The following takes place after the end of Written in the Stars, but before "Nessie's Mating." Special thanks to Melinda Otteson Gray, who suggested this story.
In the Fever, Dreaming: A "Written in the Stars" Outtake
Despite Alice's reassurances, Bella wept steadily until the doctor arrived. Alice held her, gently stroking Bella's back, murmuring soft, soothing nonsense.
"He has it, doesn't he?" Bella asked the doctor, after he'd run his reader over Edward's prone body. Edward's tail twitched at the sound of her voice, but he didn't react otherwise. He mumbled unintelligible words.
"Yes, Empress, he does," the doctor said. He looked exhausted, but his eyes were kind.
"Oh, my God," Bella whispered. Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks.
"There's no reason to panic," the doctor said firmly. "As long as we can keep his fever under control and keep him hydrated, he will be fine. Volturi rarely die from this."
Bella nodded. She knew that. Edward had explained it to her when the ebba outbreak first began, and the talk vids said the same. Just like the human common cold, there was no cure for it, and it simply had to run its course. But it was different when it was someone you loved. She'd never imagined that Edward might fall victim to it himself.
What had they done wrong? The Volturi were used to these outbreaks and had time-tested procedures for trying to contain the spread of the illness. They ordered all public gatherings suspended. The schools were closed, and parents kept their young quarantined in their homes as a precaution. The markets were closed, except for the food stalls, but only the non-Volturi merchants opened for business. Even Council sessions were suspended until after the illness had run its course. How had Edward been exposed?
The doctor attached a small, flat tape to the underside of Edward's arm. "This will send a warning to me if his fever rises to a dangerous level. Please, try not to worry, Empress. He will be fine. He's very strong." He hesitated a moment before continuing. "I would suggest that you ask Leah to join you in here. The fever may cause him to hallucinate, and sometimes patients can become ... difficult."
What could Leah do? She was an excellent fighter, but she was nowhere near as strong as Edward, and she wasn't trained to subdue someone without incapacitating them. But Bella nodded. They'd figure out something, if necessary.
"I would also suggest that you stay away from the children so that you do not carry the infection to them," he added, and Bella felt a dart of fear. Had they already been exposed? Ebba was more dangerous for children and the elderly. "I will stop to see Lady Rosalie and ask if she will care for the children until the Emperor is out of danger and no longer infectious."
"How long?" Bella asked.
"Three days, likely. Though you shouldn't panic if it lasts as long as five. I will return, Empress, to check on him. Try not to worry." He patted her shoulder, a gesture of comfort he would have never dared if Edward had been lucid.
"Thank you, doctor," Alice offered. Bella tried to remember her manners, but she was so afraid, so very afraid. She took Edward's hand in her own and sat down to wait.
Edward found himself in a little meadow, lying beside a brook. He could smell the dry grass upon which he lay and the sunshine was warm on his face. Birds twittered and sang in the gently swaying trees. He stood up slowly and looked around, surprised to find that he recognized this place. It was the meadow on Fenix, outside of Didyme's house, where he had fought with James. He blinked in confusion, because he couldn't remember how he'd gotten here.
He turned and saw Bella seated under a tree, but it wasn't Bella, despite the fact that it was her face he saw and her voice which had spoken. Edward dropped to his knees and bowed his head. He instinctively recognized the power glowing in her eyes.
She chuckled. "You catch on quicker than your wife."
"Why am I here?" He hoped she didn't think the question was disrespectful.
"Because you and I need to have a little chat, and then there are some things I need to show you. To remind you. Things it seems you might have forgotten."
Edward peeked up at her cautiously, but she wasn't looking at him. She was rubbing a red, round fruit against her shirt. She took a big bite from it and munched contentedly.
"What have I forgotten?"
"You and Bella are busy ruling the galaxy, and you're doing a great job at it, too, I might add. But you've forgotten that she's supposed to have first priority in your life, that your family is supposed to come first."
Edward was startled. "I love her as much as I did the day we mated."
"Yeah, but you don't take the time to show it much."
"Bella hasn't complained." He didn't want to argue with a Goddess, but Bella didn't seem dissatisfied with their relationship, and the children were so busy these days.
The Goddess took another bite of her fruit. "Man, I love these things."
"Is Bella unhappy?" Edward pressed.
The Goddess tilted her head. "What do you think?"
Edward was at a loss.
"She's too busy to be unhappy. But she misses you."
He didn't understand. "I'm right here."
She took another bite and chewed with gusto. "Do you remember that you were supposed to have another baby?"
Edward flinched. He had stopped asking Bella if she was ready to consider having another child. He couldn't remember the last time he'd mentioned it, actually. He'd always longed for another baby, especially as he'd watched Esme and Carlisle raise Tyler and then their own son, Jared. He envied their joy. But Bella's heart had been broken by the miscarriage she'd suffered here on Fenix. At first, he hadn't wanted to make her feel pressured if she wasn't ready, and later it had just never seemed like the right time for them.
The Goddess smiled slightly. "Go now. We'll talk later."
Go where? But he was already leaving.
It was his first memory.
His mother stood in front of the mirror fussing with her upswept auburn hair. Jewels glittered as she turned her head to check the sides. Edward, in his crib, called for her but she did not so much as glance in his direction. She scooped up her shawl and headed out of the room.
"Ma!" he cried. Maybe she hadn't heard him. He yelled louder.
His father met her in the hallway, right outside the door. He nuzzled her neck and she smiled. "Are you ready to go, beautiful?"
"The baby needs something." Her voice was irritable.
His father glanced at him. "He's fine. Carlisle is here."
His mother threaded her arm through her mate's and they disappeared around the corner.
"Ma!" Edward's cry was loud and plaintive. It brought Carlisle, who unlocked the top of his crib and lifted him out. "There's my boy," he said. Edward snuggled against his shoulder, but as nice as Carlisle was, he wanted his mother.
"We'll go and play with James. Would you like that?"
"Ma," Edward replied. His little tail wrapped around Carlisle's arm.
"I know, son. She'll be home soon, I promise."
He made that promise many times during Edward's childhood, but even when his mother was physically present, she was never there. Nor his father, whose focus was solely on his adored mate.
Edward was now around seven, and he was already at Third Level in combat, probably from all of the practice that he and James and Jasper did after dinner every evening. Now, he faced an older boy from his level, a boy who was determined not to be beaten by Edward, only half his size. He was fast and pitiless, but Edward was more agile. He found his opponent's weakness and knocked him to the mat. The audience rumbled, stomped their feet and clapped in approval.
Edward bowed, and searched the audience for his father, who had promised to attend. His cushion was occupied by Carlisle. Edward's tail drooped, dragging on the mat behind him as he left the small stage, his pride in victory vanishing like a puff of smoke in the wind.
Afterward, Carlisle praised both James and Edward, and Edward realized something that he hadn't noticed when this memory had flitted through his mind over the years: the resentment on James's face when Carlisle told Edward how proud he'd been. It was as if James thought Carlisle's pride and affection were finite, like a cup from which Edward had swallowed too large a drink.
Emmett's hatching. His mother was resentful that her mate was away from her, incubating a child she did not want, but their position compelled them to have children. From this perspective, Edward could understand and perhaps even forgive, but his heart broke for the little boy he had been, eager to show his mother his art project, but she barely glanced at it. He dropped it in the hall as he walked back to his rooms. Years later, Jasper gave it back to him. He'd found it and kept it, knowing that Edward might be proud of it again someday, when the sting of rejection had faded.
But that sting never faded. The ghost of it lingered still.
He wasn't one of those who was given a coveted spot around the table when his brother began to hatch. Those spaces were reserved for his mother's friends. They laughed and chatted while the baby worked his way out of the durice. Even Carlisle had been relegated to the back of the room with various Council members, government officials and dignitaries seated a respectful distance away from the table.
After the baby emerged and his DNA was checked to ensure he wasn't a drone, those at the table left for a hatching party in the dining hall. Edward had overheard Carlisle talking to Esme about such parties last night. He disapproved of them because he said the baby needed to begin to bond immediately with its parents, and the tiny boy on the table certainly seemed bewildered to find himself alone. He let out a shrill cry, a sound that stabbed at Edward's heart, especially since it was a sound he recognized as one he, himself, had made.
Edward reached him first and picked him up. The baby snuggled into his chest, shivering, and Edward stroked his back, soothing him with soft murmurs.
