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Foxy Fics – Last Week!

It's the last official week for the Foxy Fics compilation benefiting the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. I've written and donated a one chapter extension to I Burn for You Gladly especially for this compilation that I do not intend to make available elsewhere. (Click the banner for Chapter 1)

TEASER (Chapter 2):
A wail from the house interrupted our reunion. I turned wordlessly and ran, Carlisle close on my heels. I burst through the doors into the bedroom. Bella's body was arched off the bed, her mouth open in a wordless cry. I lunged forward and wrapped my body around hers murmuring apologies and soothing noises. She relaxed instantly but slowly, her keening ceasing the moment my skin touched hers.

"Carlisle. . . Carlisle. Look what I've done. She must be in agony." I choked the words out between harsh, panting breaths.

He placed his hand on my shoulder and gently squeezed. "I know, son. I know how hard it is to sit and watch helplessly while the one you love suffers the transformation."

"She's been so quiet, so still. . . I must have done something wrong. That's the first time she's cried out or moved. Oh, Carlisle. . . ."

If you haven't already made a donation to this worthy cause (, please do so before April 1, if you're able, thanks!
Hi! Welcome to my Author's Blog

It's still a bit of a work in progress, but it's almost there, lol!

Mostly what's here at the moment are my stories (look for the tab in the upper right of your screen). The gallery of lovely banners are actually links! Cool, huh? Have to give credit to the Wayward Girl for that one. She rocks!

I've got a few other posts to write, eventually. Just getting this together, up, looking right and working well has taken all the time I have to give at the moment.

Please check out Foxy Fics (over there on the left). It's a fundraising compilation for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and donations are accepted at least through the end of March. By popular demand, I expanded I Burn for You Gladly by one chapter for this cause. Chapter 2 is ONLY available in this compilation, though there is a teaser to whet your appetite posted under My Stories (above).

I am also a contributor to the FGB Autism Research coming in April 2011. The stand alone one shot will also ONLY be available in this compilation. Teaser will be posted soon.

My request to you is that you don't share fundraising compilations with others who have not made a contribution to that cause. Doing so ensures much needed and hard to come by donations are made in support of these organizations.

As always, thanks for reading and supporting!
Seeds of Survival

A/N: Unending thanks to my beta, LJ Summers for her patient tutelage, continued support, unstinting red highlighter, and snarky love. ;-D

The snow had settled on the ground for good, and Christmas was only a few days away. I checked on everything almost obsessively, knowing we were bound closely to the house until spring. Every time I looked east, my chest ached, feeling I wasn't honoring the promise I'd made to Emmett. I had slipped onto their land several times to observe from a distance, and all appeared to be well. It wasn't much, but given Bella's rigid refusal, it was all I could do. Now, they would be on their own until the snow melted.

How do I help someone who refuses my help?

The next morning, about mid-morning, I thought I heard a voice call out above the howl of the wind.

That's not possible. I must be hearing things. No one would be abroad in this weather.

I paused and stepped closer to the entrance of the barn, listening carefully.

There it is again. I swear that's a voice calling.

I stepped out into the whipping wind, and tried to screen my eyes from the blowing snow so I could see. It was hopeless, the swirling snow reduced visibility to only a few feet. But while I was focused on looking, I heard the voice again, a little closer, off to my left, moving past me.

"Uncle Edward!"

"Thomas! Is that you?" I hollered back. "I can't see you! Where are you?"

"I'm here, Uncle Edward! I can't see anything, either."

"Stop, Thomas! Stay where you are. Don't move, just yell!"

"Okay, Uncle Edward!"

I quickly grabbed a rope and tied one end around my waist and the other to the barn door. "Thomas! I'm going to come and get you. I have to follow your voice. Keep shouting!" I started out into the raging wind.

"Papa! No!" It was Mattie standing in the doorway of the house.

"Mattie! Get back inside!"

"No, Papa! Don't leave me!"

"I'll be back, Baby. Don't worry. See, I've tied a rope around my waist. Your cousin Thomas is out there and I have to go get him. Stoke the fire, so we can warm ourselves when we get back. Do it. Now."

She knew that tone of voice brooked no argument and disappeared inside unhappily. I turned into the wind again. Thomas and I shouted back and forth, and I moved closer to him in the blinding whiteness. It seemed to take forever, but I'm sure it was only a few minutes before I saw a dark shape looming in front of me.


"Uncle Edward!"

"Come on, son. Let's get you inside. You must be freezing."

I put my arm around his waist and half carried him, reeling us in with the rope around my waist. He was exhausted and shivering violently. I knew he'd been outside, exposed to the bitter cold, too long.

I had him stripped down to his union suit, wrapped in several blankets, with his feet propped up in front of a roaring fire before ten minutes had elapsed. Mattie silently handed him a cup of coffee; and he sat shivering constantly as he tried to speak, "I-i-i-it-t-t. . . ."

"Save your energy, Thomas, until you're warmer. It'll keep." I joined him in front of the blazing fire and Mattie draped me in the only blanket left, then handed me a cup of coffee. I stroked her hair in thanks, and she crawled into my lap. She was really too big for such a thing, but I indulged her, knowing she was frightened and upset.

As his shivers slowed, my exasperation grew and I finally spluttered out, "Thomas, what were you thinking? What are you doing out in this storm?"

He looked into his cup. "It's Ma. She's bad off. She wouldn't let me come, but I didn't know what else to do. I'm sorry, Uncle Edward. I'd have come a long time ago — I know you needed my help on the farm — but she forbade me, and I couldn't disobey her. . . ." His words came out in a rush and his lips trembled.

