A/N: As I may have mentioned at the end of From the Wings, I did have a few ideas as to how a sequel to that story could go... And so it has! With my thanks to Katmom and Bells. Just Bells., who won the opportunity of choosing the pairings for this first chapter of the sequel at auction, I bring you part two in this impromptu trilogy: Places, Everyone!
It is a mystery. It has all canon pairings. Beyond that...you'll just have to read and find out what is happening. All the chapters will be in the voices of male characters (Cullen men and others).
This is a work of derivative fiction. All things TWILIGHT are the intellectual property of Stephenie Meyer and/or her assignees. I write merely to entertain myself and others and receive no compensation.
Thanks for reading! ~ LJ
1: First Year - 2018
Bella's scream echoed throughout the empty rooms and corridors of our home in Hanover.
I had to grin with sheer male pride into her heavy-lidded eyes. "I miss the family," I murmured, bringing her down gently from her sound-accented pleasure, "but you're never this uninhibited when they're all at home." My wife's shield protected so much of herself and she couldn't seem to relax any other part of her interactive existence with the rest of the family. Our private discussions were whispered or held out of the hearing range and well into the surrounding woodland. If it were immediate and serious, she worked to relax her mental shield and bring me into her mind so she could express her opinion to me in utter confidentiality. Our intimate life together was filled with near-silent passion...while all of Carlisle's family lived under one roof.
It had been a month since the family had dispersed at the Volturi's "suggestion" and I was, frankly, enjoying the benefits of being once again without them. Bella and I hadn't been this alone together since before her change, when I was wooing her in the Amazonian rain forest. And now, of course, that kind of uncertainty wasn't even something I gave a thought to since she was mine by hand and by name. Some mornings, as we drove to class at Dartmouth where we were both working on Masters degrees – hers in Comparative Literature, mine in Engineering – I was awestruck that she was mine. Just as I was hers. Decades I had waited without meeting my mate. Then I met her and left her – ridiculous decision – and she had chosen me at last. Again. I had won her twice. Her eyes were no longer mysterious dark pools as they had been when I had met her many years ago; they shone amber brown these days as I lost myself in them. The mystery was still there, though – still tantalizing, still encouraging me to discover all of her.
There was no woman on earth, I believed, as seductive as Bella Swan Cullen.
We rose, showered and dressed for school, to drive under the shade of the historic trees of Hanover. "I got an email from Carlisle," Bella murmured, her eyes closed as she leaned against the gray leather headrest in my Mercedes.
"What did he say?" I inquired, navigating around a yellow Volkswagen Classic Beetle as we approached the parking lot. We parked at some distance from the buildings, but there was a roundabout route from the main buildings through copses of trees to the rear of this lot so it was our preferred location. I turned in my seat and waited for Bella to answer.
Still silent, I knew she reveled in her self-concealing abilities, even though they maddened me on occasion. I stroked her cheek with the back of my fingers and she smiled a little. "He sent me some things to consider regarding school and my coursework."
Surprise jolted through me, lifting my eyebrows high into my stone forehead. "Why would he do that?"
My wife grinned at me; the sight dazzled my eyes. "To be helpful? Is it so hard to believe, Edward, that Carlisle would take an interest in my graduate education? Jasper's helped me and you never thought that was a problem."
I had noted that and nodded as I got out of the car, walked around and opened her door at an entirely human speed. "And?" My voice was pitched low and fast, so that to any nearby students, we would appear to be having a quiet conversation suitable for a young couple still very obviously in love. "I had noticed it, yes. Carlisle said that he was leaving his library with you for your studies."
"Of course. And they've been very helpful."
She said nothing more, but her expression told me that she trusted no one. I felt an ache deep in my chest. "Bella," I murmured, taking her left hand in my right as we strode with slow paces. "Please, love. What is it?"
"I can't tell you." Her eyes begged for my forgiveness but she didn't even open her mind to me to share what was obviously in there. I grimaced and looked away.
The notion of Carlisle and Bella having secrets from me did not sit well. I tried to push my concern aside, but vowed to talk to my sire soon.
E&B E&B E&B
"New Year's Eve in New York City," Emmett laughingly announced over the webcam. "We'll all be there!" My brother winked at the camera, but there was a tension about his face. His signature dimples – he had flashed them at enough girls over the decades for them to be part of his facial landscape – were in evidence, but only barely. "Rose is sure shopping for a new wardrobe."
