Title of Story: Something to Fight For

Word Count: 11,958

Type of Edward: Civil War Edward

Category: Literotica

Story Summary: Edward and his cousin are trying to make their way back to Union lines after escaping capture by the Continental Army. Emmett is injured and need of medical attention. They seek refuge at a Virginia farmhouse, where Edward finds more than the medical help he needs.

Standard Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.

I sat in the tree and watched the two girls for hours as they tended to their day's work. It was another hot day, and unlike the previous days, I didn't think we would get any relief from the rain. I wasn't sure if that was a blessing or a curse. Lord knows, I think we had been cursed enough the last few days.

Sweat slid down my temples and into my hair and ears. I kept trying to wipe it away, off my face and out of eyes, but my clothes were already soaking and sticking to my skin. I tried to ignore the cramping pains in the pit of my stomach, but the aroma of the food the girls were cooking wafted to me on the breeze, nearly making the pain of hunger unbearable. It had been days since we had had much of anything to eat.

I knew Emmett had it worse. If we didn't find a safe place soon, he wasn't going to make it. I pushed back the thought, not ready to face that reality. But the wound was looking mighty red and angry, and I think he began a fever this morning. I wasn't sure if that was good or bad, but he seemed to be getting weaker. I didn't know what to do for him, other than try to hurry and get back to our men.

But that was the problem. I wasn't quite sure where they were or where we were for that matter. We had to find the Union line soon. There would be doctors there that could help him. We had been wandering now for three whole days. After the beating we took at Bull Run, I doubted our troops were too close anymore, and may have retreated all the way back to Washington. I was beginning to think we would have been better off prisoners of the Continental Army.

I squinted up at the cloudless sky, figuring the time. We probably had a few hours at most before it was dark. Then we would need to get traveling again. I was so fearful that Emmett wouldn't be able to go on much longer. There was no way I could go home and face our family without him.

I hopped off the branch and quietly lowered myself to the ground. I watched the girls for a bit longer before I made my way back to Emmett, having made up my mind that we would have to go and seek shelter at that farmhouse. Worse case, I could always force our way in to get some food. I wouldn't harm them none, just scare them a little—if I was desperate enough, and I thought I was.

I found Emmett right where I left him, leaning up against a large oak tree.

"Emmett," I whispered as I approached. "Emmett, are you awake?" I crouched down next to him as he opened one eye.

"I'm awake, Edward," he answered slowly.

I reached out to touch his head. He was hot—too hot. He definitely had a fever.

"How's your arm?" I asked.

"Hurts like the devil," he replied, trying to lift and turn it. He let out an agonizing groan. "Feels like a damn hot poker was jabbed into it." I reached over, pulling back his sleeve to examine his arm. The wound was redder now, and it was beginning to ooze.

"How's it look?" he asked. I didn't have it in me to tell him the truth. He may have survived that damn battle at Bull Run, but I didn't think his chances were so good of getting home now—not if we didn't find some help soon.

"Bout the same, Em," I replied. "Can you walk soon? I think we need to be making our way again as soon as night falls."

"Yeah, sure, Edward," he replied as he closed his eyes again.

He was gonna die out here. The panic began to rise up in me. I just didn't think he had much left in him—not enough to get us back to the Union camp. I couldn't lose him. He was like a brother to me.

Emmett needed doctoring. If we waited much longer, it would likely be too late. There was only one choice I could see before us.

"Emmett," I said as I nudged him gently on his good shoulder.

"Yeah, Edward. Time to move again?" he asked.

"There's a farmhouse over there." I nodded over my shoulder in the direction of the clearing. "I think we need to go and get you some help."

Emmett looked at me skeptically. "Ain't no one going to help a couple of Union boys out here."

"Well," I said as I ran my finger through the sandy dirt, "we ask for the help or we take it. Either way, we get you cleaned up and some food in our belly." I could see in Emmett's expression that he knew we were out of other options at this point. Neither of us were raised to steal or to be disrespectful, but times and situations have changed, and we had to do what we must to survive. However, it still wasn't sitting well with either of us.

"Come on, let's go and see what can be done before it gets dark." I helped Emmett to his feet. He instantly leaned on me for support. Emmett had always been a strong man—big and powerful—even as a boy. It was difficult to see him so weak.

We made our way out into the clearing and toward the farmhouse. I was hoping to make it there before they saw us, but a dog caught our scent and began barking. It didn't take long before the younger girl came around the back of the house to see what caused the commotion.

She took one look at us and called out, "Bella!" She ran around the backside of the house still shouting out to the other girl. It didn't take more than a minute before the older one was on the porch, rifle in hand, aimed right at us.

"Stay where you are!" she shouted.

I raised my hands up in front of me, showing her I was unarmed. Emmett did the same with his good arm but was unable to lift the other.

"Please, Miss, we mean you no harm. We just need some food, and my friend here needs a bit of doctoring. If you could help, we'd be on our way." I kept walking slowly toward her, praying she wouldn't get scared enough to shoot us.

We were close enough now for me to get a good look at her as she lowered the gun a bit from her face. Lord, she was a beauty. She had a lovely heart-shaped face with large, doe eyes and a sweet, full mouth. But her eyes were not the warm, welcoming eyes I longed to see. They were set with wariness and a determination to protect what was hers.

"Please, Miss," I said again, stopping our forward motion to try to ease her concern. "We really just need a bit to eat. Then we'll be on our way. I promise. We can stay right here, if you bring us a bit."

"What's wrong with him?" she asked, pointing the gun a little more at Emmett.

"His arm's wounded—shot went straight through." I replied.

"What are you doing here? You're Yankees?" she asked.

I nodded. "We were fighting at the battle by Bull Run Creek."

She lowered her gun a bit more and looked quizzically at us. "That fighting was north of here, and my understanding is you boys got your tails whooped and were driven back to Washington. So, what I'm wondering is, how you two got down here?"

She was right of course, and now I would have to explain to her our capture and escape. Just then, Emmett swayed a bit, falling onto me. I had to brace myself to keep us both up right.

"Easy, Emmett," I said. "You need to sit." I helped him gently to the ground.

"I'm okay," he said as he cradled his injured arm.

"Your friend's not doing so well," she said from the porch.

I looked over to her, right in the eye, pleading. "No. He's burning up with fever. Do you know any medicine? Can you help him?" I asked. I could see her resolve beginning to crumble as she lowered the rifle further, the determination in her eyes changing to concern. "He's a good man. We both are. Please, please help us."

"Alice," she called out, not taking her eyes off the two of us. The little one stepped out on to the porch behind her.