"Here, son," Carlisle said quietly. He held out a little baby tunic. Edward sat down to dress his little brother, lest he drop the squirming baby while trying to stuff his little waving arms through the sleeves. Emmett's large, solemn eyes met his own and Edward felt a kinship for him which went beyond the sibling relationship. This baby was adrift as he was. He closed his eyes and scooped Emmett back into his arms. Edward vowed that Emmett would never feel unloved, never feel lonely in his own family.
Carlisle brought over the device which would coat each of the baby's claws in soft rubber so that he would not accidentally scratch himself. It was something that Emmett's father should have done.
"I hate them," Edward said.
Carlisle shook his head. "They're your parents, Edward. They do love you ... in their own way." He added this last part hastily when he saw the anger flare in Edward's eyes. "Don't hate them, son. Pity them, for they are missing out on one of life's greatest joys."
He was twelve and Esme had taken him to the market with her to buy herbs. Edward wandered over to the next stall, which sold jewelry. There was a set of jewels that his eyes kept being drawn back to as he examined the merchant's wares. It was a headband of red-black stones with a matching bracelet and ring.
He imagined giving that set to his mate. Would she squeal in delight the way his mother did when his father presented her with jewels? Would she throw her arms around him and press her mouth to his? (The latter Edward thought was a bit disgusting, but Carlisle had said humans liked "kissing.")
Last night, he'd asked Carlisle, his voice low and shy, for this question meant much to him: "Carlisle, what will my mate be like?" He knew she'd likely be human. Though Earth had been one of the latter additions to the database, the majority of their matches now came from its people.
"She will be the most beautiful creature you've ever seen," Carlisle said, and his eyes traveled over to Esme, who hummed while she cooked a meal for them. "The moment you see her, it will be as though she completed your soul, clicked into place a piece you didn't know was missing. And she will be exactly what you need, Edward."
What he needed was someone to love. And as selfish as he knew it sounded, he wanted someone who loved him solely, to possess and be possessed. Carlisle was good to him and Emmett. He and Esme tried hard to make up for their parents' absence, but it wasn't quite the same. Sometimes, Edward felt like an outsider, an interloper, despite their efforts to make both of the little princes feel like part of the family. And it felt terribly lonely to be on the outside, looking in. In retrospect, he realized that he probably picked up a lot of that feeling from James, who resented even his little brothers for taking any of his parents' attention.
By the time he was in Upper School, he had a room full of mate gifts. Other boys bought them, too, and it was sometimes a competition between them as to who could find the best gift when they all went to the market on their afternoon break, but none gave it such singular attention as Edward.
Perhaps, as James had suggested, a little of his parents' materialism had affected him, and he was trying to buy his mate's affections. But whenever he bought a gift for her, his future mate, it assuaged a little of his loneliness and comforted him in a way he couldn't explain. It made her seem more real to him and made him feel closer to her, this woman from a far distant time and place, who may not have been born yet, or may have lived long ago.
Edward vowed that when he had his own mate and children, they would never feel like this. They would know that they were loved, and he would spend time with them because of that love, not, as his parents saw it, a tedious obligation that cut into their leisure time. And maybe in loving them, it would heal this aching part of his heart.
In his hands, he held the red-black jeweled headband. "I'll take the set," he told the merchant. He tried to imagine it glittering in his mate's hair, and indeed, years later, she would be wearing it when he saw her for the first time. He paid the merchant and accepted the wrapped parcel.
"Another mate gift?" Esme asked him when he rejoined her at the herb-seller stall.
He said it was. His tail wrapped around his leg as he dipped his head, bashful.
"I'm sure she'll love it," Esme said.
Edward peered up at her curiously. "But you do not even know what I bought."
Esme ruffled his hair affectionately ."It doesn't matter. She'll love it because it came from you."
Jasper had been assigned as Edward's mentor when he began combat training, though Edward had quickly outpaced him in skill level. Fortunately, Jasper had never been troubled by it, nor that Edward was a few years younger than he. They quickly became friends, though James never liked him much. Jealousy was part of it, but it was also Jasper's calm maturity. He talked Edward out of participating in some of the "adventures" that James proposed.
Jasper's mate was found only a few years after he had graduated. Edward had gone with him to meet her, though Jasper had already told him that he intended to ask another couple to be their witnesses. Edward was slightly hurt by that, even though he understood and agreed with Jasper that Edward already had many responsibilities and didn't need another.
Edward was astounded when he first saw her. He's always thought Esme was small, but this Earth woman was even tinier. He wondered if a mistake had been made and she might be a juvenile. If his own mate was so small, Edward would be afraid to touch her for fear of breaking her tiny, bird-like bones. The little female was terrified and tried to run when Jasper approached her. She didn't seem to understand that Jasper was her mate and he would never hurt her.
It wasn't the only problem that Jasper had with his tiny bride. It took a while before Jasper was able to win her over enough so that he could begin to court her and it had been a over week after their mating ceremony before he was able to consummate their union. Jasper warned Edward that Earth males looked much different than Volturi and he needed to be prepared. There had been pain in Jasper's eyes as he said it, and Edward had felt an icy stab of fear in his gut. What if his own mate was repulsed by him?
Edward grew to like Alice. She was much more expressive and emotive than Esme and he was a bit put-off at first by her face that moved in so many ways. Carlisle had explained to him that since humans had no tails, the only way they could show what they were feeling was to move their faces. It took a while before he could understand what each motion meant. She bared her teeth at him, but not because she wanted to fight, but because something made her happy.
And he discovered that Alice sometimes knew things, things that might happen in the future. It took awhile for him to accept that, and longer to accept she would only tell him what he needed to know in order that everything would play out as it should.
He had expected to see Alice swell with child soon after she had accepted Jasper, but no baby ever came. He asked Jasper about it, as delicately as he could manage. Jasper's pain had been apparent. He longed for a baby, and Alice said she wanted children as well but she never became pregnant. Neither Edward nor Jasper had ever heard of a situation like this. Jasper had summoned a doctor and had himself tested for fertility problems and the results came back perfectly normal. Alice, he said, refused to even consider seeing a doctor for an examination of her own. It was against her religious beliefs, she said, but Jasper sensed that there was something else there, something she wouldn't share with him, and her refusal to confide in him was more painful than their childlessness.
It seemed that finding a mate did not guarantee happiness.
The memory came which he dreaded …
He tapped on his mother's door, but she didn't answer the summons. She dashed around the room, gathering last minute items to take with her to a party on one of Volterra's moons. He and Emmett had been invited to go, but Edward had very little interest in the type of parties his parents enjoyed: always attended by the same wealthy, exclusive Alphas, who met to gossip and to form and betray social alliances, just the same as the last time, and the same as it would be the next.
It was the last time he'd ever see his mother and she hadn't even looked directly at him, intent as she was on gathering the right accessories and cosmetics for her party outfit.
He used a literature exam as an excuse for staying behind though his mother hadn't asked, and Emmett had elected to stay behind as well. From this perspective, which showed everything so much more clearly, Edward could see how his little brother had idolized him. Edward had tried hard to keep his vow that his brother would never feel unloved, and had made a concerted effort to include Emmett wherever possible, but Emmett couldn't keep up with Edward and James, wasn't as clever, and wasn't brave enough to face trouble if one of their pranks or hijinks went awry. James had been impatient with him, and so Edward tried to avoid situations where James would express that exasperation and wound Emmett's soft heart. He performed the same diplomacy for Caius and Felix, James's own brothers.
At breakfast, after their parents had left for the moon, Emmett had looked hopeful as he asked Edward if he had any plans for the afternoon after his exam was finished.
Edward was glad that he'd twined his tail around his little brother's and said, "I was thinking about going fishing with you and then trying to talk Esme into making a tribi roast."
Emmett had been delighted. He loved fishing, almost as much as he loved roasted tribi.
James hadn't shown up to take the exam - unusual for him- so Edward never got to tell him about his change of plans. As he watched this memory unfold, he wondered if he had sent a message to James at breakfast instead of off-offhandedly deciding to tell him when he saw him at the exam, if it might have made James change his mind, made him reconsider or hesitate.
Edward was in the midst of writing a complex answer about the symbolism in a famous poem, As the Ocean Depths, when he glanced up and saw Carlisle in the doorway. He shouldn't be there. No one was permitted to enter or leave the room once the exams had begun. But he stood there, silently. His face was pale and his eyes were anguished, his tail dragging on the floor like a broken rope.
