A/N: This was written as a one shot for the Once Upon a Twilight contest on FF. The story kind of gained a mind of this own and now this chapter resembles a VERY lengthy prolog of the story it has become. :)
View the other entries here: .net/u/2009160/#
Twilight is very obviously not mine.
In the land of Paciwest, in the city of Forkshire, in the deepest part of night, two fairies approached the great guild hall, unseen by human eyes. They were quick little things, going about a fairies' business which tonight included the blessing of a newborn human child.
The fairies flew up the stone walls toward a window, cracked open in the summer heat, on the third floor of the hall, into a bedroom where a couple slept in each other's arms. They smiled down upon the sleeping couple – the guild's goodly leader Carlisle and his wife, Esme – before flitting to the cradle that stood at the side of the bed.
He was awake, but quiet. His deep green eyes seemed to follow the fairies luminescence though he could not yet focus on them. The fairies, no taller than the length of the baby's arms and light as a single feather, came to rest on the child's chest. He offered them a lopsided grin – surprising for a babe only days old.
"He certainly needs no blessing of beauty," the first said.
The second was silent, seeing things in the baby's eyes that had not yet happened, trying to find the right gift. After a moment she smiled and said a few words over the child in an ancient language.
"Fate," the first fairy called out her sister's name in surprise, "what kind of a blessing is that?"
Fate only smiled knowingly, and with a final caress of the child's cheek she flew upwards and out the open window. "A sweet tooth," her sister grumbled, catching up to her quickly. "It's not much of a gift. I hope you know what you're doing."
Again, Fate smiled. She always did.
21 Years On
"Dear, wake up. We're almost there."
Isabella Swan opened her eyes gradually, confused, at first, as to why her bed was rocking and the room was shaking. She blinked rapidly, her brain trying to catch up with the present.
Gradually, she remembered. She was in a wagon shared by several other passengers, including the kindly Mrs. Cope who'd awaken her just now. Mrs. Cope was on her way back to her husband and children in Forkshire. Bella had just left her home of 17 years to go live with her father and, as her mother put it, make her mark on the world.
Bella had been happy where she was, sharing a home in the middle of nowhere with her mother. She'd helped maintain a farm and they had lived off the produce and money from baked goods her mother often carted into town. But, this winter, her flighty mother had met a gypsy. She'd married him in spring and now it was summer. Renee had followed her gypsy, leaving Bella what little money she had accumulated from life and the sale of their land to another farmer.
It had been Bella's choice. Her mother had offered to stay, only seeing her husband when he passed through their part of the world, a few times a year. Seeing the pained look that had passed through her mother's eyes, Bella couldn't bring herself to ask Renee to stay, as much as she'd wanted to.
Though she'd only seen her father a few times in her life, Bella had written and requested to stay with him. Charles was the chief guardsman to the King of Forkshire and had lived alone since his hearth wife had absconded with their infant daughter.
Well, Bella assured herself for the thousandth time, it won't be so bad.
About an hour later she was riding beside her father, her horse saddled with the two small bags she'd brought with her. "Fa," she said, not recognizing where her father was leading her, "Have you moved since last time?"
Charles did not look at her as he spoke. "I have a surprise for you before we head home."
They turned into the main part of town and down a street just off the main square. Charles pulled to a stop in front of a slightly run down, very empty shop. "Here we are," he said by way of explanation.
Bella blinked, confused. "Here we are…for what?"
"You wrote that you thought you might bake to pay your way. That you thought you might like a business of your own…" Charles said, sounding a little unsure of himself.
"Wait – this shop-," Bella cut herself off, unable to form the words.
"All yours," Charles said, offering her a small smile. "There's a girl, Angela, who has offered to help you run it. I'll help you until you're on your feet."
If they had been a different father and daughter she might have jumped into his arms, but that was not Bella's way. As it was she murmured a fervent, "Thank you."
"Well, now," Charles said gruffly, "You're welcome."
They were both blushing slightly at the emotion they felt, but neither acknowledged it. Instead, they turned their horses toward home.
Waiting outside was a familiar looking, russet-skinned man about Charlie's age and an unfamiliar, younger russet-skinned man who held the leashes of three gigantic dogs. Bella gawked at the creatures. They were bigger than any dogs she'd ever seen; closer to wolves and nearly as wild looking.
Charles dismounted, unphased by the abnormal animals. "William," he greeted the older man. "Bella, do you remember William Black? He's the King's Master of Hounds."
"Hounds!?" Bella gasped, finding her voice. "These seem more like monsters than hounds."
The three men chuckled at her reaction. "They've been fed a special elixir since they were much younger. It makes them stronger, faster – regenerative even," said the youngest man as Bella carefully dismounted her horse. "Sam Uley," he introduced himself. "I'm William's apprentice."
Remembering her manners finally, Bella extended her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you." After they shook hands Bella turned to William. "And it's nice to see you again, I do remember."
William took her hand, chuckling again when he saw her wary gaze at the three animals. "They're well trained. They're more like puppies unless you smell like a threat. Just put your hand, palm out, and let them smell you."
Noticing her father watching and not wanting to appear cowardly in front of him, Bella bit her lip, extending her hand tentatively as instructed. The three dogs lurched forward, pressing their muzzles to Bella's palm. Surprised by the wetness of their snouts, Bella couldn't help but laugh.
"Embry," Sam pointed to the grey furred dog, then to the chocolate brown dog, "Quil, and-,"
He was cut off with the last dog, the biggest of the bunch with thick, red-brown fur started to struggle at his leash. Caught off guard, Sam couldn't keep hold of the monster and it reared up, coming down with its paws on Bella's shoulders. She gasped but before she could scream, the beast licked her from chin to forehead and let out a happy bark.
William was the first to react as he went from chuckles to a deep, rumbling laughter. "Jacob remembers you!" he managed between laughs.
"Jacob," Sam said in a commanding voice. "Down."
Seeming reluctant, Jacob got down and rejoined his place with the small pack.
"Jacob," Bella said when she was sure her voice wouldn't shake. "As in, the little puppy I played with five years ago? He was tiny."
"Thing change," Charles said, watching Bella. His eyes were shining with pride.
The next day, after a quiet breakfast, Charles headed to the palace and Bella off into town to inspect her shop. She sat in the middle of the small, empty space, staring at the bare walls and counters, just imagining what could be done. It was the first thing she could call her own, and while her father might help her now, she daydreamed of the day when all she had was a product of her own work and skill.
A knock and the door being pushed open interrupted Bella's planning. "Hello?" came a woman's voice. Bella looked up to see a girl about her own age standing in the doorway. Her face was almost pretty, but marred with heavy creases that might have looked more at home on a very old woman, and a wart on the tip of her nose, and another on her chin. Most startlingly of all she carried a full grown newt on her shoulder. "My name's Jessica. You must be Isabella Swan."
"Bella," Bella corrected timidly. She had seen enough travelers to know from the girl's appearance, the patterns of her robes and the belt around her waist that hid slim vials, that she was a witch. Angering a witch was never a wise idea, and so Bella was automatically wary.
Jessica insisted on taking Bella to lunch at the local tavern, several blocks away. She suggested they walk, which Bella suspected was more because Jessica wanted as much time to get as much information out of Bella as was possible than for any other purpose. But Bella's life proved moderately uninteresting and so Jessica started to show off her knowledge of the town. She knew, she assured Bella more than once, absolutely everything about absolutely everybody.
She rambled about the king's newest knights, Eric, who she did not fancy but she suspected fancied her, Tyler, who she did like, and Ben who showed more interest in Angela than Jessica. "Not that I care," Jessica had sniffed, but Bella was quite sure she did.