"Yes."

"Take the rifle and point it at them. If they do anything to me or come any closer, you shoot them, understand?" She began to hand the rifle over to her sister, Alice, all while keeping her eyes locked with mine.

"What?" Alice cried. "No, Bella. Send them away. Make them go away. They're Union men. You can't trust them."

"Alice, just keep the gun on them," she demanded as she began to walk to us.

"Don't you do anything to make her shoot you," she warned as she approached. I just raised my hands in supplication. Once she got to us, she squatted down to take a look at Emmett.

"What's going on, soldier?" she asked Emmett. He held up his arm a bit in answer. She gently pulled back the torn sleeve of his shirt and examined the wound. "It went clean through?" she asked.

"Yes," we both replied.

She reached out and felt his cheek. "What's your name?" she asked.

"Emmett."

"And your friend here," she asked, nodding her head in my direction.

I decided to answer the question myself. "Lieutenant Edward Cullen." She turned and looked at me. She seemed to be analyzing our character, trying to decide what to do with us.

"All right, Lieutenant, help me get him up." She began to stand, putting her hands under Emmett's arm to guide him. I quickly reached over to grab Emmett's other arm.

"I've got it. Thank you," Emmett said as he steadied himself. Still, she continued holding him as she led us toward the house.

"Bella, what are you doing?" Alice exclaimed. Her eyes were wide as she watched us approach.

"Help me, Alice. Open the door," was Bella's only reply.

"You can't bring them inside. We don't even know them. They could be thieves or murderers." Bella continued to ignore Alice's tirade as she assisted Emmett up the steps.

"There now," Bella said to me, looking across Emmett. "Have you got him? Can you just follow me?"

I nodded and guided Emmett along, following Bella through the parlor to the back of the house. The house was far nicer than a typical farmhouse. The parlor was well appointed. They weren't just farmers, I was sure. She led us to a back bedroom with a nice sized bed.

"Lay him down so I can get a better look at that wound," she ordered as she moved around the room lighting the lamps, finally settling herself on a stool next to Emmett. I stood in the corner, hat in my hands, watching curiously to see what she would do for him.

Bella began to examine his arm. She began poking at the flesh a bit and then squeezed the wound, making pus come out. Emmett hissed and bit hard on his bottom lip. I cringed, knowing the pain must be terrible.

"The wound is filthy. We're going to have to clean it up before I can do any sewing of the skin," Bella said as she continued to examine the torn flesh on Emmett's arm.

"Alice, I need you to heat some water and bring me some clean linen and soap."

"I will not!" came the defiant voice of her younger sister from other side of the room. I looked over to Alice, who stood stiffly in the doorway, her hands in tight fists at her sides, glaring at her sister.

Bella had turned her attention on her sister with a hard, steely gaze that had her sister softening her stance and even made me a bit nervous.

"You will," she replied, her tone firm and final.

"But, Bella, they're Union men," Alice replied, her voice almost a whisper, but still holding that tone of disgust as she spoke of us. "What would Papa say?"

"He would say they're men, Alice. Men who have need of our help. It doesn't matter where they're from. This man is hurting, and we can do something about it. Now, go fetch that water as I asked."

Alice stood a few a seconds, a silent fury building in her little body. Finally, she let out an exasperated breath, stomped her foot, turned abruptly and headed off to fetch the water. I did not want to cause such trouble between the two sisters, but Bella was right, we were men in need of help, and I had to do what I could to see that Emmett got it.

I heard Bella sigh and turned my attention back to her.

"I'm sorry for my sister's rudeness. She has a kind heart but is rather taken up in this war."

I nodded and replied, "It's all right. I can understand her uneasiness. Though, I am truly grateful for your kindness and help."

She smiled at me and turned back to Emmett. "After I've cleaned your wound, I have a salve my mother sometimes used for wounds that looked like this. I'll see if I can find the ingredients for it." She stood and turned to me. "You'll stay here then, with your friend." It was more of an order than a question. She had taken us into her home, and yet, we still made her uneasy.

I nodded as she made her way out of the room.

I walked over to Emmett and sat down on the end of the bed, silently turning my hat in my hand as we waited for the girls to return. Bella was back shortly with a basket of supplies that she laid out neatly on the dresser top. She began mixing some herbs together and crushing them with the pestle. She left the room and returned several times, all the while Emmett and I waited without a word between us. I think we were both too tired and too relieved to finally be safe inside.

Bella gave Emmett a glass with a light amber liquid, telling him to drink it all. She then began working on cleaning up Emmett's arm. Emmett was clinching his fists and biting down hard on his lip whenever she worked directly on the wound. After a bit, she began asking me more about our current situation.

"All right, Lieutenant, can you tell me how you got so far south from the battlefield?"

"Well, we were overcome by those Rebs during the battle and taken prisoner," I told her, not really wanting to go into detail.

"I see. That still doesn't explain how you ended up on my front porch. Did this wound come from the battle then?"

"No, Miss."

"Do you mind telling me how he was shot through the arm?"

I sighed. "Emmett, me, and about a dozen other men were taken prisoner. We thought they would trade us off right away, but instead they decided to take us on down to Richmond."

"A few of our men decided to try and break for it. They jumped the Rebs, trying to get their guns. All hell broke loose, and they began firing at us. Emmett and I made a break for the woods. We weren't the only ones. Men were scattering in all directions. Emmett got shot in the arm. That was three days ago."

"I see. Well, that makes a bit more sense." She grew quiet while she began spreading the salve on Emmett's wound. I could see Emmett eyes drooping shut as sleep overtook him.

When she had finished, she turned to me and said, "I suppose it's been a while since you ate a good meal?" I just nodded in reply, but my stomach rumbled in agreement.

She slowly grinned. "All right. Come on then. I got a bit of stew left over warming on the stove." She grabbed the pitcher and bowl she used to clean up Emmett and headed out of the room. I followed close behind, uneasy and unsure of myself, but so hungry.

The kitchen was in the rear of the house next to Emmett's room. As I entered, Alice was sitting in the chair shooting daggers at me with her eyes. It was evident that she did not want us here, and I was sorry for that, but not enough to leave.

Bella began busying herself around the kitchen, while I just stood in the doorway. Finally she turned and inspected me, likely for the first time.

"You need to wash up." This was a statement of fact, not even a request. She reached up into a small cupboard, pulling out a piece of cloth and the square of lye she used to clean up Emmett. "There's a stream out back. You can wash up out there." She nodded her head toward the back door, and I was effectively dismissed.