Not Esme, Edward thought. He turned off his desk's communicator unit and all of his work vanished in an instant. He would get no credit for the exam, but by the time the scores were released, he wouldn't care.
He followed Carlisle out into the hallway, and to his surprise, Carlisle led him into an empty classroom and gestured for him to take a seat on one of the cushions. Emmett was already inside and he looked as confused as Edward felt.
"Boys, I don't know how - " Carlisle stopped and looked away. He cursed and Edward and Emmett glanced at each other in surprise, for it was the first time either of them had ever heard Carlisle swear.
"I'm sorry," he said. And then, simply: "Your parents are gone."
Emmett responded, "Yes, we know. They left for the moon this morning."
"No, son, they're -" Carlisle took a deep breath. "Their ship ..."
Slowly dawning horror. Edward's voice didn't sound like his own. "Are you saying ..."
"Their ship was torn apart by a bomb before it left orbit. I'm sorry, boys. I'm so sorry."
Emmett let out a small sound. He looked to Edward, who felt frozen in place.
"They're ... dead?" It was hard to choke out the words.
Carlisle put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"Are - Are you sure?" Emmett asked. He swayed a little on his cushion, but caught himself and seemed to steel his spine.
"Their bodies were recovered quickly. They've been brought back to Volterra. I saw them myself, before I came to tell you. I had to - I had to see ..."
Edward's heart ached for him, for he and Emmett were not the only ones who had suffered a loss. Carlisle had lost his best friend.
"Has it been announced?" Emmett seemed to be thinking more clearly than Edward at the moment, whose mind was still a frozen blank of shock.
"It is being announced now. The council has gathered and they are handling the media."
Edward was grateful, deeply grateful. He didn't think he could handle questions at the moment. "How did this happen?" he asked. "A bomb? Who would do such a thing?" His parents weren't the most popular rulers the Federation ever had, and there had been increasing unrest since the situation with the glowstone mines, but regicide was something that belonged to the Old Days, not the peaceful Federation of the present era.
Edward had never seen Carlisle so defeated. Grief had aged him, crumpled him down. "Edward, it was James. James planted the bomb."
Pain and shock hit him like a fist. "That can't be," Edward protested. "He wouldn't - "
"He would." Carlisle hung his head and Edward realized that Carlisle was ashamed. He scooted his cushion closer to his adoptive father and twined his tail with Carlisle's, offering what comfort he could.
"There has to be some mistake," Edward said. "We'll find out - "
"He sent me a vid, and in it, he confessed to planting the bomb. He's gone to join the protesters on Lapush."
Silence. Edward couldn't speak for a moment. His mind searched for ways to deny it as the pain swelled to almost unbearable levels.
"I want to see the vid," Edward demanded.
Carlisle shook his head. "No, son, it's better if you don't."
"I want to see it!"
"No." Carlisle wore that intransigent expression that Edward knew well. It meant Carlisle would not be moved, would not change his mind. He remembered feeling angry about it, but he later realized that Carlisle was only trying to protect him from further anguish. It would have only added to his pain if Edward had known at the time that James had stated he wished that Edward and Emmett had been on the ship.
Edward was going to respond but the door opened and Council members filed through, their faces pale and solemn, their tails dragging behind them as they walked. Behind them, media with cameras stood in the hall, keeping the requested respectful distance from the imperial family, but necessary to record this historic moment. One by one, they approached Edward and knelt. They said, "Emperor."
And that's when it became real. His parents were gone and he was now the Emperor of the Nine. A shiver of panic twisted his guts. He wasn't ready for this. He was still in school. He didn't know what to do. He looked over at Carlisle and a wave of cool calm settled over him. Carlisle would help him, just as he always had.
They were really gone.
Grief stabbed through him, but it was not grief for his parents, but rather grief for the relationship they might have had, the relationship he had always wanted to have with them. It would never be possible now. And grief for James, too. Shock at his betrayal, shock at his loss, shock at the people who entered the room to bow to the new Emperor.
Emmett got to his knees and lowered his head. "Emperor."
Edward stared down at the only family he had left. He took Emmett by the shoulders and pulled him to his feet and twined their tails. "Brother," he corrected.
Esme drove out the Council members and the cameras, her manner so brisk and officious that no one dared question her, and shut the door firmly. She sat down beside Edward and drew him into her arms, just as she had done when he was a little boy and hurting from his parents' neglect. He was too large now to snuggle into her as he once had done, so he laid his head on top of hers and wrapped his tail around her arm.
"It can't have been him," he said. "It can't."
She pulled back to look up into his face. Her eyes were soft with compassion. She said nothing. She didn't have to.
He buried his hands in his hair and tugged. The pain was the only thing that felt real. But Esme gently reached up and tugged his hands away. He wanted to scream, to attack something with his claws and shred it to bits. The pain was swelling within him to the point where he thought he might burst if he couldn't let it out in some way.
Esme pulled him back into her arms and he realized she and Carlisle had to be hurting as much as he was, for they had lost their son just as surely, and with almost as much finality, as Edward and Emmett had lost their parents. James would be executed when he was captured. That thought made him shudder again and his hands crept back up toward his hair. Esme caught them in her own.
"I'm so sorry, Edward," she said.
He went back over in his mind one of the last conversations he'd had with James, sharing a bottle of wine and debating the merits of democracy versus monarchy. James had gotten frustrated and angry and had ended the conversation. Edward had thought he'd done so to avoid it devolving into an argument between friends. (For years afterward, the taste of wine would nauseate him as it brought back that discussion.) Had it been some kind of warning? Had he somehow missed the signs? He'd thought James loved him as a brother, just as Edward loved James. Despite his efforts to ensure Emmett felt he was loved, he was closer to James than he was to Emmett ... or at least he'd thought he'd been. When had it become a ruse on James's part? What had been his turning point and when had he made that awful decision?
They were questions for which he would never have answers.
"Just a moment, please. I will be with you shortly." Edward signed two more documents and lay them aside. His desk was full of similar papers, everything needed to be read, decisions to be made, other people's decisions approved. So much to do. Carlisle had forced Edward to go to his nest last night and would probably return sometime this evening to bully him into resting again, but there was still so much left undone from his parents' rule. He sometimes feared he'd never catch up. The work would just keep piling higher and higher. Worse, the situation on Lapush was deteriorating more every day and he didn't know how to solve it.
Edward raised bleary eyes to the man who stood in the doorway. He looked vaguely familiar. "Yes?"
"Pardon the intrusion, Emperor, but I have news for you and I thought you would like to hear it as soon as possible."
What was it now? Another protest? Another water shortage? Edward suppressed a sigh. "Go on."
"We have found her, Emperor."
Edward stared at the man. He recognized him now, one of the heads of the mate search program. He stared for so long that the man began to get agitated and bowed quickly, believing he had somehow given offense.
Joy like Edward had never known burned through him, hot and fierce. "Are you sure?"
"Certain of it. I checked the readings myself."
"Who is she? Where is she from?"
"She is an Earth woman, Emperor. I am sorry that I do not yet know her name. We are still trying to locate her file in the records."
Edward closed his eyes. "How soon?"
The man grew more nervous. "A few months. I apologize for the delay, but we have many scheduled jumps ..."
"I understand," Edward assured him. "I am not going to ask you to disregard those ahead of me who are waiting for their mates as well."
Edward barely noticed when the man bowed and left. He was already making plans. He needed to build a burrow for her, underground where it was warmer. Earth women got sick if they got cold, Jasper had warned him. But even had she been from one of the hardier races, he wouldn't have wanted to bring her here, to the palace. The ostentation of this place embarrassed him.
He rose from his desk and went to the door, intending to go to the underground city to meet with Jasper and Alice, but Alice already stood outside the door, her little fist raised to knock.
"You've heard," she said.
"I have. Have you seen ...?" He twisted the end of his tail.
She smiled. "I have seen her. She's sweet and lovely. Oh, Edward, you're going to love her and she's going to love you, too."
Edward's knees felt weak with relief. He went back to his desk and sat heavily on the cushion before he fell. "She'll love me?" he whispered.
"Very much. And you'll be very happy together." Alice twirled in a circle from excitement and glee. "She's going to be my friend, Edward! Don't just sit there! Get up! We have a lot of preparations to make."