"I know, son. That's for another time. Tell me what's happened now. You said it's your Ma?"

"Yessir, she took sick a few days ago. I tried to take care of her, but she kept saying she was fine, that I had enough to do without having to nurse her. She could hardly get out of bed yesterday morning, and today, she wouldn't wake up. I didn't know what to do. I panicked, and came to get you. When I started out before light, it wasn't so bad. But the snow got deeper and I left my snow shoes at home, and I floundered a bit. Just as I could see the smoke from your chimney, the wind came up. I knew I was close, so I tried to keep moving in the same direction and I started hollering, hoping you'd hear me."

It was the most anyone had spoke in my house since Alice and the children died. I gaped slightly to hear it, not what he'd said, but simply the volume and quantity.

"Well, I'm glad you were smart enough to shout. You were heading out into the prairie by the looks of things when I found you."

A violent shiver ran through him just then, and I didn't think it was entirely from the cold. We spoke a bit more about his mother and the symptoms of her illness. It was the grippe for sure, and Thomas was clearly out of his mind with worry about her. I sighed and shook my head.

She's so stubborn; she'd rather die than admit to weakness. She won't even let her own son take care of her when she's sick. How thoughtless. I never did see what Emmett saw in her.

But, I'd promised Emmett, and his son had risked his life to come to me for aid. I couldn't let either of them down.

"I guess we'll have to go get her and bring her back here," I sighed.

"Oh, Uncle Edward, I don't think she'll like that. She probably won't let you do it."

"Well, I won't leave my house and my livestock to tend to her, and I won't send Mattie alone. The only option is for her to come here. That's it. That's all there is to it," I stated flatly.

Neither Thomas nor Mattie argued with me. They both knew better.

~ o ~

By the time the wind died down, Thomas and I were warm and dry, Mattie had fed us all a hearty lunch, and Thomas and I had discussed options for bringing Bella back here. There was no way to take a wagon, the snow was too deep, and we couldn't carry or drag her ourselves, it was too far. I had seen some Indians on one of my hunting excursions in the summer using a sort of sledge behind their horses that dragged on the ground and carried large bundles. I made a crude drawing for Thomas, and we agreed it was our best bet.

Thomas and I went down to the riverbank to hunt for two trees that might serve as poles for our sledge. Mattie didn't like to go down to the river, so she stayed on the crest of the wash watching us. Luckily, we found two trees of roughly equal size almost right away, quickly felled them and stripped them of their branches. Mattie carefully joined us then to help carry the branches back to the house. I'd shown her by example that we couldn't afford to let anything go to waste, and she knew that wood was a valuable resource.

After we harnessed up the horses, I started lashing the poles in place while Thomas scrounged up a smallish piece of canvas and a couple of saddle blankets to tie between our makeshift poles. It didn't look like much, but it held together when Mattie climbed on to try it out. I bundled her up in every blanket we had before setting off for Emmett's. The snow was deep, so Thomas and I walked ahead of the horses, breaking the trail. It was exhausting, slow work and it was past dark by the time we reached their soddy.

As Thomas tended the horses, I went in and checked on Bella. She was still alive, though unconscious, and it appeared she had tried to get up at some point during the day. The fire was out and it was bitterly cold inside their dwelling. Mattie quickly laid and sparked a fire, then rooted around in their stores for food. We all needed a hot drink and something to eat after the long, cold excursion.

I went back out to the barn to help Thomas. Old Jack and Bill had worked hard that day, and I wanted to be sure their feet and legs were okay — no ice packed into their hooves — and give them an extra pat for their effort. Thomas had tended to them carefully and well. He was good with animals, something I hadn't noticed before.

When we returned to the house, the lantern was lit, the fire was blazing cheerfully, the smell of food cooking mouthwatering, and best of all, Mattie had coffee ready and waiting for us with two empty cups warming on the hearth.

"Thank you, sweet baby girl," I murmured into the top of her head, kissing her lightly and stroking her hair. She smiled at me and went back to her cooking.

"It looks like Ma tried to get up," Thomas said from beside the bed. He held his mother's hand in his and stroked her forehead lovingly. "I can't tell if she's cooler or not though." He frowned.

"Come get a cup of coffee, Thomas. Warm yourself by the fire. If your hands are like mine, they're so cold, I'm surprised you can feel anything." I smiled warmly at him. Of all Emmett and Bella's children, he was the one I knew least, lost in the middle of a big family.

After we ate, Mattie dipped a small cup of broth out of the cooking pot. She hesitated before going over to Bella's still form in the bed and looked up at me, her eyes wide. She was afraid of Bella, I knew. I sighed and took the cup from my daughter's hand. Thomas seemed relieved when I didn't hand it to him, but took it myself to the bedside.

"Bella? Bella, you need to drink this. Come now, just a few sips." I propped her up with one hand and held the cup to her lips with the other. When the warm liquid touched her lips, she parted them slightly and allowed me to tip some inside her mouth. In this way, she drank about half the cup without speaking or opening her eyes. She was very weak and lost inside the fever. I laid her back down, and drew the blanket up to her chin before drawing the curtain partway for her privacy.

Thomas, Mattie, and I sat in front of the fire and discussed our options. I wanted to be sure to include Mattie as what was happening – the changes to our households affected everyone. Either way we looked at it, the two households would have to be merged, at least for the time being.

I refused to abandon my land and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue the claim on Emmett's. When we filed our homestead claims, we ceded title to each other in case of death or abandonment because women weren't allowed to own property on their own. Of course, we didn't want to burden our wives with such business, so Bella had no idea she was living on what was now my land.

