Well, sorry I haven't updated in forever! I know you guys probably hate me by now for not writing anymore, and I know this doesn't even come close to making up for it, but here's the next chapter, and I hope you like it! Read and Review! And thank you for your patience, and your continued hope that this story WILL be completed. Someday.
DISCLAIMER: I OWN NOTHING! Except my own ideas. We all know this.
I got back to the tent completely out of breath, and with his laughter still ringing in my ears. Now that I was away from him I realized just how horribly I had conducted myself. Not as a soldier would have, nor even a normal male, but as a shy little girl getting admonished for being found with her hand in the cookie jar. I was disgusted with myself.
Finding Rose and Alice already asleep when I entered, I sent up a silent prayer that they hadn't thought to follow me, and climbed into my own bedroll. Sleep took me directly, and I found myself washed away on the lulling tides of exhaustion.
"Are you ever going to move?" I heard his voice again in my dreams, felt myself leaning against him once more. "On second thought," I heard him start again, "don't. I like the feel of you against me."
His murmur sent tingles down my spine, and his breath on my ear had my dream legs ready to buckle.
"Uhnn…" It was all I could manage with his arms encircling me the way they were, his lips on the back of my neck taking up all of my concentration. I didn't even know his name, nor did he know mine. Even in my dream something about it seemed wrong; and yet so very right at the same time.
Abruptly my dream ended, and Alice stood in its place, demanding I get up and ready for the day ahead of us. I groaned and sat up, groggily rubbing away the grime of sleep. Looking around me I realized it was barely past dawn; outside the air would still be cold, though the breakfast would be warm. I got myself out of my roll, and dressed, and the three of us departed to the clearing where yesterday we had caused such a riot.
To my vast relief, neither Jasper nor Emmett had decided to accompany us to the breakfast line. Even so, my breath came in nervous, shallow spurts. I scanned the gathered assembly of soldiers quickly, my gaze moving intently to each of their faces in turn; I found myself trying in vain to locate my commanding officer before he could locate me, and I ducked behind the largest soldier near me when my searching eyes lit upon his imposing figure. Alice turned to look my way, a question in her liquid blue eyes. Rosalie never my saw my ungainly lunge to invisibility, too focused was she on picking out Emmett from the crowd. Finally, just as her upper lip began to quiver in her signature pout, a booming voice easily recognized sounded from farther up the line. She moved as if to walk forward, and then paused, obviously weighing in her mind the dangers of the situation. With a sigh she turned back to Alice and I, and her gaze slid to the ground as her thoughts enveloped her.
The shouts of an army in the morning are both raucous and impolite, as we discovered while we stood petulantly in that sweaty line of men waiting for food. Body parts were discussed openly, and no details were spared. Alice's eyes widened perceptibly when the second man from our own spot in line began a long spiel on the abnormal bruising he had discovered near his ballocks while bathing and Rosalie inhaled sharply in surprise when she overheard one of the lieutenants shouting about his latest womanly conquest to his companion. Too slowly, or so it seemed, the line moved inexorably forward, a human river with no dam to stop it. After what seemed like hours the three of us were handed steaming bowls of oatmeal, a teaspoon of brown sugar, and a cup to fill with water while we ate.
"Aaron! Rayne! Isaac!" I heard our fake names called over the din the men were making as they pushed and shoved each other from their chairs. I glanced to my left, lifting my gaze from where it had been previously rooted to the ground, and was met with the sight of Jasper and Emmett waving us to their table. Alice and Rosalie immediately turned on their heels and made a beeline for the seats offered to them. Slowly I trudged after them, keeping my eyes down while I slipped clumsily through knots of cranky men. Not until I was a mere table length away did I slide my eyes upwards once more, and the sight that met them was almost enough to send me running in the other direction as fast I could. Where before the place where he sat had been blocked by soldier after soldier, row after row, now the extra body sitting with Emmett and Jasper could be clearly seen. Though I didn't turn and run I did stop walking forward, silently berating myself for losing sight of him in the crowd, and when Alice and Rose noticed they too stopped and glanced at me questioningly. I shook my head, a silent plea for them to ask nothing of my unusual behavior, and mouthed that I would meet them at the training yard. Another quick glance in the direction of the table as the two of them turned to join the men showed me that the Captain had not yet noticed my presence, and I took this chance to slip away while watching him covertly. His back was straight, discipline etched in every line of his sinuous form. The bronze color of his hair shone like a polished penny in the morning sun, and even though I could not see them I had the feeling that his emerald eyes wore a diamond shield, his thoughts barred to world. The way he ate, slow and measured, showed both an inner confidence and a quiet vigilance over his troops. Every now and then he would comment on something or other that Emmett or Jasper said to the others, but he was otherwise silent, and I knew without knowing how I knew that he was looking for someone specific. That thought spooked me, more than the realization that I was attracted to this man could ever have done, and I half ran half stumbled away from where everyone else dined, preferring to consume my rations in the tranquil solitude that the shelter of a weeping willows branches offered.
