A/N: You will find Coven notes in a separate 'story' under my profile.
These should help you all keep a handle on who belongs with whom and what they can and can't do.
Anyway, on with the story.
Chapter 31 – A week to go you say?
With eight days left to go things looked good. Amun and Benjamin had arrived, bringing with them their mates and happy reunions were had with all but Amun. He denounced Angel as a witch, as he had Nessa, but nobody really took too much notice this time.
His accusations held no sting for us anymore. Angel was as polite as Nessa had been when introduced and showed no fear or anger at being denounced a witch like her beloved cousin. In fact she was quite proud to be named as such because it reinforced, for her, just how alike she and Nessa were. Amun was not amused but kept quiet after that.
Hot on their heels came another new pair. This time from Mexico. A mated pair, Jesus and Camilla, and they were absolutely adorable. Both had been turned quite young and though they looked like young adults they were almost the same age as Carlisle!
They told fabulous tales of adventure and frivolity and everyone loved them on sight.
Jesus was particularly wonderful because he could do as Nicolau and Laurent could do when they were still on the earth. He could quantify bonds.
Nessa asked me what this meant and I had a hard time explaining it to her in terms she could understand. So too did Em and Rosie with Angel. Alice suggested a game.
So that's how our evening ended. Jesus stood in the middle of the living room at the big house while everyone mingled about. Pairs split up and covens shifted places until we were a complete jumble of bodies.
There was no way for Jesus to know who belonged to who because he'd never met any of us before.
We sat Nessa and Angel on the footstool in front of him and they got to point to each of us in turn as Jesus matched us up into pairs, or covens.
It was great fun and both girls loved it. They giggled and cheered when he got it right, which was every time of course.
Nessa and Angel were duly put to bed, in the big house for a change, at a respectable weeknight hour and the adults moved to the dining room to continue planning.
Just before the sun rose over the river we were joined by another group. They were from Arizona. Bella was so excited to meet someone from her home state and even more excited when Samantha, the leader of the small group, announced that she was a shield. Her mate Kellan, and their coven mate Christopher, were acquaintances of Peter and Charlottes from their many travels so they fit right into the group as though we'd known them for decades.
Bella and Samantha were soon locked in fierce debate about shields and Fina was looking decidedly put out to be left out of the conversation. She'd shown no interest in helping Bella learn the finer points of her gift and was, mentally at least, disappointed to see that Bella and Samantha not only hit it off so quickly and easily but that they showed no interest in bringing Fina into their newly formed fold.
It was a reluctant Bella who went to work with me later that morning. She wanted to spend more time with Samantha and practice with her shield. Nessa wanted to stay home and spend more time with Lucie and Daria, and Seth wanted to stay home to help plan.
So it was a pretty peeved group that ran towards school that morning. Most, if not all, of the animosity was directed squarely at me for being the one who insisted we do the right thing.
Turned out that school was both interesting and fun for us all that day.
Our friend Lisa, the girl who'd conducted the interviews right after the last fight, had returned to the area and brought with her her coven mates.
This excited Nessa no end. She loved Lisa and couldn't wait to introduce her to Jonathon as she'd promised last visit.
Stan and Louisa were duly introduced – in my office during the lunch break – and after that the others were less inclined to call me the Grinch in their thoughts.
At the end of the day the new group went home with us and Lisa was introduced to Jonathon. I had to hand it to Nessa. She knew people. Whether she knew them because of what she read from them or she was just one of those humans who could tell when two people were going to become instant friends I didn't know. But she had been right.
Jonathon took one look at Lisa, and she at him, and it was a done deal, just as Nessa had predicted.
We didn't see the new couple again until the following morning. I hoped my daughter didn't read from their thoughts what they'd gotten up to in the eleven hours of their absence because I for one wasn't ready to explain it out loud to her. The images and thoughts I was reading were decidedly blue. I hoped Nessa was suitably distracted by all the other thoughts in the room and wouldn't notice these ones in particular. One could only hope.
Seven days out and things fell apart.
Up until that point we'd had a good few days. Tension began to grow as the date of the fight drew nearer but it wasn't until day seven that things really went south in a hurry.
The planning was starting to look all wrong. Everyone was on edge. Petty disagreements began to crop up. People were arguing amongst themselves. Whole groups were taking sides against other groups. The local wolves refused to participate in any further training. The out of town wolves refused to participate in any training that was led by Peter. The shifters still wouldn't tell me what their numbers were going to be. I still hadn't met anyone in either Raul's guard or anybody from Naj's coven. David was up my ass about the Council. Carlisle refused to help me sort it all out. Nessa and Angel were bickering with Riley and Seth over every little thing. And to top it off I had blue balls.
Something had to give.
Turned out I should've just been content with how things were. Had I realised that things could actually deteriorate even further I would've counted my blessings then and there.
Another new group of vampires arrived at the big house. Four in all. One female and three males.
Ava, Joshua and Michael were introduced around the gathered group without incident. It was only when the fourth member gave his name did things get decidedly heated.
This was a coven from Louisiana, which in itself was interesting enough for Ruth, but when the third male said his name was Landon all hell broke loose.