I would not live under her or any woman's shrewish thumb. Alice and I worked together as a team to run our land and home, but I only knew Bella as an adversary. Living in what she deemed to be her house on her property was out of the question. It didn't matter that she had no real rights of any kind, I knew how Emmett had indulged her and let her rule his roost. I would never abide that myself, and I refused to subject Mattie to her tyranny. I knew it would be hard enough for Bella to have to heed my rules. It was really very simple: we would have to move Bella, Thomas, and their livestock to my farm. I turned to Mattie, but before I could ask, she spoke.

"It's alright, Papa. It is what needs to be," was all she said.

Thomas made a weak attempt to argue that he would be fine on his own, but I could see the relief in his eyes when I first told him what I'd decided. I could see he was trying his best to be the man of the house, but that the burden was very heavy and wearing him down. Moving Bella was definitely a risk as the grippe had a strong hold on her, but I knew I had to do it before she woke, or she'd refuse and we'd all be back to where we started, and I couldn't have that, either. The proverbial rock and hard place. I had to choose the best for the whole family, not just one member, but I wasn't happy about it and I knew there would be hellfire when Bella woke. If she woke.

I've never wished ill on anyone my entire life, but I have to admit it would be easier on us all, including her, if she passed in the night.

The next morning, at first light, we finalized our preparations to leave Emmett's homestead for mine. Thomas and I foraged again for saplings to made a second sledge to hitch to his team. We'd decided to make several trips back and forth before trying to move Bella. If I was going to house them and their livestock for even a short duration, supplies would have to be brought as well. And, the more we traveled back and forth, the path would become beaten down, hopefully providing easier passage for our human cargo.

Thomas and I trudged back and forth all day carrying food and supplies while Mattie watched Bella. She'd refused broth when Thomas and Mattie tried to feed her, but she sipped for me as she had the night before when I tried at lunch time.

On our last trip, we brought Bella and Mattie. We had been extremely lucky, it had been a fair day with little wind, for which I was grateful. I dragged Samuel's old cot closer to the hearth and Mattie took care of settling Bella into bed so Thomas and I could look after the animals. It took all our efforts to get everyone settled in and the livestock bedded down for the night before dark.

Bella's condition remained unchanged for days. We all took turns keeping the fire going all hours. She refused any and all food offered by Thomas or Mattie, but she would part her lips and swallow for me.

Thomas and I spent the next several days making endless trips between the two houses, bringing wood, feed, and food from their farm to mine. We enlarged my barn by packing the snow into high walls, having nothing else to build with. Improvising, we used the wagon ribs and small trees to fashion a frame over which we stretched the canvas wagon covers to make a roof.

Suddenly, it was Christmas morning. In all the fuss, I'd forgotten, but the children hadn't. Mattie cooked all day, preparing a special feast, and I rooted out the long-forgotten package from town, bought all those months ago so my children and my wife would have something today. I sat on my bed with the curtain drawn for privacy.

I opened the paper parcel slowly, and let my fingers drift over the contents. A pretty shawl for Alice, a woolly scarf for Samuel, hair ribbons for the girls, a book or two, a small soft blanket for the baby, and a small bag of penny candy. I wasn't aware I was crying until a tear splashed against the brown paper. I let the sorrow wash over me for a minute, let myself feel my own sadness and grief at all I'd lost before I dried my tears and went to celebrate what I had left.

Thomas could use a new scarf. His is tattered and full of holes. Mattie would be rich in hair ribbons now, not that she ever wears them anymore. Maybe I should hold onto those until her birthday in the spring...

"Papa?" Mattie's soft, shy voice spoke from the other side of the curtain.

"Yes, baby girl."

"Are you all right? Do you need something?"

"No, sweetheart. I'm fine. Don't worry. I'll be out in just a minute. I bet supper is just about ready isn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"It smells so good; I wouldn't miss it for the world."

I pulled a few things from the parcel, and tied the rest back into the brown paper before putting it back on the shelf over the bed. When I went back into the main room, Thomas was still outside, and Mattie was bent over the fire, so I quickly slipped the presents next to their plates on the table. Although Bella slept through Christmas, we did our best to include her in the festivities as we sang, danced, and played games around the table after dinner.

~ o ~

It was just before New Year's when Bella finally woke up. I had to hand it to her, she was a fighter, having lingered in a fevered delirium for over a week. The past couple of days, she'd been a little stronger, willing to take some gruel from me, and as I spooned a little bit into her mouth, she suddenly groaned.


"No, Bella. It's Edward."

Her eyes fluttered open and she struggled to focus on my face.

"Emmmmmmett? Wh... where's..."

"He's not here, Bella." She weakly tried to rise, and couldn't even lift her head. "Please eat a little more gruel. You've been sick for a long time and you're very weak."


"Shush now and eat. Rest. It will all make sense later, I promise." She was too weak to argue with me for once, and simply ate several more spoonfuls of gruel before drifting back to sleep. As I laid her back on the pillows, Thomas burst through the door with Mattie close at his heels.

"Ma! Ma!" he shouted. Her eyelids fluttered. "Mattie said you were awake!"

"Thomasssss," she murmured.

He quickly took my place at her bedside. She tried to open her eyes again, but she was too tired. Thomas took her hand and placed it on his cheek. "Ma, oh, Ma!" The tears began to overflow, and she managed a "shhhhh" before she slipped into unconsciousness.

"Noooo!" Thomas cried, sobbing into her chest.

"Quiet, son, she's just sleeping now. It's all right. Her fever seems to have broken in the night. She's not out of the woods just yet, but it's a good sign." I rested my hand on his shoulder and squeezed slightly. He just nodded and sniffed, wiping his nose and eyes on his sleeve, and I could suddenly see the little boy he'd been. "You stay here and keep your mother company. I'll take care of the livestock this morning. Don't you worry."