I took the soap and linen and headed outside toward the stream. I stripped down and cleaned myself up. As I got out of the stream, I saw a pile of clothes next to my filthy ones. The pants were a bit high on my legs, but they were clean. I headed back up to the house, the rich smells of the stew drifting out from the kitchen window, pulling me in. I left my dirty clothes on the porch and stepped back into the house.

"Come on in, Lieutenant," Bella said and smiled, as she placed two plates of steaming food on the table. I quickly smiled back and hurried to take a seat at the table.

I didn't waste any time digging into the food. Oh God, it was amazing. I couldn't get it in fast enough. I hadn't eaten a meal like this in months—hell, I had barely eaten in days.

"Slow down. There's plenty," Bella said, as she handed me another roll. I quickly tore it in half, sopping up the gravy from the stew, and shoving it into my mouth. Bella giggled. It was a joyous sound. I looked up and grinned at her through my full mouth. She shook her head with a little laughter and grabbed my plate to get more food.

"I've forgotten how good it is to watch a man eat," she murmured, as she picked at the food on her own plate. After I finished off about three helpings, Bella guided me upstairs. She led me into a simple bedroom with a large bed, a commode, and a wardrobe.

"This is Pa's room. You can sleep here." She turned and opened the wardrobe, pulling out a nightshirt and handing it to me. "All right, I'll see you in the morning, Lieutenant," she said as she turned to leave the room.

"Miss Bella," I said. She turned around, smiling at me. I wanted to say so much to her right now, but all I could get out was, "Thank you. Goodnight."

"You're welcome. Goodnight," she replied as she shut the door behind her.

I awoke in the morning warm and soft, comfortable in a bed. At first I thought I was back home on the farm in New York. As I began to come to, I could smell breakfast cooking downstairs and hear the soft sounds of female voices. Then it came back to me. I was sleeping in a farmhouse in Virginia. I was a far cry from New York. Then I remembered Emmett downstairs and began to worry about his current condition.

I made my way downstairs to check on Emmett. I quietly entered his room, only to find Emmett still fast asleep. I stood by his bed, examining him, hoping to find some improvement in his condition. He was resting well, and his color appeared better, giving me hope that that he would be all right. I decided to let him rest, and quietly left his room.

I shuffled into the kitchen, still unsure of how I would be received by the girls. Bella was cooking eggs over the stove and didn't hear me enter. Alice looked up over her porridge, quickly averting her eyes to the view out the window.

"Good morning," I said as I entered the room.

"Good morning," Bella said, turning around to greet me. "Come sit down. I've just cooked up some eggs. There's some biscuits and porridge as well." I sat down at the table across from Alice, who was still actively avoiding my gaze by staring out the window. Bella came over and placed a plate in front of me with eggs and biscuits. She reached over and poured a glass of fresh milk from the pitcher on the table. "Here eat," she said, and I immediately dug into my plate of food.

"Alice, would you mind taking a plate in to Sergeant McCarty?" Bella asked. Alice huffed a bit but stood and made a plate of food, taking it out of the room.

"How is Emmett?"

"Oh, he seems better. He's still feverish, but it's not as hot as last night."

"I do thank you for taking us in and for helping him."

She didn't reply, just looked down at her plate and nodded. We continued to eat our breakfast in silence, every now and then looking up as though we were about to say something, but then returning our focus to our eggs and biscuits. Finally, she set her fork down on her empty plate and spoke.

"Lieutenant, how are you at working around a farm?"

I looked up at her and answered, "I grew up on one." My family lived on my grandfather's horse farm. Emmett and I had spent our childhoods working in the stables or playing in the apple orchard.

"Well, with Papa gone, there's more work than I can keep up with. If you're staying for a few days, as I suspect you will, I could use a man's help around here. I figure you can earn your keep."

"It would be my pleasure."

"There's tools in the barn, and old Gracie knocked down the fence this morning. You can start by mending it for me." She got up from her chair and then amended, "Gracie's the cow." She set her plate in a large bucket and headed out the back door. I finished my biscuit and got up from the table, putting my dishes in the same bucket before stepping out onto the back porch. She was making her way back to the house now, carrying a full bucket of water. I walked over to her and lifted the bucket from her hands, carrying it the rest of the way inside for her.

"Thank you," she said, touching my arm. And that touch, so simple a gesture, went right through me. I could feel down to my toes. I stared at her, wondering what it was about this girl that had me so captivated. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and made my way over to inspect the fence where Gracie had knocked it down. I could see right away that many of the rails would need to be replaced.

By mid-day, I had cut and trimmed two of the trees and had begun to split one of them. It was another blazing hot day, and my shirt was soaked to my back. Cutting and working the trees was hard work, but it beat doing army drills. Deciding to take a break, I set the mull by the log and headed over to the stream that flowed through the property. I sat down on a large outcropping of rock that straddled the bank. I leaned over the edge, gathering the cool water in my hands and splashing it on my face. The relief was instant, and I needed more. I dunked my whole head into the running water. When I came up for air, I heard her soft voice behind me.

"Hello, Edward."

I turned around to find Miss Bella standing before me with a basket in her hands. For a moment, she looked a little shy and sheepish, not the confident and strong woman I had seen the day before.

"I brought you some lunch. You've been working so hard, I thought you might forget to come eat."

She laid out a small blanket in the shade of a poplar and unpacked the basket. She quietly sat on the grass next to the blanket, tucking her legs underneath her. I stood there, silently watching her. I wasn't sure if I was scared or so in awe of her I was struck speechless.

"Come on, Lieutenant. Come eat. I won't bite." She patted the blanket in front of her, indicating for me to come and sit. I made my way over and sat on the wool blanket. She handed me a glass of lemonade, which I drank down quickly.

"So, lieutenant, tell me something about yourself. Where are you from?"

"Call me Edward."

"All right, Edward. Then you must call me Bella."

I nodded as I stuffed a large piece of cheese in my mouth. "I'm from New York."

"I see. And you grew up on a farm, correct? Not the city?"

"No, I'm from upstate New York, not far from Rochester. My father is in shipping, but I grew up on my grandfather's farm. My grandfather is a fine horseman. His horses are known for miles around."

"Can you tell me about your farm? Did you like growing up there?"

"Oh, yes. We used to climb the apple trees in the orchards as kids. Emmett, his sisters, and I would play all kinds of games as we ran and climbed the trees, always eating apples along the way."

