A/N: You know what's great about Pacific Standard Time? It's still jfka06's birthday! Happy birthday, my darling. And a belated happy birthday to my dear barburella. I love these gals.
The night of September twelfth, Edward hardly slept. He remembered the feeling that crept just under his skin. It was a giddy anxiety that made him jumpy-nervous but excited. And foolish. He hadn't felt this foolish in quite some time, perhaps since he'd been a schoolboy making big, moony eyes at a schoolgirl. Then again, his wife wasn't much older than those schoolgirls had been, so he supposed it was appropriate.
It was still a good while before dawn when Edward could stall no longer. He tightened his arms around Bella and brushed her hair back so he could press kisses against her neck. He whispered her name, trying to rouse her and let his hands drift down her body with innocent strokes.
She sighed. "Hmm?" she asked, not yet awake.
"Bella. Wake up, love. Not much. Just enough."
She groaned and snuggled back against him, her breaths evening out again in no time.
Edward chuckled, laughing both at the adorable sounds she made in her sleep and also at himself. This was silly. None of them got enough rest these days. He should let her sleep because today would be another long and harrowing day no matter what.
Still, though, he'd been planning this for three weeks. He was eager to be up and away from the camp before anyone else woke.
He sat up, locating Bella's boots and eased them on her feet even as she slept on. She made a few disgruntled noises, and her leg twitched as though she meant to yank it back, but he got the things on all the same. She did wake when he lifted her up into his arms. Her breath came in a startled gasp and she held on to him, obviously off balance.
"Shhh." He pressed a quick kiss to the side of her head. "I have you. You don't have to wake up all the way. You can sleep in the saddle."
"Saddle?" The word came out garbled with sleep. She blinked at him, her lids hooded and eyes unfocused.
They reached Norma's side. Bella looked startled as he lifted her into the saddle, but she grabbed hold and swung her leg over the other side of the horse to steady herself. She looked from him to the camp and her still-sleeping family. "Where are we going? What are we doing?"
"Never you mind." Edward swung up into the saddle in front of her. "Put your arms around me and lean up against me. Sleep. I'll take care of you."
That was enough for Bella. She looped her arms around his waist, rested her head on his back, and was asleep again in minutes. Edward wondered if the absolute trust this woman put in him would ever not stun him. As they got on their way, Edward found he couldn't stop smiling.
The next hour was among the most peaceful and happy Edward had been in perhaps the last decade. The early morning air was crisp and clean. They were away from the trail and the smell of that many animals and humans sharing the same space. The land was peaceful-birds chirped and bugs buzzed. Bella was a warm weight against his back.
They were almost to their destination when Bella came fully awake. She breathed in sharply and lifted her head from his back. "Where are we? What's happened?"
"Don't you worry. Nothing's happened. We've just pulled food duty is all."
The party's food situation was becoming more and more of a problem. They were only a couple weeks out from their destination at that point, but their stores were scanty at best. To supplement their meager portions of rice and biscuits, each day, one of James's crew took the horse and spent half the day hunting or fishing. With the horse, they were able to get back to their place on the trail without being left behind.
Of course, Edward never pulled this duty. James said it was because his wife was a pain in the ass and likely to get them in more trouble. Edward supposed it wasn't untrue, but he'd had to work very hard not to put his fist through his boss's teeth at the sentiment.
"We pulled food duty?" Bella asked, and the hint of amusement in her tone told him she'd cottoned on to the fact he was up to something.
"Of course we. As I recall, you're good at fishing."
"So James is sanguine with this?"
Edward's lips twitched at one corner. "Well, no. He said he would let me do this over his dead body, but I went over his head and secured permission from Carlisle to take Norma."
She yawned, resting her head on his shoulder. "Which, I suppose, is why we had to leave before the dawn."
"Well, that was one part."
"And the other?"
He slowed the horse to a stop so he could dismount and led her over the rocks, trying to remember the path he'd taken the year before to find the spot he was looking for. "You'll have to wait and see," he said to his wife.
For once, she didn't argue. She looked around them as he walked the horse forward, likely trying to get her eyes to adjust to the pre-dawn light.
They wandered for a few more minutes before Edward found the open space he'd been looking for. They'd crested a hill and were suddenly in view of Clear Lake. The grass around them was tall and damp with dew. Edward helped Bella down from the horse and spread the blanket he'd brought.
"Sit with me a minute. We have some time yet before we need to be about our business." He settled against the tree, opening his arms to her, and she came readily. They rested with her back against his chest, both content with the silence for the moment.
Within a few minutes, Bella gasped. The sun had finally peaked over the horizon, and the sight of dawn breaking over the waters of Clear Lake was stunning. "It's beautiful."
"And yet it pales compared to you." He kissed her cheek. "There is so much beauty in this land we've crossed, but we've rarely been able to enjoy it. I know it's not much, but I wanted you to have this morning."
As he spoke the words, his plan suddenly seemed a very silly and inadequate birthday gift. "I'll make it up to you; I swear I will. Next year, for your twentieth birthday, or perhaps even at Christmas. I'll make it up to you."
