A/N… Oh, yes, Mercward is back! Hang in there, I need to go over a few things before we start. I promise to not keep you long, nor do I plan on uber-long A/Ns every chapter.
I need to thank everyone that PMed, reviewed, begged, pleaded, and bribed (yes, bribed) me to continue with "just one more" story in the Gravity Series. Another big thank you for everyone that said Mercward's my FAVE Edward. However, I'll be honest…I held off doing another one. Other plot bunnies came to the forefront, or it just wasn't time, or I wasn't in the right frame of mind, but I've had a plot outlined for this for a year.
Now…it's been two years since I posted Smoke & Mirrors, so I took that into consideration before deciding to carry that forward into Fire & Ice. We will pick up 2 years after the last story.
Another thing…I reread the whole series myself, reread just about every review, and I wanted to step back a bit, go back to how Blood & Glory felt…and Sin & Innocence, too, if I'm still being honest. I will warn you that this is as dark as the ones before it – darker maybe – but I'm not here to rip Mercward and Sweetness apart with drama aimed at their marriage. That's not how I work. We are stepping back into their lives just as we've done before, but this plot is like the ones before it – action, adventure, violence, foul language and lemony goodness (pfft! like that would change). If those aren't your thing, then this isn't for you. I STRONGLY suggest that you read the others before attempting to dive into this one.
Last thing, I promise. As usual, I've taken liberties with technology, simply because Alice wanted it. ;) Most places are real, yet mixed with fiction. Some places and events are fiction, yet mixed in with some true history.
Okay, I'll let you get to it. I know you've missed him, so I'll let you curl up with Edward. ;) See me at the bottom…
"Okay, guys, everyone line up!" Bella called from across the gym.
I glanced down at my son. "You goin', buddy?" I asked him, smiling when he shook his head fervently.
"No," Sammy whispered, giving his mom and sister a longing look, but his shyness was overriding it all.
When I knelt down at his level as he sat on the bottom bleacher, his big brown eyes met mine. "If you change your mind, we'll just tell Mom, okay?"
"Yeah," he whispered back, but tugged his hat off, scrubbed hair that was identical to mine, and then pulled the hat back on. Backwards, of course.
I sat down on the bleachers next to him, giving his shoulder a squeeze. He was now four, and if I'd thought Bethy was the perfect blend of Bella and me, I'd been mistaken. Sammy was every inch the two of us. He had his mother's deep, soulful brown eyes that took in everything around him with curiosity. His hair was a few shades darker than mine, but stuck up in every direction just like my own. He was calm, quiet, and quick to learn like Bella, but he'd inherited my shyness from when I was a kid. And just like me, he was good in situations where he was in control, things he was used to, but when it came to new people, new events, he would stand back and assess everything before joining in. And today was no different.
Today was a big room, new people, and despite the fact that Emmett's son, Caleb, was there, Sammy was still reserved about joining in.
The two of us looked up when a large shadow loomed over us.
"Hi, Preacher!" Sammy sang, holding out a hand to fist bump the large man.
"Little man, you've gotten big," he rumbled in his deep voice, offering me his hand to shake. "Edward. It's good of you guys to do this. I can't thank you enough."
Grinning and pointing Bella's way, I said, "She's happy to do it. She's been teaching all the kids for years."
"That's good," he conceded. "With this new bullying thing in the schools that's going on, not to mention just everyday scary adults, I've wanted this self-defense class for a while. And as you can see, I wasn't the only one."
I smiled, glancing around the pretty full rec center. "Everyone could benefit from what she's about to go over, then."
"Mommy kicks butt," Sammy said with a giggle.
I laughed and nodded. "Yes…yes, she does, but don't let her hear you say that."
Preacher chuckled, deep and low. His grin always changed everything about the big guy. At first glance, he could be considered intimidating. He was probably pushing six-foot-four, with a bald head and biceps as big as Sammy. The huge African American man was a great big teddy bear, especially when he smiled. He was a lot like Emmett that way.
And Preacher had become a good friend. He ran the Sunrise Community Center with a gentle hand, but the neighborhood with a firm one. Bella and I had seen the potential the center could bring and helped him out whenever we could. The whole neighborhood had blossomed.
We turned our attention to Bella, who had command of the basketball court. The floor had been covered in blue mats, and there were several rows of kids lined up watching her. Out front was our eight-year-old daughter, her best friend, Abby, and five-year-old, Caleb. They'd already done this with Bella before, but were there to help.
I could see Bella assessing everyone in the group. There was every age, race, and size, not to mention both boys and girls. A few parents and some of Preacher's volunteers were in attendance as well.
"My name's Bella, and what I'm going to show you today is simple, but will help you if someone is bothering you. When I say bothering, I mean when someone approaches you with bad intentions – a bully, a stranger…someone that you don't want touching you. That make sense?" she asked them, receiving a murmur of yeses.
