A/N: one wouldn't decide where it was going, sorry about that. Onward!
After a long, difficult birth, Carlisle delivered twins to a young woman a ways back in the wagon train. The young woman's husband was so grateful that he'd saved not only the children but his wife as well, he'd insisted on paying. To that end, Carlisle found himself the owner of a horse. It was a strong, fine animal the man said Carlisle could use to ease his travel. After all, he spent a good amount of time traveling up and down the wagon train. A quick mount could mean the difference between life and death.
"Great. Just one more reason you're going to run yourself ragged," James groused, but he told Edward to make sure the horse was safe.
Jasper jumped at the chance to get on a horse. He had mounted the thing before Edward could blink. He let out a whoop as he got control of the animal. "Good girl. You're a good girl, aren't you?" He patted the side of the horse's head.
"You're good with her," Edward said.
"I've always loved horses. Most animals, really, but horses especially." His smile was serene as he stroked lovingly through the horse's mane. "I think of all of us, I'm most excited about this new life. Rosalie and I… I love my sister, but sometimes I wonder how we're related. I think she and Emmett will end up settling in Oregon City, if only because it's a city."
"It's beginning to resemble one, anyway."
Jasper grinned and walked the horse in a slow circle. "The getting there has been trying to say the least, but I can't wait. Alice and I have dreamed about this since we were stupid kids. Raising a family together. Working the land." He looked at Edward. "What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Is this what you wanted?" Jasper gestured out at the land.
"You mean being out on the trail year after year?" Edward had to laugh. "No, I didn't want this. I never wanted this."
"Sorry. I'm just trying to figure how a man goes out, gets himself a parcel of land in a place he can make his own and just...walks away. You must have wanted it at some point."
Edward hummed, thoughtful for a few moments. "I don't know that I ever knew what I wanted, not with a passion. I knew I wanted to be respected. I knew I wanted a wife and family, but they were all vague notions.
"My family was the adventurous type, even my mother. We would often take trips to the wilderness to explore, climb the rocks." He grinned to himself despite the quiet pang of his heart. "My father bought my mother a pair of breeches so she could climb like we did."
He shook the memory away, continuing his story. "They went on a trip without me. It wasn't so unusual. By that point I was grown and about to finish my studies. But I was supposed to go on that particular trip. I fell ill, just a common cold, and I couldn't go. They went… and they never came back. Their bodies were found a full month later. They'd fallen, you see. "
Jasper slid down off the horse and put his hand on Edward's shoulder. "I'm sorry ."
Edward nodded an acknowledgement. "Anyway. After that, people treated me differently. My father was a lawyer. I already had his name." He put his hand to his chest and looked at Jasper with a wry smile. "Edward Anthony Masen Jr.. After he died, it was like people expected me to take his place. His firm offered me the apprenticeship he would have given me without question, with assurances they would take me on as a legitimate lawyer and his various clubs simply told me when meetings were, expecting me to show up ."
"It wasn't the life you wanted."
"I don't know, to be honest. I don't know that I ever really thought about it. It was a good life. I had the respect right off, and I could have had the wife and family easily enough." He clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Course, it's beginning to be clear to me that I'm just not prone to easy. I'd started to hear about the people heading west. It appealed to me on some base level. A new, wild land with no set rules. A place where I could make a name for myself rather than be known because of who my father was. I started making plans and then Maggie came along. It seemed like I was well on the road to getting everything I wanted on my own terms."
He tilted his head to look at Jasper. "I suppose that's a long way to answer your question. I don't know that I ever thought about what I was going to do once I got to the end of the trail. I still don't know if I'll make a good farmer. The land produces well enough, I know that, but who knows. That life might just make me miserable."
"Guess you don't have much choice," Jasper said. "What with a wife and all that. You have to provide."
At that, Edward's lips turned up into a genuine smile. "Can I admit something to you?"
"Bella… She's the only thing in my life I've ever been sure of. I can't tell you that I'll like working the land. I can't tell you if I'll make it as a farmer or if I'll ever gain the respect I wanted. But if I get to come home to her, I'm sure I'll be a happy man. Whatever challenges this new life presents, she's worth it."