I knew the exact moment that the three of them began their walk over to our table that something was off. I looked to where Jasper and Emmett sat eagerly awaiting the arrival of these three men and wondered how they could have so easily forgotten the reason for the brawl yesterday. Though it was unusual in and of itself I trusted their judgment on such matters, and was satisfied that my troops were once again on friendly terms. I lowered my eyes back to my cereal, blowing on the hot oats before I lifted them to my mouth, and surreptitiously glanced once more at the approaching soldiers from the corners of my eyes. If they were surprised to see the commanding officer sitting with his soldiers, these two soldiers in particular, at first they gave no sign. The tallest, Rayne if I remembered correctly, spared hardly a glance for anyone on his way to the table, breakfast held tightly in both hands. Lithe and attractive, he was uncommonly handsome, almost too feminine in build to handle what the army, and the war, would surely throw his way. The shortest was fast on his heels, black hair flattened to his head, most likely from sleep. He too had the feminine grace the other showed, and a pair of unsettling sky blue eyes that could be used to his advantage, were he trained correctly. As the commanding officer of this garrison of troops, I knew there was another one, a third musketeer if you will that they were never without. Raising my head just a fraction, I worked to keep my eyes focused straight ahead of me, all the while watching intently from my peripheral vision for the one they called Isaac to make his appearance. As he finally broke through the throng of men shielding him from sight, I found my struggle not to watch outright intensify. The most handsome, and yet somehow still the most feminine of them all, Isaac was also the man who had started the brawl yesterday, the man who had publicly wrapped himself around his blonde companion, and the man who had leaned against myself without seeming to realize it just last night. He walked slowly, and I found myself wondering absentmindedly if he was sick. When he looked up from the ground and took in the occupants of the table, his slow shuffle stopped completely, and the other two turned to question his abrupt halt. I watched silently, all the while filling and refilling my spoon with oatmeal, as they conversed quickly and Rayne and Aaron proceeded to join us at the table, Isaac slipping covertly away from the noise and bustle of the breakfast area to sit beneath the drooping branches of a willow tree not far off. I exhaled, adding a comment here and there to the mundane conversation going on around me, and sent up a silent prayer that I had only to endure this for another few minutes before training would begin. Scanning the tables thoroughly one last time, I rose and walked quickly to the water-filled tub in which the bowls were to be placed once empty. Mildly curious as to why Isaac had disappeared, I entertained the thought of interrupting his solitude and disconcerting him once again. His reactions, so different than those I expected of most men, amused some inner part of me that had not been completely washed away from years of bleak hours spent training my mind and body. Before I could let myself be overcome by this strange want, one of my subordinates came running towards me, barreling through groups of laughing men with no regard to their outraged yells.
"Captain!" He was panting and sweat trickled from his brow and collected on the fabric of his dirty green army shirt. "Captain!" When he reached the place where I was standing I began to notice details I had previously missed, the cuts and tears in the cloth of his pants, the threadbare state of his shirt under all the grime, the worn and fraying soles of boots that had once been sturdy. Suddenly, alarm bells rang inside the confines of my mind, and I snapped around to face him completely, all other thoughts but those that centered on listening to this man burned from my mind by a numbing sense of foreshadowing.
"What news do you bring Sherwood?" I demanded harshly, my voice unfamiliar and raspy to my own ears; I could hear the tinge of fear that crept into it, the note of impatience as Sherwood gasped and struggled to force air through burning lungs. He looked ready to collapse. I remembered sending him out now, to where the real war raged near Georgia. The enemy hadn't yet been able to take any of the southern states, nor the western, though the north was being slowly and surely overrun.
"The First General…..the First General has…has…fallen." His gasps prolonged the bad tidings, and I swore vehemently several times before he was able to continue with his message. By now, half the men at the tables had stopped what they were doing and were listening with strained expressions to the conversation I held. I glared at them, fire in my eyes, and focused my attention back on Sherwood just as he began to speak again.
"There were too many of the rebels for our men to defend against. Before the end of the first day we struggled to keep their men at bay and managed to hold on until reinforcements could be moved from Atlanta to where the battle was taking place along the border. The reinforcement's gave us the time we needed to evacuate the nearby cities and towns of their women and children, grandparents, and household pets. Before a week was out, our numbers had been desecrated to no more than three hundred men, and the First General had been killed in the last skirmish. With our forces diminished we were forced to backtrack, and we lost ground, along with the northernmost cities in Georgia. The new First General sent me back to tell you that your troops need to be trained as quickly as possible, without leaving out anything. Once that is done, he has commanded me; you are to take your troops up to the forefront. The battle will be yours as soon as you can make it to the war zone, but for now they will hold as long as they can."
