A/N: I wrote this as a contribution to the Twifans for Haiti Compilation. It's meant to give you a fluffy little peek into Edward's head during his unconsciousness after the battle in Chapter 13.
More thanks than I can express to Kassiah and InstantKarmaGirl for the last-minute read-throughs.
I thank you all for reading and sticking with this story. It's been a lovely journey, and I'm glad you're all on it with me. I hope you enjoy this while I work on getting the gang back to safety.
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet
A light breeze rustled in the air, moving what sounded like the branches of a very large tree overhead. I blinked in confusion and opened my eyes; there had been no breeze on the battlefield, had there? And it was so quiet and peaceful here, wherever "here" was. There were no sounds of men crying out in pain, no cannon fire causing the ground to erupt at my feet. Had that been a dream? All that terror and bloodshed, all the pain and death; had I dreamt it all?
I lifted my head to get my bearings. I lay under the shade of a large oak tree, its leaves dancing in the breeze and letting little streams of bright sunlight through the breaks between the branches. Sitting up, I looked down at myself, expecting, for some reason, to see a dirty, bloodstained gray uniform. Instead, I seemed to be dressed as I would have been back home on a summer's day, britches and white linen shirt, looking for all the world like I was going on an errand for my mother.
"Edward!" A voice like the choirs of angels startled me from my inspection of myself, but as I looked up to identify the source, my confusion deepened even as my heart soared.
It was Bella, striding toward me through the tall grass with a smile creasing her lovely face. What was she doing here? What was I doing here?
"Get up, you lazy layabout," she giggled even as she chided me, and I found myself smiling. "There's work to be done, and I can't have you napping the day away when you should be tending to the barn, darling."
The barn? Darling? What on earth was she on about?
"Bella," I swallowed hard, my confusion warring with a voice in my head telling me to hush up and do as she said. This was Bella, after all, and if she wanted to call me darling and put me to work in her barn, I'd be a foolish man to question her. Still…
"Edward, you must remember you promised to finish repairing the fence around the barn today," Bella stood, arms akimbo. She might have looked stern were it not for the twinkle in her eyes betraying her amusement, perhaps at my confusion, perhaps at a joke I wasn't privy to.
I thought hard, not remembering making any such promise, but I did recall somehow that the planks in the fence were indeed in disrepair. How did I know that? I searched the recesses of my memory, trying to reason out how I'd ended up here, but my recollections were a blur. For some reason, thoughts of a battle were churning about in my head, but I hadn't any notion of why. I didn't remember returning to Bella's, but this felt so right, so natural. Who was I to question it?
I shook my head a little, trying to clear my muddled thoughts. Bella must have been startled by it, and she bent, placing her hand to my forehead, her own brow suddenly wrinkling in concern.
"Are you quite well, Edward?" She asked, stroking my forehead with her fingers. My eyes fluttered a little at the spark I felt, even though her touch was gentle and sweet. "Perhaps it's the heat, or too much sun? The fence can wait if you're unwell."
I smiled at the concern in her voice. It felt for all the world as if we'd always been this way. Perhaps we had? I still wasn't sure, but the voice telling me not to be a fool was soundly beating my confusion into silence. I sat up.
"No, Bella, I'm quite well. I think I dozed off, and I must have been sleeping rather soundly. I just needed a moment to awaken." Her face relaxed and she dropped her hand from my brow. I missed her touch instantly, but only for a moment, as she reached out to take my hand and pull me from the ground in the next breath.
"Alright then, off to chores with you!" She laughed again, a full-throated, beautiful sound that rang like the bells in a church steeple. She kept her grip on my hand though, and walked with me through the grass toward the house and barn. My tree, it seemed, had been but a stone's throw from both, visible from the backside of the barn. Memories swirled in my head as I looked at the broad barn wall, as though there was something familiar about it, but Bella's insistent tugging on my hand distracted me from pinpointing just what it was.
I chuckled a little as we strode along, breathing in the warm summer air and turning my head up just a bit to face the sun. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was living in a dream, for this was too good to be true, but once again the voice in my head silenced my questions.
"I've some wash to hang out," Bella was saying, and I turned my face back down to face her. She was so lovely, her face free of worry and sadness. Why did that seem different? Had she been sad? "Then I'll bring you some water, but only if you've made some sort of progress on that fence. If I catch you sleeping again, I'll find another use for the water." She grinned up at me impishly. "And I'd guess you'll like that a fair bit less."