Jasper glanced over his shoulder toward the camp, and Edward knew without looking that his eyes were fixed on his own wife. "Yeah. That she is."
Without another word, Jasper got himself up on the horse again, and Edward fell into step beside him as they walked back to camp. As usual, his eyes immediately sought Bella out.
He found it difficult to concentrate when he was looking at her.
It seemed, to Edward, that it was counterintuitive to be irritated at his wife for bringing him pleasure. The problem was she had opened Pandora's box, except that instead of filled with evil, it was filled with wonderful, tantalizing things. Equally disastrous, though, he often thought. He was ravenous for her. The itch to touch her in every conceivable way, -and Edward had always been a creative soul-was near about unbearable. Out on this godforsaken trail, he could accomplish almost none of them.
That didn't stop him from imagining though.
"Hey." James snapped his fingers in front of Edward's face. He scowled as Edward blinked, coming back to himself. "I asked you a question."
"Well, ask it again."
His boss rolled his eyes. "I asked if the horse was going to be trouble."
"She's healthy and obedient."
James nodded. "Alright, then. You keep her fed and watered. Make sure she's secure for the night."
Oxen could be trusted to remain in the same relative area throughout the night, so they were allowed to roam as they pleased once their task for the day was done. Horses were a different story. They were skittish creatures who had to be tied or corralled lest some noise or wild animal spook them .
They were nearing the City of Rocks- an area where granite formations towered high, looking for all the world like a city built for giants. The area was open and the days were hot. But despite his need to get several things done before he could settle for the night, when Edward saw his wife leaning up against the side of the wagon, catching her breath after chasing Henry and Peter about, he couldn't help but approach her.
He stepped softly, so when he wrapped his arms around her from behind, she jumped. He chuckled in her ear and kissed her neck.
"Mercy, you near about scared me out of my skin," she admonished, but she relaxed back against him.
Edward hummed, the sound low in his throat as he tried his best not to think about what she looked like in her skin. "I've got work to do that'll take me away from the camp. I came for my goodbye kiss."
She tensed and turned in his arms. "Where are you going?"
His cheek twitched as he fought laughter. "To the creek with Carlisle's new horse."
She rolled her eyes and looped her arms around his neck. "So dramatic. That's not a thirty minute walk from here."
"Yes, but I won't be able to see you." He jutted his lower lip out in a pout.
"Hmm." She kissed his pouting lip softly, teasing. "Then I suppose I'll consider it my wifely duty to send you off with a proper kiss."
He pulled her flush against him then and kissed her in earnest. He kept his hands at the small of her back, though he itched to let them drop further. It was one of the things he'd discovered that day in the river. He loved the feel of her bottom in his hands, and it was all he could do not to touch her again.
The longer their kiss went on, the harder it was to dissuade himself from the idea that had entered his head. They were on the opposite side of the wagon as the others. Surely he could pull her down into the soft grass and-
Edward and Bella broke their kiss, turning their heads to see Peter and Henry pointing and giggling at them. Reluctant, Edward took a step away from Bella, stamping a foot at them. "All right. Scat, you."
They ran off, and Edward turned back to Bella. He kissed her more chastely on the cheek before he put his hat back on. "I'll be back soon."
She patted him on the bottom, giving him a brazen wink. "I'll be here, husband mine ."
Somehow, she always made it next to impossible to walk away from her. Still, Edward managed. At the creek, as he let the horse drink her fill, he stared into the shallow water. He crouched and touched the chilled stream, recalling perfectly the feel of Bella's cool skin beneath his palms as the water rushed by. His shiver then had nothing to do with the cold .
When the horse lifted her head, content, Edward walked back to camp with a quickened step. He'd been joking when he told Bella the walk to the creek was too long to be away from her. Right then, every word was truth. He needed her. To see her at the very least.
Back at camp, he hastily tied the horse to the wagon. It was not a solid tie, but it would hold until after dinner.
He found Bella easily. She put a bowl of supper in his hands and sat beside him to enjoy it. He rather enjoyed licking the remnants of it from her lips rather than partake in his own bowl, and he did so quite readily until Emmett cleared his throat and glared.