"Oh, I love climbing trees." Bella clapped her hands together with a widening grin on her face. "My father would always yell for me to come down. 'A most unlady-like way to behave,' he would say," she explained, mimicking her father's voice. She chuckled. "I think he always preferred Alice's more genteel games. I would eventually find myself playing Graces with Alice, though longing to get back up the tree." She smiled.

"Oh, Emmett's sisters always tried to rope me into playing Graces with them, but I would have none of it. It was a girl's game. Poor Emmett was always suckered into playing with his littlest sister, Anne. He always had such a pitiful look on his face as he did it." I could picture Emmett now with his stick, tossing the ring over to Anne, who would have a huge grin on hers face. She would squeal in delight whenever she caught it proper, and Emmett would smile big then, until he saw someone else watching him. Then he would place that pout right back on his face again. No matter, he could never resist making Anne happy.

"Emmett told me you two are cousins."

"Yes, our mothers are sisters."

"And do you have any siblings?"

"No. I'm an only child. My mother had a very hard birth with me. Everyone says it was a miracle that either of us survived it. After that, I don't think she was able to have more. But Emmett's just like a brother to me. We were always together growing up."

I began thinking of Emmett and wondering how he was faring. Bella must have seen the questions on my face because she said, "He's much improved today. I checked on him just before I came out here." She smiled slightly as she added, "He has quite a sense of humor that I had not seen in him the night before."

I chuckled a bit, relief flooding through me. If Emmett was making jokes with Bella, he was definitely on the mend.

"The arm is not so red or oozing." Bella continued. "I think he will be fine."

Although I felt tremendous ease knowing that Emmett was on the mend, I also began to feel a great weight spread through me at the thought of what lay ahead of us. The quicker Emmett got better, the sooner we would soon be leaving this place and returning to the devil's den of war.

Trying to take my mind off my eventual return to the front lines, I diverted the conversation, trying to learn more about Bella. "So, would you tell me something about yourself? How do you know so much about doctoring?"

"Oh, it's in my blood for sure. My papa, he's a doctor. He's with the soldiers now. And my mama, she was one of the best midwives in these parts."

That explained a lot. Why she had so much knowledge of healing. Bella took a small bite of her bread and continued, "I was told they were quite the pair in the beginning. Doctors and midwives don't often see eye to eye. My aunt has often said that it was love at first sight for them, even if they didn't realize it right away. They would fight mighty hard about how to treat a patient. They said they hated each other at first, and yet, from what I was told, they couldn't stay away from each other either.

"My mama died a few years ago—fell off a horse and broke her neck. It about destroyed my father."

"I'm very sorry for your loss, Bella." I wasn't sure what else to say. I hadn't ever been faced with death, at least not until recently. Now I seemed to be surrounded by it.

"Thank you. My pa says I am a lot like her. I worked with her for years, studying midwifery, and I guess now most people in these parts call on me to help deliver their babies. I helped birth over ten in the last two years," she said, a huge grin spreading on her face. I could see that she had found her calling. She was born to help people. I found myself not only admiring her beauty but her spirit as well.

It also made me wonder how old she was. She looked fair young, not more than eighteen, but her wisdom spoke of an age much older.

"Well, Edward. I should get back to my chores. I still got some washing to do."

"Thank you, Bella, for bringing me lunch, and thank you for the pleasure of your company," I said as I helped her up. I picked up the blanket from the ground and shook it out, folding it neatly for her to carry back to the house.

She reached for the blanket and tucked it over her arm, along with the basket. "You're welcome, Edward. I'll see you later for supper." I nodded and watched her as she turned and headed back to the house, her skirt swaying back and forth as she walked. I felt a small pang in my chest as I watched her. By God, she was a lovely woman. I had not thought of a woman in such a way in a very long time.

As she disappeared back into the house, I walked over, grabbed my mull and continued splitting the wood.

By the end of the day, I had finished repairing the fence, washed in the stream, and made it back in time for supper. After dinner I went in to see how Emmett was faring. Bella was right; he looked much better.

"Hello, Emmett," I said as I sat in the chair next to him. "How are you feeling?"

"Much better. I think the arm is healing. It doesn't hurt so much, and I think my fever has broken."

"Well, you do look better. I see you even managed to shave that scruff off your face."

"That was the young one, Alice. She said I was too dirty—filthy as a pig. After a few insults though, she helped clean me up a bit and gave me a shave. I must say that I feel a good bit better for it." I was a surprised to see that Alice had helped him. I felt sure she didn't like us and didn't want us here one bit. Maybe her talk with Bella had changed her mind.

Just then Bella walked into the room. She was carrying some books under her arm, setting them down on the dresser.

"How are you doing this evening, Emmett?" she asked. She walked over and sat on the side of the bed, taking his arm and unwrapping the dressing.

"Oh, much better, Miss Bella, all thanks to you." He was grinning at her, until she poked at his wound, and then his face contorted a bit with pain.

"Still hurts?" she asked. He just nodded. "Well, it's getting better. It's going to need some debriding and a bit of stitching . . ." Emmett grimaced with the news, but Bella put him a bit at ease. "But, I think that can wait until the morning. I brought some books. I thought we could read aloud some tonight. Would you like that?"

Emmett nodded and said, "That sounds wonderful, Miss Bella. I think reading is Edward's favorite pastime. He always had his nose in a book at home."

"Well, that would be another thing we have in common," Bella said, as she caught my eye. "I wasn't sure what kind of stories you would like, but I have a new one that was sent to me by uncle, Frankenstein. It's about a monster created by a man. I thought we might enjoy it."

After a bit of discussion, we all decided that we would like to hear Frankenstein. Bella took a seat in a soft upholstered chair in the corner and began, "To Mrs. Saville, England. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise . . ."

Bella read well into the night. Occasionally, we would stop her to comment on some aspect of the story, but overall we all three—or should I say four, since young Alice had quietly crept into the room and sat on the floor near the door—were enthralled with the story and Bella's telling of it. Finally, I noticed that Emmett's eyes had slipped shut, and mine were soon to follow. I stifled, rather unsuccessfully, a large yawn, which drew Bella's attention away from the book.

"I apologize, but I do believe the lateness of the hour has finally caught up to me," I said.

"And to your friend," she replied, nodding to Emmett's sleeping form on the bed. "I think I just got too caught up in the story. It happens to me a lot."

"Me as well. Thank you for reading to us this evening. It was a better evening than I have had in a very long time."

"Thank you, Edward," Bella said, as she lay the book aside. Rising, she took note of her sister asleep on the floor. Alice had a sketchbook lying next to her with marvelous drawings of what I assumed to be Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. She had a real talent, and I quickly realized that many of the drawings and paintings throughout the house must have been hers.