The shock I felt whip through me at these words was incredible. My stomach tightened, and threatened to heave its contents back from where they had settled. I felt my eyes narrow into miniscule slits as I peered angrily around the breakfast area, taking in the way these men held themselves, the undisciplined way in which they eavesdropped. I was unsure in that moment that I had what it would undoubtedly take to make these men into soldiers ready to fight and die for their country. The doubt lasted no more than a moment. I may have been the youngest Captain General the army had seen in two hundred years or more, but I was not unconfident in my abilities. I had been chosen for this position for a reason, and I would make sure these men became soldiers to be proud of. I estimated the time it would take me to work them, mold them, into suitable warriors, and knew that I had to work fast. Training times would double, meals times would be shorter, sleeping times would have to stay the same, or no one would still be alive enough by the time I was through with them to fight. Two weeks then, that's all we could afford to take for training. I sighed and called sharply for my first Lieutenant, and when he appeared before me I rattled off the new times I had decided upon, and the new orders that were to be carried out. "Immediately," I growled to him, and let my eyes flash their signature warning as he pushed away from me and back into the crowd to post them at the camp notice board. I flicked my eyes one last time to the confines of the willow tree, and watched as the green ropes of its branches slid apart deftly and Isaac slipped out. He stared warily around and when he saw that I was no longer at the table, made his way toward his companions without another thought. I smiled a tight lipped smile filled with grim satisfaction as he sat himself down, laughing in my mind that he would spend no more than a few minutes with his friends before they would all be traipsing out onto the training field. There would be no time for conversation then, and no breath with which to make it. I almost let myself feel pity for these men around me, some larger than others and obviously out of shape. They would feel the burn of their muscles being taxed to their limit more keenly than most. As I walked away from where the men talked excitedly about the messenger's warning, I steeled myself for the long day ahead and allowed my mind to wonder how Isaac and the others would fare. I quickly shut down that train of thought, afraid to ask myself about my newfound curiosity for that group and for one soldier in particular.
Silently I slipped back into the crowded space where the men sat, looking around for the table, and people, whom I'd left behind. Breathing a sigh of unparalleled relief when I saw that the Captain was no longer there, I dashed toward them and took a seat, breathing hard from the small exertion I had forced my body to make.
"Bell-I mean Isaac!" Emmett's enthusiastic shout upon seeing me arrive next to them had me glaring at him in anger. If he couldn't even bother himself to make sure he used the names we had come up with, how was this ever going to work?
"Shhhh!" I hissed. I glanced warily around our table as men sauntered to and fro; they chatted excitedly about only men knew what.
"Why didn't you sit with us at breakfast….Isaac?" That was Jasper, perched comfortably on the hard wooden seat of the breakfast table. He lounged against the edge, legs sprawled, as if he weren't in the presence of three respectable women from a respectable town. Looking around me I realized that most of the men still sitting had positioned themselves likewise. I scowled in irritation that I had been offended by his lack of manners, when clearly he was just being a man among men.
"What was the Captain General doing with you?" I spat back, and was surprised at the vehemence in my tone. I saw through my peripheral vision Alice and Rose staring at me in veiled amusement, their eyes sparkling with untold mischief. I hadn't told them of my encounter with the overconfident Captain last night, but they had been witness to the scene the first day of our arrival, as had the entire camp and they had yet to let me forget my "queerness."
Jasper's mouth quirked up at one corner as he answered and I knew he felt the amused waves rolling off of Alice. They had been scarily in tune to one another since the day they had met, and Rose and Emmett were no different. Though whereas Jasper and Alice's connection needed no words to convey the depth of it, Rose and Emmett's relationship was nowhere near a silent appreciation of one another and the feelings they shared.
"He has been sitting with us since the very first day of our arrival," He told me casually. I let my next question be read through my eyes. Jasper always picked up on those kinds of silent signals, and I wanted to know just how close Jasper and Emmett had become to the man in question.