I caught Mattie's eyes and spoke to her with mine. We both silently bundled up and went outside to give Thomas some privacy with his mother. Mattie and I stayed outside for the rest of the morning. Once the animals had all been fed and watered, and their stalls mucked out, Mattie and I made snow people in the side yard. She "accidentally" shoved a handful of snow into my face and I pretended to be angry and chased her around as she squealed. Thomas came out to see what all the fuss was about, and a rowdy two-against-one snowball fight rapidly ensued. They pelted me with so many, I didn't stand a chance and called uncle once I was completely covered, trying to make the fun last. They turned on each other then and Mattie led him on a merry chase.

I knocked as much snow off of me as I could and entered the house still chuckling. I stripped off my outer garments, ready to warm myself and dry my damp clothes by the fire. When I turned around, Bella was awake and watching me.

"What's going on? Why am I here? I demand you take me home!" Her voice was unexpectedly strong.

I swallowed down my anger. "What's going on is my attempt to keep you alive. You are here so we can take care of you while you're ill. I refuse to take you home until you've recovered."

"Don't you take that tone with me. I am not your wife or child."

Thank God.

"No, you're not. But you are my brother's wife, and I am duty-bound by a promise I made to him to take care of you. To protect you and your children as my own."

"I insist you take me home."

"You are free to return home when you are well and strong enough to do so on your own. Until then, you and Thomas will remain here."

"But our livestock, our home..."

"Your livestock have been moved here where Thomas and I can look after them together. Your home will still be there when you return..."

The door slammed open, cutting me off. "Ma, Ma! You're awake!" Thomas made for the bed, still bundled up and covered in snow.

"Thomas! You naughty boy, you're getting snow all over the floor and this bed!" she reprimanded him, but I could hear her heart wasn't really in it. There was a softness in her voice I'd never heard before, tenderness for her son.

"I'm sorry, Ma." He sat up and removed his coat and scarf.

"Where'd you get that scarf? That's not yours."

"Uncle Edward gave it to me for Christmas. It's real warm. I've never had a new scarf before."

Bella looked at me and said nothing. Mattie had slipped in during all the ruckus, and she stood shyly at my side, clinging to me for reassurance.

"Baby girl, I'm starved. Can I help you get some lunch together?"

"No, Papa. It's all done. I left it warming on the hearth this morning," she whispered.

"Well, let's eat then. All that playing in the snow has made me hungry!" I tweaked her side and winked at her. It had been so long since I'd heard her laugh and squeal like the child she was. I hated to see that end so quickly because of our houseguest.

Thomas helped Bella eat some gruel mixed with stock from the stew Mattie had made. She wouldn't let him feed her, but he helped her raise her hand to her mouth as she clutched the spoon. Her strength and stubbornness constantly surprised me. Mattie and I sat at the table and ate in silence as usual. I tried unsuccessfully to make some small talk, but that was something I'd never been particularly good at.

Before light the next morning, I heard whispering in the main room. I shifted silently closer to the curtain and listened carefully. Bella was trying to convince Thomas to leave and return to their farm. Thomas didn't want to go, but he couldn't disobey his mother either. I ended the matter by rising and entering the main room, effectively cutting her off. Thomas made his escape to the barn.

To say I was angry was an understatement. I was livid. This stubborn woman was willing to jeopardize everything I'd worked so hard to take care of and protect for nothing but foolish pride and willfulness. I'd never met anyone so selfish and self-centered in all my life.

"We're leaving today. Right after breakfast. Thomas is out preparing the horses."

"You are not. You're staying right here until I say otherwise."

"I refuse. You can't keep me or my son here. You have no right."

"Oh, woman. I have every right to do with you as I see fit. Until now, I have respected your wishes over the wishes of my brother, and what I believe is right for all of us. That stops right here. Right now. I will not allow you to jeopardize your health, and the health of everyone in this house because of your foolish pride!" I was shouting now. I never shouted. I never had to.

"Pride? Pride? I can't believe you have the gall to call me prideful when you're the one making decisions for everyone else! I refuse to stay here and listen to this another minute!" And with that, she threw back the bedding and made to rise. She was too weak and wobbled, her knees starting to give out before she made it to the door.

"You are not leaving!" I roared as she caught herself on the row of coats hanging by the door. "Mattie!"

"Yes, Papa?"

"Go to the barn and ask Thomas to bring me a lead rope. Now."

"Yes, Papa," she whispered and scurried out the door.

"You have caused me to lose my temper and shout at my daughter. Get back in bed. This minute!"

"And if I don't?"

"I will put you there forcibly."

"You would hold me here against my will."

"I would, and I will," I said moving towards where she stood against the wall, clinging to my coat. Thomas came in the door at that moment.

"Thomas. We're leaving. Right now. Help me." She reached for him, but before she could touch him, I bent forward, grasped her waist, and threw her over my shoulder. I turned and bypassed the cot by the hearth, carrying her to my bed in the corner. I threw her down on the corn husk mattress none too gently. Her eyes blazed into mine with defiance and surprising strength. She moved as if to rise again, and I held her down by her shoulder.

"Thomas, bring me the rope, son."

"Don't you dare, Thomas." She turned to me and slapped me across my face. "How dareyou!Trying to turn my son against me."