"Dear, sweet Alice, time to wake and go to bed." Bella nudged Alice, who resisted waking up. "Come on, we need to get you upstairs. If you can't walk, I will have to have Lieutenant Cullen carry you."

"Oh, I can do it," Alice muttered as she stretched and rose from the floor. She stumbled up the stairs with Bella and myself trailing behind.

At the top of the stairs, I said my goodnights to both girls and made my way to the room. Once in my nightshirt and tucked comfortably into the soft bed, I fell quite soundlessly into one of the best sleeps I had had in a very long time.

For the next several days, I worked on Bella's farm, first repairing the fence, then doing some work in the barn, really any job she needed of me. At night, after dinner, we would all gather in Emmett's room and read more Frankenstein. Alice began spending more and more time with us, finally becoming comfortable around Emmett and me. I think she enjoyed doting on Emmett a bit, maybe imagining he was her Jasper. Last night, having finished Frankenstein, we all played a lively game of Whist instead of reading. I partnered with Bella and Alice partnered with Emmett. Those two cheat, I swear.

I was growing quite fond of Bella. Everyday noonday, she would appear wherever I was working, a basket in her hand filled with food and a fresh pitcher of lemonade. We would talk about our childhoods, our likes, our dislikes. And each day I spent with her, I found myself admiring her beauty, but more importantly, falling in love with her mind.

She was smart. Although she lived in the Virginia countryside, her father was an educated man, and he saw to it that Bella too was well learnt. She had read most of my favorite novels, and we would often fall into heated discussions about them while eating in the shade of the trees.

We mostly avoided talk of the war. Neither one of us wanted to be reminded of what lay just outside the boundaries of her farm. I knew it would be soon that I would have to return to my real life—return to the Union camp.

Emmett was nearly all healed. He was up and moving around and had been helping me and Miss Alice with some of the more basic chores. I knew our time was quickly coming to an end, and I was dreading it more than ever before. I couldn't say quite what had me resisting returning back to my men, but I was sure that Bella had something to do with it. We were from two different worlds, but I had never felt more connected to another person than I did with her. I wondered if she too felt the same?

We had been at the farm for a week now, and I was working in the afternoon, replacing some boards on the loft in the barn. I heard Bella come in, leading in Gracie with a bucket of feed. I sat quietly above her and watched. The cow was following close behind, trying to stick her nose into the bucket for a bite of the feed. Bella would just swing it out of reach and scold her.

Deciding to lend a hand, I climbed halfway down the ladder and then jumped the rest of the way.

I startled Bella a bit when I suddenly appeared at her side. I reached for the bucket and helped Bella bring Gracie into her stall.

"How is the loft coming along?" Bella asked me as we shut the stall door behind us.

"It's finished. It wasn't too bad."

"Thank you, Edward. You have been such a big help. Papa isn't much of a farm hand. Our neighbor's sons usually help us out around here, but like most of our boys, they're off fighting for the Confederate."

I nodded, dropping my head, staring at the floor. So many of us, pulled away from our homes, ready to kill each other. These boys, her father, Alice's Jasper, they all have importance here to Bella. Would I be fighting them soon? Would I be raising my gun against them? Would I be the one to keep them from returning home?

Bella, sensing my unease, stepped up to me, placing her hand on my shoulder.

"Edward, what is it? Is it the war?" she asked. I brought my gaze up to meet hers but didn't answer.

"Will it be over quick?" she asked. "They say it will be a short war and soon we will have our independence."

"No," I replied, looking her in the eye. "No, Bella. This war is going to drag on. It's going to be bloody. I think both sides have vastly underestimated the strength and resolve of the other. This will not be a quick war."

She reached up and touched my face, running her fingers across my cheekbone, eventually cupping my cheek in her palm. "And you're going to be in the thick of it, aren't you?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied. There was no other way about it. I was a soldier now. I had never imagined myself as such. When the call came out for volunteers, it sounded like such an adventure. We all knew those Johnny Rebs couldn't fight. It would be fun, quick, and we could return home a hero. I was so wrong. Now, I just prayed I would return home in one piece.

I stared at Bella. God, she was an amazing woman. At that moment, looking into her eyes, I knew I had to live. I had to come back so that I could be with her. I wanted her so badly I ached.

The need to touch her and kiss her was overwhelming. I reached out and wrapped my hand around Bella's waist, gently pulling her closer to me. Her breath hitched as she looked up into my face. I bent my head and brushed my lips against hers softly. Bella's eyes fluttered closed, and she moved her hand to my shoulder, holding herself steady.

I kissed her deeper then, and I heard a soft moan escape her mouth. In that moment, there was no North and South, no Union and Confederates, no war, just her and me. I burned for her. I couldn't get enough of her. I held her tighter, never wanting to let go, never wanting to leave her, ever. I moved my mouth down to her neck, peppering kisses along the way. I felt her hands slide up my arms and into my hair, grasping it tightly.

"Bella?" I heard Alice's voice just outside the barn. Bella and I quickly jumped apart, staring at each other, neither of us quite sure what had happened. Bella quickly turned and began walking toward the barn door.

"In here, Alice. I was just putting Gracie away."

I turned my back to the girls and began fiddling with some of the tools on the wall as Alice entered the barn.

"Bella, it was getting late, and I wasn't sure where you were." Noticing me in the back she added, "Oh, hello there, Edward."

I turned and smiled. "Hello, Alice."

She put her arm in Bella's and began leading her out of the barn while explaining, "Well, it is getting late, and Emmett and I were getting awful hungry."

I felt a sudden loss as I watched Bella disappear beyond the barn door. I wanted to run after her, put my arms around her, and kiss her again and again, and again. Oh, God, I was done for. I didn't for the life of me know how I would ever be able to make this work with her. But, oh did I want her.

I spent the next day helping Bella in the garden. She was tending to the herbs and plants she used for cooking and her medicines. She had me picking the vegetables. I was currently working on the tomatoes, and every so often popping one in my mouth.

I kept sneaking peeks at her as I made my way down the rows of plants. I would watch how she moved, admiring the gentle curve of her hips and the beautiful hollow where her throat met her neck. I ached to hold her again and kiss her.

Every now and again, I would catch her staring at me, and we would smile at each other before going back to our work. But the looks weren't enough. I would keep finding excuses to need her help, asking her come over to me, just so I could touch her, working up my nerve to try and steal a kiss.