As they exited the tavern a huge stone building caught Bella's eye. It was about three stories, but very wide, set far to the back of a lawn that Bella was quite sure could easily host a King's championship tournament. From the top of the hall hung two black banners displaying on them a silver crest with a hand, palm out, above a lion and a ribbon lined with shamrocks running beneath that. "What is that place?" Bella asked.
"That is the Cullen House. Oh! You'll love this story," Jessica squealed with delight.
"The Cullens are a guild. They are like protectors to the people. You know – when a dragon needs slaying, or a band of brigands needs to be put to justice, that kind of thing.
"The guild leader, Carlisle Cullen, was once a member of the Volturi. Do you know of Volterra?" Jessica inquired. Bella nodded. She knew of the city, ten times the size of Forkshire half the world away and ruled by a powerful band of humans called the Volturi. "Well," Jessica continued, "Carlisle was trained to be a cleric there, but he fell in love with one of the Volterran Princesses, Esme. Esme is the daughter of Aro, the leader of Volterra and the Volturi. Though he was fond of Carlisle he did not approve of the marriage, of course, it gained him nothing," Jessica scoffed.
"So about 25 years ago Carlisle and Esme came here. They were married by Angela's father actually. Now there are around 30 or so members of the guild, many of whom live in that hall," she said with a satisfied grin. When Bella did not immediately respond she turned to notice that Bella wasn't looking at her at all. "Bella," Jessica said, testy, "Are you listening?"
"Yes," Bella assured her, distracted by the sight in front of her. Truly Jessica's story had been fascinating, but as she spoke four figures had exited the guild hall. There was one girl and three boys and they all wore a tunic with the Cullen crest. The girl, a waif of a thing in a well-fitted dress, had spiky black hair and carried a thin staff, almost as tall as she was, that had a clear globe atop. The hand not carrying the staff was twined with one of the boys. He was much taller than her, the tallest of the foursome in fact, but somehow she fit by his side. He had a head of wavy blonde hair and what looked to a lyre strapped to his back. Beside him was the biggest boy, well, man really. Bella had once seen an ogre from a distance and she suspected the monster would not have much on this man. Wide across the shoulders and with bulging muscles she could see well even from this distance, the man had curly brown hair and a very big, thick looking sword at his waist.
But, though they were all beautiful, it was the last that Bella found herself staring at, unable to look away. She had heard travelers tell tales of the gods and how they appeared in human form – almost too stunning to look at. Surely this boy, this man with wild, copper colored hair and a lithe, strong build could not be merely human. "Who are they?" she managed to ask, her voice not much more than a whisper.
As Jessica looked over the god-like one looked up, his eyes on Jessica at first but quickly flitting to Bella. Their gaze held for the space of two heartbeats before they both looked hurriedly away. Bella felt her heart begin to flutter fast as a hummingbirds wings and thought wildly that Jessica must have cast some kind of spell on her to make her react this way, but when she looked toward the girl, Jessica only had a knowing, not malevolent, smirk on her face.
"I wouldn't bother if I were you," she said. She pointed out each of them in turn. "Alice Cullen and Jasper Hale are engaged to be married in the fall. Emmett Cullen is married to Jasper's twin sister Rosalie." Bella couldn't help but notice how Jessica's face nearly turned red with envy as she spit the name. "And that is Edward Cullen," Jessica finished. "He's not attached but he doesn't look at girls. He doesn't look at boys either. My friend Lauren thinks he's a eunuch."
Chancing a glance at the boy Bella could have sworn he was grimacing with irritation, running a hand through his messy hair. Bella found herself wishing fervently that it was her hand instead and wondered again what was wrong with her.
"Emmett, Edward and Alice are Carlisle and Esme's children, but they are also members of the guild," Jessica continued though Bella hadn't asked. "Anyway, come on. You need supplies and I can introduce you to Tyler and Eric along the way," she said merrily, grabbing Bella's hand and towing her down the street. Trying to ignore her disgust at the boils on Jessica's hand, Bella cast one more look over her shoulder at the Cullen's retreating figures.
3 weeks on
Edward had been, nonchalantly he thought, passing in front of Bella Swan's bakery for the last three weeks as she readied it for opening. Four days ago, much to Edward's chagrin, his older brother had figured out just what about his daily walk really interested him.
"You need to stop obsessing Edward, get over things, like I do. So her thoughts are quiet to you, what of it? She is just a girl," Emmett said with his usual flippant attitude.
Fighting back an illogical wave of defensiveness and annoyance at Emmett's careless dismissal, Edward again tried to piece together how Bella had gotten around his talent. He possessed the gift that so far not one of his peers, relatives or enemies had been able to thwart – nobody until he'd caught Bella staring at him across the square. Curious, he had opened his mind to the thoughts around him. He had heard Emmett's and Jasper's preoccupation with the sparring match they were heading toward, he heard Alice mentally revising the design of her bridesmaid's dresses, he heard Jessica Stanley's less than generous opinion on Bella's league versus his own – but from the fair-skinned maiden with thick mahogany hair and deep, wide eyes he heard nothing.
Edward chuffed lightly. "I've never come across a spell, an elixir – anything that could make a mind go silent. I want to know how she does it."
"Your chances of figuring it out increase exponentially if you, I don't know, talk to the girl!" his brother's tone held a hint of exasperation.
As they rounded the corner the shop came in sight. He hadn't noticed he'd started to walk faster, but Emmett did. Wait – does he fancy her?
That thought brought Edward up short. "Fancy her? I've never met her!" he protested.
"You should go in then. No reason not to."
"I'm not going in the shop Emmett. What would be…what. What is THAT?" Edward exclaimed.
A dozen or so yards away from the bakery the air had become absolutely permeated with the most delectable smell Edward had ever encountered. It was fresh baked bread, sweets and a blend of spices all mingling into a divine scent that made his mouth water. He had never felt so close to drooling than he did at that moment. His mind automatically conjured a thousand ways to taste what he was smelling – biting into a pastry, its flaky pieces coming off in his mouth; sponge-like and crumbly like the finest cake; drizzled chocolate pooling on his tongue.
"I should go in," Edward said, walking even faster now toward the tantalizing aroma.
"Hell," Emmett laughed, "If you're not, I am!"
Inside the bakery Bella stood with her back to the Cullen boys, cutting small slices of what looked like pound cake and adding them to a sampler platter. To her side, equally wrapped up in their work, Angela Weber was adding a light, strawberry tinged glaze to a row of pastries. They were mid-conversation, apparently talking about the King's upcoming visit to the war-torn town of Saudrea. Instead of his usual guardsmen, the King had opted to hire the Cullens as an escort. Edward and a handful of others were expected to leave two mornings hence.
"I just don't understand why the guard isn't enough," Bella was saying. Even in his near desperation to get to one of the thin wafer cookies, half dipped in some concoction of chocolate and coconut, Edward noticed that her voice was strong but not grating. He decided it was pleasing to his ears before wondering what was wrong with him and if this was just another one of her tricks.
"The King's guards do well most of the time," Angela began, "But-,"
"Even the king relies on outside help, on us, when he thinks his guardsmen cannot handle the threat." Behind him he heard Emmett's mental curse and a cough as he choked on the bit of cake he'd filched from the countertop. Bella turned toward him and Edward was momentarily put off by the fierce look in her eye. "I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself sooner, I'm-,"
"I know who you are," Bella snapped. How many times had she watched him as he walked by her shop, holding her breath as he passed only to be disappointed when he never approached? Each and every time the irrational sense of disappointment had irritated Bella to no end. Now he stood in front of her, his arrogant smirk falling as he read the fury in her voice, her posture and her eyes.