"Mattie, take the rope from Thomas." My voice was deadly calm now, my eyes never leaving Bella's. "Do it now... Do you have it?" She hummed in response. "Come here and hand it to me." I held out the hand furthest away from Bella and the bed. "Thank you, baby girl," I said gently when I felt the rope in my palm. The minute I began tying one end of the rope around Bella's wrist, she began to struggle in earnest, flailing against my body with unexpected strength given her recent weakened state. In frustration, I finally climbed onto the bed and pinned her down by straddling her torso. I made quick work of tying her arm to the bed, making sure the rope was not in contact with her skin or too tight. As I went to climb off her, I looked in her face, and she spit into mine.

"There, I think that settles the issue for now. You will remain tied here until you learn some manners, some gratitude, and to be a gracious guest. In. My. Home." I ground the last part out between clenched teeth.

When I looked up, the children were white with fear, their eyes as big as saucers. Neither had ever seen either Bella or I behave in such a manner. I, myself, was amazed at my own behavior.

She pushed me too far.

I walked out of the silent house, taking my coat and hat with me. I went up to the rise and sat with Alice until nightfall. I had no idea, none at all, how I was going to handle myself or anything else when I went home.

~ o ~

A strained silence filled the next few weeks. I released Bella from the restraint the following morning. Even she had to admit defeat when she stepped out the door to leave and couldn't see her hand in front of her face. Blizzards raged endlessly outside, the snow piling higher than the roof.

Thomas, Mattie, and I made the best of it, playing games, reading to each other, practicing ciphers, spelling, and writing when we were not mending tack or making prairie grass twists to burn. Bella refused to join in, despite Thomas' repeated pleas. She kept to herself, sitting in the corner in Alice's rocker, staring into the fire. We simply ignored her after a while. It was like living with a ghost.

She would stir to life when Mattie would approach the fire to cook or make coffee. Bella moved automatically, almost like sleepwalking, revealing a lifetime spent cooking. I wondered if Mattie would be like that one day, and I fervently hoped not.

Our sod house was small, and there was only one real bed. Bella and I were forced to share it at night. I kept the curtain open to quash any impression of impropriety. Not that I could imagine kissing or touching Bella in that way. Even if she weren't so difficult, she'd been my brother's wife, and I had never thought of her as anything other than a sister. We faced away from each other in the small bed, taking care never to touch, even in sleep.

We passed the rest of the winter this way. Not touching, barely speaking, simply existing in the same small space together. Mattie and I did our best to give Thomas and Bella time and privacy alone together, but Bella never showed the same courtesy in return. I was relieved that she'd stopped fighting me, but I was worried about her listlessness as the weeks passed. It was as if the fire in her had been snuffed out that day she'd spent tied to the bed. She slowly began to join in with the daily chores over time, but remained silent, aloof, and distant.

I hadn't been able to visit Alice and the children since that frightful day because of the deep snow. I longed for her advice, her wisdom. I knew she would know what to do because she always did, especially when I didn't. I tried to talk to her when I was out getting wood or water a few times, but I seemed only able to feel her comfort when I was up on the rise.

Late one night, after the snow began to melt, I was roused by something. I lay still, listening to see what had awakened me. There was nothing but silence. Just as I was drifting back to sleep, I heard a soft noise beside me. I waited, listening again intently. The sound repeated, and I realized Bella was crying. I rolled over carefully, and started to speak before I realized she was still asleep.

She's crying in her sleep. I lay back onto the pillows staring up at the ceiling pondering this new information. I'd never seen Bella cry, ever. I didn't think she was capable of it.

Two days later, the sound of a rifle shot rolled across the melting snow to my ears where I was walking in the far field. My heart stopped at the sound, and I ran towards the soddy in dread.

Oh, no! What has befallen us now?

As I approached, I saw the first wisp of smoke rising into the air down by the river and changed direction. Cresting the edge of the bank, I stopped dead in my tracks stunned by the scene below me. Bella had built a small but raging fire and was dropping something in her hands into the blaze, my rifle lying discarded nearby. Mattie was standing stock still between us. I could tell she was frozen in fear. I strode past her, touching her gently on my way. As I approached, Bella dropped more brush on the fire, continuing to stoke it and keep it blazing.

"Bella?" I spoke softly, not wanting to startle her. She didn't immediately look up from the task before her. "Bella?" I tried again. She turned to me and captured my eyes with her fierce beauty. Her eyes were ablaze, hair loosened from its pins and blowing around her head, cheeks flushed, lips pressed into a thin red line.

"Mattie!" she yelled sharply. "I told you to go to the house! Go. Now." I turned to see my daughter running for home. I turned back to Bella and realized her whole body was shaking.

"Bella? Bella, what happened? What is it?" I looked down at the fire near her feet.

"A-a-a. . . A r-r-rac-c-c-oon," she stuttered, clearly struggling to speak. "A-a-a r-rabid r-rac-c-oon in-n the dug-gout."

Oh. My. God. "Mmmaa. . ." I couldn't get her name out.

"S-she's f-fine."

Oh thank God. I almost collapsed in relief. I looked up at Bella. "Are you. . ."

"I s-shot it b-before. . ." She wrapped her arms around her chest, and raised her eyes to the horizon, staring unseeingly before her. "I. . . I. . ." she swallowed hard. "I can't lose another one, not now." She spoke so softly, I almost didn't hear the words.

I unconsciously leaned forward in time to see a tear trickle slowly down her cheek. I raised my hand and hesitated, unsure of the correct action, and finally settled on touching her shoulder. Only after I squeezed lightly did she react by raising a hand and placing on top of mine. We stood there in silence until the fire died down, the carcass reduced to ash.

"You didn't touch it, did you?"

"No. Not with my bare hands. I used a rag."

The next morning, I put on a fresh pair of socks, and noticed that the holes in the toes had been mended. I looked at Mattie questioningly, and she cut her eyes towards Bella and then back to me.