I looked over at her now. She was kneeling in the dirt, trimming some kind of herb. Her hair had begun to come loose and long tendrils were falling out of her hat. Her skin was blushed from the heat of the day. She was a lovely sight.

I was happy here. I wanted to stay. God, did I want to stay. I did not want to return to Union camp, though I knew I must. Right now, the war seemed a million miles away.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement and dust in the air down the road from her house. I looked up and could see a buggy heading this way. I was quite sure I shouldn't be seen, but there was nowhere to go at this point. At least, I wasn't wearing my Union clothes.

"Bella," I called. She looked up with a grin but saw that I was looking out past her toward the road, and she quickly looked over her shoulder.

"Oh no!" she said, as she quickly stood and looked around her. I was sure she was coming to the same realization that I had—there was nowhere for me to hide. "It's Mrs. Whitlock. Just stay there and try not to talk."

She made her way through the garden to the fence by the road, wiping her hands on her apron. The buggy soon pulled alongside. It was a small open top buggy pulled by a single bay mare. The woman driving it was handsome in a way, very well put together with a large smile on her face, but there was a hardness in her eyes.

"Good afternoon, Bella, " she said.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Whitlock. This is a most pleasant surprise."

"Well, I was in town picking up the mail and saw that my son had sent me a letter. Thomas said that there was one for Miss Alice as well, so I thought I would bring by your mail for you."

"Thank you, Mrs. Whitlock. I haven't had a chance to get into town in the last few days. Did my father write?"

"Yes, my dear. I do believe there was a letter from him as well." Mrs. Whitlock's gaze slowly rose over Bella's head in my direction. "Who is this?" she asked.

"Oh, I apologize for my rudeness. This is my cousin, Edward. He is passing through on his way to Richmond. I asked him to stay a few days to help me with some repairs to the farm."

"How do you do?" she said to me, and I returned the greeting. Then she said to Bella, "I don't remember your parents mentioning a cousin Edward. He can't be your mother's nephew. I know all her family—must be on your father's side?"

"Yes, a second cousin," Bella said. "He's on his way to Richmond to join the Confederate army." I almost had to snort out loud at that ridiculous statement. It made me wonder what this Mrs. Whitlock would do if she really knew that I was a soldier for the Union army.

"Oh, wonderful. After the slaughtering our boys gave to those horrible Yanks at Manassas, I think it won't be long before this whole war is over and we are a new country. Don't you agree, dear," Mrs. Whitlock said.

Bella paled a bit at her words, and I could see Mrs. Whitlock examining her reaction. Bella however, put on her pleasing face and asked if Mrs. Whitlock would care to come to the house and join them for some tea. "Alice is at the house and would be so pleased to see you." She then turned to me and said, "Edward, would you mind running ahead and letting Alice know that Mrs. Whitlock is here and will be joining us for tea." I nodded and quickly made my way out of the garden and to the house, happy to be out from under Mrs. Whitlock's scrutinizing gaze.

I made my way to the kitchen where Alice was canning fruits and vegetables.

"Miss Alice, Miss Bella sent me to let you know that Mrs. Whitlock is here and will be joining you for tea."

Alice quickly turned around, a large smile on her face that quickly fell when she realized the trouble with the current situation. "What . . . I mean who did—"

I didn't let her finish her sentence before I explained. "I'm your second cousin on your father's side, passing through on my way to Richmond to join the Confederate Army." Alice giggled and covered her mouth to stop it from becoming all out laughter.

"Oh dear, well, you may want to disappear for a bit with some task to do. Mrs. Whitlock is Jasper's mama. I love her dearly, but she is a hawk. She doesn't miss a thing, and well, she's the one you go to if you want news in this area."

I frowned. That didn't bode well for my current position, nor for Bella's. I soon realized that my time here would rapidly be coming to an end. "Where's Emmett?" I asked.

"I think he's in his room," she replied. I could hear the buggy pulling up outside the front of the house. I quietly slipped into the back hall and glanced into Emmett's room. He was prone on his bed. I thought he was sleeping until I saw one eye peek open.

"Emmett, the girls have company. You need stay in here and be quiet. I'm going to go work in the barn. Don't come out unless someone comes to get you." Both of Emmett's eyes were wide open, and he nodded in understanding. I quietly shut the door and headed out the back.

I was sitting on a trunk near the back of the barn working on a broken harness when Bella walked in. "Mrs. Whitlock has left." She walked over to me and leaned up against the wall.

"I see. And now? I guess most of the town will know about your cousin."

She sighed and looked up to the rafters. "Yes," was all she replied.

"I think then it's time Emmett and I made our way out of here and back to camp." I said it as a simple truth, but inside my heart was rebelling. Fact was, I didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave this farm, and most of all, I didn't want to leave her.

"I . . .I don't want you to go," Bella said, her voice cracking. I could see the moisture welling in her eyes as a single tear slid down her check. In one breath, I was up off the trunk and gathering her in my arms. She clung to me, holding me tight.

"I don't want to go, but I must. Emmett's better, and there is no reason for us to linger—at least no reason the army would consider sufficient. Though my heart pleads with me to stay."

"Stay, stay!" she cried.

I gently pulled her away from me so I could see her face. "Bella, we've been here over a week, and Emmett is all healed. At this point, the union would consider us deserters. If they found us, we would be lucky just to be sent back to our regiment. Even worse, we could be caught here by the Rebs. They would shoot us for sure." I swallowed thickly and pulled her again against my chest. "We knew this time was coming, but with each day that I stayed, my longing for you grew. I do not want to leave, but now I must."

"I know." She nodded her head against my chest and clung even tighter than before. "When will you leave?"

"I think tomorrow would be best."

She nodded again. I pulled her back, looking into her beautiful face. I gently rubbed my thumbs across her cheekbones, wiping away the tears that were falling freely down her face. Cupping her cheeks, I bent to brush my lips against hers. I had not kissed her since yesterday, though I longed to each time I looked at her.

Her lips were soft and yielding, molding perfectly against mine. Instantly, my passion for her exploded. Knowing that tomorrow I would have to leave, I kissed her with utter desperation. She kissed me back the same. We kissed as though we would never see each other again.

Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

The booming thunder of the cannons ricocheted across the land as the smoke filled the air, making it hard to see my enemy. I shouted out orders to my men to reload the cannons quickly. I could hear the whizzing of the bullets as they flew past my head and the occasional ping as they bounced off the metal of the cannon. Again, I heard the thunderous roar of the enemy's guns and waited for the explosion of their shells upon our troops. I wasn't sure what was louder, their cannon or my heart beating through my chest.