His implications of the competency of her father and his fellows made her see red, and before she knew it she was stepping out from behind the counter. She almost faltered when she looked up, startled by how much more beautiful his face was up close; how perfect the cut of his jaw was.
Bella shook her head, a fresh wave of annoyance running through her. Perhaps he was projecting a glamour that enhanced the allure of his handsome face. Bella forced herself to keep walking past him as she held the door open. "Mr. Cullen, I believe we can do without your patronage as I am sure the King would prefer to have you at his side."
He stared at her, wide-eyed, but could see as she stared steadily back that she was entirely serious. Narrowing his eyes, Edward stormed past her. He whirled around as he got to the door, shocked to find her only inches away. He heard her quiet gasp as they both felt a strange current between them, a type of magnetism. He alternated between a desire to throttle the girl and her bewildering harpy attitude toward him and an equally bewildering NEED to feel her lips against his. Instead of either, when he was sure his voice would come out steady, he said, "It's just as well Miss Swan, I see nothing appealing here," and stalked away without a backward glance.
Despite Edward's critique, his siblings Emmett and Alice quickly became two of the bakery's top customers. More than that, Bella genuinely enjoyed being around them. Neither emanated the cold attitude Edward always exuded. Emmett was playful and teasing, much like the big brother she'd always longed for. Alice was all energy and smiles. Bella felt truly at ease with them both.
Edward continued his almost daily journeys past the bakery. Whenever they caught each other's eye, he would scowl causing Bella to grimace in return. Honestly, she had no idea what had made her kick him out that way. She knew she had overreacted. He hadn't known, Emmett had assured her, that her father was the head of the guard. And, to be fair, it was true that the King trusted the Cullens over the guard on outside matters. Even if he annoyed her, at the very least she could have used him as a customer.
Feigning disinterest, poorly, Alice had mentioned that Edward particularly enjoyed apple turnovers. Without acknowledging that she was specifically trying to lure him back into her shop, Bella had put a batch of them right in the window, knowing their aroma would waft down the street. She bit her lip, watching out of the corner of her eye as he approached the shop. He seemed to slow as he passed, but when he looked over and caught her watching he only scowled as usual and walked briskly away.
"Don't worry," Alice's tinkling voice came from behind her. "It will work, eventually. There are just some things he needs to … come to terms with."
Bella went back to kneading the dough in front of her, ignoring the blush that colored her cheeks. "I don't know what you're talking about Alice."
Alice shrugged, accepting that. Like her brother, she had also been born with a gift for magic. In her it manifested in visions of the future. In the weeks she had known her, Bella had become accustomed to Alice's sometimes cryptic way of talking about what would be rather than what was.
Rather than concentrate on Edward Cullen and his infuriating domination of her thoughts, Bella turned her attention to the other people in the shop. Jessica and her friend Lauren, another witch whose hands and nose were horribly disfigured, were sitting at the shop's lone table with Eric and Tyler. Jessica was leaning toward Tyler and he was leaning, noticeably, away, his face painted with thinly veiled disgust.
"Best be wary, Tyler," Lauren was saying cattily. "She turned the last man who spurned her into a newt." Lauren stroked the lizard on Jessica's shoulder with one finger. "Is that not so Mike?" she cooed to the creature.
Mike the Newt, Bella thought to herself as she turned away from the scene. "You know," Alice said conversationally, "I'm not entirely sure she's kidding."
Alice left the bakery about a half an hour later when Edward was on his way back from whatever pressing business called him across town nearly daily. As she flitted to his side she proffered one of the turnovers she'd purchased from Bella. "Really," she said, "they are the most fantastic thing you'll ever taste."
Edward sighed, frustrated with his sister. "I don't know why you insist on doing this to me Alice."
"It can work. If you'd just-," Alice cut herself off, her eyes suddenly going wide and blank. Knowing that look well, Edward processed her vision with her.
"No!" they both cried out in unison.
Across the street, Bella was stepping out of her shop. Tyler, his horse and cart loaded with supplies for the King, was taking the corner at a near gallop. His cart was loose. As he turned one direction it spun the other, breaking. Bella only had time to look up, seeing the cart barreling toward her.
In the next second something hit her from the total opposite direction and she found herself flying toward the ground and then rolling, but as she rolled she was protected from the harsh cobblestone by something more malleable. Something that wrapped its arms protectively around her as they tumbled.
Bella opened her eyes, in one fraction of a second taking in Edward's frantic face above her, and the horrifying image of Tyler's huge horse rearing, its hooves about to come down on them both. Edward braced himself over Bella's prone body. He was vaguely aware of Alice shouting out a spell, her voice panicked and slightly shrill. The horse's hooves came down on an invisible barrier instead of Edward's back and then it stumbled backward, still rearing, startled.
People were starting to surround them then, but Bella could hardly see them. All she felt were Edward's fingers running through her hair, both comforting and trying to find any sign of damage. He was still leaning over her, his upper body propped on one arm while the rest of him pressed against her. "Bella, are you alright?"
Physically she was fine. She could feel a knot forming on the back of her head but she had lived on a farm and was not blessed with natural grace; she'd had bumps before. Rather, it was the feel of his body against hers that left her breathless. That spark, the feeling of fire and lightning between them that had been there as they stared at each other that day in the bakery was nearly overwhelming. Everywhere they were connected her skin tingled, even through her clothing. She was suddenly, overwhelmingly desperate to wind her arms around his neck. How many times had her dreams painted this very picture?
She blinked, her gaze breaking from his worried green eyes. As she stared around her in confusion, trying to right place and time, her mind was sifting through every time Edward had glared in her direction, his arrogant and then hateful words in her bakery. She was suddenly furious, not at him but at herself for her irrational feelings, for wanting to claim his lips as her own even with all the people that surrounded them.
Catching the change in her expression from wide eyed and slightly frightened to angry, Edward narrowed his own eyes in confusion and concern. She hadn't spoken yet and he had no idea what type of head trauma she might be suffering from. She started to squirm, trying to get up and he gently pushed her back down. "You shouldn't move yet."
"I couldn't even if I wanted to," she said, obviously irritated. She glanced down indicating the way she was pinned beneath his body. Edward, feeling an uncharacteristic blush tinge his cheeks, scrambled back onto his knees, ignoring a wave of dizziness that threatened to send him sprawling forward again.
Bella seemed to be trying not to look at him as she pulled herself into a sitting position. Having gathered that Bella and Edward were both at least intact and alert, the crowd was now mostly centered around Tyler who had fallen from his horse and was passed out cold on the street. Jessica was screaming, but she had a tendency toward dramatics; it didn't look bad. Alice was standing behind her brother and a few feet back, a knowing smile on her face if they cared to look at her, but neither did.
"Bella," Edward tried again, "You really should wait a few moments."
He reached out to push her back down again but Bella recoiled from his hand. "I'm fine," she insisted. "What is it to you in any event?"
Edward blinked, startled. "What do you mean?"
"You don't like me. Why did you bother saving me?" she asked, scooting further back from him.
Edward gaped at the girl. Clearly she must have hit her head harder than he'd thought. "It's my … job," he blurted, angry and unable to say what he really wanted to say – that he was sure the sight of her broken body would have robbed his world of everything but unimaginable pain.
A flicker of hurt flashed through her eyes before it was swiftly replaced by the familiar anger. "You are relieved of your duty when it comes to me, thank you." She stood carefully, still a little shaky.