Huh. She darned my socks. That was nice. I didn't know she'd even noticed the holes. I followed her lead and said nothing, though I gave her a shy smile when she handed me my morning coffee.

And just like that, the thaw began inside and outside the little sod shack on the edge of the prairie in earnest.

~ o ~

Soon enough, the rest of the snow melted, and the spring rains came. Thomas and I began plowing the fields as soon as the ground was soft and dry enough. Bella and Mattie would follow behind us, hoeing the seeds into the freshly tilled soil. I started with Alice's old garden, behind the barn, so that our food would begin to grow as we plowed and planted our crops.

Thomas was clearly better with animals than he was with farming, and he and I discussed possibly using most of their land for ranching. We had to cultivate at least part of their acreage, and needed to keep making improvements to both parcels for five years to make good on our homestead claims. It was a lot of land for two men and two women to tend, but Bella and Thomas were both adamant about holding on to Emmett's claim. I reluctantly agreed, and hoped we'd be able to find a sharecropper or tenant farmer willing to take on some of the load.

When we'd moved west the previous spring, our families were the only two out here. We had no neighbors for miles. As the weather warmed and April became May, more families arrived, looking for their own land to claim. One day, a Mr. Banner and his young son approached me as I was plowing in the field. On my last trip to town, I'd spread word that I was looking for a sharecropper or tenant farmer. Mr. Burns, at the general store, had sent Banner my way. He'd lost his wife and four of his five children on the journey, and just didn't have the heart or the strength to stake a claim. He planned to return home in the fall after the harvest came in.

I had him work with me for the week, and sent his son to work with Thomas. After seven days, there was no doubt he was a good fit, willing to work hard for a fair return. He and his son settled happily in Emmett's sod house, and they picked up tending the crops and fields. Thomas happily gave up his plow, and took part of the families' savings to buy a few calves and two promising yearling horses.

I went to visit Alice one day, and suddenly realized that a year had passed. One down, four to go, and this land would be mine free and clear. The visit was sad as always, but the thought was liberating and I entered the soddy with a whistle on my lips that night. Bella looked up with a warm smile at the sound, and I couldn't help but smile back. Her smile really lights up her eyes. How did I not notice that before?

That night, I dreamed of Alice.

It was the first night we'd slept on the land since I'd filed the claim. The first night on what would be our land. We couldn't stop smiling, and once the children were asleep, we couldn't keep our hands off each other. We made love quickly and passionately rolling on the ground just out of earshot of the children for privacy. We returned to camp disheveled and giggling like children.

Once we lay down by the dying campfire, sleep settled over us quickly. Later, in the dark of night, I roused slightly, cold, and reached beside me for my warm wife. I snaked my arm around her waist and drew her to me, pressing her back into my chest.

"Mmmmmm. . . warm. . . ." I sighed into her hair. It was so soft and she felt so good in my arms. I vaguely heard her soft sigh as she snuggled back into my body, resting her arm on top of mine and twining our fingers together. "Mmmmmm. . . feels good," I sleepily nuzzled the back of her neck, feeling myself harden between us. She hummed softly in response and pressed against me further. I groaned quietly, waking a little more, and moved my lips to the side of her neck, rocking my hips against her gently. She moaned a little louder; her hand reached back and stroked my thigh.

I was almost awake now, and I rolled Alice to her back, my lips seeking hers in the darkness. Her name on my lips, I pressed our bodies together and kissed her. . . .

I jerked awake and pulled back from the warm body below mine. What in tarnation! I was half asleep and confused, but it was definitely not Alice in my arms. I lurched back across the bed frantically. "Bella! I'm sorry! I was. . . I was dreaming. . . ." I rubbed my hand over my face and into my hair horrified at my own behavior.

This is bad, this is real bad. She's Emmett's wife for goodness sakes, not yours. Oh God. . . .

"Mmmmm. . . Edward? What's wrong?" Bella's voice jarred me out of my thoughts. "Did you have a nightmare?"

You could say that. "Um, yeah, I uh. . . . I'm sorry I woke you."

"Well, it was only a dream. Go back to sleep." She sighed and rolled over, drifting back to sleep.

I may never sleep again. Thank God she didn't wake up in the middle of my assault. I didn't want to think about what might have happened if she had. I lay back on the pillows finally, and remained awake the rest of the night.

~ o ~

I did my best to keep my distance from Bella after that, but she didn't make it easy. She'd come to the field to bring me a cool drink of water, or tuck an extra slice of pie in the lunch basket she sent with Mattie. There were no more holes in my clothes, each one carefully mended. She started to lightly touch my shoulder when she passed me at the table, and I began to look forward to coming home at night.

Her small touches and gestures increased as spring turned to summer, and my resistance continued to fade. I'd let my fingers brush hers sometimes when she handed me something to drink. Every so often, I'd catch a glimpse of her hair cascading loose down her back as she brushed it before bed. It looked so soft, and I found myself wanting to run my fingers through it. And, I woke more than once to find that we'd turned towards each other in sleep, our feet or hands touching, or our legs occasionally entwined. I didn't know what to do about any of this, so I did nothing and remained silent.

She'd become sweet and shy — like a young girl — I'd never seen this side of her. And it wasn't just me. She would carefully brush Mattie's hair each morning and evening, dressing her braids with pretty ribbons. They would giggle together sharing secrets only women knew. I loved watching my daughter bloom under her attention. Mattie had never been much given to feminine frills and such, but she was now on the cusp on womanhood, and was ready to leave some of the tomboy behind.