Gladly, he followed Alice from the room.
He was twisting his tail again as he waited. Alice pulled it out of his hand. "Edward, calm down."
He couldn't calm himself. In just a few minutes, he would meet his bride.
The months had passed with agonizing slowness. He'd dug them a comfortable burrow and furnished it with the things Alice told him his bride would want. A strange contraption she called a "toilet" had been installed in a small side room, and he had bought her a large chair, plump with stuffing, that Alice insisted that his bride would want. It was bigger than his throne.
Alice had also purchased a large wardrobe for her. Sometimes, when the rooms seemed too lonely without her, he went into the storage room that Alice had directed him to build (she called it "a closet" and said Earth women wanted their clothes to hang from a wide-framed hook on a stick, instead of being folded neatly in a trunk) and looked at the garments. He held the little tunics that Alice assured him would fit her and tried to picture his bride wearing them.
Yesterday, they had finally located her file and he had learned her name and he had seen an image of her for the first time. Humans didn't have holograms, just flat paper images, so he couldn't see as much as he would like, but he would be able to recognize her when she arrived. Alice had been right about how lovely she was. He had spent hours staring at the photo they had given him, memorizing every curve and shadow. Her dark eyes seemed soft and kind, though perhaps tinged by sadness.
As they sat in the meeting room, Alice chattered about the various things he would need to remember to tell his bride so that she could get used to the differences in their worlds. Edward tried to pay attention, though he was sure he probably wouldn't remember a single one. Alice warned him that she might be upset or afraid when she came out of the jumper - Alice hadn't seen a vision of it, but he needed to know it was a possibility. And his mate had never seen a Volturi, so their differences might be distressing for her at first. Alice advised him to be as calm and soothing as possible, to remain seated, or kneel so that his bride didn't feel overwhelmed by his size. "No looming!" she ordered. He had no idea what she meant by that, but he would try his best not to do it.
Jasper sat with Alice, calm and still, as opposite from Alice as it was possible to be. It gave Edward some hope that no matter what the differences he had with his mate, they would find happiness, too. Emmett sat beside him, and he was almost as excited that a mate had been found for his brother as he would have been if the mate were his own. All three of them tried to reassure him, but it was as though their voices came from a faint distance, an indistinct and inconsequential buzzing at the edges of his awareness.
The door opened and his mate was shoved through it by Lauren, one of the human acclimators that talked to the women to try to help them to understand what had happened to them. His bride stumbled into the room, her eyes wide with fear, followed by her guard, Tanya.
Carlisle was right. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He inhaled deeply of her scent and was startled to feel his body come alive in a way it never had before. His heart hammered in his chest and he had to restrain himself from grabbing her and spinning in joyous circles.
He rose from his cushion carefully and walked toward her with slow, measured steps. She tilted her head back to look up at him. Her face was whiter than it should be, he noted, and her breath came in short puffs. "Greetings," he said to her as he knelt before her, and he tried to pull his lips into the shape Alice called a "smile," which she had promised his mate would find reassuring.
"H- hell- hello," she whispered.
Her long, dark hair was thick and shiny, evidence that she was healthy and well-nourished. He reached out a hand to touch it, fascinated by its color and gleam. She recoiled and her eyes went even wider at the sight of his hand. He had forgotten that humans had an extra digit and she might think his hands looked unusual. He quickly snatched the hand back, inwardly cursing himself for adding to her stress and fear.
"Edward, stop," Alice said. "You're scaring her." Alice squeezed past Jasper and introduced herself to Bella, and the presence of another human woman seemed to relax her slightly. She introduced Emmett and Jasper, but his mate had caught a glimpse of his tail and she was staring at it, her mouth slack, her face white and her eyes even wider than before. He turned to Alice to ask her what that expression meant and had to dart forward to catch his little bride as she fell into a dead faint.
He studied her a bit while she was unconscious, probably the closest to her he would be able be for some time yet. He examined her hands closely, as he'd never been able to do with Alice nor Esme (it was rarely a good idea to touch another Volturi's mate). Such tiny, useless claws! He had been right to get a guard for her. As she began to stir, he looked over at Emmett and his instincts roared as he saw that Emmett had a stunned and fascinated expression in his eyes and he knew instantly what it meant.
It meant nothing would ever be the same between himself and his brother. It meant he would have to fight for his mate or give up the right to court her first, and if Emmett won and she fell in love with him ... He flinched with the pain that thought caused.
He still held out hope, when he announced his intention to court his little human mate after dinner, that Emmett would back off and decline to challenge for the sake of their relationship. But Emmett was as helpless as he was to deny his urges. It made Edward angry, despite his efforts to be understanding and when he defeated Emmett, he took his tail, hoping it would underscore the lesson to stay away from Edward's mate. He regretted it later, but at the time, he couldn't see beyond his instinctive anger and possessiveness.
Instead of being impressed with his victory and the honored gift of his brother's tail, Bella fainted again and Edward was ashamed at the amount of distress he was causing her. Waiting for her to wake in their nest, where he had carried her, he felt a horrible sense of helplessness. It was as though she could not understand his language, and he did not know how to speak hers.
All of the warnings and suggestions Alice had given him scattered from his mind like startled birds. He sat on the floor against the wall on the other side of the room, giving her as much space as he could. Tanya, her guardian warrior, knelt next to the door, silent and still. He was tempted to ask her for advice, but she probably didn't know how to appeal to a human any more than he did.
His bride peeked up over the edge of the nest, her large brown eyes with their strange, round pupils taking in the room with trepidation. When she saw him, she ducked down out of sight. Edward looked up at the love poem carved at the top of the burrow's walls, the words he had longed to make truth.
Time and patience, he admonished himself. Alice had promised him that love would come. He had to give it time to grow.
He lay in their nest, despondent. Bella hadn't reacted to any of his offerings. Day after day, he brought bigger and more fierce prey and she only looked at it with confusion and a bit of distaste she tried to conceal. He had to respect that she valued herself too much to give in for an offering unworthy of her. He just wasn't sure what he could do that would impress her. He was running out of indigenous predators that could of be killed by one man armed only with the weapons nature had given him.
The door burst open and Bella ran through it, dripping water in a trail of droplets behind her, her clothes plastered to her body. She jumped into the nest and landed on him, her eyes shining. And then she said the words that made him happier than he had ever been, happier than he had ever dreamed that he could be: "You are a fine and skilled hunter. I want you for my mate."
Years later, she would tell him of her confusion, and they would laugh about it, but at the moment, all he felt was joy so intense that he threw back his head and roared with it.
Their mating night. The most beautiful memory that he had, aside from when he had beheld his children for the first time. He had been so nervous, so afraid he would scare her or hurt her. Both Jasper and Carlisle had given him advice, and he had remembered his school lessons. He had pleased human women before. He could only hope that Bella would be no different in her responses.
Once he was in her arms, he understood the reason for the merciless, compulsory nature of those lessons. The boys were required to perform even if they were sick or injured. It had taught them to ignore their body's demands or complaints. He lapped at the designs Alice had painted on her body, impatient for the taste of her skin below, slightly salty, slightly sweet, and oh so incredibly soft. It reminded him how fragile she was and how careful he had to be.
But nothing could have prepared him for how good it felt to delve into her body, and his control nearly snapped. He dropped his head to the pillow beside hers and rasped, "Ah, Bella ... Goddess above, I had no idea." It was only the power of his love for her that allowed him to remain gentle when his body screamed at him for more.
Every time they joined this way, he would have that same sense of wonderment, and every time he didn't think it could possibly get any better, it did.
Edward stirred and a soft moan escaped him. "Bella ..."
"I'm here, Edward." She kissed his forehead. Alice had advised her to lay close to him, that her scent would comfort him. "I'm here." She checked the tape under his arm. The reading still hovered just under the danger zone. She took the tube of water and dripped it into his mouth slowly, lest he choke. He gasped, his mouth seeking the source, and she gave him more until he was sated and turned away.
"Edward, can you hear me?"
"Can you hear me?"
Edward was jerked from his memories and found himself still in the meadow. The sun was setting now, casting a soft orange-yellow glow over the swaying grasses. He looked around and saw the Goddess picking flowers to add to the bunch she already held in her hand.