Smirking, I sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. If anyone understood self-defense, it was my wife. She'd been through hell and back and would never want anyone else's choices taken away. It had taken a very long time for her to push through the PTSD, to be receptive to touch, and for the longest time, it was only my touch that she could stand. However, she still lived with it every damn day. She'd still falter occasionally at the top of the basement stairs. Every once in a while, she'd have a nightmare that woke her up sweaty and clinging to me. And very rarely, she would have a panic attack. The latter wasn't all that frequent, but all of those things were a part of her that we simply accepted.
My girl was beautiful as she smiled around the room of kids. Bella was just as fit as she was when I met her. She'd occasionally run with me in the mornings, but her workouts usually included some sort of self-defense classes. It didn't matter that she was almost thirty-five years old; she was the most beautiful fucking thing in the room – or hell, ever, as far as I was concerned.
"Okay, so spread out just a little and give yourself some room. Then, I want you to hold your arms out straight in front of you, hands up, fingers spread," she instructed, holding her hands out like a policeman saying stop. "Curl your fingers down, with your thumb on the outside. This is a safe fist. Okay? Bethy, come here."
She waved our daughter forward, and I had to smile had just how alike they were – long, dark brown ponytails, fearless little attitudes, and wicked smiles.
Using Bethy as an example, Bella went on. "You want your thumb on the inside, across your knuckles to keep it from getting hurt." She held up Bethy's arm, tapping the outside of her little fist. "This is the part you're gonna hit with. Now, everyone plant a foot forward and one back. This is the stance you want to take when someone approaches you." Bella, with Bethy at her side, took a boxer's stance – fists up, feet planted. "Now, repeat after me. Get back!"
"Get back," was muttered, but she smiled at them.
"Oh, now…you guys can do better than that. Let me really hear you. Get back!"
"Get back!" they all yelled.
"Excellent," she praised. "You say that, and you say it with force, and you'll not only get your attacker's attention, but other people as well. Good job." She turned to the side, waving Emmett forward. "My friend Emmett is gonna play the bad guy. I'm going to show you that no matter how little you think you are, how short or weak or shy you think you are, you can get away from anyone."
She positioned Emmett where she wanted him. He shot her a wink, but otherwise stayed quiet. He, of all people, took this shit pretty seriously. He was trained in hand-to-hand combat, was just a bit smaller than Preacher, and could hold his own should Bella truly work him over, but she wasn't here to do that. She was here to show neighborhood kids how to stay safe. And using Emmett was perfect because of his size. He was the perfect example that someone as small as my daughter could hold her own against a grown man.
Fighting my grin at that last thought, I sat back to watch as Bella instructed the group some more.
"No matter how big your attacker is, you can cause enough of a distraction, cause enough damage, to get yourself away. Even if they pick you up." She turned to Bethy, pulling our daughter in front of her. "With your hands still in fists, I want you guys to pound the air, like there's a drum in front of you."
Bella grasped Bethy's arms, pounding her fists in the air in front of her. Then, she nodded to Emmett, who stepped in front of the two.
"Using that same motion, you can ward off any touch," she stated, letting go of our daughter.
Emmett went to reach for Bethy, and she pounded on his large forearms. They moved that same motion on to the next phase, which was Emmett picking Bethy up. My daughter giggled, but knew to continue punching with the outside of her fists anywhere she could reach – Emmett's face, shoulders, upper arms, even the top of his head. At that point, he set her down, tugging playfully on her ponytail.
Bella faced the room full of people and her students. "It doesn't matter what size you are. You hit someone in the face enough, and you're gonna give him something to think about. You'll cause enough noise to get someone's attention, or you're gonna hurt him enough to distract him. Okay?"
A murmur of consent echoed in the large room.
"Last thing I want to show you is that you must be aware of your surroundings. Always," she urged, nodding to Emmett, who started to shift some shit around.
He moved large garbage bins, a couple of chairs, and some sports equipment to various places in the gym. Bella locked gazes with me, only to glance at Sammy.
I gazed down at our son. "You wanna help Mommy?" I asked him, because he was the perfect size for what she was about to show. "You're awesome at this part, buddy."
He smiled nervously, but said, "Yeah…okay," before standing up from the bleachers and walking to his mother.
She bent to his ear, whispered something that made him smile and nod, and then faced the room again. "Always look around you. Everything can be used to your advantage. You're faster, smaller, and can get into tighter spaces better than a grownup. And no matter what...if you have the opportunity to run? Run." She glanced to Emmett and then to Sammy. "Okay boys."
Sammy took off, obviously forgetting he was in a room full of people, because his Uncle Emmett had turned it into a game. As he dodged people, garbage cans, and chairs, Bella explained to the kids that they should always keep something between themselves and the person after them. In a last ditch effort to get away from Emmett, my son dove underneath the bleachers into the tightest crawlspace he could find.