Benny and Carey did their level best to restrain her, and had I not read her intentions when I did things may have turned decidedly more violent than they did.
As it was Carlisle pulled Landon out of harms way at the same time that Rosie pushed him out the way, causing the three of them to hit the parquetry floor with a resounding thud.
Jasper must have felt her mood change and leapt toward Ruth at the same time I did. We took her to the floor and held her there while Jaz did his best to calm her. She fought like the devil though and twice I had to roll sideways to prevent my testicles meeting my throat abruptly.
"Stop this!" Esme screeched, but it had little effect.
Landon, by this time, had gotten to his feet and had shaken both Carlisle and Rosie off. He'd assumed a defensive crouch by the front door and was then flanked by his three coven mates, and Alice who had jumped up to help diffuse the situation.
Bella had, quite wisely, taken both the children and run towards the backdoor with them, ready to flee should it all escalate further.
Everyone else had sidled up to their mates, or coven mates, and were planning to defend themselves should either of these two turn this into an all out fight.
Ruth was still sprawled on the floor but was doing her best to dislodge me and was now having a crack at dislodging Jasper's wedding vegetables.
"Jesus woman," he hissed as she elbowed him first under his chin and then took at shot at his groin.
He threw his head back just in time to miss being beheaded by her right hook and I could tell that he was just about up to pussy's bow with this nonsense.
"Em, grab her other arm," he shouted above the din in the room. "Bella, take those children away!" he roared.
Bella and the girls took off down the path towards either the cottage or Emmett's.
Em did as he was bid and helped me Ruth her more securely to the floor. Within seconds Jaz had used his gift to all but put the screeching woman to sleep right there on the floor. Zafrina was projecting a calming meadow filled with butterflies and singing birds directly into her brain.
All the while Landon was hissing and growling. From his thoughts I could tell he had no idea what this was about and who this madwoman was. He was also wondering what sort of nuthouse he'd stumbled upon.
I stood and looked about the room to make sure there weren't any others who were likely to attempt to disarm the situation using violence and after I determined that everyone else was just puzzled as to what the hell had just happened I turned to a now pliant Ruth and her coven mates.
"Benny, Carey, step aside. Ruth, Landon has no idea about the grudge you're holding on to," I told the now oddly smiling Ruth as she watched a mother elephant pour water from its trunk onto its calf in a stream. I turned to Landon. "This is Ruth. Does she look familiar to you at all?" I asked.
He stepped forward, cautiously, and stared long and hard down at the now giggling woman.
He looked to me, then back to Ruth, then back to me. "Ruth?" he asked.
"Yes, Ruth," I told him whilst smiling. His thoughts said it all. He hadn't abandoned her. His sire had called him home and he'd been all but forced to obey because his sire had the same summoning gift that Maja had. He had never been allowed to return to where he'd met her, or turned her, and by the time he could – his sire having been ended during a bar fight in Reno – it had been too late and Ruth herself had moved on. He'd loved this woman, truly loved her, and he'd spent just as many years pining for her as she'd done pining for him. Only his longing had remained just that, longing. Ruth's had turned to bitter resentment.
"Zafrina, please release her from what she's seeing. Jaz, ease up a little and let's see if she's calm enough to hear Landon out," I suggested. If anyone else had a better idea they didn't voice it, or think it.
Landon asked his coven mates to back off a little and they did as they were asked, though all three remained in their crouches as a slightly groggy Ruth rose unsteadily to her feet and stared at him warily.
"Is it really you, Ruth?" Landon asked the shocked woman.
"Of course it's really me you great buffoon. They told you so, didn't they?" she spat as she came completely out from under Jasper's influence.
"I can't believe it. After all these years of searching I've found you at last," Landon whispered.
This seemed to stop Ruth in her tracks. She balked and for three long minutes she teetered on the cusp of pure hatred and shock at what he'd just said.
When she did speak it was in a very quiet whisper and it was also in a language I hadn't heard for decades. "You searched for me, bebe? All these years you were lost to me."
Landon, very cautiously still, moved a little towards her, palms outstretched in the universal vampiric sign of passivity. "Bebe, seventy-two years I have searched, and here you stand, lovelier than the day I tasted you first," he replied in rusty, but not incomprehensible Macedonian.
Ruth's thoughts turned to that first time and Jasper swallowed hard at the same time I cringed. He'd felt the change in the air and I'd seen why. Urgh. Here we go again I thought as Landon moved closer still and held out his hand.
Ava put a hand to his shoulder and quietly asked him if he was sure about this, to which he answered he had waited for this moment for nearly a century and nothing was going to stop him taking his beloved into his arms once again.
Esme sobbed as the two embraced. Alice sighed and Rosie clicked her tongue in true Rosie form. Bella, who it seemed had only run to the back of the yard and not down the path, had most likely heard it all and was now smiling widely at the backdoor, both girls at her side. Both Nessa and Angel were thinking how nice it was that these two had found each other again. Neither truly understood why it had begun as such an explosive reunion, but neither did they care. All that mattered to both girls was that their new friend Ruth was smiling and was happy.
They were both true romantics, even at this early age.