She gave me a small shove toward the barn, and I smiled back at her. For some reason, I had little doubt that she would indeed throw water over my face should she find me asleep at my tasks.
The fence planks wouldn't require too much work, I realized as I studied them. Perhaps one or two new ones, as I noticed a couple that appeared to be rotting, and would soon collapse. Only one was broken already though, looking maybe like the result of a well-placed kick when the mare got skittish during a storm.
I settled quickly into my work, combing through the pile of felled logs behind the barn for something the right size. I was fortunate to find a few that were the correct length that would require little effort to alter and by extension move. Hitching a plow to the mare just to move a few fence planks would double the time required to finish the job, and would place unnecessary strain on the animal in the heat. I struggled only a little to drag the logs into the barn where I began to saw off the ends and create chinks to fit the planks into their posts.
It was warm in the barn, and the work was difficult. I was grateful for the shade of the roof, and I had both the front and rear barn doors open, creating a breeze through the center of the structure. Still, the heat got the better of me, and by the time Bella appeared in the doorway some time later, I was stripped to the waist and damp with sweat. I'd managed to replace two of the three bad planks, and was near to finished with the third when I the unmistakable sound of a gasp of breath made me jerk.
"Edward, I, um," Bella's face was flushed slightly, and her eyes were darting from my face to my bare chest and back again. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment as if to regain composure. When she opened them, her voice was serene again.
"I thought perhaps you might need some refreshment," she said walking toward me, hand outstretched. I straightened my back, realizing I'd been bent over the saw for quite some time. I rolled my shoulders experimentally, discovering more than a few sore muscles as I did so. Perhaps I'd been out here longer than I thought; once I got into a rhythm, time all but disappeared as I worked.
Bella cocked an eyebrow at me as I moved, and I suddenly became more than a little aware of my naked torso. When exactly had I abandoned all propriety? I felt a flush growing in my own cheeks and was grateful that I knew my face would have already been red from the effort of my work. She continued to look unabashedly though, and I felt the flush creeping down my neck. I looked about for my shirt, trying to remember where I'd left it.
"Looking for this?" Bella held my shirt between her fingers in the hand not holding the water. She wore a smile that I couldn't quite place, but the image of a wild animal stalking its prey kept appearing in my mind.
I reached out for the shirt, but she pulled her hand back, drawing the garment in to her chest with a giggle. She placed the cup holding the water into my outstretched hand and I drank, keeping my eyes locked with hers. The barn had been warm before, but it suddenly felt as though the building was ablaze. She held my eyes unblinkingly, more than the hint of suggestion in her eyes. Or at least I thought it was suggestion. I was woefully inexperienced with girls (at least I thought I was, but nothing was as it seemed today), and it was with more than a little hope that I named the look in Bella's eyes suggestive.
"Would you like this back?" She asked, her voice low, gesturing a little with the hand that clutched my shirt.
I stood frozen in place, uncertain how to answer. I was a little uncomfortable standing here so exposed beneath Bella's watchful eye, but if the return of the garment meant she'd stop looking at me, she could keep it for eternity.
She answered her own question as she spun on her heel, looking over her shoulder with a glint of challenge in her eye. "If you want it, Edward, you'll have to come fetch it back. And don't think I won't put up a fight."
She hitched up her skirts, exposing more than a little of the beautiful, pale bare skin of her legs and scurried to the ladder leading to the hay loft where I'd spent my first night in her acquaintance. Bella looked back at me one more time, then giggled as she mounted the first rungs of the ladder and quickly climbed up.
"Are you coming Edward?" Bella called down gaily as she disappeared over the ledge into the loft.
I felt like hours passed as I stood there, my feet stuck to the ground as though they were trapped in mud. In truth, it was probably only a minute, perhaps two or three, but it felt an eternity.
"Edward?" Bella's voice had lost a touch of the challenge it held when she climbed to the loft, but it still rang with mischief. I shook my head again, certain that if I just shook long enough or hard enough, this would melt away. When it didn't, I felt a surge of excitement. I took a deep breath and made my way to the ladder, alternately chuckling and shaking my head in amazement as I crawled up rung after rung.