Edward rose to follow her and had to stand completely still for a moment as another wave of dizziness hit him. "Be reasonable. I protect half the countryside!" he said to her turned back.
Bella whirled to face him again. "Surely the countryside can object! I don't want your protection." She turned again striding toward the front door of the bakery.
"Bella-," Edward tried to take another step, but the dizziness overwhelmed him then and he stumbled backward a few paces before sitting on the ground heavily. Alice was by his side in an instant.
All anger and irritation dissipated from Bella's body when she turned and saw him on the ground. Without thinking, she immediately sunk to her knees at his side.
"What's wrong, Edward?" Alice was asking. Her voice was even but urgent. Clearly she saw no life threatening danger in her visions.
Edward dropped his head into his hands. "It's just my head. I must have hit it. I didn't notice," he said through gritted teeth. He had been concentrating on Bella, his every fear wrapped up in her safety. Now he could feel his head throbbing with every beat of his heart.
"Oh," Bella breathed, seeing for the first time a trickle of blood running down his neck on his left side. She ran her fingers carefully through his thick hair, the softness of it not lost on her even then, until she found the source of the blood. Edward hissed when her fingers came in contact with the gash that his unruly hair had hidden. Bella stroked the other side of his face automatically, shushing him soothingly.
"Keep him alert," Alice murmured, watching as Edward's features literally calmed in front of her as Bella stroked his cheek and his hair. "Our father is on his way." She moved off then to see if she could help Tyler, or at the very least get Jessica to stop her incessant shrieking.
Bella removed her apron, rolling it up and pressing it against Edward's head. "Hold this here a moment," she commanded gently. Edward obeyed. Bella shifted to sit beside him. She guided his head onto her lap so that he was laying face up.
Even through his pounding headache Edward did not miss the undeniable electricity when her small hand rested over his against the apron. At her urging he let go reluctantly. She kept one hand firmly against the apron and his wound while the other resumed stroking his cheek. Little by little he began to unclench his jaw, his muscles relaxing. Even with the pain the feel of her fingers at his temple and through his hair had to have been close to what heaven felt like.
"I'm sorry." Her voice was quiet and when he looked up into her eyes they were gentler than he had ever seen them.
"For what?" he managed.
Bella chuffed lightly. "You saved my life, you were wounded in my place and how do I thank you? By yelling at you." She shook her head at herself briefly before looking him in the eye again. "Thank you. Really."
Edward smiled, a beautiful lopsided grin. "I'll not say it was my pleasure," he gestured vaguely at his head, "But I don't regret it." His grin fell and he turned serious. "I'm sorry as well. I know I've been very rude."
For a few moments they said nothing, and then Edward spoke again. "I thought blood made you nauseous."
Bella's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "How did you know that?"
Edward winced and offered her only an apologetic smile. He did not tell her that every day he had passed by her shop, before and after they'd officially met, he had listened in on her conversations through the medium of other people's thoughts. At first he was trying to figure who she was and how she had thwarted his gift, but he had become fascinated by her. He hung on her every word. He did not tell her that several weeks ago he had had to stop himself from rushing to her side when Angela had cut her finger and Bella had very nearly fainted at the sight and smell of the blood.
"I'll be fine," Bella finally answered him. She didn't tell him that she was fighting her nausea even now. She did not tell him that it was worth every angry stare she'd endured to be able to finally run her fingers through his hair.
Edward heard more than saw when his father arrived on the scene. His thoughts had been focused on whatever injuries he'd be walking into. But when he saw his son lying with his head cradled in the Swan girl's lap, both their eyes full of a gentle tenderness, his mind was completely blank, save for the shock. Reluctantly, Edward turned away from Bella's face to send a reassuring glance at his father. Tyler was in more need of Carlisle's medical magic and Edward was fine, more than fine, where he was.
Don't fight this Edward. Alice thought at him. Again the two visions that had plagued him all these weeks flashed through her mind.
It was that day, after actually meeting her in her bakery, Alice had the vision for the first time. It was a still image; a single moment from a later time. It was also easily the most terrifying image he'd ever held in his head.
The image was of a throne room, far away in what he knew to be Volterra. He knew it because Aro, his grandfather, Aro's brother Caius and their brother-in-law Marcus sat at their thrones. Kneeling at Aro's feet, her hands bound tightly behind her back, was Bella. Aro's guards, Felix and Demetri, stood at either side of her, a restraining hand on her shoulder. She stared up at Aro with a fierce hatred.
Aro had a very warped sense of entitlement. He still saw Esme as his and, by extension, all of what Carlisle had. But what he wanted most desperately of all, what he had wanted as soon as he knew of their existence, was his two very gifted grandchildren. Edward had seen the wish in his mind the one time he'd seen the man, years ago – Alice and Edward at his command.
But Aro was not the kind to simply take what he wanted. He preferred to keep his white hat. He did not build his empire through wars and force as it would make him unpopular. Rather, he preferred to get what he wanted through manipulation.
The instant he'd seen the vision he'd known – if Aro wanted to get him to do anything, all he had to do was threaten Bella. As it was, just seeing that single glimpse, he had the physical urge to run straight to Volterra and drive his sword through Aro's heart.
But as much as this vision had haunted him, it was Alice's second vision that was near torture. He'd tried not to remember, but it was impossible to forget.
It was a moving image; just a handful of seconds, like a titillating teaser, of a life that he could not allow himself to want.
He held Bella in his arms as they swayed gently in a dance. She was smiling, every inch of her face radiating with adoration. His own eyes were filled with a tenderness and passion he would not have believed he possessed. He leaned in, his lips just half an inch from hers, when the vision cut off.
Edward let out a frustrated sigh, both at the teasing vision and the fact that his time with Bella was drawing to a close. His father had finished with Tyler and even now the knight was being loaded onto the back of his own cart to go sleep off what remained of his injury. Edward looked into Bella's eyes again and just knew. He would find another way to circumvent the future because staying away from her was impossible.
Bella had been fascinated by Carlisle's cleric magic. She knew of magic, of course, having heard tales from the many travelers that had stopped at her farm for food or from the few times she'd gone into town with her mother, but she'd never seen it in use. Carlisle had said a few words in an ancient language over Edward's head and the wound had knitted together in front of her eyes. There had been bruising, and his hair was still matted with the blood he'd already shed, but otherwise there was no indication that there'd been a gash at all.
Over the next week or so she had found herself at the Cullen House more than once. They had explained about magic – how not everyone could tap into it. Emmett, despite being a product of very strong magical ties on both sides could not so much as move a feather with magic. "But who needs to be able to do that?" Emmett had quipped. Faster than Bella would have thought possible he had unsheathed his enormous sword and cut a thick limb from a nearby tree. "I think I manage to be effective."
Magic users most often chose a specific field to study as there was too much magic to know everything. Carlisle had focused his gifts on the body. He explained that what he did was talk to the body. He could find out if something was wrong and could convince the body to heal in many cases. Like with Edward he had simply encouraged the skin to mend. Alice could manipulate the air. Harden it, as she had done to protect Edward and Bella from Tyler's horse, or summon walls of wind to deflect and confuse an enemy. Benjamin and Katrina, two other members of the guild, had mastered earth and energy respectively.
Of the few who could manipulate magic even fewer had some additional, special gift. In addition to Alice and Edward there were only a few other members of the guild who were gifted. Carlisle's second in command Eleazar's gift was actually to see gifts and magical potential.