She smiled at him, Bella's smile, and Edward felt a pang in his heart as he realized he hadn't seen Bella smile like that in a while now. "Do you remember how happy you were when you learned that Bella was pregnant?"
The meadow around him wavered for a moment and he saw himself lying in the nest with her, distressed because she was ill, but his heart singing with joy. He would have the family he always wanted now. He remembered his drive to build his incubation nest, where he could protect his baby, a drive which wouldn't let him rest comfortably until it was done. He dug at the rock with single-minded intensity, carefully smoothing the walls, lest they have a sharp pebble or angle that might scratch the durice, and he spent hours choosing just the right pillows.
The vision faded and he was under the tree again. The Goddess came over to sit down beside him. She handed him a flower. He had no idea what to do with the thing. He knew Earth women liked flowers, but to a Volturi, it was difficult to understand their appeal. He thanked her politely and put it into his pocket.
"I want you to remember how you felt when you thought you had lost her." She touched his shoulder and he was back in their burrow, his claws dripping with blood as he watched Bella try to save their dying drone. She screamed at him to get a doctor. She didn't yet realize that the wounds were fatal and she was frantically trying to stop the bleeding by pressing her hands against the wounds.
He was stunned by what he had done. It had happened so quickly and without conscious thought. He had seen the drone holding his limp, pregnant mate and his instincts had taken over. "I'm sorry," he said. His tail wrapped tightly around his leg. "I didn't mean to do it. It just ... happened." He tried to pick her up off the floor, out of the pool of spreading blood.
"Don't touch me!" she cried and the pain was like claws in his own heart. He needed to comfort her, but she wouldn't let him; he was desperate to hold her but she ran from him. She went to Jasper's burrow and asked for sanctuary, and Jasper gave it without question. He blocked the doorway so that Edward could not follow her in side. Jasper was saying something to him in a calm, firm voice, but Edward didn't hear it. All he could hear was Bella's sobs. He called for her desperately, and then Jasper shut the door. Edward pressed his hands to it and laid his forehead against the wood.
Agony. Pain like he'd never known. Nothing could be worse than this, having a door between himself and his mate, a threshold he could not cross. He sank down to the floor beside the door.
Tanya took her place by the door on the opposite side. She wouldn't look at him.
He dropped his head into his hands. Icy, helpless despair. He'd lost his everything in one thoughtless moment.
Someone was speaking to him. Edward looked up with bleary eyes and saw a camera pointed at him with one of the popular vid-talkers beside it. He was asking questions. Others fanned out around him, calling their own questions. Edward snarled and swiped his claws at them. They darted back and he moved like he was about to lunge to his feet. They retreated down the hall a safe distance, but they kept creeping back, and he inwardly raged at their thoughtless cruelty that they eagerly sought to record his destruction. A crowd of onlookers swelled their ranks, larger every time he looked up. He heard them speculating about what was happening, why the Empress had left the Emperor.
And then Carlisle was there, and with him, a contingent of palace guards to drive away the crowd, much to the onlookers' indignation. Esme sat down beside him. On her arm was a basket of food; Esme responded to any crisis by feeding the afflicted, but Edward thought he'd never have an appetite again. She drew him into her embrace and he thought back to that horrible moment in the empty classroom when she had comforted him this way.
"Oh, Edward," she said unhappily as she stroked his hair. "What have you done?"
Edward didn't answer. Carlisle laid a hand on his shoulder for a moment before he went inside, where Edward could not go.
"He'll talk to her," Esme told Edward. "Just let her calm down. Bella loves you, Edward. She loves you very much. She's just confused and upset right now."
Edward didn't hold out much hope. Bella had left him. He had seen Volturi in similar situations, the discarded males sitting by their mate's doorways until they finally wasted away. The mate bond for Volturi was strong, but the mate bond combined with love ... Few Volturi survived the loss of a beloved mate. They wouldn't want to.
He heard the faint murmur of Bella's voice and he strained toward the door. His arms ached for his mate, the instinct to comfort just as powerful as the one to protect. He threaded his fingers into his hair and pulled.
Esme reached up to gently untangle his fingers. "I only saw you do that once before," she noted. Sorrow gleamed in her eyes.
He had to show Bella how sorry he was. And an idea occurred to him.
She emerged from Jasper's burrow after Carlisle had spoken to her, and she gave him the gift of allowing him to carry her home. He saw her staring at the cleaned tile and he knew she could see the blood in her mind. As soon as he set her on her feet, she dashed for the toilet and retched into it.
It gave him time to put his plan in motion. He found a knife in one of his trunks and sliced into the base of his tail. The pain was astonishing and made him sway on his feet for a moment as his vision grayed out. But he continued. For Bella.
She caught him before he could complete it and called for a doctor. At least she understood now that he would humble himself before his entire kingdom if she would just let him apologize. He wasn't sure what drugs the doctor had given him, but a distant dreaminess settled over him and he heard himself telling her about James and his parents' death.
"Losing James was the worst pain I ever felt until this afternoon, when you and I were separated by a door I could not open."
Bella's decision to have the tall, loud Earth woman help them around the house instead of a drone had repercussions which he worked hard to keep from Bella. The snide jokes about the reason why he wouldn't have another drone in his household infuriated him with their implications that Bella was an adulteress, rumors heavily encouraged by James, who made it a point to mention it at least once in every vid interview.
To his surprise, he was visited about a week later by a contingent of drones who had been close friends of Jacob. They wanted to reassure him that Bella had never "used" Jacob in that fashion. He was touched by it, because their chief concern seemed to be that he not think badly of Bella. He couldn't imagine why they would care, but later he realized that the drones had loved her for her kindness to them long before she had sought to grant them their freedom.
He hadn't liked Rose when they first met. She seemed mean. One day, he would learn that her brash exterior hid a soft heart that was fiercely loyal, but at the time, it concerned him deeply when Emmett discovered she was his mate. He thought Emmett needed someone like Bella, soft-spoken and sweet, and the direction those thoughts took him led him to the realization that he'd broken his vow to Emmett, the vow that his brother would always have the love of his family.
He began to try, tentatively, to repair the damage his jealousy over Bella had caused. Emmett had a big heart and it was not in his nature to hold grudges. He forgave Edward readily, more easily than Edward deserved, and they were all family again. He hadn't realized how much he missed Emmett.
It was at Emmett and Rose's mating ceremony that Bella first felt the pains of childbirth. He exchanged a worried glance with the doctor; it was early, not dangerously early, but enough to raise a bit of concern and the babies came quickly, almost too quickly. Alice soothed her and Edward knelt beside his mate, his tail wrapped around her leg as he wished with all of his might that he could take the pain for her.
"Twins!" the doctor announced with some relief. Two babies explained the early birth, and the quick delivery hadn't caused Bella any injury. He hadn't anticipated how hard it would be to leave her once he had his babies safely in his arms. His instincts screamed at him to hide the babies, quickly, but his mate needed him, too.
"Please, let me see them," Bella begged and he brought the blanket-wrapped bundles to her, fighting past his fear. Bella would never hurt her babies, even if they looked strange to her now, still in their protective durices.
"I love you, Bella." He pressed his lips to her forehead. He couldn't fight it any longer. He needed to hide.
"And I love you," Bella responded. Her eyes were understanding.
He squeezed behind her puffy chair and through the tunnel into his nest. He lay each baby on a pillow, pillows that he had spent hours selecting, and curled up around them. Already he could feel the hibernation slumber tugging at the edges of his consciousness. He tipped his claws carefully to ensure he wouldn't accidentally prick the durices and then laid a protective hand over them. His babies. Love swelled his heart. His little princes would grow up in a family that cherished them, and Bella was going to be such a wonderful mother ... He fell into a doze, dreaming about it.
He heard her voice and jerked out of sleep. He barely managed to refrain from snarling at her, but her scent filled the nest and sent a conflicting instinctive message to his brain.
"Can I stay in here with you?" she asked.
"Bella ..." He didn't want to refuse her, but every fiber of his being was insisting that he get his children away from the threat.
"Edward, you know I would never hurt our babies."
"I know." But he couldn't help pulling the durices closer to his body, even as he purred for her to soothe the anxiety he heard in her tone. This had to be hard for her, as well. Even in the dim light which came from the mouth of the tunnel, he could see the dark circles below her eyes.