"Great! It's weird, because it's been pretty warm so far this winter, but we're looking forward to snow in New York."
I leaned back in my chair and studied Emmett as he regarded me. His brow furrowed, as did mine. Unguarded speech had been difficult for all of us over the months, since Jasper had found that someone was, indeed, hacking almost invisibly into our lines of communication. I blew out a breath and decided to point out the looming black elephant in the room. "Have you heard from Italy?"
In an entirely human gesture – they become habitual over time – Emmett rubbed at the back of his neck. "We got a Christmas card, can you believe? What was up with that, Edward, huh?"
"Did it look like this?" I asked, reaching out with my right hand to where the small stack of cards was piled on the smooth oak desk. The card was a reproduction of a fourteenth century nativity representation and I held it up to the webcam.
My brother nodded before leaning out of the pick-up range on his own camera. "Here's ours."
The pictures were indeed the same. Apparently, the Volturi bought a boxed set. "Does yours say,
O è mutato in ciel novo consiglio,
Son le leggi d'abisso così rotte?
written with a quill pen?"
"No," Emmett said with a wicked light in his eye. "I think the good Aro is unaware that I'm not as dumb as I look. He wrote to us in English: The laws of the Abyss, are they broken? Or is there changed in heaven some council new?"
I had to chuckle, even at the ominous words. "I guess he didn't do as thorough a background check on you as he could have. Or he doesn't realize that when you got your Physics degree, you still had to learn two languages."
"Just ask Rosalie – I'm good with tongues." He wiggled his brows in the old, playful manner and my inner tension eased somewhat. Then, he sobered. "So, why do you think the Italians are quoting The Divine Comedy?"
I was impressed. As well as I knew Emmett, I didn't know he read Alighieri. "I don't know, but I do think it's significant that they chose the Purgatory section over Inferno or Paradise. It's a warning." Hell, what was it that Carlisle was communicating with Bella about? That had to do with this. "I'm thinking they're worried about the fact that we communicate as often as we do."
Emmett growled loudly enough for me to hear him. "What the hell is their problem? We're a family. Talking is what families do!"
"They're only a coven, my brother. I think they've forgotten about what a family means."
His eyes narrowed. "Yeah, well. Someday, they're gonna get schooled."
A sultry alto bell tone floated lovingly into the room. "Edward?"
My brother beat me to it. "Hey, Little Sis! How's it goin'?"
Bella's scent followed her voice, and her body appeared immediately thereafter, as she draped herself over my shoulders so that her hair slipped deliciously down my chest. I inhaled her unique scent: a fresh blend of freesia and lilac and sunshine. "Em! How's my favorite physics professor?"
"I totally do!"
While Bella and Emmett caught up, I slipped away to call Carlisle. In order to do so away from Bella's hearing, I slipped out the sliding glass door at the rear of the first floor of our house. We had the trappings, still, of the life of an extended family as we lived here on the outskirts of Hanover. There was the wooden deck, painted red with lattice work around the perimeter. In the spring, summer and autumn, Adirondack chairs were practically a staple in this neighborhood, so we had them, too. But now, with only a week to go before Christmas, we had no furniture on the deck. Apparently bundled against the cold in an unneeded coat, heavy jeans and hiking boots, I leaned against the house. Carefully. I didn't wish to dent the siding. All of this was to adequately maintain our cover. On occasion, one of us would pretend to smoke, too. It gave another illusion of humanity here in this college town. I whipped out my cell phone and punched in Carlisle's number.
"Edward!" Carlisle's voice came through as clearly as always. His accent seemed a tad more pronounced than it had when he'd lived with us. "How are you?"
"Doing well, thank you. Just finished finals for the term. Did our Italian friends send you a Christmas card as well?"
There was an instant of silence. "They did, yes. Perhaps we should all bring our cards along with us to New York. We do plan on being there, Esme and I."
"We'll do that. How's your trip?"
We fell into a surface discussion of the night life to be had on the African continent. "Nice not to have to worry about the insects, as our occasional traveling companions do."
I had to chuckle at that. "Indeed." A full century of living as a vampire and some things still could make me laugh.
"How are your studies going, Edward? And Bella's?"
The reminder sent my good humor away. "Fine," I said flatly, using my least-favorite word of Bella's. I hated when she answered me with that word – it always meant anything but fine. Granted, it was a word she used but rarely in these past years, but I would never forget it. "She has been most grateful," I went on, layering the adjective with as much annoyance as I felt in the matter "for your assistance with her literary studies. She's been most appreciative." I was growling, deep in my chest. Growling! At Carlisle!