"When we got here that first day," he went on, "we had no idea where to go. Should we find someone to show us to a tent? Or should we tell someone that we had arrived very first thing? Neither of us could decide, and so we looked for someone to ask, but the men we found always wore the confused expressions we were sure we had on as well. Halfway across camp, near the training area, we ran into the Captain General practicing his swordsmanship with his First Lieutenant. We, or at least I, stared in dumbstruck fascination. He moved like water, flowing smoothly from one form to the next. But he was like a lion too, deadly in his litheness, and he seemed to know it. Seemed to know exactly how he intimidated people. We watched for what seemed like hours as they parried and struck and parried and released. I found myself wanting to learn and was just opening my mouth to speak when he twirled and dislodged his opponent's sword from his hand. It thudded dully to the ground, and he turned to face Emmett and myself, seeming to question our being there with his eyes. I have to say that I was intimidated, greatly. Even Emmett, standing behind me, had no words to fill the silence that ensued. 'Well? Why are you standing there like a brainless buffoon trapped between a rock and a panther?' Those were his first words to us, and with them the enchantment that had ensconced us while he fought was pricked like a bubble, and it shattered the chains that bound our mouths closed. Suddenly, and with no thought to the consequences, I laughed, and Emmett laughed with me though the general's mouth tightened into a straight line. 'We just got here,' I explained 'and we have no idea what we're supposed to do first.' His eyes seemed to lighten a little then, and he stalked over to where we stood and shook our hands. His grip was firm and I knew right then that he was good man; a man with a grip as firm as his and with the ability to look you right in the eye while shaking your hand confidently has to be good. He told us he'd help us to register ourselves, and then take us to our tent, and on the way we struck up a conversation with him. He asked about our homes, our families, how old we were, the basics really. I told him about Alice," here he stopped to look longingly over his shoulder at her, and I had to cough to bring him back to reality. "Right. Anyways, I told him about Alice and my parents, and Emmett told him about Rose and his parents, and then we both told him about you, of course. Since then he's sat with us here for our meals, though he hardly ever talks. We don't know much about him, except for his name and his station here in the army. That's all I can tell you."
I looked at Jasper then, really looked at him. Not as a brother, but as a man, and knew that he would support this…this…Captain General with all he had as long as he was able to keep the people he loved safe. If the general never allowed the war to spread any farther west, Jasper would follow him into certain death should he see fit to lead them to it in the course of the battles to come. I sighed ruefully and managed a small smile, and when Jasper grinned back I knew he understood my silent promise. I wouldn't make trouble for the general if he didn't try to make trouble for me. I wouldn't sit away from my friends, my family in everything but name, because I wanted to avoid him. I would accept his presence within our group with quiet acquiescence, and no complaints.
"So," I managed to make my mouth work again, and the words came out uncomfortably, stumbling on my dry tongue and skipping out through cracked lips. "What is his name?"
Emmett burst out in gut-wrenching, breath heaving, eye watering peals of laughter at my grudging question. Rose smirked knowingly at his side, and Alice sent me a discreet thumbs up from behind Jasper's back. I sat up straighter as I waited, knowing Jasper would prolong this as long as he could, but just as he opened his mouth to give me the answer I needed, another voice boomed menacingly from the loudspeakers attached to the pole next to the breakfast tent, silencing everyone with its first words.
"All soldiers, and I do mean ALL soldiers will report immediately to the field where your training will commence. I have two weeks to make you into the best soldiers America has ever seen, and you lot need all the help you can get. Dump your breakfast utensils in the washbasins at the ends of your tables, and get up here quickly. I will not wait for stragglers. If you are late, or if you refuse to show up, you will be punished before the entire camp. Do not try my patience, it will get you nowhere."
The loudspeakers went silent, and for the first few seconds after the announcement all was silent as every soldier there digested the information. Two weeks. We have two weeks. In the split second it took that thought to penetrate and the next, benches were being overturned in the haste every man showed to get to the training field. I was rooted to ground, and couldn't make my feet move even if I'd wanted to. The others started forward, and I felt myself being pulled along. When I regained my own footing and stumbled forward on my own, I found Jasper looming next to me, smiling encouragement, knowing I would need it. Suddenly his brow creased and his reassuring smile turned instead to a lopsided grin, wicked in its amusement.
"His name," he yelled over the noise to me, "is Edward. Edward Mason."
I marched forward, my stomach threatening to bring its contents back into the world, and wondered why I'd ever thought joining the army was a good idea.
Edward Mason. Hmm…Edward Mason. Edward Too-Cocky Over-the-Top Silent-as-a-Tree Deadly –with-a-Sword Mason. Maybe this wouldn't be TOO bad. Maybe I would make it through training. I smiled shakily at my friends and broke out of the breakfast tent into the bright morning sunshine. There was a slight breeze, and birds sang in the trees on the edges of camp. I lifted my head higher and sauntered confidently towards where my destiny would begin.
And then again, maybe I'm completely wrong.
Thank you for reading this story! I hope you like it, and I'm open to anything you guys have to say! Thank you again, and remember to read and review! I hope to update again sometime this week, so stay tuned for chapter eight!