A grand picnic was planned in celebration of my birthday even the Banners were invited to join us. The crops were in the ground and growing well, livestock healthy and thriving, and it seemed that the sadness was behind us, a fragile happiness settling over us all.

We wandered out into the tall grass fields under a brilliant blue sky to spread our blankets on the ground. After the feast, the children ran circles around us, playing some mysterious game known only to them. Mr. Banner excused himself and headed for home, letting his boy stay and play. It was so rare that there was time to sit like this, for the children to play and be children, and I was having a hard time relaxing.

Bella reached over and lightly rubbed my back, sensing my tension, our eyes glued to the joy running loose in the field in front of us.

"I miss them," she suddenly said quietly. I didn't have to ask whom.

"I miss them, too," I murmured back.

"I never thought that Emmett would go first. I was so mad at him when he died and took Matthew and Mark with him." She looked down to her lap and sighed. "I never wanted to come here. This was his dream, not mine. And now I'm here, and he's gone."

I took her hand. "I know, and I'm sorry. I knew you were out-voted when we all decided to travel west. It's beautiful here, but I honestly don't know if I'd have agreed to come if I'd have known what was going to happen."

She caught my eyes and held my gaze, the warmth radiating from them surprising me. "I have something for you, for your birthday."

"You didn't have to. . . ."

"I know. I wanted to. You've done so much for me, for Thomas. This is my way of thanking you. I'm not good with words, you know. That was Emmett's job."

"Yeah? He did that for me, too." I smiled.

"I know." She smiled sweetly and reached into her basket, withdrawing a folded bit of fabric that she handed to me.

I looked closer at the fabric in my hands and realized it was store bought, not homespun. And it wasn't just a piece of fabric, it was a shirt, sewn for me by hand. Her hands.

When did she. . . . "When did you. . . ."

"Sometimes when you were in the fields for the day and I could sneak a little time away from my chores. Mostly late at night when you were sleeping. You snore, you know." She nudged my shoulder with her own, her smile widening.

I couldn't believe she'd given up sleep to sew me a shirt as a surprise and a thank you. I looked earnestly into her eyes, and saw truth, love, and gratitude there. "Thank you, Bella. It's very handsome. I will wear it with pride. Thank you." I hoped my eyes reflected my sincerity. My hand reached out of its own accord, and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

"Edward, you have been nothing but attentive, thoughtful, or gentle with me. I was awful to you, and you took care of me anyway. You rescued me from my own stubbornness when I was sick and wanted to die. You gave me space and patience when I was living but dead inside. And you were like the gentle warm rain of spring and the sunshine when I decided to live again. Thank you."

Her eyes burned into mine with sincerity and something more. She touched my cheek. "I don't expect anything from you, Edward. I know how much you loved Alice, and I know you could never love me like that. I'm happy with the life we have, but I want you to know that there could be more, if you wanted." She broke her gaze away at the end, afraid of what she might see in my eyes.

"Bella," I said softly, reaching for her chin, making her eyes meet mine. "You're right, I could never love another like I loved Alice, just as you could never love another like you loved Emmett. I've tried to keep space and distance between us as was proper, but you've continued to reach for me and let me see how beautiful you are. We're so alike – I never knew that before – we fit together easy and you've made my life so simple." I looked down as I felt the heat rise in my face. "I try not to think of those things with you. I never thought you'd see me that way." I smiled sheepishly as I looked up and met her eyes.

My hand moved to cup her cheek, my thumb running across the soft skin over her cheek bone. She leaned into my hand.

"So beautiful," I murmured in amazement.

Slowly, looking into her eyes for permission, for any sign of hesitation, I leaned forward and pressed my lips to hers. They were warm and soft and welcoming. I sighed into her mouth and she moaned softly into mine. I pulled back to look at her.

"I don't know what to do now," I admitted. "At one time, I'd have courted you, but now. . . ."

"Now, we've been living in the same tiny house, sharing and building a life together. We've spent all this time getting to know each other. . . ."

"But, you're not my wife; you're my brother's wife."

"My marriage vow ended with Emmett's death, though my love for him lives on."

I realized then that I still considered myself to be married to Alice. But Alice was dead, and we were now parted. I thought about my life with Alice. My life after Alice. My life with Bella. They were different, as if I was living another life, a second life. I had never thought there would be another for me after Alice, but now I wasn't so sure. Bella and I weren't perfect, life had broken each of us, but in the breaking, we were reformed to fit perfectly together.

"Will you excuse me please, Bella? There's something I need to do."

Surprise flashed in her eyes, but she nodded her assent, and I kissed her forehead before I rose. "Thank you for the very special birthday picnic. Shall I help you pack things up?" She shook her head. "Okay, then I'll see you back at the house for supper." I turned and walked away quickly.

I had intended to go straight to the rise, but my feet took me on a rambling journey around the farm instead. Memories old and new flooded my mind, bringing both tears and laughter. I finally strode onto the rise when the sun was lowering in the sky. I sat down on the warm earth and shared all my thoughts, dreams, and memories with Alice and our children. I told them that I loved them and that no one could ever take their place.

Then, with tears streaming unchecked down my cheeks, I admitted my attraction and growing feelings for Bella. I told Alice of my internal struggles and how I had still felt married to her, but now I understood that our vows ended with her death. I told her I would still visit, but that I wouldn't be coming as often anymore. I laid it all out for her, holding nothing back. When I was done, I pressed my hands and lips to her grave gently, lovingly. "Goodbye, Alice," I whispered and rose, lighter in heart and spirit and headed down the hill towards home.