Shaking off that strange, territorial reaction I inhaled strongly through my nose. "I imagine she can convey those thanks in person when we see you in New York." I would find his mind, there. I would get to the bottom of this. The problem was not insurmountable – it just required patience. I had patience.
"Excellent, son," my father agreed. "We look forward to it."
There followed an assurance that all travel arrangements had been seen to by Alice and Jasper and we would have our Cullen Family Reunion and Holiday Party on New Year's Eve.
One would think, after one hundred and seventy-five years, that I would have seen and heard almost everything that can be seen and heard. Carlisle and I have, on occasion, compared notes on societal and cultural experiences. His centuries of peace have contrasted interestingly with my many decades of battle, but there is much that we have seen that stays the same in human nature.
Nothing out there compares to New York City on New Year's Eve. Especially not in the company of my wife.
Of course, we had a full-floor apartment on Fifth Avenue. The residence went from Fifth to Madison Avenues. It was such a relief for me, being alone with Alice. The floor below us was owned by a Japanese consortium and was, as such, rarely occupied. The floor above us was a summer residence only. The family had three such homes and they traveled. New York in winter was not where they wanted to be. The building's newsletter said that the residents were on Marco Island, Florida. So here in our place, the only emotions I had to contend with were mine and my wife's.
I couldn't describe the peace adequately. Of course, Alice and I had had our times away from the rest of the family over the years, but these "vacations" were often short-term. Living away from the Cullens for months at a time had me wallowing in the quietude of an unbattered spirit. I hated to leave, to go hunting or anything. As a matter of fact, I generally only left to hunt. Otherwise, I monitored the financial markets on the internet and worked on a book. A novel. Emmett would break a table when he heard I was going to encourage his wife to do the same.
I felt Alice before she keyed open the lock to our home. The swirls of passion, delight, anticipation were edged with the darker hues of trepidation. I swore silently to myself. What the hell is she seeing? "Alice?"
"Oh! Jazz, I found the most beautiful pair of stockings today. Remember seams?"
I had to grin as her tiny body was self-propelled into my embrace. "Stocking seams, I'm guessin'? I do remember, ma'am," I assured her with an extended drawl. She loved it when I did that. I flipped through the images in my mind of my Alice wearing silk stockings with their precise seams flirting with me up her calves and the backs of her knees...
Alice giggled. "I can see that you do. Well, I found some for all of us ladies for the party. Now, we'll have to arrange for a hunt."
"Taken care of, sweetheart, as you are well aware." I was her go-to man for logistics.
"Good, because you know Emmett will be here in an hour." She dashed a glance down the pale wooden floor and the smooth white lines of the walls. We had pictures on display. Bella and Edward's wedding, some taken when we were all together at Dartmouth, Carlisle and Esme's eightieth anniversary – not that the number "80" was anywhere in the image. Alice had insisted on some of the two of us as well.
"I'll be having colleagues over, Jazz, and it'd look weird not to have a collage or something of us. Come on, it'll be fun!"
Guessing that she had seen everything down to the way I held her hand in one of the shots, I had agreed, though the photographs made me uncomfortable. I felt so exposed in them. Alice didn't mind my scars, but I still did.
In every other respect, our New York home was comfortable for us. Knowing we had no intention of staying very long, Alice had managed to rein herself in on the decorating while concentrating her manic energies on her designing. She had the library in our home, with its corner windows and airy dimensions, while I claimed the study with its built-in shelving and insulated walls.
I would be sad to leave this place and, yes, I was indeed a bit reluctant even to have it intruded upon by family.
J&A J&A J&A
I welcomed my little sister with a heartfelt grin as she pressed a wrapped gift into my hands. "Bella, good to see you." Great not to have to feel you, too, I added only to myself. Edward caught that thought and slanted a smile in my direction before embracing Esme. As Bella pushed the gilt-wrapped gift more firmly into my midsection, I cocked a brow at her. "What, did I forget to get you a present, too?" Bella still disliked receiving gifts, though Edward had reported some progress in that department.
"Yes! You did! Read the note!" she whispered, her voice barely reaching my ears. Edward didn't even hear her – his emotions never fluctuated with curiosity or determination in our direction. I felt a vague sort of pressure in the center of my forehead that extended to about the middle of my brain as I flipped the slip of paper open with two fingers under Bella's eager eyes.