"Hush." She twined their fingers together and craned her head back to kiss the underside of his chin. "If there is one thing I'm certain of, I'm sure I can look forward to many years of ridiculous gifts from you. I'm telling you here and now, though I'm positive you won't listen, this is enough for me. Being here with you is enough."
He sighed and nuzzled the skin behind her ear with the tip of his nose. "It's not. You deserve so much more, but I'm happy you're happy here with me."
For a time, they forgot about the sunrise, lost in each other. The way she rubbed her hand from his knee up his thigh, the movement absentminded as they kissed, sent shivers down his spine. His own hands wandered, caressing her body at random.
Before long, though, he had to stop. Already his thoughts were heady, swirled with lust. He wanted nothing more than to feel her beneath him again. But when he tried to pull away she caught the side of his cheek, keeping his lips to hers. She breathed his name into his mouth, and he was undone.
After all, they would only be on the trail a few weeks. Surely that was survivable. Unless he'd gotten her with child some weeks before and it had yet to make itself known. Either way, there was nothing he could do about that particular encounter. He couldn't make it worse by laying with her now.
He never could seem to get the hang of thinking rationally when he was kissing his beautiful wife, so it shouldn't have surprised him when they ended up horizontal on the blanket in the soft grass. He moved his lips to her cheek and throat. "Is this okay?" he asked because some part of him thought it had to be abhorrent to take her like this in the open.
"Yes," she whispered, her tone breathy. Her hands stroking along his back.
"Wanton," he teased and kissed the tip of her nose. He loved her all the more for it. She was no dainty, prissy girl to be sure.
But precious, he thought as he skimmed his hand down her side.
What he wanted was to spend hours kissing, licking, and nipping at every inch of her body. These longs weeks he had replayed the memory of being with her, the sounds of her pleasure, over and over again. As it stood now, he doubted he would be able to bring her to release as he had that day. The air was too cool, and the last thing they needed was for her to get sick. He hiked up her skirt, murmuring promises of how good he would make it for her soon. So soon.
They were almost home.
Her fingers threaded in his hair and she tugged, bringing his mouth to hers.
He loved her more than he could withstand. His body didn't feel capable of handling it. He had no words to express it. Instead, he tried to show it in the way he moved in her, with her. He kissed her slowly, moving his tongue in time with the thrust of his hips. Their whimpers and moans made up a language only the two of them spoke, and somehow, it was everything.
Some minutes later he lay spent with his head resting on her breast while her fingers worked through the tangles of his hair. The breeze bit at his bare ass, and he shivered. She chafed his arms to warm him, and he laughed, lifting his head to pepper her face with kisses.
"Are you all right?" he asked, stroking her cheek with a tender touch.
She nodded, pressing her thumb to his chin, scratching his scraggly beard. Her cheeks flushed pink and her look turned shy. "It was a nice surprise. I wasn't expecting… that."
He rolled his eyes. "As usual, my wanton witch, it wasn't my intention. This marriage of ours may not work. It's dangerous to be alone with you."
Her cheeks flamed, but she looked pleased. "Why would that make our marriage fail?"
He buried his nose in her neck, scratching her with his beard until she giggled and tightened her grip on his hair. "How will I provide for you if I cannot leave your bed?" he rumbled low near her ear.
She gasped and squirmed beneath him, and Edward swallowed a groan. Yes, his Bella was far too irresistible, and if he didn't untangle them now, he would spend the whole day making love to her. He got to his knees and pulled her with him. "Come on. We've got work to do."
A few minutes later, a little rumpled but otherwise decent, they'd made their way down to the water's edge. They each had a pole and found worms and bugs easily enough. They sat side by side, shoulders bumping, talking.
"Emmett and Rosalie are talking about going on to Oregon City next year," Bella said, resting her head on his shoulder.
Edward grunted. "There's time yet for anything to happen. He was intrigued by all the talk of the gold they found in California, too."
"That's even worse."
He looked over at her, surprised to see her eyebrows knitted in consternation. He brushed her cheek with his fingertips. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be glib."
She was quiet for a moment, staring out at the water. "We'd never see him again."
"I wouldn't say that."
They were interrupted by a tug at her line. She landed a catfish big enough she needed his help reeling it in.
Edward let out a whoop when the the thing was flailing on the beach. He grabbed Bella around the waist, spinning her around. "My girl, you are brilliant. This fish right here has got to be about thirty-five pounds." He whistled. "Your father will be proud."
She smiled, pleased with herself, but it didn't last long. By the time they recast, she was frowning again. "How do you figure we'd ever see Emmett, Rosalie, and the baby again? Without another trip like this." She gestured around them and shuddered. "I told you; I don't ever want to travel again. How could they want to leave again? And so soon?"
He reached over and took her hand. "It's what they feel better serves their family."
"Their family is here."
Edward put his line down so he could put his arm around her. Her shoulder tensed, but she relaxed quickly enough. "I'm sorry. I'm being childish, I know. It's just…"
When she didn't answer, he rubbed her shoulder and kissed her cheek. "It's just what?"