She suggested they go to sleep and discuss it in the morning, and he was so tired that he dozed off despite the adrenaline pumping through his system that made him jerk awake every time she moved or spoke. Bella was a dream-talker and he was often amused by the things she said. He never told her, instinctively understanding that it would embarrass her over something she could not change.
He woke in the morning and checked the durices. Bella still slept beside him. He reached out a hand to stroke her hair and she murmured his name. Even in his hibernation sleep he missed her. He feasted his eyes on her slumber-soft face and tried to soak her scent into his lungs, because as much as he wished she could sleep in here with him during the incubation, it was simply too dangerous. His hibernation was going to become deeper, and he could injure her as an intruder without even consciously realizing it.
She woke and her warm brown eyes crinkled at the edges as she smiled. She watched as he gave each of the durices a turn on their pillows near his chest, then slowly extended a hand and stroked her fingers over the soft, warm surface and he growled before he could stop himself. He tried to apologize, but she shrugged it off and asked if she could sleep in here with him tonight. He was saved from answering by Alice's arrival and Alice was shocked when Bella emerged from the incubation nest. He could hear the conversation between the two, but he was drifting back into sleep.
He heard Bella fighting with Tanya, who blocked the entrance to the nest, he could not drag himself into full consciousness. She screamed and cried, his poor little mate, but Tanya would not be moved, and Edward was too drugged by the heavy stupor of hibernation to help her. His days began to blend together and he woke only occasionally to turn the durices, never fully rousing, but he snapped to full alert when one of the durices began to rock beneath his hand. It was time!
Excitement shone in his eyes as he crawled from the nest and carried both of them on their pillows to the table. Bella was in the nest, sound asleep. Tanya understood instantly what was happening and took off to spread the word. Edward woke Bella, cupping her cheek in his palm, and it lightened his heart to see her confusion as to whether it was a dream or not melt away into joy when she realized he was actually there with her.
"Edward? Oh, Edward!" She flung her arms around his neck and planted kisses all over his face. "You're out?"
"The babies," he said. "They're hatching!" This was the gift that Bella had given him: he kept reaching moments which he thought were the happiest of his life only to come upon another that was even better.
Witnesses began to file into the room, expressing their congratulations. The Council took positions on the far side of the room, attempting to remain a polite distance from the table, but they could not go far in the small burrow. Around the table, the people they loved the most gathered. Emmett and Rose, Alice and Jasper, Esme and Carlisle, and Tanya, whom Bella was coming to regard as part of the family. He heard Tanya's delighted gasp when she was invited and took a seat on the cushion beside Bella.
All of them watched the hatching with breathless anticipation. The hole on the top of the durice split open to reveal a baby with rusty red hair who gave a squeaky little roar at all of the faces surrounding the table, and the second baby emerged only moments later. Edward picked up the Heir of the Nine and the shreds of the durice fell away from the baby's hips and legs.
Gasps of shock. Hands flew up to cover mouths. The room went silent.
"What's wrong?" Bella cried. From the back, the baby looked absolutely perfect, down to the little tail, tipped with rusty hair, whipping around in the air. Edward craned his neck around to look at the front. For a moment, he didn't understand what he was seeing.
"The baby's penis is missing," Emmett blurted.
"It's not missing," Carlisle said slowly. He looked over at Bella and his eyes were wide with awe. "It's a GIRL!"
Impossible. Edward almost lost his grip on the baby. He laid ... her ... down on the pillow. He heard the other baby squawk as his sister bit down on his tail, but the sound seemed to come from a distance.
Impossible. Girls weren't born to the Volturi. Not in centuries.
He looked at his mate, his beloved, his everything, and said the words that he regretted instantly and would regret for the rest of his life: "It can't be mine."
Gasps of shock swept through the room like a chill breeze.
Bella was a true Empress. With unruffled poise and dignity, she turned to Carlisle and asked him to test the DNA of the child. Edward wanted to tell her it wasn't necessary, that he hadn't meant those foolish words, but he seemed frozen in place, unable to speak or even move. Carlisle took a sample of his blood and said to Edward, his voice gentle with compassion, which made Edward feel even worse, that the child was his.
How do you repair something like this? He had shamed her in front of the Council and dignitaries and the story would begin to spread as soon as they were out of the room and could whip out their communicators. Carlisle was announcing a miracle while they would be announcing that the Emperor had more-or-less accused his Empress of adultery.
When the room had emptied, she said, her voice low and reproachful: "I wish you wouldn't have said that."
All he could manage to choke out was, "Goddess above, Bella ... I'm so sorry." It was such a small word, "sorry" and it didn't take away her pain or embarrassment.
She fetched a pair of baby tunics and began to dress their children. She didn't meet his eyes.
He had ruined what should have been a joyful occasion. He could never give that back to her and the guilt was crushing. His Bella had a gentle and kind heart; she forgave him quickly, but she would never be able to forget it.
The scene faded away and he was in the meadow again. He closed his eyes from the shame of the memory, unable to look at the Goddess, who leaned back against the tree, her knees pulled up to her chest. her arms were draped across them negligently. "You learned something important that day," she commented.
"To think before I speak," he said.
She shook her head. "No, you learned that Bella loves you even when you're being a bone-head. Sort of like now ."
He flinched and the Goddess's eyes softened with compassion. "Oh, simply lost your way. You wandered off the path."
"I don't understand," he confessed. "What did I do?"
She picked a piece of grass and twirled it between her fingers. "You'll see."
It had been a difficult time in his life after the twins hatched. The tumult surrounding the birth of the first Volturi girl in centuries was overwhelming. Some, like Jasper, believed that Bella was an incarnation of the Goddess herself, while others believed James and called her a whore who was trying to destroy their faith. The hall outside their burrow filled with people seeking blessings and then they had to leave the burrow for the palace, which everyone thought would be safer for the family, but it was so hard to go. It had been such a happy little home, filled with good memories. He had no way of knowing at the time that the move would save their lives; the burrow collapsed from the missile strike during the attack on Volterra.
It seemed that threats to his mate were everywhere. On the drive to the palace, she leapt out of the wagon to help a man who had been struck by a rock, charging fearlessly into a riotous crowd. Had the drones not ran in after her to hold back the mob ... He still could not bear to think about it.
But the incident told him something very important: Bella was loved by the drones. They risked their own lives to hold the crowd back from her, without being asked. He thought of it when she brought up the idea of emancipation a few days later. They were creating an army, one that served out of love and loyalty.
That night, Bella had her first vision of the Goddess when Jasper had given her lysca. His patience had already been strained by Jasper's open worship of Bella as an incarnation of the Goddess, but when his mistake nearly poisoned her, Edward had retained only enough of his temper to be able to order Jasper from the room instead of slaying him on the spot.
Maybe she was the Chosen to house the spirit of the Goddess. If she wasn't, she was certainly a gift from the Goddess to his people. And maybe she was right that it was her destiny to change the Federation, to improve the lives of all of his people, not just the Alphas and Betas. When Bella had become Empress, she had told him that she had to follow her conscience and he had agreed. He stood by her on the dais as the Council shouted in outrage at their proclamation:
"All drones on Federation planets currently in rebellion are henceforth, and forevermore, free. Any drone who takes up arms in defense of the Federation shall be granted full the full rights and privileges of citizenship."
"So be it," he said, and took Bella's hand in his own.
"So be it," she echoed. She tilted up her chin in defiance of the angry roar of the crowd and she had never looked more like a Goddess than she did at that moment.
"You sent up a little prayer at that moment," the Goddess said, jerking him out of the memory. Night had fallen and around her, he could see a faint glow, as though she absorbed the starlight and cast it back. "Do you remember it?"
He thought for a moment. "I believe I thanked you for sending me such a strong and brave Empress."
"You did. I was so proud of you both, Edward."
"Was she right? Was that what we were supposed to do, the reason why you sent her to me?"
She smiled slightly. "Part of it, anyway. You're still not done."
"It's never-ending. It seems the more we do, the more that needs done."
"And it will always seem that way. But, Edward, you cannot neglect your family for your work."
"I didn't realize -"
"Yeah, that's sort of why you're here, remember?"
He looked down and his tail ducked out of sight.
"What of your children, Edward? What memory comes to you when you think of them?"