My men were quick to answer with their own cannon fire, and again, I barked my orders to get them reloaded quick. One man stood still, his back to me, not doing his job to bring the shot around. I shouted at him, placing my hand on his shoulder to get him moving. He turned around, staring at me with wide eyes. His hand was covering his heart, and I could see the red blood pouring out between the fingers covering the gaping hole in his chest. It was then that he dropped to the ground. I was terrified at the sight, but I didn't have time to mourn his lost or we would all share his fate.

Pulling myself together, I began yelling for my spare to come take his place as I picked up the shot and delivered it to the man at the front of the cannon. It was then that I heard the awful wail rising up from my enemy. It sounded as through a great beast was dying, and at first I was confused. Then I realized it was the yell of men—a great number of men, running at me, ready to kill or die trying—the rebel yell. I have never felt such fear as I did at that sound.

Chaos erupted all around as men began to scatter. I yelled for my men to hold their ground and protect the cannon, but it was no use—those rebs were upon us. Again and again, I heard the pounding of the cannon and buzzing of the bullets as they ripped through the trees and through my men. I stared at my men dying around me, and one called out to me, "Edward!"

I tried to respond, but I could not yell above the roar of the cannon.

"Edward!" I heard it again, my name, but this time, it did not sound as though it came from my men. "Edward! Wake up!"

I open my eyes, starring not into the face of my dying men, but into the face of an angel. Her lovely doe eyes were wide in her face, and she had me about my shoulders as she tried to rouse me from my nightmare.

"Edward, you were crying out." Bella's voice sounded a bit panicked. "Are you all right?" Just then the room lit up from the lightning outside, a terrible clap of thunder shook the small house, and I felt my body flinch away from the noise.

My angel reached out her hand and gently stroked my face. "It's all right, Edward. It's just a storm. You're here with me, safe. It's all right.

I felt a heavy sigh escape my chest as I understood her comforting words. I slowly sat up in bed, still shaken from my dream.

Bella was sitting on my bed in front of me, her beautiful, mahogany hair spilling over her shoulders. Another flash of lightning, and I could see her in her thin chemise, revealing her lovely neck and collarbones. I longed to reach out and touch her, to run my hand over her smooth porcelain skin.

"It's awful, isn't it," she whispered. I looked at her with confusion in my eyes, not quite sure what she was referring to.

"The war," she said. "The battle, fighting, all of it. It's awful."

I swallowed thickly and nodded.

"And when you go back, they're going to send you right into it again?"

"Yes, Bella. To all of it, yes," I replied. She let out a little cry and placed her hand on my cheek. I closed my eyes and leaned into her touch. Her fingers gently caressed my cheekbone. I opened my eyes again and stared into her warm, compassionate eyes. God, I wanted to feel her, touch her, be with her, just once.

I reached over and picked up a lock of her hair, running it through my hands. Slowly then, I tucked it behind her small ear. Bella's mouth opened slightly and her breathing picked up. I looked back up into her eyes, shocked to see my own want and lust reflected in them. I placed my hand on her right cheek in the same way she touched me a moment earlier. I ran my hand down her long neck, further over her collarbone, and across to her shoulder, where my hand caught upon the neck of her chemise, pulling it down a bit, exposing the delicate bones of her shoulder and the smooth rise of her breast.

I heard a small gasp escape her lips, and I brought my eyes back to hers. We stared at each other this way for a time, neither one of us moving or speaking. Then finally, Bella brought her hand up, running it over mine and then down to the little satin bow that tied the neck of her chemise. Gently she pulled it loose at the end, and the neck fell away, revealing her perfect, milky white breast.

I groaned and reached for her, pulling her to me as our lips crashed together. My arm encircled her small waist, drawing her even closer, so our bodies were pressed tightly together. My other hand was buried in her hair. Oh the taste of her sweet mouth, her breath in mine. I couldn't get enough. I wanted her, wanted her so badly I thought I might die if I couldn't have her. But to take her like this and leave—as I surely must—I wasn't sure I could do it.

I pulled back. "Oh, Bella, what are you doing to me?"

She looked up at me tenderly. "Please, Edward. I want this. I want to give this to you before you go back."

I stared back at her questioningly. "You're sure," I asked. "Bella, to touch you and feel you, it's as if you are heaven sent. I have never wanted anything as badly as I want you, and not just like this, but in every way." I paused, taking her hands in mine. "You're beauty, you're kindness, it speaks to my very soul. I never felt for anyone the way I feel for you." With those words, I dropped my head into the crook of her neck, inhaling her sweet scent, not even knowing how I could leave her tomorrow and return to the hell of war.

I felt her arms circle my head, holding me tightly to her. I placed a soft kiss upon her neck, and she kissed my head in return. "I don't know how, in this short time, Edward, but I love you. I love you."

I wrapped my arms around her and lifted my head, pressing my lips to hers again. I brought my hands up to her shoulders, pulling the chemise over her arms and down to her waist. I was in awe of her. I bent my head to her breast, kissing it lightly. I could feel Bella trembling underneath my touch. I moved over her nipple, drawing it into my mouth. I heard a gasp escape her mouth, but then her hands came up into my hair as she grasped me to her.

I lifted her up and turned her so that she was lying on the bed before me. I covered her body with my own as I continued to kiss her mouth, her cheek, her neck, her breasts. I couldn't get enough of her. I felt her hands slowly slide up and down my back, gathering the material of my nightshirt up around my shoulder blades. I wanted that nightshirt off. I wanted to feel the softness of Bella's skin rubbing against mine. I stopped kissing her long enough to reach up and pull the nightshirt over my head and off.

Bella's eyes widened as she took me in, and I realized that I was completely bare to her now. I was sure that Bella had not seen a man in this way before. As her eyes wandered down my naked body, she stopped at the place of my manhood and she gasped. Did she fully understand what we were about to do? What I would need to do to her?

I began to pull away from her. I wanted to make sure she wanted to lie with me, that she understood what that meant. It took all my strength to stop, but as I moved off of her, she caught my arm.

I watched her face as her fear turned to determination, then to love. "No," she said, tugging my arm back to her. "Don't stop. Stay with me Edward." It didn't matter how hard I might try, I couldn't resist her any longer. I slowly gathered the remains of her chemise from around her hips and pulled it down her legs and off.

I stared at the beauty of her laid out bare before me. I almost couldn't stand it. I brought my body back in line with hers, kissing her. My hand skimmed across her ribs and down to her hip, then across her thigh to her womanhood between her thighs. I brushed my fingers lightly across her, and she moaned loudly. Feeling a little more brave, I slipped my fingers between her folds. She was so wet and ready. I wanted to be inside her so desperately.