Preacher and I cracked the fuck up when Emmett grinned over at Bella, and the whole room chuckled at him.
"Excellent, thank you, Sammy," she said with chuckle, holding out her hand for him.
He smiled brightly, crawling back out and coming to stand beside her as she finished up.
"Anything can be a distraction enough to get away. You can yell, scream, make noise. You can throw whatever's in your pocket at your attacker. The first reaction to something thrown at your face is to cover it, no matter what it is, so a handful of change could save your life. Throw it and run."
Preacher stood up and walked to Bella and, in his booming voice, said, "Does anyone have any questions?"
Bella fielded questions about age and how young this could be taught, and she explained that she'd been teaching our kids since they were about three or four. She also answered a few questions from grown women in the room that wanted to know what they could do. Bella's answers were precise and detailed, using Preacher as an example, much to the kids' amusement.
"You should use Daddy," Bethy piped up with a grin my way as I walked toward them.
"Hey," I said gruffly, sounding offended. "Just whose side are you on, little sweetness?"
She, Abby, and Caleb collapsed into a fit of giggles, which was one of the best sounds in the world, followed by my wife's, which came from right beside me.
"Do you mind? You're actually really good at explaining this part," Bella whispered, gazing up at me with those deep pools I'd never been able to resist. "Besides, you have all the ladies' attention now," she chortled, shoving me forward when I rolled my eyes.
"Yeah, sure, sweetness," I agreed, facing the room. "Ladies, men may be stronger or faster than you, but really, you have all sorts of advantages, no matter which way they come at you."
Emmett had moved the stuff out of the way, leaving a pretty good expanse of padded floor. Bella faced me, wearing a wry smirk, but waited for me to go on. Reaching for her fist, I turned to face the group.
"There are sweet spots…easy spots that will give you a chance to scream or run. The eyes, the throat, the gut, the crotch. All of those places, if punched with enough force, will cause your attacker to flinch, or even stop altogether," I explained, using Bella's fist as an example to all those places. I dropped her fist and tapped her knee. "You can use more than your fist. A well-placed kick to the knee will drop just about any man to the ground."
Bella slowly planted her foot against the side of my knee, though without any force behind it.
"What if they come from behind?" someone asked from the back.
I nodded. "Good question, but the same places still apply," I replied, turning Bella around so that I was reaching for her from behind. "Don't break my dick, sweetness," I whispered in her ear, "but let's show them, yeah?"
She laughed, giving me a wry, wicked glance over her shoulder. With a nod, the fight was on. I simply used enough force to allow her to deflect. Bella was aware of my old knee injury, so she left that alone, though she used my stomach and throat as examples. With a few perfectly placed elbows, a sweep of her leg, I found myself on my ass, laughing as she stood over me. She grinned proudly, dragging that tongue of her sexily across her bottom lip as the room applauded.
Preacher called an end to the lesson, and the room started to get louder as people began to clear out.
"I'm not sure I'd fight that off if it came at me," we heard off to the side, and I didn't even have to look to see who it was.
"Hey, Miss Geneva," I sang, sitting up and grinning her way.
"Hello, gorgeous. How you been?" she said with a childlike giggle to her tone.
"As you can see, my wife still kicks my ass," I told her, smiling when Bella scoffed before hugging the old black woman, who was still sporting pro-football jerseys. Today was the Atlanta Falcons.
"Hi, Miss Geneva. It's good to see you," my wife said, moving so that I could hug the old woman.
"It's good to be seen." She grinned toothlessly back at us, but you couldn't help but love her. And she looked great. Her eyes were bright, her pallor much better than it had been the first time we'd met her four years prior. She'd been living on the streets then, but now she ran the kitchen in the shelter – the one my dad helped open – with an iron fist. And fuck me, the woman could make a killer meatloaf. "I was coming to get Preacher for lunch, but you're all welcome to come."
"What did ya make, Miss Geneva?" Bethy piped up.
"Your daddy's and Preacher's favorite, sweetpea. Meatloaf," she told her, guiding us all out of the rec center.
"Oh yeah, we're there," I vowed, standing up and scooping Sammy up into my arms. "Good job, by the way, buddy," I whispered to him. "Wasn't so bad, huh?" I asked him, bumping his fist when he shook his head no.
He grinned slow and crooked, tilting his head a little. "Unca Em couldn't catch me," he whispered back. "I won, Daddy."
Laughing, I tickled him a little. "I know. I watched you. Both you and Bethy beat up Uncle Emmett."
Emmett snorted, but grinned our way when Abby and Bethy cheered. "That's okay," he sang, pointing a finger at them. "Just you wait. I'll get you back."
"Oh boy," Bella sighed, rolling her eyes up to me. "That should be interesting."