Mask your thoughts, Mr. Strategist. Don't block them - he'll grow suspicious.
I am conducting an experiment tonight. Please allow me to shield you from everyone's emotions this evening. I am working on my gift.
Because it wouldn't hurt, I immediately threw my foremost thoughts to the hunting grounds I would be guiding the family through the following evening. While I did so, I eyed Bella narrowly, wondering what she was up to, working in such a covert manner. "Why?" I mouthed at her.
"Practicing," she mouthed back.
I rolled my eyes, and took the gift with its tag of Do Not Open Until the New Year on it back to the master bedroom. Curiosity, of course, grabbed me by my throat and I had to remind myself that whatever was in here was in here for a reason. I couldn't feel Bella. Edward couldn't hear her. The Volturi were tapping our electronic communications. She wants to block my gift for the evening?
"Bella? What the hell are you doing, girl?" I muttered. Fortunately, enough walls and insulation separated me from the rest of the family so that no one responded. Not even Bella.
With all the force of habit, I extended my awareness out, to make sure no one heard me and to check on Alice and Edward – I couldn't believe Bella had managed to be as sneaky as all that – and found nothing.
No sensations. I was alone with my own emotions. It felt as if I were blindfolded with lead and it made me uneasy, suddenly, so that I ran lightly from the room. My footsteps barely seemed to hit the herringboned floor as I jogged through the smooth halls, past the kitchen and into the long narrow living room that fronted on Fifth Avenue. Voices bounced happily off the walls and floors, echoing with strange resonances in the occasional art niche and sliding softly under the ceiling. We are a voluble family and we haven't been in company with one another for months.
It was eerie. I could hear everything, of course, but feel nothing but my own discomfort. There was Alice, all but vibrating as she, Esme and Rosalie discussed the photograph montage on the wall over the sofas. Yes, there were two and they were upholstered in butter-soft brown leather – my choice – and spruced up with tasseled pillows and small blankets – Alice's wish. My wife and sisters (I never could think of Esme as a maternal figure, though she did try hard to be one) occupied one while Carlisle and Edward were on the other. Emmett was in the coordinating club chair with his legs outstretched, reading from a Kindle e-book Reader. I heard the faint click with each turn of an electronic page.
It was Edward that had my curiosity skyrocketing.
"I just don't understand why the big interest in comparative lit all of a sudden, Carlisle." The leader of the family leaned into the yielding sofa cushion and offered a minute shrug while I pretended to eye the increasingly populated avenue below. Edward spoke again after a moment. "No, she's not hiding any of the emails from any of you. I just – It's just a feeling, Carlisle." Pause. "No, of course I trust her. I've never had a reason not to, really."
I know that Edward's conversation was being overheard, but only Bella was reacting. If she could have blushed, I believe she would have. Her facial expression tightened as she laced her fingers firmly together. She was listening to Edward, blocking my gift, and still trying to be mentally present while Alice waxed rhapsodic on the value of black and white photography as a contemporary art form in wardrobe designing.
With a grin, I crossed the room to kiss my wife on her inky black hair. "Love you," I murmured.
"You too, Jazz!" She blinked and turned her upturned face so that our noses brushed. "Hm. When are you taking me to Italy?"
All conversations stopped.
J&A J&A J&A
It wasn't until everyone had left us alone, two days into 2019, that I opened the box. I had a sense from Bella that this was a private gift. Sure enough, on top there was a set of lingerie for Alice that made me smile and made my wife squeal with delight. She immediately dashed off to our closet to try it on.
And I peeled back the layers of tissue paper to find an old book with a frail leather cover. It was Dante's Divine Comedy, the illustrated edition published in the 1860's – the decade I had been turned. There was a note that slipped out as I gingerly removed the book from the box.
J- You do read Italian, don't you? -B
"What do you think, Jazz?" Alice sang, sliding from the closet, one shapely white limb at a time.
Ten thoughts pounded into my brain at once, including Edward's cryptic conversation with Carlisle, Bella's insistence upon shielding me, and the repetition of the Italian theme – not only over the New Year, but also from Christmas. Unsure as to what all of this portended, I did a rare thing; I kept it entirely from my wife.
"What do I think? I think you have finally managed to teach Bella about the joys of lingerie. I do think that this present is really meant for me."
I was sure that that, anyway, was the utter truth.
A/N: So...what did you think? I'll be working on this story for a bit and will post when I've got a couple chapters ahead. -) Keep an eye open for me!