"Alice's fiancé Jasper is very interesting," Edward told her one evening. Bella had not had a chance yet to meet Jasper or Rosalie as they had been out on assignment since just before her bakery had opened. They were due back at any moment. "He is very talented with any instrument you give him, and he can use his music to influence emotions. It's very useful in a battle, sending waves of confidence and whatnot across the ranks, or making our enemies feel fear if he's able to get close enough to them. A bard – that's what he's called."
"A bard?" Bella was impressed. "I heard that there are few bards."
"And none of them can twist songs like I can, darling," came a lilting voice with a soft drawl. Bella spun from where she and Edward sat in the common room. In the doorway stood Jasper Hale, his arm thrown around Alice's shoulders. Bella started a little at his appearance. At this distance she could see him clearly as she had not been able to before. His face and all his body that she could see was covered in scars. They did not deform his skin but seemed instead to decorate it. Up close they were his most prominent feature. He gave her a wry smile, noting her staring.
Before Bella could open her mouth to apologize she was interrupted by a loud, joyous whoop. Emmett charged into the room carrying someone on his back. At first all Bella could see was long golden hair, the same shade as Jasper's. This must be Emmett's wife Rosalie – the one Cullen she hadn't seen yet.
Emmett had mentioned that his wife was a witch and Bella had automatically pictured someone a little less bewitching than the statuesque woman who stood before her. Even in the simple white dress she wore she was stunning: all sensuous curves and perfectly formed facial features. She narrowed her eyes at Bella's obvious ogling. "What?" she said, haughty. "You were expecting some hag?"
"I'm sorry," Bella said, dropping her gaze apologetically. "It's just Jessica…and Lauren…"
Rosalie snorted. "Others of my kind are moronic enough to use their magic for evil. But the problem with the dark arts is that those who use them are warped as they warp their victims. I am not stupid. I did not ask for this power, but since I have it, I find better uses for it than casting hexes." She rolled her eyes, grabbed Emmett's hand and left the room with a small glare in Bella's direction.
After the rest of the family had assured Bella that Rosalie was like that with everyone and Jasper had a chance to formally introduce himself, dinner was called in the main hall. Since Charles had set off that afternoon for a three day fishing journey, Bella accepted the offer to join everyone.
Throughout dinner, the returning adventurers recounted their tale. Bella listened, fascinated by the tales of creatures and cities she had never seen before.
After dinner Bella sat back, contentedly watching all the guild mates relax amongst each other. Carlisle and Eleazar, who had been gone with the rest, sat across the room, heads bent close together in discussion. Jasper had taken out his lyre and was playing a lively tune. Alice had pulled Edward up to dance with her.
"My Alice," Esme said fondly, coming to sit beside Bella. "Did you know she had told me, practically since she could speak, that her husband was out on Delphia Mountain? All her life she talked about it. Then, a few days before her 17th birthday, she wandered away and came back towing Jasper and Rosalie. She announced they were coming to live with us. They were both 19 then. They'd had a hard life – living in the wilderness of the mountains just like Alice had seen. That's why Jasper has all those scars – he never let Rosalie do any of the hunting or anything dangerous in the six years they wandered alone."
Bella could easily hear the compassion in Esme's voice as she spoke of her adopted children's plight.
Though she did not fight Esme was a skilled enchantress. She had stitched almost every robe and tunic in the guild with enchantments that gave special protection or enhanced certain abilities. It was her way, as she loved each and every member under her roof, to give them what they needed to survive and come back to her. She was very much the mother hen to everyone in the guild. Even Bella was fast coming to think of her as a surrogate mother.
"Carlisle and I had hoped that Rosalie and Edward….," Esme trailed off. "Well, you see, Emmett was never a worry. He has such a natural way with everyone – he has always had the girls wrapped around his finger. But Edward – he has never showed interest in anything but his studies and his training." She turned to face Bella, not missing that Bella's eyes were on Edward, as they had been all night. Even as he was twirling Alice around, he looked up, catching Bella's eyes and smiling his lopsided grin.
"That's why we're so glad he's found you, dear," Esme said softly.
Bella snapped her head up in shock."We're just friends," she mumbled automatically. Esme only smiled and patted her hand.
Across the room Edward had set Alice down. He noticed Eleazar had finished his conversation with his father and was watching Bella intently. A shield. The older man was thinking, his eyebrows furrowed with concentration as he tried to use his gift on Bella.
"A shield?" Edward said, coming up beside him.
Eleazar started and turned toward Edward with a wry expression. "My boy, if you're going to eavesdrop you might have the common courtesy to not scare me half to death," he chastised. He nodded in Bella's direction. "Your girl there is quite an impressive shield actually. I can't get a read on her at all. Do you know how far she can stretch it?"
Now it was Edward's turn to furrow his eyebrows. He had not considered Bella's silent mind as a gift before. "She isn't doing it consciously," he mumbled, distracted. For the first time it occurred to him that Aro's future interest in Bella might not have anything to do with him. A mental shield would be very intriguing to the Volturi's leader.
A small ray of hope began to blossom in Edward's heart but he immediately beat it back. No, becoming Bella's friend was bad enough. He could not risk that Aro would ever find out the hold she had on him.
Edward shook off this line of thinking as he heard Eleazar's next thoughts, wondering about approaching Bella and seeing if she'd like to develop any magical aptitude she might have. "Eleazar, no."
The older man raised an eyebrow at Edward. "And why not? I've had to watch you waste your abilities Edward, it would be a shame not to see what she's capable of."
Edward rolled his eyes. Eleazar had been most upset when Edward had chosen not to develop his affinity for magic. Instead, Edward had trained in direct fighting – hand to hand, daggers, swords and the like. He preferred the front lines and meeting any opposition face to face. "Just for now," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He knew he didn't have a good reason, but he could not bear to think of Bella in his line of work – where she would most definitely end up if she took an interest in developing her potential skills.
The older man studied him for a moment. "I'll leave it to your discretion for the moment Edward, but you should tell her."
As the night wore on and began to wind down Edward and Bella gravitated toward each other. They had both had a little more mead than was absolutely necessary to quench their thirst and they were sprawled lazily on one of the couches in the common room.
Bella's eyes wandered around the room, noting the coupled off guild members who had been socializing only hours before were now wrapped up in each other's arms or otherwise oblivious to the commotion around them. Alice and Jasper were on the stairs, his head in her lap as he murmured softly to her. Rosalie and Emmett had disappeared over an hour ago heading toward their quarters. Esme and Carlisle were sitting close together in two armchairs, their hands intertwined and foreheads nearly touching as they talked quietly. Eleazar's wife Carmen sat on his lap. Two of the other members Bella had met today – Katrina and Garrett – were swaying to music only they could hear.
"Edward?" Bella said quietly.
"Hmm?" came his verbose reply.
"Your mother told me tonight that you've always been alone. Why is that?" Bella was sure that without the mead she never would have had the courage to ask, but she was curious.
Edward blinked several times, startled by the question. Enough time passed that Bella was about to apologize for being rude when Edward finally answered. "My gift – it can be a curse as well. Always knowing exactly what someone thinks about you – the good, the bad, the ugly. It's disconcerting to say the least. And then – none of the girls I tried … to be with were ever really interested in me. They were interested in my wealth, or the…allure of my profession."
"Or the allure of your face," Bella concluded. Edward smirked at her and she blushed. "I'm not blind. I'd imagine, for some women, bedding you would be one step closer to a genetic jackpot." Bella was quite sure, if she had been sober, she would have fainted in mortification with what she was saying now.
Edward chuckled. "What about you. Have you ever had an interest in anyone?"
"Not on the farm," she said honestly. Then, sleepily, she said, "I bet it drives you mad that you can't know what I'm thinking."