Landon released Ruth from the embrace and turned to face the assembled group. "I apologise for this scene, but please excuse us for a few hours, we have much to discuss." He turned to me and held his hand out, waiting for me to once again shake it. "Thank you, Edward Cullen, for bringing her back to me. It is a great thing you've done. We shall return, and when we do I'd like to hear your plans for this coming fight. My coven mates will learn all they can until then. Please excuse us."
With that they went out the front door and ran down the driveway. Their only thoughts were where to go and how to get far enough away from the house so as not to be overheard, or read, as they had each other for the first time in seventy odd years.
I cringed again and then turned to the new group. "Come in, come in, we've got lots to show you."
I swear I was going to come out the other side of this fight bipolar. The tension in the house just kept building. Not because of the damn fight, but because we'd switch from light-hearted moments to violent clashes and back again in seconds around here. A vampire could get whiplash!
The house seemed to settle after Landon and Ruth left but I didn't think anyone trusted the peace very much. Each sound outdoors set everyone to staring at the front door, wondering who was going to turn up next and set the cats amongst the pigeons again.
Thankfully the peace remained. For a little while.
We got two more days to get to know those who had already arrived, and to plan as best we could what was going to be the final formation of the war map, before anyone new arrived.
When Wednesday arrived we were all pleased to not have to head to school. All the preparations had been made for our absence and while it had hurt to leave the day before I was pleased not to have to pretend to be in control anymore.
Inside the cottage, after Nessa and Seth were asleep, I could lose it and lose it I did.
The fear had arrived.
Edward and I ran for hours through the forest. We cried, we screamed, we raged and we loved each other as much as we could. And just like last time it felt like it was never going to be enough.
For the years I'd had him it wasn't enough.
For the three short years we'd had Renesmee that wasn't enough either.
Seth was just hitting his stride, just becoming a man, and the thought of either of them never having the chance to love the way I loved Edward made me heartsick.
It just wasn't fair.
I knew the others felt the same and some of them had been with their mates for centuries, but I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for myself that this kept happening to us specifically. To Edward and I. And to Seth and Renesmee.
When we went to the big house that morning it was once again teeming with vampires and wolves. They seemed to have put their differences aside now that we were so close to having to fight together, and for one another. I wondered if the truce would as short lived as the last one. The tension was there but I thought they might just be channelling it into mutual hate for what Kirkov was doing to us rather than taking it out on one another.
Groups were dotted around the property again that morning. Esme held court in the kitchen while Nessa and Angel sat on their usual stools and lapped up not only her attention but all the chocolate treats she could shovel into them.
Rosie and I left them alone. They could eat what they wanted and play what they wanted from here on in. Life may very well be too short for petty rules.
Edward and his usual group of men were in the dining room learning all they could about the new gifts available to the group. Michael, from the Louisiana coven, was telekinetic. Or at least he could use telekinesis to move things with his mind. I wasn't sure what good that was going to do but the guys seemed impressed with it all the same.
Naj arrived at midday with six members of her group for us to meet. Adding herself and Fina that made them the largest coven besides ours and it made me uneasy and Edward happy.
We were so different.
He was also ecstatic when he learnt that Tolenka, Naj's mate (and once again nobody had known she had a mate) had exactly the same gift that Alec, the former guard of Stephan's, had possessed.
Tolenka, just like Alec, creeped me out because he could render your senses nil. He could blind you, deafen you, and make you mute and unable to move all at once.
Of course he couldn't do that to me because I was a shield, but he could do it to everyone else I loved and that made me uneasy.
I supposed I should've been grateful that this time this gift was going to be on our side of the clearing but it was hard to think that way. Instead all I could think of was why Naj had kept this from us until the very last minute. After all, her full coven had been in the area for days now and we were just learning that another two of them had gifts.
Add to that that we didn't really know how many were in her coven and it seemed like a big crap shoot to me.
Preston, another member, could levitate. He could actually lift his whole body off the ground using nothing but his mind. He couldn't fly exactly, and he couldn't do it indefinitely, but he could go high enough to escape a full on frontal attack.
It was impressive and I knew that both Edward and Jasper thought it might come in handy.
I kept my opinions to myself once again as everyone crowded around to learn more.
All these things had been kept quiet by Naj for a reason. I was sure of it.
I didn't know what the reason was, and nobody else seemed as though they cared, but I did. If I'd heard that someone was heading toward Denali to eradicate our cousins I'd call them right away and offer to help, just as Naj had, but I'd also let them know what gifts they'd have available from those I'd be bringing with me.
I'd make sure they knew. I'd make sure they knew how many I was bringing, when we were arriving and what we could do to help.
Naj had done none of that.
I didn't get a chance to discuss it with Edward because right after Preston's big reveal another group arrived.
The usual scenario ensued. The children were shooed upstairs while Edward and Carlisle answered the front door.
Three vampires crossed the threshold. Two men and a woman.
"I am José and this is my mate Karenena, we are from Spain and we'd like to help," the swarthy man at the front of the trio announced as he shook hands with my husband.
"And I am Wyatt," the other man said as he too shook Edward's hand.