When I reached the top of the ladder, Bella was standing in front of the window at the back of the loft. Sunlight streamed in behind her, framing her in almost ethereal light. Her hair was still pulled away from her face, but loose strands blew around her head in the breeze. The sun lit her face and shone in her eyes, but it was her clothing that stopped me mid-climb over the ledge. In fact I nearly lost my grip on the rung I held.
She'd shed her dress and shift; they were piled to the side of a pallet of hay to the right side of the window. Bella stood in front of me clad, as best as I could tell, in only my shirt. She was barefoot, the wiggling of her toes the only indication that she wasn't completely at ease; she held her arms akimbo much as she had under the tree, looking as though I'd neglected yet another chore.
I gulped and pulled myself the rest of the way over the ledge, standing not more than six feet away from Bella, but it felt like leagues as I stared at her. Her legs were exposed to the middle of her thigh. They were pale and shapely and looked so soft it was all I could do not drop to my knees and reach out to touch them, to hold my cheek against their creamy softness.
"Edward, I told you if you wanted this shirt, you'd have to come and fetch it. Do you not want it back?" She fiddled with the button up around her chest, and my eyes grew larger as I realized she was undoing it. "It's a rather fine shirt, you know. I just might keep it if you don't come claim it back. It'd be a shame for you to lose such a fine shirt, wouldn't it Edward?"
Her voice dropped as she spoke; by the time she spoke my name, she sounded like a purring cat. I noticed suddenly, as her gaze dropped and her own eyes grew slightly larger, that my britches were uncomfortably tight and constricted. It seemed the sight of Bella in my shirt was enough to make my John Thomas stand at attention. I flushed in embarrassment, but quickly recovered when I met Bella's eyes and saw not horror, but what I knew instantly to be lust.
Emboldened by her response, I closed the distance between us, standing so close to her now I could feel her breath against my damp chest. She was playing with another button, this one so near her bosom my breath hitched at the thought of what would be revealed if she undid another one.
"Bella, what..?" I couldn't find the words, and the fog in my memories didn't help. "I, er, I mean, well I haven't really…"
She released the button she'd been fingering, and it didn't escape my attention that it was undone. I could see the slope of her breasts and I wanted more than anything to undo the rest of those buttons, but Bella's finger pressed against my lips brought my thoughts and my eyes back to her face.
"Edward," she all but whispered, her voice and breathing as ragged to my ears as my own breaths felt. "Edward, I was a married woman." I looked at her in confusion. What did that have to do with anything?
"What I mean to say," she continued quickly, her fingers sliding from my lips to graze my jaw, "is that I've done this before. You needn't worry about my virtue, darling, and I'll help you through it. Just," she looked up at me through fluttering eyelashes. "Just follow your instincts."
I took a deep breath at her words, rolling them over in my mind. Then I realized that was entirely my problem in this situation. I stood a hairsbreadth from the most beautiful woman I'd ever met in my life, and all I could do was think?
Bella looked up at me expectantly. I closed the distance between our lips in that moment, catching her mid-breath. She gasped at the forcefulness of my kiss; I'd kissed her before, of that I was certain despite the fog in my memories, but I was equally certain I'd never kissed her this way. Her arms wound around my neck, pulling my head nearer to hers, and her tongue flicked out to open my lips. I hummed my appreciation she prodded them open, then massaged my own tongue with hers. I slid my hands up from my sides to place them on either of Bella's hips, recalling as I did that the only thing separating her skin from mine was my own shirt.
I pulled away from our kiss, gasping, and searched her eyes for the direction I so desperately hoped for. In answer, Bella took my hands in hers and moved them off her hips and up to the next fastened button on her shirt. My fingers trembled as I fumbled with it, then with the remaining buttons until I realized I'd undone them all. The shirt was so big on her small frame that it still covered her despite not being held together. My eyes darted between hers and then back down to the lapels of the shirt. She nodded almost imperceptibly and I drew in a harsh breath to steady myself, then I reached up to grasp one lapel in each and hand slide the offending garment off her shoulders, down her arms, and into a pile on the hay at our feet.
Bella stood before me completely naked, a flush staining the skin on her chest and between her breasts down to her belly. She was, as I'd imagined, lovely in every way. The curves of her hips gave way to a small waist, but not so small I felt as though I'd damage her when I took her in my arms. Almost by its own accord, my hand came up to grasp the soft skin above her hip and she shivered with the contact. Her flesh prickled with bumps and she gasped, but one look at her eyes, lids fluttering, and her mouth, lips parted urged me on. I slid my other hand around her waist to brace flat against her back and pulled her flush against me.