Edward had to chuckle at that remarkable understatement. "You have no idea."
Bella fell asleep on the couch and when he was certain he was steady enough, Edward carried her up to his room. He settled her into his large bed, sitting near her as he arranged the blankets around her shoulders. He was stalling, he acknowledged that, but honestly he never got a chance to simply look at her without having to look away. This side of her – peaceful and innocent in sleep – was one he'd never seen and he found himself as engrossed by her as he always was.
Finally, sleep would not wait any longer and Edward stumbled to the couch in the room, lying down.
"Edward," Bella mumbled and Edward's eyes shot open. It took him a minute to realize she was not awake but was talking in her sleep. "Edward, I'm not running from you."
No, she never had. It had always been him pushing her away. Edward's heart ached as a wave of longing swept over him. If only things were simpler. Finally, he was able to escape to his dreams where they could be together, and he was happy.
Being raised on a farm, Bella was minimally educated. She could read and write. She had learned from the stories of travelers and what few books she could get her hands on, but there were many gaps in her general knowledge. The Cullens were always patient with her questions, especially Edward who had studied the most out of all of them.
Emmett seemed to enjoy trivia. Did she know, for instance, that Forkshire was once under a curse and during that time it had rained almost every day? Alice was best with art and language. Bella had fascinating discussions with Carlisle about the differences in anatomy between humans and the other species he'd come across. Jasper was knowledgeable in history, particularly wars and grudges between cities. Esme helped her arrange her financial records and had taught her the recipe for what had been Edward's favorite cookies as a child.
Of course, Edward was never remiss in any subject with the small exception of cooking. "Show off," Bella had teased him more than once.
One day Emmett had referred to Alice as a tricky pixie and Bella had asked what a pixie was. Before she knew it, she, Alice Edward and Emmett were all out in the forest, Emmett looked a bit ridiculous, sticking his head into hollowed out tree trunks until finally he came out with a winged creature resting daintily on the palm of his hand.
Bella scrunched her nose, looking from the tiny, vaguely girl shaped creature to Alice who was staring at her brother with arched eyebrows. "I don't see the resemblance."
The pixie giggled and glanced at Emmett with a large grin. She relaxed against his thumb, her hands behind her head. "Come on," Emmett protested. "She's a bony, skinny little thing with spiky, messy hair!"
Both the pixie and Alice turned their glares on Emmett and his less than flattering description. The pixie stood, and, eerily synchronized with Alice, put her tiny hands on her hips. "I didn't – look, what I meant," Emmett tried to backtrack.
Laughing at his big brother, Edward leaned forward so he was eye level with the pixie. He said a few sentences in an odd, clipped sort of language, gesturing at Emmett and rolling his eyes. The pixie covered her mouth, giggling with delight – a tinny sound that could barely be heard. She nodded at Edward and then jumped off Emmett's large hand, flying up to give Edward a swift peck on the cheek. Then she flew away, no more than a green-tinged blur, back to the tree Emmett had found her in.
Bella was watching Edward with a raised eyebrow. "You speak pixie?"
Edward grinned ruefully. "Not a lot. Enough to tell her that Emmett was born with a brain the size of an orc's."
Alice and Bella laughed. Emmett just grinned good naturedly.
Life in Forkshire was better than she could have hoped.
She ignored the quiet ache in her heart at Edward's disconcerting closeness. It was maddening to be able to touch him, laugh with him, and not have the things she wanted. Even through their growing friendship, the inexplicable pull she felt for him never lessened. If anything it only became harder and harder to ignore.
Some days she could swear she could see the same look in his eyes – all longing and desperation. But he never acted on it.
Her daydreams were filled with him, from unconsciously trying to figure out how to make cake frosting the exact shade of green of his eyes to wondering if his skin tasted better than melted dark chocolate on plump, ruby red strawberries.
Every night he stared in her dreams. She imagined more than once that she woke to find him watching her. In her dreams she was able to be bold, and she'd pull him down with her on the bed. She woke blushing and trembling.
And so life continued in a mostly happy blur between the bakery, the Cullens and life at home with her father.
One day, when her father and the rest of the knights were busy with a full day of drilling, Bella brought around treats for the whole crew.
"Just in time, Bells!" Charles said cheerfully. "I think the young ones were planning mutiny."
"Glad I could help, Fa," Bella grinned. She turned, hearing a familiar bark. "Well, hello Jacob." She scratched the dog behind his ears. Jacob sniffed at her palm and gave her the universal puppy dog stare. Bella couldn't help but laugh as she produced a bone shaped treat for him.
Bella talked to her father for a few more minutes and was about to head off when she heard a familiar voice call her name from across the grounds. She turned to see Edward striding toward her, amazed that after all this time her heartbeat still stuttered when she caught sight of him. "I thought I saw you come in here." He turned, nodding his head politely at Charles. "Sir Swan."
Charles tipped his head in acknowledgement. "Edward." He turned back to his daughter. "I'll see you at home."
Bella turned back to find Edward staring at Jacob uneasily. It took her a moment to figure out that Jacob was growling, low and menacing. Edward took a careful step toward Bella, placing him between her and the dog. Jacob barked and snarled, looking as if he were about to pounce.
"Jacob!" Sam called, noticing Jacob's aggressive posture and jogging over.
"He seems a little feral," Edward snapped Sam, his eyes still on Jacob's tense form.
Sam narrowed his eyes. "He usually only does that when he senses a threat. Dogs are excellent judges of character." Sam reached out, tugging lightly on Jacob's collar. He glared once more at Edward and then went back to his pack, Jacob in tow.
"Jacob's harmless," Bella admonished Edward, watching him watch the dog from across the yard.
Edward rolled his eyes at her. Bella had a tendency to be unconcerned about dangerous things.
Days later, they lounged on their preferred sofa in the common room. The rest of the family was there – Alice and Jasper sitting by the fireplace as he played sweet songs to her. Esme and Carlisle bent over an intense game of chess. Even Rosalie and Emmett were wrapped around each other on another couch across the room.
"Actually, the Volturi favor total exsanguination – draining the body of blood – as their method of execution," Edward explained one night.
Bella scrunched up her face in confusion but seemed otherwise untroubled by this gruesome factoid. "Why?"
"You'd be surprised how many potions and elixirs call for the blood of the unrighteous," Edward said with a chuckle. It seemed ridiculous that the conversation had digressed from a history of Volterra to how they kept the peace in their part of the world. It never failed to amaze him when she did not balk at some of the horrors he had seen firsthand.
"In their language, your name means beauty," Edward said, a propos of nothing, looking up from under his lashes.
Bella felt her heart go into overdrive. That look did strange, pleasant things to her body. "In my mother's language, it means warrior – battler," she returned.
"That's amazingly appropriate, either way," Edward said almost absently. Before he could think to stop himself, he reached out, tucking a distracting strand of hair behind her ear. Of course, Bella's cheeks flushed pink. He couldn't help but smile. How he loved the way the red stained her porcelain features. Absently he ran his finger along the outer edge of her ear, back and forth. It felt good to touch her; right. He felt her delicate shudder but she didn't protest.
For long moments they both forgot to speak, wrapped up in each other's eyes. Edward heard Jasper's soft, sweet playing and the music seemed to be echoing the emotion that was building in his chest. In that moment the world seemed to collapse in on itself. There was nothing but this beautiful woman and the convoluted simplicity that he loved her. In that moment he would have thought he was made of this all consuming adoration and devotion he felt. There was nothing else – not his fear or his guilt, his frustration or his anxiety.