Edward saw himself lying with the babies in the nest, reading a book to them. Little Carlisle and Victoria lay together in the crook of his arm, while Nessie sat on his stomach, following his finger with her eyes as he traced the words under the brightly colored pictures. "We will go hunting tomorrow, baby and I, and we will kill maaaaaaany animals! We will kill a kakunar; they are very tasty! And we will kill a tree full of zorbe to make a stew!"
Bella shook her head and laughed. "Good lord, Edward, that's awful!"
Edward feasted his eyes on her. Her hair was still wet and nearly black, hanging in a luxurious curtain down her back. Her skin was pink and rosy from the heat of the baths. He always loved seeing her at this time of day, when her scent mingled sweetly with that of the soap, and sometimes there were stray beads of water on her skin that he could lick away.
Nessie was irked that her father had stopped reading and she tried to use her hands on his cheeks to turn his head back toward the book as Bella said that she thought the story was awfully bloody.
"It was my favorite book as a child," he told her. Nessie, frustrated and impatient to get back to the book, bopped him on the head with her little fist. Edward used his tail to pick her up and drop her onto the pillows on the far side of the nest. Nessie crossed her arms and pouted for a moment before she crawled back.
On the periphery of this memory, he began to see another as he remembered all of the times that Esme and Carlisle had read this book to Edward, Emmett and James, the three of them curled up in Carlisle's nest, just as Edward was curled up with his own children. He hoped it would make a happy memory for them as it had for him. "Carlisle would even make the animal sounds for me, but I'm not very good at them."
"A mom mom ma," Nessie said. She was trying to make the sound of one of the animal names, but it made Bella give a little, delighted squeal.
"She just said mama! Did you hear that?"
Edward nuzzled his daughter. "Good girl. Look at how happy you made your mother."
Bella jumped into the nest and scooped Nessie into a hug. "Can you say it again, Nessie?"
"Om am ma," Nessie offered.
Bella squealed again and squeezed her. "You're such a good girl, Nessie! So smart! Can you say, 'daddy'? Daaa deee?"
"Da da da," Nessie cried, clapping her hands, her tail waving in delight. Carlisle watched these developments with concentration. He was probably mentally auditioning the sounds that delighted his mother and would produce them late once he was sure he had them correct. It was just his way.
There were many precious moments like these through the years. Not so many these days, and Edward was saddened by that realization. His children were nearly grown now, and he had missed out on so many opportunities.
"Stop," the Goddess commanded. "I don't want you to feel shame, Edward. That is not the intent of our meeting. It's a simple reminder."
"Of all the time I lost," Edward mourned. So much that he had missed.
"No," she said softly. "A reminder to appreciate the time that you have before you. There are still many memories to be made, many happy moments for you to share."
Unbidden, his mind drifted to the next crisis their family had faced, the attack on Volterra. Missiles slammed into the palace walls. Explosions. Screams of terror and pain. He tried to push the memories away, but they were too powerful.
He called to Bella to take the children and flee to safety, but his Bella, the calm, poised Empress, could be a fierce warrior when the occasion called for it, and he saw the hard glint in her eyes as she said, "No way! I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not," Edward retorted. "It's not safe. Please, Bella, I won't be able to keep my mind on the fight unless I know you are safe." He glanced up. "Tanya?"
"The Emperor is right," Tanya said, serene as usual, seemingly unruffled by the explosions. Bella groaned softly when Tanya said that her duty was to protect the children.
"Go to the underground city. You'll be safe there." Edward kissed her on the lips and gave her a brief squeeze. "I love you. Go!"
He hadn't seen her again until it was over, until the city was in ruins and the palace itself was leveled to the ground. The underground city had been hit; James must have known that Edward would try to send his family there. As he made his way to the ruins of the Temple, he hoped and prayed that Bella had disregarded his directions.
So many had perished. So much had been lost.
The Goddess lay back and propped her head on her hands as she looked up at the stars. "Perhaps someday, I'll show you Bella's memories of it. She never told you the entire story of what she went through that day. I'll just say that she made me proud again for being so brave and resourceful."
His mind was drawn back to the moment he had found Bella in the rubble of the Temple, his relief at finding her safe so deep and intense that he couldn't even form a proper prayer of gratitude, other than, "Safe, praise Goddess. Safe!" She'd been holding a child in her arms, but he was startled when he looked down at it. "Bella, that is not our baby." And she had laughed through tears of joy, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard, and told him that she had sent their children to safety. He had wanted to give her a shake when she told him of sending Alice and the babies away in the escape pod. Didn't she realize that the fate of the Federation depended on her? But that was his Bella, always putting those she loved ahead of herself. It was one of the reasons why she was such a good Empress.
He didn't want to remember what had come after the attack either, when his lack of self-control had endangered Bella's life, but he felt himself being sucked in nevertheless and he watched himself beg her to take Esme's potion, the one which would prevent a child from growing within her. It was too soon after the twins, too dangerous. She had refused, at first, and she hadn't changed her mind until he'd asked her whom she wanted to take care of the children if she died and the grief killed him as well. It wasn't actually a serious question because their mating witnesses, Alice and Jasper, had sworn to take on that duty, but it had fulfilled its intended purpose: to make her understand that it was not only her life that was at risk, but his as well and possibly the fate of the Federation itself. He'd held her as she wept, after she'd drank the contents of the bottle, but nothing had happened.
It was at that moment Edward began to lose his faith, though Tanya had seen it as the will of the gods. Written in the stars, she had said. He had been angry at the Goddess he wasn't sure existed any more. He glanced over at the Goddess and found her watching him like he was an interesting vid.
"You weren't … angry at me for my lack of faith?" he asked.
Her smile was soft with compassion. "Oh, Edward. You poor thing. No, I wasn't angry at you. You were in so much pain and so afraid …"
"Carlisle finds comfort in prayer at such times."
She laughed. "You're not Carlisle."
"Bella was so angry at you," he said. He rolled over onto his back beside her and looked up at the stars. "She said that if you planned to kill our baby - " He cut off abruptly.
"Edward, there are times I would spare my children if I could. Your pain tears at me more than you can know, and it's made more difficult when you refuse to accept my comfort."
He thought about it for a moment, the sin that had begun his loss of faith, "So, I was supposed to - um …"
She chuckled. "No, you don't get off the hook that easily. You weren't supposed to. You were going to."
"I don't understand."
She waved a hand. "You wouldn't."
He didn't know if he should feel insulted by that or not.
"I want you to think about when you were building memories."
He was plunged back into it before he could consciously agree. He saw the "Christmas" he had put together for Bella and the children. He saw her tears of joy when he had given her back her wedding tunic, which she had thought was mangled beyond repair. The babies were far too young to remember it, though he'd implied to Bella that building happy family memories for them was part of his motivation, simply because he was too embarrassed to admit that it was all for him, to cram as much joy as he could into a few short months, though he doubted if the power of those memories would be enough to keep him going if Bella's pregnancy went as badly as he feared it might.
He had thought of how his own life had lacked any happy family memories at all, and about his vow that his own family would always know how much he loved them, that his home would be a place of warmth and happiness. Had he kept that vow? A chill went through him because he wasn't sure that he had. Certainly, Nessie and Little Carlisle knew that he loved them, but how long had it been since he had put a concerted effort into putting aside family time to play or to simply revel in the comfort of one anothers' company?
The memory of Nessie's first steps was sweet, but also caused an ache in his heart. He had wanted another child, but now he was glad it hadn't happened, because would he have been a casually absent parent, not as bad as his own, but certainly not the father he had intended to be?
"Now, you're starting to catch on," the Goddess said. She reached in the bag beside her and plucked out another of those red, round fruits and took a big bite. "What happened next?"
"No," he said, and sat up. "I don't want to do this any more."
"Edward - "
"No!" he shouted. "Let me go."
She took another bite of her fruit and simply looked at him. He groaned and sank down. "Please don't make me. I haven't thought of it in years. Not since the nightmares - " He squeezed his eyes shut. "Please."
She dropped the fruit and put her arms around him, Bella's arms, Bella's scent, though he could feel the barely-contained power thrumming through her veins. He trembled, for the power of the memory was wrenching. He fought it as it pulled him inexorably down.
Jasper came into his office. He stood inside the door until Edward glanced up from his paperwork. His eyes froze on Jasper's face, unable to look away. Jasper was pale, his eyes horror-stricken and anguished.
"No," Edward said. For a moment, he was that young man in the classroom, helpless to fight off a horrifying truth.
