had fallen from his shoulders and was carried off in the current. Isabella smiled. "I told you I could swim, sir - fish or not."

"I never doubted you, but I did have to save you as anticipated."

"I was not swimming when I slipped!"

Edward laughed and rolled his eyes. "Excuses, maiden."

Now, half in and half out of the water, Isabella shivered. "Fine then! Race you to the shore!" she cried. Their mad dash ended in a tie on the riverbank, with both of them sogging and icy cold. The two gasped, bent, trying to catch their breath, both momentarily overtaken with the shock of overtaxed lungs and a bitter, clinging chill. Edward threw himself on the shore and pushed the hair from his face, and Isabella glanced at the boy and startled. His underclothes clung to him like a second skin. She spotted his britches tossed aside on the riverbank.

Wearing just a soaking slip and undergarment, Isabella remembered she might as well have been naked. She glanced about, looking for her pile of discarded clothing, and tried to step quietly away from the boy to retrieve it. Edward glanced up at the girl, and she stopped in her tracks, frozen like a deer in the face of a bow and arrow. He sat still and she stood, and steam may as well have risen off of the wet ground between them.

"What have I done?" she asked.

Edward took pains to gaze at her face. "My hands no longer trouble me."

The hint of a smile ghosted across her lips at the implication of his joke. "We should get back."

Edward gulped. Neither wanted to be the first to look away.

"I've some clothing for you in my bag," she offered, nodding to the pile further up the shore. Edward slowly rose to his feet and stood before her. Isabella's breath caught in her throat, and she slowly lowered her hands so they hung at her sides.

Voices drifted down to them from the back pasture on her property and, the spell broken, Isabella quickly gathered her discarded garments into her arms. She glanced back at the boy before ducking behind a small stand of evergreens, and then shivered and tried to shake herself somewhat drier.

"Bella?" came the boy's voice from the other side of the trees.

She jumped, startled by his sudden proximity. He stood close enough that she could hear his breathing. "My lord?"

Edward reached his hand around the tree trunks and held his fresh tunic in front of her eyes. "This might work for a towel?"

"Thank you," Isabella murmured, plucking the garment from his hand and quickly retreating further into the foliage. She attempted to ignore his presence as she peeled the icy slip and underthings from her freezing body and dried off as best she could, but velvet is not as absorbant as one might hope. The rubbing did bring blood back to the surface of her skin, and she pinked with the friction and pressure. Her limbs trembled as she struggled to pull rumpled clothing over her damp body. Without her slip, her dress stuck to her uncomfortably, and she struggled to make it hang as it should. With a whimper, she tugged back on her wet undergarments, then pulled on her stockings and tied them to her sodden drawers.

After lacing her boots and repinning her wild hair as well as she was able, Isabella peeked out from behind the trees and watched as Edward tied the neck of his undershirt and readjusted his britches. She glanced at the pile of wet fabric at his feet, confirming her suspicions about what little lay between his loins and the autumn air, and grew warm despite her wet underthings.

Edward turned around shyly to see her peering from behind the tree trunk. His cheeks were red enough to appear near purple and his wild hair was littered with small twigs and leaves.

"You have the forest in your hair," Isabella murmured.

The boy bent and shook his head, ruffling the brilliant mop with his hands. Water and wet underbrush fell to the ground. "Better?" he asked, standing upright, using his fingers as a comb.

Isabella could only nod in reply.

"Your hair is fine," the youth commented, finally fixing her with his gaze. "Almost, maybe."

"Almost?" she asked, coming out from behind the tree. Her dress scratched uncomfortably at her chest and over her ribs as she moved.

Edward blinked and bit his lip, and walked slowly in her direction, coming close enough that Isabella's breathing quickened and her skin pricked. He stood over her as she pressed her body against the tree trunk, feeling quite silly. Gingerly, he extricated a small, golden leaflet from the tresses piled on her head. "Now it's perfect," he murmured with a small smile.

Isabella's heart fluttered. "Magnetite," she murmured.