And because there was nothing else; because logic and rightness had ceased to mean anything and his heart was suddenly at the reins, Edward tilted his head, pressing his lips softly against hers.
Instantly she responded, her lips tentative. He broke the kiss after only a second, needing to see her face. The look in her bright eyes mirrored his emotions and he kissed her again. At first their kisses were sweet and wondering. Then something seemed to change. Bella was leaning into him, her hands tangled in his hair. His arms had wound around her waist and he was pulling her impossibly closer. Their kisses became hungry, betraying the long weeks of pent up emotion. When her mouth encouraged his to open he didn't resist. She tasted like the lemon drops she'd brought today – all tartness and sweet rolled into one.
It was the sound of mental retching that first permeated the bubble his world had become. Rosalie.
Yech. So much for dinner.
Edward broke their kiss again, the noise of the thoughts in the room suddenly overwhelming. Emmett was mentally whistling. Carlisle and Jasper were torn between shock and amusement. Esme was filled with joy and Alice… Alice was smug. Finally, she thought, replaying her second vision of them, together and happy. But before she could stop it that first, terrifying vision ran through her mind again.
Edward leaned his forehead against Bella's, the guilt returning in force. What have I done? "Bella," he murmured automatically. "I can't."
It was amazing how instantaneously the passion in her eyes was replaced by shock, incredulity and then hurt. She scrambled to her feet and Edward thought his heart might break. "You don't understand," he said, standing and reaching for her.
She skittered back. "No, you don't understand," she said, her voice twisting with anger. "You are so confusing. You like me. You hate me. You want me. You don't. We can't stay here, balancing on the edge of a blade. We're going to fall off one side or the other."
He stared at her, utterly torn. He wanted nothing more than to take her back into his arms, but even as he took a step forward the image of her at Aro's feet haunted him. He faltered.
Reading the indecision on his face Bella bit back the overwhelming urge to beg, plead – anything if he would only feel the same about her as she did about him. Instead, she pivoted and bolted for the door as quickly as her dignity would allow.
He moved to follow her but was stopped by Alice who was suddenly in front of him. "Don't," she commanded, smacking his chest sharply. "Don't you dare go near her until you make up your mind. She doesn't deserve this." In her mind the future was blurry and indistinct.
Edward groaned and nodded, trying to figure out how things had gone so wrong so fast. One minute they were talking and the next he'd heard Jasper's music and all he could think about was kissing Bella.
He whirled on his brother, "Jasper-."
"No," Jasper said firmly, already knowing what Edward was going to accuse him of. "Music is the catalyst of the soul brother. It enhances what you feel, it doesn't create it. That there was all you."
For once, Edward was at a complete loss as to what to do. He didn't know what was right anymore – whether it was right to continue to stay away from her and refuse to acknowledge his overwhelming desire, or whether it was right to give in; stop this game he was playing. He could never be just her friend – it would drive them both mad.
Unable to take the looks in his families eyes – from Alice's anger to Carlisle's patience and Esme's compassion – Edward fled to his room.
As soon as she had gotten outside the Cullen House, Bella had set off for the woods. She didn't want to risk being seen by Jessica or Lauren, least she become the center of the town's gossip. Honestly, she didn't want to see anyone, preferring to be alone with her thoughts. She knew she was close to tears and she would rather die than let them catch her crying.
Had she really been so blind? She replayed each day she had spent with Edward. Leaning over his shoulder as he pointed out something in a book. Taking breaks from the bakery to walk with him and discuss his travels, history, or anything else that had struck them. She could talk to him for hours without getting restless.
She thought of every look he had given her. How his mouth had always curved into her favorite lopsided grin whenever he saw her. He didn't seem to look at anyone else that way.
By the time she finally let herself think of his kiss, the perfect way their mouths had fit together, it was twilight, moving swiftly toward darkness. She had run out of tears and had wandered back into town. Bella was so lost in thought that she did not notice that she had turned down the familiar path toward her shop instead of toward home. Since all the shops in this part of town were closed at night there was naught but the light of the moon to guide her. In the night the warmth of the square was completely void, replaced with darkness and shadows. She did not notice the four men, passing a bottle of homemade alcohol between them, until they had ambled drunkenly to their feet and started after her.
"She don't look like no whore," she heard one of them say to the others.
Bella picked up her pace, but in return heard their footsteps quicken, and suddenly two of them were standing right in front of her. She skidded to a stop just short of plowing straight into them. The larger one snickered, blowing his stale, putrid breath into her face as he spoke, "What kind of lady'd be walking 'round 'ere if she weren't up to no good?"
"Don't touch me," Bella warned, taking a step to the side. She was stopped by the presence of the third man, and again when she backed up by the fourth man. She was surrounded. She felt a thrill of fear race up her spine and her heartbeat quickened. "Don't touch me," she said, louder, as one of the men moved closer to her.
"Don't be like that poppet," he said, laughing as he reached out for her, grabbing her roughly by the arm and pulling her forward. Bella reacted instinctually. As she came in contact with his front she brought her leg up, kneeing him in the groin as hard as she could. As soon as she felt the grip on her wrist loosen she pushed forward, knocking the man down, and tried to run. The other three were faster. One grabbed the sleeve of her dress, the ripping sound it made as she was pulled backward was unbearably loud in the quiet of the night.
Bella let out a scream that was cut off quickly when one of the three men standing slapped her hard across her face. She could hear them shouting, cursing at her as she struggled. She dug fingernails into any arms that tried to hold her; kicked at any body she made contact with. She couldn't wrap her mind around what they were saying. The sound of her own heartbeat seemed impossibly loud in her ears.
The largest one, and the strongest from the look of the muscles that strained against his tight fitting shirt, finally got hold of her wrists, gripping them violently. He kept Bella a safe distance from his groin as he squeezed her wrists in his hands. Bella cried out in agony, feeling as if her bones would snap under the pressure. The ogre sized man pushed down and her legs buckled, sending her to her knees in front of him.
Again thoughts of Edward filled her mind as they had all that afternoon and evening, but this time remembering the feel of his arms around her, keeping her safe from Tyler's cart and stomping horse. Edward. She thought, desperate.
Vaguely, as if across a great distance, Bella thought she heard horse hooves. But it was hard to concentrate around the pain and she thought she might be imagining it.
Emmett had eventually taken pity on his miserable brother and dragged him out to a tavern. But Edward had never been the type to drown his sorrows and the hard liquor in front of him sat mostly untouched.
"She deserves a future with a husband that can come home to her every night. With children and safety. She deserves more than a life that could kill her. She doesn't deserve what Alice sees," Edward said into his hands. This night was not the first time Emmett had heard these words, but it was the first night Edward sounded so unsure – as if he only held onto this belief by a single thread.
Emmett let out a frustrated snort. "She could die a bloody, painful death birthing one of the children you so desperately want for her. Or of a disease. Or get attacked by a dragon like William Black's wife. Or -"
"No!" Edward shouted, cutting off Emmett's rant. He stood so fast his seat fell over and bolted for the door.
"I didn't mean right now!" Emmett shouted after him, perplexed as usual at his younger brother's antics. He sighed, reaching for his brother's nearly full drink and downing it in one shot.
Edward had his horse untied from the post in a matter of seconds. As his brother was talking he'd allowed his mind to wander, skipping from mind to mind, trying to find Bella in the thoughts around him. When he tried, he could hear minds for a couple of miles, and the town was not all that big. She must be around someone somewhere.
He had found her in the thoughts of a man whose mind was no more than a cesspool. He could see her from the man's viewpoint, startled. And he could see the man's more carnal interest in her.