"Not Spanish?" Edward asked with a laugh.
"Texan," the drawl came back. "Any chance that Jasper Whitlock is here?" he asked while looking around the gathering.
"I'm Jasper Whitlock," Jasper said warily as he made his way through the crowd to the front. "Have we met?"
"Yes sir," Wyatt said as he saluted Jasper crisply. "We fought together once."
Peter pushed his way to the front then too. "Rodriguez?" he asked.
"Yes, that's me. Wyatt Rodriguez. You were there too?" Wyatt asked Peter.
"I was," Peter confirmed.
"You were in my charge during the war. You're one of Marias, from after," Jasper said. It wasn't a question, it was a statement.
"I was. I am. And you let me go," he said as he stuck his hand out in front of him.
Jasper stared at his hand for what seemed an age then took it, shook it and then pulled the other man to him and hugged him hard. "I always hoped you made it," Jasper told him and then they broke apart. "Pete, this really is Wyatt." The three men stood staring at each other for quite some time before Edward coughed politely and the three new guests moved into the house to be introduced to everyone else.
There were no new gifts in these two groups so only basic information was gathered. That's when Wyatt dropped a bit of a bombshell.
"I'm not alone," he said matter of factly. "There's about twenty of us actually. They sent me because they thought Jasper would be here and he wasn't likely to kill me seeing as he let me go once before. I'll let the others know that everything's cool. They'll come by tomorrow."
"Holy shit," Alice laughed.
"Oh, seeing as you're really seriously planning this thing I should let you know some of the gifts we've got, right? There's Sophie, she's a tracker. And Abbey, she's fire proof. Comes in handy," he laughed. "Then there's Jackson, he's great, he can project mental pressure. It's a bit like being squeezed from the inside out, but he's harmless the rest of the time. Any chance you can use us?" he asked seriously.
Edward, Jasper and Peter looked as though Santa had just arrived to tell them that the Easter bunny and the Tooth Fairy had gotten together and given them Kirkov's head on a platter for Christmas.
I could live with bipolar as long as the good stuff was this good.
But then again, Wyatt didn't know any of us, not really, despite him having known Jasper over a century ago, and yet when he'd shown up to help he told us his numbers, their abilities and when they'd arrive. Naj had not.
There was a rat, and it smelled pretty bad, to me.
The surprises and the assistance just kept coming. Thankfully, since the violence of Landon's arrival, the others went far more smoothly.
Our English friends, Olivia and Zara – sadly minus Charles whom we'd so sadly lost during the last fight was absent – arrived hot on the heels of Wyatt and his good news.
This was a much more muted reunion as everyone who'd been here the first time embraced the two girls and spoke in hushed tones about their loss and how brave it was that they'd come again.
I knew from their thoughts that they'd not be spectators this time but waited until they voiced it before thanking them. It had been a hard decision for them to make and the journey had been broken twice by changes of mind and heart. But they'd come to us and I was very grateful.
My map was full to overflowing by this point.
The names of those we knew were each in a little square of paper and stuck fast to the dining rooms windows. There were blanks all around the edges where the shifters would be. We had no idea of exact numbers so we just went with a dozen or so squares of blank paper in a different colour and hoped for the best.
The same went for Wyatt's group. He gave us vague numbers and told us that there were some who'd come but hadn't decided whether or not to join in. Those he was sure of went on the map, the others we left blank in another different colour.
The Territorial Army had a colour of their own too and so did our own pack members. So once those were all placed the whole thing looked as though a clown had vomited on the window.
Alice and Esme had made a paper copy for us to take to the actual clearing on the day but until we were happy with the final placement, and the final numbers, it would remain in flux and right where it was on the table.
I'd stared at it for so many hours I could draw it from memory if the two copies we did have were ever lost. When I closed my eyes at night it was there. The little post it notes in their various colours were there. I could tell you where each note went and who it represented. I could tell you what each of those on the notes could and couldn't do. I could tell you who went with whom and why they'd chosen their position on the map the way they had.
I could recite the order in which our defence would manifest itself. I could recall which groups were going to back up which group and who was going to fall back, or come forward, depending on the scenarios we'd practised.
And that evening I realised that it was all for naught.
I still had no idea how many Kirkov was bringing and exactly what they could do.
I had no information about how he fought, how he got his guard to fight, or if he'd fight at all. After all, Jacob sent his pack and had never had any intention of fighting personally.
There was no contingency plan should that happen again. If Kirkov sent his guard here and didn't attend himself we could lose hundreds of people and he'd just remount his assault within a month and we'd be left with half our numbers and probably half our gifts to hand too.
Kirkov had to be ended in the clearing. There was no other acceptable outcome.
And I began to understand that I had absolutely no way to make that happen.
It wouldn't take much for all our plans to come undone, or be rendered useless by one cog in a machine we had no idea how to fight.
I'd read the same thoughts from Jasper and from Peter over the preceding few days and had to admit now that they were right.
So I did the only thing I could do. I sent my sister away.
Alice, accompanied by Jasper despite her protestations that he stay and continue with the training sessions, headed for the mountains on the Thursday morning before the fight.