After a fun lunch with Preacher, Miss Geneva, and several people we'd come to know from the neighborhood, we loaded back up in the car. Emmett, Abby, and Caleb headed back to Gravity, but Bella stopped me before we left Seattle.
"Edward, we need to make a few stops on the way," she said, grimacing.
"Yeah, gotcha. We'll tag team it, yeah?"
She nodded, linking our fingers together as I drove toward the store. Bethy was just about out of school for the summer, and everyone had decided they wanted to close up Gravity for a few weeks and spend some time with Aunt Kate in Alaska. However, Sammy had grown so much in the last few months that Bella wanted to get him a few things before we went.
When we stopped, Bella said, "I'll take him and get the things he needs. I know you'll want to grab a few groceries for this week before we go."
"I'm goin' with Daddy," Bethy announced, hopping out of the car and grabbing the closest cart.
Raising an eyebrow at Bella, I smirked. "Divide and conquer, love," I said with a laugh. "We'll meet you back here. Okay?"
"Sure." She giggled, kissed my lips way too briefly for my liking, and then scooped Sammy up out of his car seat. "C'mon, handsome. Let's get you some new sneakers and a sweatshirt or two."
"Oh! I want lights on my 'neakers, Mommy!" he gasped excitedly as they walked away from us.
The strip mall we were in had every-damn-thing in it, from a pet store, to kids' clothes, to a grocery store. It was the latter that Bethy and I would be going. I kept an eye on my son and wife as they walked away, but once they were inside the store, I gave my surroundings a sharp gaze. It was ingrained in me to eye every-fucking-thing around me. It was probably years of military training and working for my dad as a mercenary, it was the reality that my two girls had once been taken from me and that shit would never happen again, and it was the fact that we were still in Seattle, not home in Forks, that kept me vigilant.
The sun was beginning to sink low, the parking lot was fairly busy, and the thump of obnoxious music caught my attention. At the end of the strip mall's overhang was a group of boys somewhere in their late teens or early twenties. They were laughing, loud, and smoking cigarettes as they leaned against the wall.
"In or out of the cart?" I asked Bethy, taking control of the one she'd pulled out.
"Here!" she said with a laugh, standing on the rung beneath the cart's handle and leaning back against me.
Placing my hands on either side of hers, I dropped a kiss to the top of her head. "Somehow, I think you're getting the better end of this deal, little sweetness," I grumbled into her hair, smiling when she giggled. "Maybe I wanna be pushed around…"
"You'll live," she sang, sounding just like her mother.
I snorted, but glanced up when a chuckle met my ears. An elderly woman was pushing her own cart into the store at the same time we were, but she was giving us an amused expression. She looked frail, and her eyes were downcast to a little envelope in her hands as the automatic doors swished open.
A young kid burst out of the store, bumping the old lady's cart, which caused the envelope in her hand to fall to the sidewalk. What seemed like a thousand coupons scattered every-damn-where.
"Oh," Bethy said sadly, scurrying down from the cart and catching little pieces of paper before they blew out into the street.
My eyes locked onto the asshole that didn't even say excuse me. My lip curled as my temper started to rise when he simply grinned and shrugged as he joined the rest of his punk-ass friends at the end of the building.
"Here you go." Bethy's voice brought me back to the old woman, and I smiled as my baby girl handed over all those coupons.
"Thank you!" the woman gushed sweetly, smiling my daughter's way.
"You're welcome," Bethy said back, popping up between my arms again.
"I'm getting clumsy in my old age," she told us.
"I'm pretty sure that wasn't your fault," I muttered softly, but she heard me, chuckling as I gestured for her to go ahead of us.
"Not everyone teaches their children manners," she stated wryly, giving Bethy a pointed look.
Grinning with pride, I nodded. "That's very true."
We went our separate ways once we were in the store. I only needed a few things to get us through the rest of the week. After that, the fridge would be cleaned out, and if it wasn't in the freezer or cabinets, it was getting thrown away. We were expecting to stay with Aunt Kate for at least a month of Bethy's summer vacation.
The dreaded cereal aisle came up, and I dropped my mouth to Bethy's ear. "Don't you dare go crazy, but you and Sammy need cereal. Go."
Bethy giggled, scrambling down off the cart and studying the millions of endless boxes of sugary sweet goodness. Watching her, I smiled, my heart breaking a little every time I realized how big she'd gotten. She was so smart, like a tiny adult, and it was like watching a mini version of Bella. Her smile was beautiful, her eyes sharp, and I could tell she was just going to be stunning when she got older. We joked that she couldn't date until she was thirty, but fuck me, if I wasn't considering it for real. I'd kill a motherfucker for breaking her heart – or touching her, for that matter.
After an enormous debate, we settled on two boxes of cereal. Both would most likely be gone by the time we left for Alaska.