During supper, Henry and Peter clamored. Apparently, the little boys had been pestering Victor who had deflected them off on James. James, Victor said, was the best at telling spooky stories. First they begged their father to let them ask James to tell a story. Once Alistair had told them to feel free to try their luck, they ran over to James's camp and dragged him back to the fire.
To James's credit, he was a fantastic storyteller. He let the little boys drag him back and set down to tell a few tales from the trail that may have been a little more imaginative than other tellings.
Typically, when he heard James's stories, Edward found it was a good time to catch a few minutes to himself. Now he settled, propped up against a barrell with Bella between his spread legs, her back against his chest.
Even with their family and his boss around them, the children included, Edward's mind began to wander. In this position, it was too easy to imagine what else they could be doing, what he would rather be doing. He could feel how her body fit against his. He pressed his cheek to hers, nuzzling his nose at her neck and trying not to think about how little it would take to slide his hands up or down. Either direction. He really couldn't decide which he preferred. Really, he would enjoy anything that might elicit that quick intake of breath from her.
Bella sucked in a breath, and Edward thought at first his fantasies had gotten the better of him. But no, his hands still rested lightly at her waist. She'd gasped not at his ministrations, but at James's story. She was unconsciously pressing herself closer to him , completely oblivious to the fact she wasn't helping keep his mind off his more carnal desires. She wiggled and made those tiny noises he couldn't help but associate with her pleasure.
He was torn between the desire to elicit those sounds from her himself and the urge to punch James in the face for taking that right from him. He was barely able to hold on to enough reason to keep himself in the present .
"Don't worry," he murmured low in her ear. "I'll protect you."
She turned her head to press a kiss to the underside of his chin and threaded their fingers together.
By the end of James's tales, the little boys were hiding, one of them pressed between their mother and father, the other cowering in big brother Jasper's arms, whimpering. Alice was tucked against Jasper's other side.
"Mercy," Edward heard Esme say. "We might have kept Rosalie away. She's like to go into labor at this point."
"More's the better," Carlisle whispered back.
Emmett took up the story telling with something a little more gentle so the boys might sleep through the night. Edward moved his hands along Bella's neck and shoulders, kneading the tension away. He revelled in the sounds of her soft sighs and little moans.
Nights like these, he wasn't sure how he was going to survive this journey. She had shown him they could be intimate without risking pregnancy. Innocent though she was, he should have known better than to think she couldn't teach him a thing or two. But now they had to wait until another day of rest could be called before they were alone again.
As he mused over this, Bella's breaths became even. It took him a moment to realize she was asleep.
Shifting, he drew her up into his arms and stood. She gave a startled groan, but he hushed her. "Sleep, sweetheart. I have you."
She sighed and nestled against him, closing her eyes again. "I know," she said and fell back asleep.
As he settled her down on their blankets, he marveled again at the trust she put in him. He lay beside her and kissed the back of her hair, and tried to think of anything except how much he wished they were elsewhere, away from prying eyes.
Bella woke with a shiver.
The nights of late had been muggy and warm. Even in the very earliest of mornings, Edward was there, his arm wrapped around her. Since her wedding night, Bella had never had cause to wake up chilled.
The camp was already up and bustling which disconcerted Bella further. She sat up, her eyes darting around from person to person without landing on the one person she wanted to see. She typically woke when he did, but Edward was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh, good. You're awake." Alice knelt beside her, helpfully putting her cap on for her. Wash your face and come get your breakfast. We'll be off in a few minutes."
Bella caught Alice by the arm before she could run of again. "Where's Edward?"
Alice looked amused. "Honey, if you don't know where your own husband is, I can't help you." She gave Bella a quick hug and bustled off.
A quick look around their bedding revealed Edward's belt, his pistol, and the sack he always carried with him were all gone. Her boots stood alone. She pulled them on and packed up their camp as quickly as she could. Once it was stowed, she went to catch Carlisle's arm. "Have you seen Edward? Where is he?"
It wasn't Carlisle who answered but a voice from behind them. "Don't worry about him. He'll get on soon enough."
Bella whirled to face James, vague, dream-like memories floating back to her at the sound of his irritated voice.
"Get up, you damn fool. I told you. I told you to secure that damn horse. Now it's run off ."
"The horse," she said, remembering.