She had to go far enough away from anyone shifter, wolf or hybrid in order to get a bead on what Kirkov could be planning. But that meant that she'd be separated from us for god knew how long.
I made her promise to return at some point before we needed to be in the clearing, even if that meant one hour before we got started, because I could not fathom not seeing her, not hugging her and not speaking to her if Saturday was to be our last day on earth.
She agreed and her thoughts told me she was sincere in the promise, so I let her go.
The mood in the big house was sombre that day. It was as if Alice and Jasper had taken all the confidence the group as a whole had gained in the proceeding days with them.
Tension was once again palpable as everyone tried to come to terms with what the next few days might hold. Come Saturday evening any one of us may be in mourning or not here at all.
It was stifling to be in the house with those kinds of thoughts swirling about in every brain present and I was at once pleased that Jasper had gone with Alice. These feelings would've crippled him.
But for me there was no escape. Even at the cottage there were Nessa and Seth's thoughts to contend with. Nessa still didn't shield when she was sleeping so I was privy to her worst fears as they moved through her brain as dreams.
Seth's dreams, too, were filled with all the horrors he'd seen during the first fight. Watching Brady fall, Eric and the aftermath his death created, Stephan and I 'dancing' around each other and then the sheer terror he'd seen and felt as Santiago came through the trees on the Rez.
That night it got too much for me as I watched, third hand, Seth's panic that Renesmee and my parents in law, along with his own parents, were to perish if he failed to thwart Santiago.
"I have to go," I whisper to my wife as she lay beside me.
She leapt up, panic on her face. "Why? What's happened?"
"Shhh, you'll wake them," I nodded toward the hall. "Nothing's happened," I told her as I pulled on some pants.
"Then where are you going?" she asked as she too pulled some jeans and a jersey.
I didn't want to have to explain because I knew the children's dreams would upset her but I had no choice but to tell her the truth. "Their dreams," I told her quietly.
Her face crumpled. Just as I knew it would. "They're frightened, aren't they?"
"Yeah, they are," I told her sadly.
"I'll leave a note for Seth, I'll run with you. We should hunt anyway."
I grabbed her then, around the waist, and pulled her to me hard. I kissed her roughly. "Thank you," knowing she'd know what for.
"From here on in we do nothing without the other, agreed?" she asked sternly.
She scribbled a note and put it on the pillow next to a restless Seth and then we ran.
We hunted quickly and quietly, sharing the kill as we had done every time since she'd curbed her thirst, and then we ran some more.
Almost all the way to Seattle and back. At a full clip. Hand in hand.
It was so freeing. Just to be. At top speed, just running together.
We slowed as we approached the school. It was the early morning hours of Friday morning so there was nobody there. It was eerily quiet. I liked it so much more when it was full of the happy thoughts of the children and teachers. Not like this. Dark, deserted, almost unloved.
"Come on," Bella whispered as she tugged on my hand.
We walked through the place, stopping at every building and facility. I had no keys with me so when Bella grinned and stopped at the backdoor to the auditorium I knew before she did it that she'd bust the lock. She did and soon we were on the stage, my beloved Bösendorfe in pride of place there on the polished timber floor.
Bella flicked on the stage lights and nodded toward the piano.
"Really?" I asked, not at all in the mood to play. It had been days, possibly weeks, since I'd last played for the sheer joy of it. I'd played in classes but it just wasn't the same.
"Please," she begged as she pulled the stool from its hiding place and patted the seat for me. "Just a little."
I flexed my fingers though they didn't need it. I cracked my neck though the muscles and joints needed no warming up and then I sat. The keys stared back at me but there was nothing I truly wanted to play. Something funereal seemed right considering my mood but I knew that would upset Bella. Something frivolous would please her but I didn't have the heart for it.
"Italy," she whispered and came to the edge of the lid.
I watched as she ran her hand across the satin edge, her perfect pale fingers leaving no mark as they trailed across it. I closed my eyes and tried to recall the utter bliss that our one trip to Italy had been. The sheer joy at meeting Nathaniel and learning that our child would be strong and long lived too. Recalled the pure pleasure of finally living my long held dream of having my mate on the lid of that piano, in that room in that city, at that time, realised.
When I opened my eyes to orient my fingers on the correct keys I could see that Bella now had her eyes closed. Was she remembering too?
The first minutes of the piece were cold. There was no fire inside me that would come forth and transfer to the piano's sound. Bella kept her eyes closed and I watched her. To her my playing probably sounded fairly normal, good even, but to my own ears I knew it was bad.
A slight curve came to her lips and as it did I too closed my eyes and tried to recall all the intimate details of that hotel in Italy. The midnight blue drapes, the balcony with its bougainvillea spirals through the wrought iron railings. The way the piano was raised on its own dais in the centre of that extraordinary room. The suede sofas, the scent of her as she bathed, the roundness of her belly that was filled with my child.
And then the music and the passion began to bleed from me. Its warmth began in my throat. It thickened as the emotion in the piece I'd chosen began to come to life. Two bars further along I opened my eyes and saw the most beautiful sight.
Bella was swaying, eyes closed, and a smile on her lips.