The boy's smile broadened. "Excuse me?"

"The rocks which -"

"Push and pull at one another," he finished for her.

"You know them?"

"We learned in seminary. What about magnets, maiden?"

"They help my father to heal wounds. Could they be the key to the forces that move the stars? Perhaps it is what I feel pushing and pulling at people?"

"It feels likely," the boy murmured.

"It is a feeling I would like to study further," she replied.

The lad smiled down at her. "No doubt you would solve the riddle."

The maiden took a deep breath, picked up the discarded ball of wet linen at her feet and wrung it dry the best she could. "I didn't fancy a swim when I woke this morning."

"I haven't yet slept," he replied, gazing down at her.

"You should have come for my aid."

The lad stepped away as if suddenly nervous. "You know I couldn't call at your chamber."

Memories of last night flooded her mind; her hair, his chest, his groin, her room, her breast, her hands. And now they stood in the forest, him without undergarments, her without a shift. Their eyes met and tension sprung between them, not close and warm like it had been in the night in the barn, but cold and alarming, as if they had accidentally moved beyond their limits and knew they could not go back.

Once again, a cadre of male voices drifted to them on the chill wind. They both glanced in the direction of the pasture.

"I shall go directly to the house," she said as much to herself as to the boy. "But you require bandages if you are to continue your work." She glanced at the bright turquoise vault overhead. "Meet me at your chamber with the crest of the sun."

The boy's face blanched. Isabella sighed in frustration and shook her head.

"You have let my father's clinic for your stay, sir. It is where we keep the healing salves."

Edward took a deep breath. "Right. Of course." He glanced about for his own discarded clothing. "We should return. Rosalie awaits." Isabella could not help but notice that new tears sparkled, unshed in his eyes.

"I am so sorry for your loss, Edward."

He nodded, looked away, and gloomily snatched his wet underthings from the ground.

Isabella gathered her satchel, offered up the rations she'd gathered in what felt like another lifetime, and then stuffed her own soggy shift inside. She cleared her throat and held the bag open for the boy. He raised his eyebrows in reply. "Please, I've already seen them. And now that they are clean, I may as well hang them to dry."

Edward stepped tentatively forward and dropped his undergarments in with her own. Her hands shook as she began to arrange the bundle on her back, but Edward pulled the package from her hands and swung it over his shoulder instead. "Without a horse, the men would haul the burdens, right?" he asked.

"This wasn't how I aimed to get to our land." She hadn't meant to label the imaginary land as their own, but once spoken it felt comfortable and exciting all at once. And Edward's mouth almost turned up in a smile.

"She is free, nonetheless," he replied, taking the lead on their walk toward the Swan's homestead.

"If we can create worlds with our intention, and we wish Rosalie peace, health and leisure, might our land be your heaven? I would like to believe it so." Isabella murmured.

"But isn't heaven reserved for those with souls?" Edward challenged, glancing over his shoulder at the maiden.

"I am sorry I quibbled with the possibility, sir. She had your heart, so why couldn't she also have a soul?"

A smile broke over the boy's face that seemed to have a direct link to Isabella's chest. Her heart fluttered and beat against her bodice as if it were a bird batting its wings through the underbrush, attempting to take flight.

"You've told me many stories, Edward, but I haven't given you the opportunity to tell me about Rosalie. Would you entertain me with her tale as we travel back to the yard?"

"It would lighten my heavy heart, maiden."

"Then let it be so."


A/N: What next? Where was Carlisle? Did Charles have any idea he was suggesting Isabella wrestle Edward in a river? Edward seemed to man up and actually face Isabella after their swim.

My life has shifted into high gear the past couple of weeks with a new job. This fic may update in 2 weeks. I may try to get out a mini chapter next Friday so I don't leave you hanging. I'll do my fanfic best, but also want to make sure that I can continue to be proud of the words I put on the screen.

Finally, my thoughts are with Iris who usually pimps this fic, but is in surgery today. Hopefully all goes well.

~M