"We need presents for Lock and Load," Bethy announced as I guided us down the pet aisle.
Rolling my eyes, I shook my head. The two Husky pups that Aunt Kate had basically forced on us were the apples of my kids' eyes. Lock followed Bethy every second he and my daughter were both awake, and Load absolutely refused to sleep anywhere else but the floor next to Sammy's bed. They were pushing two now, and they'd been a dream to train. They'd meshed themselves into the family and crew seamlessly. With Jasper's help, we'd even incorporated them into Gravity. They could sniff out shit better than we'd ever expected. We'd even used them on a missing kid case not too long ago.
"I'm pretty sure they have treats, baby," I countered, my shoulders falling in defeat when big green eyes that matched my own gazed up at me. That was Bella's face all over – pitiful and begging, sweet and caring. And I was helpless against it when Bella wasn't here to tell her no. "Fine, fine. One bone each, Bethy. No more."
"Yay!" she cheered, reaching up to the shelf and grabbing a pack of rawhide bones.
"Okay, let's get out of here, little sweetness," I told her. "Your mom should be done with Sammy soon."
We got in line to pay, and I noticed that outside the glass doors, the group of boys was still hanging around. They were making a nuisance of themselves outside, but the manager of the store was a woman and was gazing nervously out the door. The little old lady that had walked in with us was in front of us in line and was currently paying as Bethy put our stuff up on the conveyor belt.
By the time that I'd paid, loaded the bags back into the cart, and walked outside, I couldn't see where the punks had gone…until I made it to the Volvo. Unlocking the back of the SUV, I glanced around to see that there were six of those motherfuckers…and they were currently harassing the little old lady, who just happened to be driving a really expensive Mercedes.
"Dammit," I sighed, slamming the back hatch closed.
Bethy didn't flinch at my language, because her dark, angry gaze was focused on the same thing. "Daddy, she's alone."
I inhaled deeply. "I know." My eyes narrowed when the boys didn't stop. Turning to Bethy, I pulled out my phone and handed it to her. "Get in the car, lock the doors, and call your mom. Now. Don't open it unless one of us tells you to. Got me?"
Bethy nodded, scrambling into the back seat with my phone and keys. I slipped out of my jacket and handed it to her. For a split second, I eyed the glove box, where I knew my fucking Glock was locked up with Bella's nine mil. Shaking my head, I let it go. This was not going to be pretty…or easy.
I walked across the lane to the Mercedes. The old woman looked flustered and nervous, because the boys were talking to her, taunting her, even poking around in her trunk, and she was doing her damnedest to ignore them and just get finished. But it was the bastard that had bumped into her that I was focused on, because he was reaching for her purse.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," I stated low, making them all glance up at me, but the blond kid with his hand stretched out froze mid-reach. "Ma'am, are you okay?" I asked, knowing the answer, but my eyes did another count.
Six. Six guys, most likely fifteen years younger than me, and some looked pretty fucking twitchy. The woman relaxed a little and reached for her purse, and that's when the shit went to hell. The blond kid made the huge fucking mistake of touching her. He grasped her wrist, and it was obviously too hard, because she flinched.
Without preamble, I walked straight to him, gripping his arm. "Let her go," I sneered, squeezing hard enough that he had no choice but to release her. Once she was free, I handed her the purse, saying, "Get in the car." Looking the boy directly in the eyes, I jerked my chin. "Get the fuck outta here."
They all laughed, the one in front of me snorting derisively. "You need to mind your own fucking business, man."
Grinning, I sighed and shook my head. "I can make you leave," I vowed, raising an eyebrow.
"Dude, there's six of us and only one of you," one of the assholes behind me pointed out.
"Well, you can run grab a few more of your little punk friends, and then we'll be more even, yeah?" I taunted, giving them all a quick, assessing glance as they gathered around me before focusing back on the asshole purse thief. "You always pick on weak old ladies? Or do you kick three-legged dogs, too, you fucking pussy?"
Purse Thief made the mistake of swinging first. I wasn't even sure the old woman was inside her car before I was swinging back. Three full punches to his face, and he went down, but his buddies were already closing in. One ran at me, and I clotheslined his chest with a heavy swing of my forearm, causing his back to hit the parking lot with a sickening thud. I ducked a swing from a third, giving his stomach a heavy blow. A punch forward and an elbow back took out two more, breaking two noses in one swing. The last one ran at me, but with no discipline, and he was met with my shoulder and a slam to asphalt, not to mention a smack to the face for good measure. Standing up, I gazed around, watching as a couple of the boys rolled around in pain. Two were already starting to get up.
"Don't do it," I warned them, gripping my hair and preparing for another round. "You get up, and I'll kick your ass all over again." I rolled my eyes when one got up anyway, this time pulling out a knife from his pocket. It clicked open, and I chuckled. "You think that toy will stop me?"