My fingers were really flying now, the notes so well known to me I no longer had to think what came next. My feet worked the pedals out of habit, deepening the resonance of the piece. It rumbled from within me, amplified by the astonishing sound this particular piano could produce.
The piece ended abruptly on paper but I discarded the last few, dying notes and began again, as though it was meant to continue seamlessly.
Bella hummed softly while she swayed and I, for a short moment, believed she was remembering what I was remembering as the smile spread further across her mouth.
"Do you remember?" she asked.
The question startled me and I lost two notes, but recovered quickly.
"Everything," I told her honestly.
Twelve bars further along she spoke again, but gone was the uncertainty and the fear that had been in her voice for the last two days. Now there was a husky tone to it that lit me on fire. "Tell me," she begged.
I drew a long pull of her scent and as her arousal assaulted my senses I did just that. "You gave me my dream," I whisper.
"You took your dream," she corrected.
"I did," I agreed, "I took every single detail and made it real."
"Was it real? Was it close to what you wanted?' she whispered as she came a little closer to where I sat.
My fingers slowed a little as I relived that night again. "It so far exceeded my dream," I told her honestly. "You were perfect. It was perfect."
"It's still perfect," she said and I knew what she was telling me, without needing to tell me.
It was still perfect. Everything about her and I, and our family, was still perfect and it always would be. Even if something went wrong. Even if we perished. We'd go together and the perfection that was us would remain forever.
"I'll love you forever," I added.
The tune once again came to its natural end and once again I nicked off the end bars, ready to begin again, when she moved closer again and put her hand over one of mine. "Let it end, then play mine," she whispered as she came to stand behind me.
She'd learnt so much, come so far since her change. I had no idea that she knew this tune, or when it should begin or end, but she did. I did as asked and let it come to its end then began her lullaby. Penned so many years before but still as crisp and as bright to me as it had been the day I'd begun it.
"So lovely," she said as her cool lips met the skin at the base of my neck.
I hadn't meant the music, I'd meant him. He was so lovely. I'd called him beautiful the day we met and I still believed it. Only now his beauty had so much more dimension than it had when I'd thought it as a child.
Outwardly he was beautiful and I had no doubt that even as a human he'd been extraordinarily handsome, but the beauty that he held inside him made his outward looks pale in comparison.
He felt things so deeply. He loved long and hard and fiercely. He protected us and he taught us, he laughed with us and guided us and through everything he was beautiful.
Some probably thought him staid, or old fashioned, but those things were the things I loved about him the most. His sense of occasion and his dedication to doing the right thing, being the right thing.
I trail my fingertips down the column of his throat and smile when I feel, and hear, his soft growl. I watched his fingers for a few moments as he played my lullaby.
Long, strong fingers made for the piano and made for me.
His unruly hair hadn't been helped by his leaping from our bed so abruptly but I loved it none the less. I tugged and pulled on the strands and he leaned back a little, allowing me better access to his throat and neck.
I nipped and sucked at his neck and kneaded his scalp, and still he played.
That night in Italy might well have been the playing out of a long held dream for him but it had also become one of my most beloved memories.
I'd steered him here, to the school, to distract him from his morbid thoughts but now that we were here, and he was playing, there were other ways I could continue with the distracting.
When the last bars of my personal music began to fade I pulled the stool on which he sat and he slid backwards on it until there was room enough between his knees and the keys for me to squeeze. I pulled the lid shut and sat on it squarely, my knees outside his.
"I'll love you forever, too," I told him as I lowered my forehead to his. "You told me last time that death meant nothing and I still believe that. Even if that happens we'll be together and I'll love you through the next life too."
He exhaled long and hard before replying. "If we survive this we're going to Italy." It wasn't a question and I knew then, should we be lucky enough to survive this we'd go to Italy, again.
"Yes," I told him. "We'll go to Italy and we'll do it all again."
"God Bella," he groaned as he pulled me off the keyboard lid and into his lap. "I'm so sorry."
"For what?" I laughed. "You've nothing to be sorry for. You didn't do anything wrong Edward. This really isn't anything to do with you, you know that."
"It doesn't matter. You have to fight again. I'm sorry for that," he told me as he began to run his nose up and down my throat. "God, your smell..." he trailed off.
I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and held him close then. Distraction had to be the game for now. If I let him sink into his regrets we'd spend the next days terrified and we'd miss out on all the amazing things there were still left to do and say.
With a finger under his chin I lifted his face so that I could see his eyes. "Do you remember that time at the cabin? You said there was only one thing you'd ever need from me. Do you remember what it was?"
He closed his eyes as he answered. "I asked you to love me."
"You did," I lean forward and kiss his lips gently. "And I do. And I will," I tell him.
That seemed to spark either his interest or my ability to distract him got a whole lot better because it was like he came awake then after a very long sleep. He pulled my mouth to his using the nape of my neck in his big hand; his other hand clutched my waist firmly, pulling me down onto his erection.
He still tasted faintly of the hunt. I let my tongue lick across his teeth as it made its way into his waiting mouth. He groaned long and deep as I did it, so I did it again.