She looked at him. "We're so close now. A few more weeks, and we're all home safe. Together. I'm scared of everything that could still go wrong."
He wanted to give her everything. He would have given her anything. But this was one thing he couldn't promise her. After everything that had already happened, she wouldn't believe him if he promised nothing would happen.
Bella breathed out in a huff. "Besides, Carlisle isn't exactly a spring chicken. How is he going to work the land? He's a doctor. That's all he's ever been."
"It's likely Vera will stay with Carlisle and Esme unless she finds a husband to care for her. Anyway, it won't be long before Peter and Henry are strapping young lads more than capable of helping Carlisle work his land. And I sincerely doubt Jasper and Alice will settle very far away." He tilted his head. "And Carlisle has more money than I ever did. It's likely he'll hire hands to help."
She glowered at him. "I want to be in a huff. Do you mind?"
Edward smirked. "It's your birthday. We can do whatever you wish."
Another half an hour later, Edward had landed a couple of much smaller fish. He built a fire and called them a late breakfast or an early lunch.
"Edward?" Bella said between bites.
"Who was the Donner Party?"
Edward choked on his fish. "Where on earth did you hear that…" He shook his head. "Nevermind. Of course people are nervous about it."
"I heard James say to Victor if we ran into any more problems, we'd end up like them."
"We won't. That is utterly ridiculous. We're too close to where we're going to end up like them."
"How did they end up?"
Edward ran a hand over his eyes. "You don't need to know that."
"Tell me anyway."
"So stubborn." He sighed. "It happened last year. They took a new route, and everything went wrong. There was an early snowfall, and they were stranded in the mountains. There were eighty-seven members of their party. Forty-eight survived."
Bella was silent, digesting that. "James said maybe he wanted…" She looked up at him furtively. "He wanted a piece. Of me or Alice. But that wasn't the way to get it."
Fury burned through Edward's veins. "Sonovabitch. I'll kill him."
"Please don't, but what did he mean by that?"
Edward studied the last bit of charred fish on his stick and leaned it up against a rock. "They ran out of food in the dead of winter," he said slowly, watching her. "And some members of the party had already died."
He saw the moment realization set in. She dropped the fish. "Oh."
He was about to pull her into his arms when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He leapt to his feet, bringing her up with him and pushing Bella behind him.
They had been alone all morning but suddenly there were too many people in the clearing by three. Three very tall, very intimidating looking men. Indians. They were staring. Edward heard Bella gasp and felt her clench the back of his shirt in her fists.
"Bella." He kept his eyes on them and his tone calm. "Stay behind me. We're going to be fine, okay? Just keep calm." He swallowed hard. "And if anything happens, run to the horse. Get out. You understand?"
He felt her grip tighten, and he knew without a doubt she wouldn't be going anywhere if something happened to him. He also knew the relations between settlers and the Native population in this area were tense to say the least. Tense bordering on violent, especially if these were Modoc. His stomach twisted.
The men still hadn't moved, though one of them was smirking now. His eyes weren't on Edward but on Bella. Edward was only barely keeping a handle on his rage. He took a deep breath and stepped purposefully to the side, still keeping Bella behind him, to get the man's attention. He raised his hands in a peaceful gesture. "I'm not here to cause you trouble. Look. All I got on me is a rod. My gun is by the horse."
They didn't understand. That was clear by the blank looks on their face. The smirking one stepped forward, and Edward had to fight to hold his ground. He said something, and Edward shook his head. "You know I don't understand."
The smirking man's grin widened. He gestured to Bella and said something else.
Edward narrowed his eyes and straightened up, squaring his shoulders, ready to fight.
The other two laughed. The smirking man gestured again to Bella and then to Edward. He linked his fingers together and quirked an eyebrow.
Edward considered but he didn't see how it could hurt. He reached behind him to take Bella's hand and pulled her out from behind him to his side. She clung to him, but when he chanced a glance to the side, he could see her gaze was steady, hard.
The smirking one was looking at her again, as though amused. He held his hands out in a similar gesture as Edward had. Then, he slowly reached into a pack he held at his side. He pulled out what looked like a necklace and held it out to Edward.
Edward blinked, confused.
The other men looked at each other, saying a few words. The smirk had turned into an outright grin. The man gestured with the necklace and pointed at Bella. He made a sweep over his stomach, making an arc as though his belly was extended. He pointed to Bella again and shook the necklace.
"Edward?" Bella said quietly. She was clutching his hand hard enough it hurt, but he was sure she could say the same.
"I… I think he's trying to trade with me." He huffed out an incredulous laugh. "And if I'm not mistaken, that's a fertility charm."
There were a few seconds of silence. Then Bella giggled. She leaned her forehead on his arm.
Edward relaxed and looked up to the three men. "Okay. I don't think we need… that." He cleared his throat, loosening his hold on Bella's hand and taking a cautious step to the side. "What else do you have?"
A/N: Many thanks to jessypt. I love that chick too.
SO! How was that? They're getting closer.