He ran at me, knife outstretched, and I dodged the blade just in time to grab his arm, drop to the asphalt, and crack his elbow right across my knee. The sound of the knife skittering across the parking lot made me smile, but the sigh of barely there patience made me look up when the boy rolled away from me, cradling his arm.
"Are you quite finished?" Bella asked, giving the damage a slow assessment as she picked up the weapon that had stopped at her feet. "This wasn't a fair fight, Edward."
"I know," I sighed, brushing off my jeans. "I tried to tell them to go get friends."
Bella smirked, but her eyes were drawn to the car door that opened. The little old lady walked to me.
"You okay?" I asked her, eyeing the wrist the fucker had gripped. It was already flashing into a nasty purple bruise. "They shouldn't have touched you."
"I'll be fine. I'm tougher than I look," she told me, looking at my knuckles. My right hand was a little busted up, but otherwise, I was fine. "Thank you again. Margaret Hardy," she finished, introducing herself.
I chuckled, holding out my own hand. "Edward Cullen. And you're welcome." I gestured to the beautiful brunette that was watching us closely. "This is my wife, Bella. Do you need us to stay with you? Call someone?"
"Too late," Bella said, jerking her chin toward the two cop cars that were surrounding us. Locking gazes with me, she teased, "I can't take you anywhere."
I snorted, kissing her lips quickly. "Yeah, but you love me."
She grinned, shook her head slowly, and glanced up at me. "I do. I really do."
"L-Let m-me h-help h-her. She's alone. She'll probably need to press charges," I told Bella quickly and quietly. My stutter came to the front, simply because I wasn't sure what my girl was thinking at the moment.
She nodded, and I gently led Margaret toward the approaching officer. After a quick explanation, a few witnesses – including the grocery store manager – and a round of handcuffed boys, the whole ordeal was over. I wasn't arrested, much to my wife's pleasure, but the store offered up the security tape as evidence.
On the way home, Bethy recounted every second of that fight to her brother, who ate that shit up. Then I had to explain to both of them that fighting was only to be used as a last resort.
"So he just beat the piss outta six guys yesterday?" Kurt asked with an incredulous laugh, shaking his head.
I grinned, gazing out Gravity's office window at the man in question. Edward was currently washing all three cars, and the chopper was probably next. Emmett and Jasper had some sort of equipment spread out over one of our long picnic tables. They were always trying to find something to give us an advantage. We weren't really working this week, though that was the question of the day in the office – whether to take a small case or let it go and start vacation early.
"He did," I sighed deeply. "It was incredibly brave and stupid and…and…sweet," I admitted in defeat. I turned to face my girls and Kurt. "You should've seen this little old lady, not to mention the bruise those assholes left on her arm."
As if Bethy needed another reason to think her dad was Superman... But it was true. He'd actually saved the day for one Mrs. Margaret Hardy, a widow simply out buying groceries for the week. When I finally got him alone the night before, I'd kissed him until his stutter returned. That last thought made me smirk and remember how I'd rewarded him for simply being a good man.
"Ah, no wonder," Rose murmured from her desk in the back as she flipped through her tablet. "Emmett would've done the same damn thing."
"Jasper, too," Alice piped up from her computer room, where she was currently soldering something together. I'd ask, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't understand the damn answer. She'd been prattling on and on about upgrades for the last few months. I'd finally given her a budget to work with to do what she needed to do.
"Yeah, Carlisle, too, I'm sure," I chortled, shrugging a shoulder. "And Alec?"
"Forget about it!" we all chanted together, bursting into laughter.
"Alec would've just shot them all," Kurt said with a chuckle.
Grinning, I turned away from the window and joined Kurt at the conference table. "Where's Mack?"
"She's taking this week off. Wes is about to leave for Virginia. He's teaching a class for the next two months, so she was helping him pack up and seeing him off," Rose replied. "But she's going with us to Aunt Kate's."
"Oh, so everyone will be there," I noted with a nod, tugging the list of case requests we had closer to me.
"Eventually, yes," Rose said, standing up from her desk and sitting down across from me at the table next to Kurt. "Mickey and Obie are already there with Kaitlyn. They caught a flight out Friday."
I smiled. Mickey and Obie had flourished living in Washington. They'd had a rocky start, especially when she'd found out she was pregnant with Kaitlyn, because at the time, Obie hadn't wanted children. But he'd proven to be an amazing father. Everything he'd missed out on when his parents had abandoned him and his brother, Tom, who still worked and lived with Aunt Kate, he was now determined to give to his little girl. And he did. In spades.