This spurred him on and within seconds my jersey was on the floor and he was well on his way to divesting me of my bra. His mouth never left mine as his long, talented fingers found my left nipple and tweaked it, hard.
I wound my own fingers into his hair and pulled just as hard. I was rewarded with another deep groan. Pulling on the collar of his shirt I managed to tear the seams clean through and it joined my jersey on the floor.
He broke the kiss and pushed me softly backward until I was lying against the closed keyboard lid. He ran one hand down between my breasts; the other pulled the button on my jeans off easily. The little tinkle as it flew across the stage made me giggle. He smirked but made no sound. He was enjoying this and as soon as he was inside me I'd be able to find out how much.
He must have had the same thought because he stood then, allowing my feet to hit the floor. With the button gone it wasn't long before he'd removed my shoes and the jeans and I was half sprawled across the piano in just panties and a grin.
"Beautiful," he whispered as his mouth closed over a nipple.
His other hand began to undo his own pants but that wasn't what I wanted yet. "No," I told him, "leave them on."
He released my nipple and stared at me for a few seconds, grinned then returned to his task. He cupped my other breasts and ran the pad of his thumb across his name. He still loved it, it still fascinated him, the way it changed with my mood.
I wrapped my legs around his waist and tried to pull him closer but he wouldn't have it. Desperate for some friction I whined but it was to no avail. I may have started this but Edward was in control now.
"I'm taking this," he all but moaned against my now aching breast.
I didn't bother to answer. I wanted him to take me. I wanted him to lose himself in whatever dream he'd had about this place, this piano. And if he hadn't had any dreams or fantasies about it I had and this was pretty much how I wanted it go, so I let him lead.
I knew she was distracting me and I was pathetically grateful for it. I needed this. I needed to be inside her and I needed to hear for myself what she was thinking. I had no doubt she'd hide her fear from me, but I was planning to hide mine from her, so we'd be even.
With her splayed out on the piano lid as she was I had access to her graceful neck and that luscious mouth. And with her leaning back the way she was her core was pressed tight up against my aching prick.
I pushed, lightly, just to gage her reaction. The moan she gave me made my balls twitch so I did it again, then again. Within seconds we were rocking back and forth against one another.
"Edward," she rasped and I knew she needed more.
I happily obliged. With a hand still cupping one breast I used the other at the base of her throat to push her back further still. Now she was lying across the Bösendorfe. "Fucking magnificent," I mutter as I let my hand travel the length of her torso. I give her no time to either protest at the speed I was taking us, or the time I was taking to get where we both wanted to go, and slide a finger beneath her soaked panties. "Jesus Christ," I moan as her moisture coats my fingers, "you're drenched."
"Oh god," is all she can manage as I begin to stroke her outer lips.
There is no way we'll be meeting him anytime soon I think to myself as I enter her with first one finger, then another. I take my hand from her breast and use it to slide her panties down to her knees. "Cup your breast," I tell her, "tease the nipple for me." Her eyes fly wide open and she stares at me for just a minute. She's deciding whether she should, whether she can. We've not done this. Neither of us has pleasured themselves in the company of the other. This was new and oh so fucking erotic I could hardly contain myself at the thought of her doing as I ask. She does and I close my eyes for a second to once again relive how fucking magnificent she was in Italy as she did as I asked. But this is a new scenario. This is a new fantasy. I can take this wherever I want and I know she'll not only allow me but she'll love it too.
I watch her fingertips glide over her own nipple and the soft, plum coloured flesh there begin to pucker. She was panting now, either from my fingers or her own, I couldn't tell. Either way I fucking loved it.
Her eyes were closed but I couldn't take mine from her nipple. Fully distended now as her fingers tightened around it. "The other, touch the other too," I tell and this time she doesn't hesitate.
With two of my fingers buried to the hilt in her tight, warm core and both her nipples engaged by her own hands I've got a free one so I use my thumb to circle her clit slowly. I gain another moan and my balls clench tight.
She's breathing hard though she doesn't need to. The first sign that she was close to her climax was the speed with which she bucked her hips into my hands. She rhythmically tilted her hips upwards and each time she cried out a little louder.
I guessed when I thought she was almost to the point of no return and then I did the meanest thing I've ever done. I stopped. Everything.
I withdrew my fingers and stilled my thumb on her clit.
I swiped at her hands and she let go of her nipples. She sat bolt upright and cursed me good.
I grinned, which seemed to piss her off even more.
"What the fuck, Edward?" she hissed as she got up onto her elbows.
"If you want it you'll have to do it," I tell her.
She stares at me with wide eyes. I can tell she's debating whether or not she should, and whether or not she could. This was so new. I'd never asked this of her before.
And then she did something that had me so close to climax I had to actually reach down and cup my own cock, pressing hard at its base, to stave it off. She winked. She smiled then took one nipple between her fingers and began to pinch it. Her other hand slid slowly, so fucking slowly, down between her breasts, past her navel and into the tangle of curls at the juncture of her thighs.
I watched with fascination – and not a little lust – as she began to slide her now slick fingertip over her own engorged clit. I think I mumbled something because she looked me in the eye, but what it had been I had no recollection. I tore my gaze away from her heavy lidded stare and watched as she circled her clit then pinched it deftly between the pads of her forefinger and thumb. I was transfixed on her glistening sex.