James scoffed. "He didn't tie her proper." He eyed Bella with obvious disdain. "Seems he got distracted by… dinner. Anyhow, he's gone off to find the thing."
Memory again floated back to Bella, and she could recall Edward's soft kiss to her cheek as she tried to drag herself out of sleep. "Hush, love," he'd said. "Just a dream. Go back to sleep."
Trusting his word, she'd let herself slip back into her dreams. The liar. But then, he would have wanted her to get a little more rest rather than stay up and worry as she most certainly would have. As she was doing right then.
"How long has he been gone? Where is he? Do you know?"
"Relax, little one," James said. "He left just before dawn, so it hasn't been so long yet. Edward knows what he's doing. Shouldn't be too difficult to find one horse. Edward's a fair decent tracker, and the nag left a clear trail heading that way." He pointed. "Back toward the creek."
"We should stall until he gets back then," Carlisle said, looking over to where the wagons were almost all re-packed and the animals ready for the day's travel.
James shook his head. "Ain't no need for that. Edward knows the way, and he'll be on horseback."
Bella balked. "What if he doesn't find her?" She turned to Carlisle. "We can't leave him behind."
"Relax," James said again. "He knows what he's doing." At Carlisle's uncertain expression and Bella's disbelieving one, he made some effort at putting on a softer, more sincere tone. "Truly. Though it was his own mistake that set him off, it's not so uncommon to have to go off after an animal that's wandered away. It happens, and this is typical. Even if he doesn't find the horse, one man moves faster alone than a wagon train. He'll catch up with us before the day is out, surely." He grinned at Bella and winked. "I have no interest in leaving you a widow."
He patted her cheek, and Bella turned away, repulsed. When he hurried off to oversee the rest of the preparations.
Behind her, Carlisle sighed and put his hand on her shoulder. "I think we can trust his word there," he said quietly.
Bella bristled. "He nearly killed Edward once."
"That was an accident."
"Are you asking me to leave him behind without knowing he's safe?"
"He is first and foremost a guide. He knows this land and his job very well. So does James."
"Edward is first and foremost my husband. You saw to that. You would never leave Esme behind. You wouldn't expect her to leave you behind."
His smile was ever gentle and patient. "She has left me behind. She does so frequently, and I her as I am frequently behind us or ahead of us in the train."
"That's different," Bella said with a scowl. "She knows where you are. Regardless you are with the train and not left on your own in the wilderness."
He sighed. "I know you're worried, but you needn't be. Don't you trust your husband's expertise? He's good at what he does, Bella." He peered up at the sky. "And today is a good day for it besides. The clouds are heavy today, shielding us from the sun, but I don't think it'll rain. He has his knowledge and his gun. He'll have the horse soon enough. You'll see, sweetheart. He'll be back with us before evening."
Despite Carlisle's words, Bella couldn't find it in her to be soothed. Her mind was playing voices and images in a loop. She remembered Victor telling them of ailing people, left by their families to die alone by the side of the trail. And then she remembered the lone graves scattered here and there, the people who were buried where they fell, their crude headstones destined to be desolate and forever unvisited by those who'd loved them. She remembered the sad story that had reached them some days before of a child of eight who had gone missing and the family who had ultimately had to leave him lost.
Desperate with fear she would never see him again, Bella's resolve grew. She found a sack in the wagon and filled it with a few biscuits and some dried meat. She strapped her canteen over her chest and slipped off along the path James had pointed out. She moved quickly, lest she be seen and stopped .
Her heart pounded both with fear for Edward and fear for herself. What was she doing? This was foolish, and she knew it. She knew Carlisle and James were right. Edward was capable and skilled. She was not. But she couldn't shake the feeling of despair that encroached on her. She couldn't stand not knowing if Edward was safe. She couldn't stand the idea of him being out here all alone.
And James had been right about one more thing. The horse had left clear marks where it was going. She could follow the prints, and more than likely, she would come across Edward and the horse making their way back to camp. He would pull her up to ride with him, scold her for her foolishness, and that would be that .
Determined, Bella set out as quickly as her feet would carry her.
A/N: Many thanks to barburella, jessypt, and songster. And many thanks to EveryDayBella for posting for me! Weee. I can't post from work and I have an itchy trigger finger.