Jasper knelt by his side. He put a comforting hand on Edward's shoulder, but Edward knocked it away. He could no longer look at Jasper's eyes, those terrible, pitying and sorrowful eyes.
"No," he said again, and he wasn't sure if it was his memory-self or his meadow-self (or maybe even the Edward who tossed with fever in his nest).
"I'm sorry," Jasper told him. "Her ship-"
"NO!" Edward roared. His claws dug into his scalp as he shouted it, as he screamed it. But his denial could not force it away.
His memory had gaps, but they weren't memories he cared to recover. He signed a document that invested Jasper with his royal authority (it should have gone directly to Emmett, but Edward wasn't thinking clearly. Jasper had quietly transferred it to Emmett as soon as he could.) And then, he was on Fenix's moon, shredded and blackened wreckage around him, the stench of burnt metal in his nostrils. He was searching the ashes for any sign of her, of his beloved, his soul, his everything.
Edward cried out in agony. He was laying on the grass, his head pillowed on the Goddess's lap, and she made soft, soothing sounds that he could barely hear over the pain that seemed to blot out everything but memory ... horrifying, wrenching memory.
Three bodies lay off to the side. The body of a male, the body of Tanya, Bella's beloved bodyguard - identifiable by her height - and the body of a small human female. He knew that Jasper didn't believe him when he said it wasn't Bella, but the scent below the reek of burned flesh was not his mate's. He had to find her. He clawed through the ashes, scorched his hands throwing aside hot metal, moving across the debris field, only to return to the beginning to search again when he found no sign of her. Again and again. He couldn't stop. Not until he found her.
Jasper was in front of him with a communicator. Edward couldn't quite understand what he was saying. He looked down at the screen and the knife of agony that impaled him twisted at seeing Bella's image. Why would Jasper do such a cruel -
Jasper pointed at the date stamp and Edward blinked uncomprehendingly for a moment.
"She's alive," Jasper said. The two most beautiful words Edward had ever heard.
He'd had her in his arms in his next memory, lying with her on one of those strange, flat human beds.
"The baby," she whispered, and her eyes were stark with pain.
"I know," he said. "I know. I watched your vid over and over during the flight here. I'm so sorry. But I still have you. I still have you. Oh, Bella, thank the Goddess that I still have you."
In the light of that, it made his final confrontation with James seem almost inconsequential. James would probably have been terribly disappointed by that, he thought. In the end, all James had wanted was to hurt the man who had once loved him like a brother, and he had lost the power to do that. Because Edward had known true pain, and nothing could possibly compare to it.
"Satisfied?" Edward said, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice. He was angry, angry at having to endure that once again. It should have lost its power, knowing as he did that he would have his mate in his arms again soon, but it was still enough to shred him.
Her compassion was hard to endure when he was barely controlling his resentment. "Edward, you needed - "
"To relive the worst few days of my life? Yes, I'm very glad I had that experience."
Her eyes flared with anger and suddenly his own was gone. He hung his head. The tip of his tail crept into his hand and he found himself twisting it. Her hands gently covered his own. "I didn't do it to hurt you, Edward."
"I know that." He still couldn't look at her.
Bella had tucked their baby's ashes into Tanya's shroud. "I know you'll take care of him," she had whispered. "Just as you always took care of me. I love you, Tanya. I hope you knew that."
He'd wanted to say, Of course she knew it, but his throat was too tight for words to pass. He'd held Bella in his arms and they'd watched the little boat disappear over the horizon. He'd never asked her about the dream she'd had only a few nights later. She'd laughed and cried and spoken to Tanya as though she stood beside them. It had disturbed him so badly that he'd tried to wake her, but the dream would not let her go until it was finished. Whatever she had seen, it had broken her out of the depression that had kept her confined to their nest for the last few days. She still grieved, as did Edward, but they were able to support one another, rather than drowning alone in their own separate sorrow.
The pain never went away, Esme had told him later, and she was a woman who knew what it was like to lose a child. But with time, she promised, it would become more bearable. And she had slowly been proven right.
"Bella never quite forgave me," the Goddess said, breaking into his reverie.
"Nor did I," Edward said bluntly.
"If I could have spared you the pain, I would have."
"I know that." No one looking into those sad, loving eyes could deny it. "But knowing something had to happen doesn't make it easier to bear."
"I want all of my children to be happy. And Edward, you're wasting time."
His eyes widened. "You're not saying - ?"
"Oh, goodness, no, I don't mean one of you is dying. Nothing like that. What I mean is that when the both of you look back over your long lives, you're going to wonder why you ever wasted a moment that you could have been happy." The Goddess got to her feet and held out a hand to help Edward to his. She kissed his forehead as he rose. "I love you, Edward. Never forget that."
He gave her the crooked smile that he had developed for Bella. "Did you have to wait so long to tell me?"
She reached out and cupped his cheek in her palm. "I've been telling you every day of your life. You just weren't listening." She dropped her hand down to his shoulder. "Now, you're going to wake soon, and Bella is going to need you to comfort her. She's been very scared these last few days."
"Days?" he said in alarm.
"Yes, days. Time moves differently over here. You'll remember this, won't you, Edward?"
He thought that considering the fact she'd forced him to relive the worst moments of his life, the lesson was pretty firmly implanted.
She looked sad for a moment. "But also the best."
"Yes, also the best." Another memory enveloped him: Bella, just a few hours before their mating ceremony. She looked up into his face with shining eyes.
"I love you, Edward."
He nodded. "I know."
"You're supposed to say it back," she coaxed.
He had been confused. "Why? You already know I love you."
Bella smiled. "Because I like to hear it."
He took her into his arms, and curled his tail around her back. "I love you, Bella, and if it makes you happy to hear those words, I will tell you every day, every hour, for the rest of our lives."
Had he? He wasn't sure. But he intended to make sure of it for all of the days to come.
The Goddess smiled tenderly, though tears glistened in her eyes.. "And then she leaked."
His tail flicked in amusement. "You seem about to leak yourself."
She chuckled, even as the tears fell from her eyes to glisten on her cheeks. "Be happy, Edward."
"Thank you, Goddess. Thank you for caring that our marriage be as happy as it can possibly be."
"I have an ulterior motive," she confessed. She leaned forward and embraced him one last time and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Call him Collin," she said, but her voice was faint and distant, though her scent and the warmth of her arms remained.
He opened his eyes. He looked around in a bit of confusion and found himself home in his nest. Bella was draped over his chest as though she had fallen asleep and tipped over onto him.
"Bella," he said.
She jerked awake, panic and guilt in her eyes. He took her shoulders in his hands. "I'm fine," he assured her quickly. "You must have been exhausted."
"Edward!" her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, God, I was so - "
"Shhh. I'm fine. Come here." He held open his arms and she lay down in them, sniffling a little from the tears she could not hold back. He smoothed her hair, rumpled as though she hadn't combed it in days. She shifted to a more comfortable position, and that's when he felt it. He reached into his pocket and brought out a crumpled flower.
"What is it?" she asked him.
"I think it's for you," he said and laid the flower in her hand.
Her brow wrinkled as she tried to figure out how he could have come to have a fresh flower blossom in his pocket after spending the last three days in his nest, delirious with fever. He gently closed her fingers around it and kissed her gently on her soft lips. Where he had gotten the flower was not important. He spoke of what was important: "Bella, have I told you lately how much I love you?"
"You tell me every day," she replied. Her voice wobbled slightly.
"No, I don't mean a casual, 'I love you' before heading off to the market. I meant have I told you, really told you, how incredibly precious you are to me?"
She was silent for a moment and he closed his eyes. What an idiot he'd been. What had it been that the Goddess called him? Oh, yes. A bone-head. A good term for it.
"I'm going to spend the rest of my life showing it to you," he vowed.
And it was a promise that he kept.
~ Finis ~
And now, dear friends, we have come to the end of this little tale. I know I could happily spend the rest of my days writing stories set in the Forx Galaxy, but it's time to let it go. Writing this outtake was a bittersweet experience for me, knowing that with every word, I was bidding goodbye to "WITS." I'll miss it.
I want to thank all of you for coming along on this amazing journey, for your kind words, your support, your encouragement. Without you, I never would have gotten the chance to write a book, and I'll always be grateful to you for it. My first novel will be released on October 11, 2012 ... one year and seventeen days after I began posting this story.
Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.