Having walked it so many times, Edward recognized the square where Bella's shop was located. As he rode, he kept an eye on Bella through the mind of the man and his three companions, becoming increasingly more furious as they converged on her – grabbing her and hurting her. Almost there, Edward snarled with anticipation. His blood boiled with the absolute need to tear these human monsters limb from limb.
But as he rounded the corner and finally saw the scene with his own eyes, Edward knew that getting Bella away from these men was far more important than any harm he intended to inflict upon them. He took a dagger from his belt and tossed it as he galloped forward. It hit the goliath that had Bella square in the back. The man roared in pain, letting go of her wrists.
Bella's head whipped up and she got to her feet almost in the same instant running toward Edward. He reached out, pulling her up onto the horse in front of him and wrapping one arm securely around her waist. His right arm brandished his sword at her attackers as they had gotten over their shock and were pulling out their own weapons.
Before they could charge another voice joined the commotion, a tinkling bell voice calling out a spell. The air around the four attackers whirled, whipping their clothing around them in a confusing and violent wind storm. Alice appeared, as if from nowhere, from a side ally, Jasper at her side – his face fierce and a narrow sword in his hand.
"Emmett is on his way. Go on Edward, get her away from here," Alice instructed. Edward hesitated, not liking leaving his sister so outnumbered and wanting more than anything to rip apart these men himself. "Go!" Alice commanded again. "We have them."
Edward turned the horse and kicked it into a gallop again, heading out of town, into the forest. He needed to get away from the mental voices of the men, and he needed to get Bella away from even the slightest danger. These needs warred greatly with his fury, his need to see their blood spilled on the streets. He sheathed his sword as they rode, wrapping both of his arms around Bella and pressing her body back against his chest.
There was no warning when Edward pulled the horse out of its dead run. They had been running through the forest at one moment, Bella unable to see anything but the closest trees as they whipped passed her face, and in the next moment they were in a meadow. As soon as the horse had stopped completely Edward dismounted in one fluid movement, landing on the ground with barely a sound and pacing a few yards away quickly. He stood completely still, facing away from her, his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
Even across the small distance, by the light of the moon, Bella could see his every muscle was tensed. She dismounted carefully, her heart still beating fast and her body trembling. She walked toward him slowly, as if she were afraid that any quick movement might startle him.
As she got closer she could see the rapid rise and fall of his shoulders as he tried to calm himself. She reached out tentatively, putting one hand on his taut shoulder. "Edward?" she said, breaking the silence. He shuddered slightly at her gentle touch and the soft sound of her voice, concerned and uncertain as it was, but he did not turn.
Edward let the silence stretch on another moment, struggling to keep the fury from his voice when he finally spoke. "Are you alright?" He wasn't entirely successful – his voice coming out tight and clipped.
Instead of answering Bella stepped closer, pressing herself flush against his back and wrapping her free arm around his waist. She rubbed soothing circles around the chiseled muscles over his stomach. Almost immediately she could feel the tension ease. His shoulders drooped into a more natural position and he pressed back slightly against her. "Bella," he said, gentle now, "are you hurt?"
Bella rested her head against his shoulder, inhaling the leather of his tunic, and the divine scent that was all Edward, letting the last of her fear fade away in his presence. "Look at me," she said simply. Instinctively she seemed to know what he needed. He wouldn't have believed her words without seeing the proof for himself.
When Edward finally turned his eyes were closed. He was afraid to see her. Bella brought her hands up, running her fingers over his cheek. She drew her fingers lightly over his eyelids, and under his eyes, tracing the purple shadows the moonlight bathed his features in. His lips parted as she stroked her thumbs over them, and he drew in one last calming breath before he opened his eyes.
Even in the pale light he could see the vivid red mark on her cheek where one of the men had struck her. He raised a hand, brushing the pads of his fingers over her cheek with the lightest of touches. "You're not even shaking. Aren't you scared?" he asked, cupping her face.
"I was," she said, leaning into his touch, assuring him she was whole. Her heart sped up as he brought his other hand up, cradling her face tenderly. "I feel safe with you," she explained, her voice breathy. If he continued to touch her she would be shaking for very different reasons.
Edward's hands moved from her cheek, brushing her hair back. He dropped his hands to her shoulders as she dropped her hands to his circle his waist again. He leaned in, pressing feather light kisses along the red mark, as if he trying to erase it with the gentle pressure of his lips. He was somewhat successful. Bella blushed under his tender ministrations, the blood in her cheeks camouflaging the handprint.
His fingers played with the torn fabric at her shoulders as if he wished he could somehow mend the dress. Instead he pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder before pulling the sleeve up and smoothing it out.
Over and over the images replayed his mind; horrifying images and the thoughts of the four men, venomous as they thought about how they wanted to use her. Then coming around the corner, seeing her trembling in fear, her wrists held fast by a man easily three times her size and strength.
Carefully, Edward reached behind him, pulling her hands from around his waist. Even at his light touch she flinched. He glanced at her apologetically, holding her eyes as he twined his fingers with hers. He brought first her right hand up to inspect it in the moonlight. He could see the dark patches against her perfect pale skin. He twisted her hand gently, making sure she could rotate her wrists. She winced again but did not complain. He kissed the marks on her wrists tenderly, and repeated the process with her left hand.
"I will survive," she assured him. "Thanks to you. Again." She wrapped her arms around his waist when he let her hands go.
Edward sighed, closing his eyes and leaned his forehead against hers. "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have been wandering in the first place." He sighed again and leaned back, cupping her face in his hands. His eyes were sad. "I'm so sorry about how I've acted. It was unforgivable of me to behave so."
"Not unforgivable." She studied his face. "Alice saw something bad happening, if we were together, didn't she?"
Edward was taken aback. "She told you?"
"No, but it's the only thing that makes sense."
After a moment Edward laid down in the tall grass of the meadow, pulling her with him and into his arms. He told her about his grandfather and Alice's vision. "I could not bear for you to be caught in his game. Not because of me. He is a very powerful man. I don't know that I could protect you from him."
Bella was silent for a long time. He could feel her heart beat fast as she lay against him. His own heart felt twisted and torn. Had he finally scared her away? "Bella, please. What are you thinking?"
She still didn't answer right away, but moved her hand down to where his lay on his chest and twined her fingers with his. After another handful of moments she propped herself up so she could look him in the eye. "None of us knows what this life will bring. Her vision never went away did it? Even when you were trying to stay away from me." Edward's silence and the guilty look in his eyes answered her question. "Maybe Alice's vision is related to you, maybe it isn't. But regardless, it will be harder for you to protect me if you're still running away from me."
He reached up to stroke her face. "I want so much for you, Bella. You deserve happily ever after."
Bella laughed lightly. "There are no guarantees in life, Edward. But I know there is no happily ever after for me without you. It's an impossibility."
Edward held her gaze for minutes, neither speaking. Then Bella ducked her head, suddenly shy at the intensity of his eyes and the bravery of her words. Edward rolled them so it was him hovering over her. He kissed her then, somehow both reverent and hungry, only breaking the kiss when they needed air, and even then he kissed a slow, lingering circuit from her temple to the edge of her lips down to her neck, back and forth, in between breaths.
When he looked back into her eyes she spoke the words that had been on the tip of her tongue for weeks now. "I love you."
He smiled a dazzling smile. He brushed the tip of his nose against her cheek, his mouth close to her ear. "You are my life now," he said simply. It was a promise.
A/N 2– This was the first fanfiction I've written in 10 years! Wow. So, the rest of it has moments of M rated-ness.
Thanks to Audrey, Mike and Jennifer for looking this over and catching a fair number of typos.