Kaitlyn was almost two and an exotic blend of her parents. With Mickey's Italian heritage and Obie's Inuit background, she was gorgeous, with dark, curly hair and brown, almost black eyes. Kaitlyn was shy and sweet like her father and had Mickey's sense of humor. And she absolutely worshiped the ground my son walked on. She was a funny little addition to that tight gang of kids.
"What about Carlisle and Esme?" Kurt asked, sitting forward. "They're coming, right?"
I took a deep breath and let it out. "They'll be flying in from Moscow when they're finished with some sort of Twi Tech business over there."
"M-Moscow? As in Russia?" Kurt sputtered, his eyes wide. "What the hell?"
Laughing, I nodded, but then shrugged. "I'm not really sure. Edward may know more about it, but it's some meeting he has to attend. Esme went because they were going to sight-see before joining us."
"Who's that leave?" Alice asked from the room behind us.
"Alec, Sarah, and Abby," I replied. "And they're coming, too. Aunt Kate wanted every-damn-body up there. Their flight is this coming Saturday, the day after school lets out." I turned around to face her. "The only ones not going are Eleazar and Felix. They're out on assignment."
Rose chuckled. "That means no one knows where the hell they are," she muttered, grinning when we laughed. "It's true. That CIA bullshit. They could be anywhere, doing anything."
"Okay, okay, okay," Alice chanted, coming into the main room and setting her laptop down on the table. "Let's see how I did. I want to run a test. Igor, engage," she commanded.
"Good morning, Miss Alice," a disembodied male voice echoed in the room, and there was a slight British accent to his tone.
"No fucking way," Kurt whispered, glancing around. "You didn't build this shit, right?"
"I did. Well, with a little help from Benny and a few Supernerds over at Twi Tech," she answered, grinning. "Igor, I need the layout of Gravity, please."
A glowing grid appeared on the conference table, raising up off the surface to show the layout of not only Gravity's office, but the entire property, including Edward's and my house. My eyebrows shot up as I took in every single detail…in 3D.
The doors to the office opened, and in walked Emmett, Jasper, and Edward, all of whom came to a complete standstill once they took in the graphic display on the table.
"Whoa…that's some Ironman shit, right there," Emmett muttered, walking slowly around the table. "You built Jarvis?"
"No!" Alice laughed heartily. "I built…Igor."
"You channeling Frankenstein, pixie?" Edward asked, his eyes wide as he took in his property that was still floating on the conference table in glowing detail.
"No, it's an acronym: Intelligence and Graphics Operating Remotely."
"Remotely," Jasper repeated softly, narrowing his eyes at his wife. "You mean…this system would be patched into our radios or…or…some sort of handheld device? Like we could access it anywhere?"
"Exactly!" she sang, beaming with pride at herself. And she should've been extremely proud; that was some seriously cool technology. "Go ahead, ask him anything. He's completely patched into my system and can access anything I can. But you have to address him as Igor first."
Jasper nodded, giving us all a wry glance before pacing slowly around the table. "Igor…give me the last Gravity case."
"Yes, Mr. Jasper. Case number 34297, also known as the 'Barnes Case.' Marisol Barnes suspected Jay, her husband of thirteen years, of cheating. She requested photographic proof, if not face-to-face evidence."
Immediately, the layout of Gravity and the surrounding property was gone, and in its place was the case file – pictures, files, even the wire transfer of payment. Three large virtual screens spread out in front of us, one even playing the video of Mr. Barnes sneaking into a hotel room with a woman half his age.
"Jay Barnes was recorded meeting Patti Lambert – a coworker – at the Days Inn in Port Angeles. The videos, photographs, and documentation were all presented to Marisol Barnes on the twenty-fifth of May by Bella Cullen. The case is closed. Payment was received."
"Whoa," we all breathed, gazing over at Alice.
"I'm working on being able to shift shit around with my hands, but I need a little more time to upgrade Igor to that. So for now, he's simply voice activated. And…he's not without bugs. I'm still working those out. My goal is to have Igor simply to access information, which will allow me more time for more hands-on research," Alice explained.
Edward grinned wickedly, shooting me a wink. "Igor, give me everything you can on the computer system crash of the New York Stock Exchange in nineteen ninety-three."
Alice laughed, but folded her arms across her chest.
"A virus was uploaded into New York Stock Exchange via dialup access. The virus was designed to remove and deposit one penny for every stock traded, bought, or sold. It took several months before the virus was discovered, and twelve-year-old Alice Brandon was arrested for grand larceny and fraud. However, due to the design of the virus and the defendant's age, the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. The virus syphoned off two-point-three million U.S. dollars."
"Igor, where's the money now?" Edward asked with a laugh as we all took in the newspaper articles and TV news videos on the screens in front of us.
"Nowhere, Mr. Edward."
Edward's head fell backward with his laugh, and we all joined him. "No fair, Alice," he simply stated.
Alice grinned and shrugged a shoulder. "Designer glitch," she countered, but said no more about it.