"Please say yes to me, Bella. Say yes," I begged.

"Yes, Edward," she replied, taking her hands and placing them on my face. Holding my gaze with her own, she again said, "Yes."

I dropped my head to the crook of her neck and kissed her again and again, back up her jaw and to her sweet lips. I reached down between us, taking my cock in my hand and lined up to her. Slowly, I pushed in and a great moan escaped my lips. Never had I felt something this wonderful. She was so warm and wet. I pushed in more and heard Bella gasp as I broke through her virginity.

"I'm sorry, so sorry," I muttered between kisses. I did not want to hurt her, but there was no other way about it. And, oh God, how wonderful it felt to be fully inside her.

I began to move slowly in and out of her, allowing her some time to adjust to my body inside her. But soon, as the joy of our coupling escalated, I found a need to move faster and increase my pace. Bella moaned, urging me on. I felt her hands grasp my back and she pulled her legs up, making my thrusts even deeper. I could barely hold on any longer. I thrust into her once, twice more and the most glorious feeling came upon me as I spilled my seed into her.

I collapsed on her, panting. I held her tightly to me, not wanting to ever let go of her. I finally felt her hands gently stroking through my hair and felt her placing little kisses on my throat. I pulled myself up and stared into her eyes.

"I love you, Bella," I professed, leaning down to kiss her. I felt her arms come around me tighter, and her body began to tremble in my arms. I could see tears trickling across her face, and as she looked at me, a little sob escaped her mouth.

Had I hurt her? I immediately began to pull away to check and make sure she was all right, but she held me firmly to her.

"Don't leave me," she cried. "Don't leave me. Please, Edward. I love you. Please stay here. Stay with me."

My heart shattered. "Oh God, Bella. I want to stay. I never want to leave you, but I must, and it may very well kill me to do it."

"Don't talk about death," she whispered.

She was right. Tomorrow I would go back to face death again and again, but not tonight. Tonight was about us. I held her tighter, wishing time to stop, as I whispered my love for her over and over in her ear. At some point, we both fell asleep, our limbs tangled together, our arms holding each other tightly, trying desperately to stave off the morning.

I awoke alone in the bed. Bella had already dressed and left. I could hear her downstairs talking with Alice in the kitchen. I rose from the bed and slowly washed my face and got dressed. Every action I took felt like marching to the firing squad. How could I go? How could I leave this place? Leave her?

I headed downstairs and found the three of them eating at the table. They looked somber and defeated, even Emmett and Alice. As I entered the room, Bella looked up and caught my eye. It was all there written on her face; joy, fear, love, desperation—most of all fear. I felt it all too, right to my core. Bella got up and made a plate of food as I sat down. She placed it in front of me, but I could not eat it.

"I packed you a haversack," Bella said, her voice soft. "I saw that you did not have one with you when you came. I packed some food, a map, and your uniforms are in the bottom. I think it best if you travel in my father's clothes until you get to the Union line."

Her voice sounded broken as she spoke of our returning to the war. I wanted to go to her, hold her, and never leave her.

"Thank you, Bella." Emmett took the haversack from Bella and opened it to look inside. He whistled as he reached in and pulled out a revolver.

I immediately rose and went to Emmett, taking the gun. I handed it back to Bella. "We can't take this. You'll need this to protect your farm and yourselves."

Bella shook her head no and wouldn't take the gun. "I have another," she said. "The rifle, surely you remember.

"No, you keep that," she continued. "You may have need of it before you can get back to the camp."

I relented and handed the gun back to Emmett. I didn't want to take it, but she was right. It was better for us while we were making our way back.

Emmett rose from the table. "Edward, it's probably time for us to get going."

We began to make our way out to the front porch, and Alice slipped her arm through mine, pulling me down a bit to her level. "I have something for you too," she said, handing me the copy of Frankenstein. "Open it."

I opened the book and a small paper fell out into my hand. I picked it up and stared at the beautiful face of my Bella. I realized that Alice had sketched her while she was reading to us. It was a beautiful gift.

"Thank you, Alice," I said. She smiled up at me then, letting go of my arm and hurrying toward the door. As Emmett and Alice made their way out, Bella stood by the door, anxiously staring at me.

I reached out and took her hand, pulling her back into the house. I wrapped my arms around her and held her to me tightly, trying to prevent the inevitable from happening. I could feel her body begin to shake as she softly cried into my chest.

"Shush, Bella. Shuush. Don't cry," I whispered into her hair. "It'll be all right."

"Oh God, Edward. How? How do I let you go, knowing what it is that you face?"

"I'll be okay, Bella, for I have something to fight for—something to live for." She looked up to me questioningly. "I have you, Bella. I have your love."

I took her face in my hands and kissed her, passionately, hungrily, giving her everything that I had. Bella took it all and gave it right back.

I heard Emmett clear his throat, and I reluctantly pulled away from her.

"I'm sorry, Edward," Emmett apologized. "But, we should get going." I looked over to Emmett standing in the doorway, as tears stung my eyes. I nodded and turned to make my way out the door, grasping Bella's hand as I went.

We all made our way out to the lawn, and I turned to Bella once again. I was stunned by the sorrow in her eyes. "Write to me," I begged.

"Every day. I promise," she replied.

I turned and began walking up the drive by Emmett's side. "Edward!" I heard Bella cry and turned to find her running to me. I caught her in my arms and held her fiercely to me. "I love you," she declared. "Edward, live for me. You understand? Live for me and come back to me."

"I will. I love you." I repeated the words over and over as I held her. My eyes shut tight, trying to block out the world. Finally, I opened my eyes and let Bella's feet slip back to the ground. I held her beautiful face in my hands, memorizing each delicate feature. "Wait for me, Bella, and I will come home to you. I love you."

"I love you, too, Lieutenant. I'll be here, waiting, until you come home." I reached down, kissed her lightly on the mouth, and let her go. I took a few steps backwards, never taking my eyes off of her, until Emmett put his hand on my shoulder. Somehow I pulled myself together, and with one last look at Bella, I mouthed "I love you," and turned, following Emmett down the road and back to war.

In one week, my life had changed irrevocably. As before, I was heading back into the hands of the devil, but this time everything was different. I was not misguided with noble notions of a quick war. I knew that I faced a long hard battle that was likely to leave me scarred from the inside out. But now, I also had Bella. And knowing that I must return to her, I would stay alive. I would find a way to come back to her.