It was my turn to gasp as her breasts brushed my naked chest, lighting a fire on my skin and making my already uncomfortable pants impossibly tighter with the contact. I pressed my lips to hers again, this time reverently, and Bella let out the tiniest whimper. I felt her own hands pressed into my back as she tried to pull me even closer, then sliding around to press against my stomach. My muscles clenched in surprise, in anticipation of what she might do next, then clenched even further as I felt her slide her fingers to the buttons on my britches and release them one by one, then sliding my own last garments to the floor to rest next to my shirt.
We stood there now, bare and panting, staring into one another's eyes. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a voice tried to tell me I should be admiring Bella, for it wasn't every day I found myself in the company of a beautiful naked woman. But her eyes held mine as though casting a spell. She took my hand in hers without turning away and pulled me to a pile of hay covered by a blanket that looked familiar for some reason, but I couldn't place it, and at that moment, I didn't care.
Bella pulled my face to hers again, closing her eyes as our lips met. Hands ran over bodies, mine feeling curves and softness, hers undoubtedly finding sinew and scars. Our lips moved together as if we'd been stealing kisses our whole lives. Without letting our lips part, Bella tugged gently at my shoulder and sank down to the hay and the blanket. My heart raced at the prospect of what was about to happen; how had we gotten here? Bella's insistent kisses brought me back to the moment, and if that wasn't enough, I felt her hand sliding back down my torso and then wrapping around my length. I gasped and tensed; I was in grave danger of ending this before it began.
"Shhh, Edward," Bella whispered. "Relax. We don't have to – "
I cut her off with another kiss, stronger and more certain. A deep breath or two and I'd regained my composure, and I'd be damned if I'd let Bella think I wasn't ready for this. I brought a hand up to cup her breast gently in my palm, eliciting a hiss of pleasure from between her parted lips. Bella began writhing, moving her hips below me, the friction of our bodies against each other driving us both nearly to a frenzy.
Bella looked up into my eyes, pulling her lips from mine to catch her breath. "Edward?" I knew her question even before she asked, and I nodded, urging her on. She grasped my length in her hand again and this time it was my breath that caught in my chest as pleasure overtook me. I reached down to her thigh, running my fingers gently along the soft skin on the inside of her leg to her knee, then pushed her knee to open her legs.
I gulped again as I slid my hand back down the inside of her leg and hesitantly brushed at her center. We moaned in concert as she tightened her grip on me at the same time I grazed her wetness with my fingers, rubbing with a bit more pressure in response to Bella's sounds of pleasure.
"Edward, please," Bella gasped through our kisses, and I wrapped my hand around hers, guiding myself between her thighs. She lifted her head to kiss me again, sucking at my lower lip, and I entered her. I shuddered as I slid inside, overwhelmed by her warmth and the intensity of the sensation. A brush of her hand against my arm had been enough to make my breath hitch; breath and thought all but left me at this. Bella arched into me, urging me on and I began to move in her. Each thrust threatened to overwhelm me in ecstasy. Bella gripped at my back, my shoulders, my arms, leaving scratches with her fingernail as she raked them across my skin. Gasps and pants were the only sounds coming from hay loft, mingled with the occasional moan as we moved together, slick with sweat.
Would that we could have stayed this way forever, clutching one another as we coupled. But before too long I felt the passion building inside of me, and Bella's clutches grew stronger and more desperate as well. I thrust into her again and again, increasing my pace in rhythm with Bella's cries until at last I shuddered with release at the same time I felt her contract around me, crying out and then sinking her teeth into the skin between my neck and shoulder. I growled my own pleasure, clinging to Bella as I was rocked by waves of sensations.
When I sensed we had both begun to come down from our climax, I rolled to the side and collapsed on my back, pulling Bella to my chest.
I wanted to speak, wanted to tell her how I loved her, how I hoped we could stay this way forever. I had dreams, and they were all wrapped up in this beautiful woman at my side. I bent my head to gaze at her, but my vision was blurred. It was as though she swam in front of my eyes, as though I was looking at her through a pool of water. I fought to speak, but she seemed to fade away before my eyes, as though moving backward though a dark tunnel that was closing in around me.
And then, nothing.