"Designer glitch, my ass," Edward mumbled, plopping down in the chair next to mine as Alice disassembled Igor for more work. "But I have to say, that shit's impressive."
"No kidding," I sighed, gazing over at him and smiling when he leaned over and kissed me. "We were just about to discuss whether or not to take a case this week. Wanna vote, handsome?"
He shrugged a shoulder. "I'm okay either way. What's on the list?"
Rose nodded and got up from the table, picking up her tablet. "Okay, here we go. We've got an old cold case: missing woman from about twenty years ago."
"No, not enough time to start a cold case that old," I answered.
"Okay. There's a possible cheater case…"
The boys all groaned, but it was Edward that asked, "Male or female?"
Rose laughed. "The wife is the suspected cheater."
"No," he simply said, grinning when I cracked up. "What? I don't fucking feel like dealing with some cheating woman, sweetness. Keep going." He motioned with his hand to Rose, whose face was highly amused.
Rose chuckled, but went on. "Um, let's see… There's a possible security detail, but it lasts through next week."
"Nah," Jasper argued. "Nothing simple?"
The phones rang, but Alice picked it up in the computer room, putting them on hold almost immediately. She rolled herself to the conference table.
"Edward, they're asking for you. It's a David Hopper…said he went to Forks High with you?" she told him.
"He did." Edward frowned, but picked up the blinking line. "Cullen." He paused, his brow furrowing. "Okay, slow down, Dave." He pointed to the pad and pen in the center of the desk, and I slid it to him. "Tell me what happened." Edward listened intently, nodding in different spots, but wrote quickly on the pad in front of him. "When was the last time you saw him? And have you called the chief? Oh. Hey, Chief Clark...yeah, I can…or we can. I've got to fuel up, and I can send Jasper with the dogs…" He paused again. "Okay, give us ten or fifteen. We'll be up in the air. You can patch into Alice for information."
Edward said nothing else, but hung the phone up. "Looks like we don't have a choice as to what we're doing next. Dave's father is missing. And the chief needs me in the air." He stood up, and the rest of us followed suit. "Alice, I need you patched into Forks Police and the camera on the chopper…most likely infrared. Jasper, Bella, take the dogs and head over to this address. It's in that retirement community. See if they can't lock onto a scent. It seems Dave's father has dementia or Alzheimer's or some shit. He'd been doing okay, but Dave said he's just started to wander. Usually, he finds him in the recreation center of the community, but no one has seen or heard from him since yesterday when the nurse came by. The nurse just called him a few minutes ago, said the place was empty."
"Okay," I agreed, pointing to Alice. "Get Edward a flight plan. Emmett, you ride with us, but I want you talking to neighbors. Rose, if this goes over…"
"I'll get the kids from school and Sammy from Mrs. Cope's. On it. Just go."
I stepped outside the doors. "Lock and Load!"
I had to grin, because two large, fluffy dogs came popping out of the dog door that Edward had installed in our front door. They galloped across the yard, coming to stand in front of me. They looked menacing, but were far from it, and they were completely opposite of each other. Lock was smaller, lighter in color, but looked more like a wolf than Husky. Load was big – damn big – and dark, making him look mean, but he was actually the cuddlier of the two. Together, though, they were smart as hell and had proven easy to train for searches.
Edward chuckled at their happy faces as he walked by. He dropped a quick kiss to the side of my head before tugging his baseball cap on backwards. "Constant communication, sweetness. Let's hope he's at a neighbor's house or some shit, yeah? 'Cause if he's in the woods, we're gonna have fucking rough-ass time finding him."
"Right," I agreed with a nod. "We'll patch in when we get there. I'll let you know if the dogs catch a scent."
Edward nodded, waving a hand over his shoulder before beginning his checklist for his chopper.
I clicked the remote for the Volvo SUV, popping open the back hatch and looking to the dogs. "Load up. Time to get to work, boys."
A/N… There you go. We simply stepped right back into their lives.
I do want to tell you that these chapters aren't as long as the stories before it. That doesn't mean anything other than it was easier on ME personally as far as how this plot goes. And that's not to say they won't vary in length depending on content. I found that somewhere around 6000 words was less cumbersome than before. Pfft, that simply means there may be more chapters in the long run. And no, I don't know how many there will be at this point.
I need to thank a few people now…and will most likely thank them many, many times before this is complete. JenRar, who stayed perfectly patient while waiting for me to get back around to Mercward, but was a teary mess when she read this first chapter. MWAH ILY. My pre-readers – GooberLou, Inkedupmom, and drivingedward (aka Pamela Stephenson) – have been an amazing help. And Beffers87, who has made some GORGEOUS banners and manips, along with FallingSnow… Thank you guys!
Okay, you know the drill… I'll see you guys again Wednesday. Until then… Mooches, Deb