Did I do it that way for her? Did I pinch hard enough? Did I pinch too hard? Could she bring herself to orgasm faster than I could? Was the intensity the same?
"Edward," she breathed out and I returned my eyes to hers with a nod to show her that I was still capable of simple thought processes. "I can't do this without you."
With that one simple statement every doubt I had fled my mind instantly. She needed me to participate or she couldn't 'get there'. Holy crap.
"Yes, you can," I tell her, though I doubt the validity of my own statement. "I'll help but I won't touch you."
She scoffed ever so lightly and I couldn't help but grin. I meant what I said, I wouldn't touch her, and if she wanted the orgasm she'd have to give it to herself because I was determined to watch her come undone for me. But, I could help without touch.
Trying hard not to think too much about my meat headed brother I recalled his advice, given so long ago. With that in mind I licked my canines and brought forward as much venom as I could pool on my tongue without drooling.
I leaned over her furiously rubbing fingers and waited until she stilled just a little, as I knew she would as I approached her glossy flesh. She must have been convinced I was about to touch her, despite having said I wouldn't help that way, because she removed her hand and stilled it on her thigh. I took my chance where I saw it and allowed the venom I'd collected to drip off the end of my tongue and onto her swollen clit.
To anyone who didn't know about this it would've looked as though I'd just burned her. But I knew about this, I'd done this to her myself albeit with my teeth, but the effect was the same this time without the need for touch.
She screamed, long and throaty, and climaxed instantly. And to me it seemed as though it went on for longer than usual. She bucked and writhed and continued to moan as it crested and eventually waned.
The second it came to its inevitable conclusion she leapt up, pushing me backward and almost over the piano stool. She grabbed me by the belt loops of my pants and manhandled me until I was backed up to the keyboard as she had been seconds prior. She tore my pants at the zip but left the seams intact, for a change.
My boxers, however, did not escape her wrath. They were shredded instantly and fluttered to the floor quietly.
And then there I was, hard as a rock, totally naked, sprawled awkwardly across the keyboard of my Bösendorfe. I was just coming to terms with how the game had changed when she brought me back to it with a decided thump.
"Now you," she hissed.
Now me what? I thought for about ten seconds before it dawned on me. Oh crap. I hadn't thought this far ahead. Of course she was going to want me to do what I'd asked her to do. Of course she would.
The terror on his face was almost funny. Almost.
I wasn't done with this new game and I wanted what he'd just gotten.
"Now you," I told him again.
He did as I had done and thought on it for a few seconds before removing one hand from his side and grasping his shaft in a tight fist.
I couldn't help but moan as he began to stroke. Slowly at first, ringing the head with his thumb and fingers and sliding across its tip at each upward stroke.
Now I knew what the look of indecision on his face had been when I'd been touching myself. This was hard, pardon the pun. As he threw his head back and closed his eyes I wondered if I did it right for him? Did I use enough pressure, and in the right places at the right time when I stroked him? Did he like it fast, like I did it, or as slowly as he was doing for himself now?
I doubted he'd tell me that he needed my help to finish as I'd told him but I wished he would. It was strangely unnerving to stand so still and watch my husband take his pleasure for himself, without any involvement from me.
"Bella," he moaned and reached for my hand.
I put it into his, not knowing what he wanted or needed from me. I didn't have to wait too long to find out. He pulled me across his chest and then pulled my finger into his mouth. His teeth nipped and his tongue licked and I too closed my eyes and moaned.
When I opened my eyes he was staring straight at me, mouth slightly open, and panting hard. His hand was a blur as he rubbed and stroked his length. His lips sucked my finger in and out of his mouth in a steady rhythm and it was hypnotic as I watched it disappear into his mouth.
His silvery venom coated it and it sparkled in the dim stage lights each time my finger withdrew from his warm depths.
With my finger still firmly in his mouth he nodded and lowered his eyes. I followed this path and watched the bead of cum form at his tip. He'd increased the pressure, I could tell, and his hips were bucking with each downward stroke now.
"Cum for me," I told him with a groan, never taking my eyes from the sight at his waist.
It was as though he'd been waiting for the command because before I'd said the last syllable his thick, ropy seed flew out of the head of his prick and began to shoot across his fist and onto his waiting abdomen.
I watched, fascinated, as his stroking began to slow as he milked every last drop from himself.
When it was over he let my finger slip from his lips. He grinned, his perfect lopsided one that I loved so much and I knew then that this was far from over. It might be the middle of the night, and only a few hours from dawn when our worries would creep into our minds again, but I knew as he took me by the hips and sat me atop his beloved piano that our evening was far from done.
"That was the appetiser," he cooed cockily as he joined me on the lid. "Now for the main course."
A/N: Thank you for reading.
We're getting close to the big fight now. Another chapter (perhaps two depending on how long it takes me to flesh out this next part) and then its onto the war. In all its glory, hopefully.
Thank you to everyone for your continued good wishes.
I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Xmas and a very happy, safe and healthy New Year.