The next and final chapter will post in approximately 2 weeks :-)

The Foxy Fics compilation benefitting The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research is now available. I've extended my popular o/s I Burn for You Gladly by one chapter especially for this worthy cause. Look for chapter 1 of this story to post on Twilighted during March 2011. Chapter 2 will ONLY be available in the foxyfics compilation. There are 39 authors contributing work, including tara sue me, so it's well worth the $5 minimum donation. Go to ./ for all the details.

Also, an early heads up – I am writing a new piece for the FGB Fundraiser for Autism Awareness coming April 2011.
Bitter Harvest

A/N For those of you who wanted more of this story, you owe thanks to my beta, LJ Summers. Now that I'm posting on Twilighted as well, she encouraged me to revise and expand this tale. (By and large, when my beta says jump, I ask how high, lol. She's the only one that gets away with it, though. ;-D)

I hope you enjoy Pioneer Daddyward's adventures!

I stood on the top of the rise, my eyes squinting in the bright light. Tall, waving green grass as far as the eye could see in front of me. Behind and below me, the gentle wash of a shallow river lined with scrub brush and trees.

One year. It had been one year since I had seen this land for the first time. A land full of promise. A land that was also harsh and demanding. A lot had happened in those 12 months, more than I had ever dreamed possible.

When we had set out to come to this desolate and lonely place, our spirits were high, buoyed by hopes, dreams, idealistic expectations, and an irrepressible sense of optimism. Emmett was the dreamer, the big thinker, the idea man. I was the practical, nuts and bolts, make-it-happen one. Quiet and thoughtful, a bit shy, and more than happy to let Emmett have the limelight. We'd been inseparable since I was born — an unbreakable alliance — and together we had always been unstoppable. I sighed and looked to the ground at my feet.

"I miss him, Alice. I miss him every minute of every day. I don't know how to do this without him."
I could almost feel her small hand rubbing soothing circles on my back, her head resting on my upper arm. Could almost hear her sweet voice saying, "I know," in a comforting tone. I swore I could smell her in the warm April air. I shook my head to clear it and took a shaky breath.

"I miss you, too," I whispered and gently touched the earth before turning and striding away. I came here almost every day to visit my wife, my children. To both remember and forget why I remained here lost and lonely without them.

~ o ~

Alice had always been my confidante, my spark, my best friend, from the first moment she walked into my life when we were children. I had never imagined my life without her, and now she was gone, never to return, taken from me by a fever in the early winter after we lost Bea to the river.

I had just returned from the nearest town, a three day's hard journey away, making the final trip after the harvest and before the snows came. I had been gone nearly two weeks getting the last of the supplies to see us through the winter. It was a fine day, and I was with Samuel in the fields planning the plowing and planting for spring when Mattie came running and screaming towards us.

"Pa! Pa! Pa!" was all she could manage. She raised her little arm and pointed beyond the house. My stomach fell to my feet. Alice was expecting our next child sometime in the winter and I was immediately afraid something had happened to her or the baby.

I sprinted toward the house, calling for her as I ran. When I got there, the house was empty but I could hear Alice sobbing, and my heart clinched. I ran toward the sounds of her cries and found her crumpled on the riverbank.

I grasped her arms. "Alice, Alice! Sweetheart! What is it? The baby?"

She raised her tear-streaked face, red and swollen with crying. "Bea," was all she said.

I stood and began calling, looking along the bank in panic. "Bea! Where are you, baby? Where's my Busy Bea?" I headed downstream on the bank, still calling, terrified of what I would find. There were so many dangers out here, so many things that could hurt a three-year-old child. My frantic eyes caught sight of something in the water. A bit of fabric caught in a snag. A moan rose from my chest as I recognized the piece of cloth.

"NO, NO, NO!" I tore off my boots as I splashed into the frigid water, swimming as fast as I could to my youngest daughter. When I got there, I knew it was too late. Her body was limp and she bobbed gently in an eddy of the current. "Oh, Bea," I whispered, untangling her waterlogged dress and clutching her body to my chest. "My Busy Bea," I choked out before heading back to the shore.

Samuel had helped his mother to her feet. Mattie was waiting on the bank, holding my boots. In silence, we returned to our sod house where I lay Bea's body on the table carefully. She looked so peaceful — like she was sleeping — but even in her sleep, she had never been so still. Samuel followed me back outside, and we started our separate tasks. I grabbed a shovel, and Sam, a hammer. She was not the first child we'd lost, and I feared she would not be the last.

Alice and I had selected the spot on the rise not long after we arrived. Life was tough on the frontier. Death came easy and swift, just a natural part of things, though it was never easy and was always painful. I had not changed out of my waterlogged clothing, nor stopped to put on my boots. I needed to dig, to turn the earth, to pour my grief into that hole in the ground so I could be strong for Alice, for Sam and Mattie, for the baby to come. I loved all my children, but Bea had a special place in my heart because she was so like Alice.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks and returned to the house. Samuel had finished the box. We had just enough scraps of lumber from building our shelters for this one tiny coffin. It was so small, I felt my heart squeeze when I saw it. Alice had carefully washed and dried Bea's body and dressed her in her best dress. I felt a tear slip down my cheek as I saw her laid out on the table. I picked up the tiny body and gently placed her carefully in the box. Alice fussed briefly over her dress and hair, then Mattie tucked Bea's doll by her side, and Sam added a handful of dried flowers, each of us whispering a goodbye before I nailed on the lid.

I led my family to the grave and placed the box into the earth. Alice read a few Bible passages, and we each shared a favorite story or memory of Bea, telling of our love and sending her soul to God. Alice dropped in the first handful of dirt, waiting for Sam and Mattie to drop in theirs before she took them by the hand and walked back to the house, leaving me alone with my daughter as I tucked her into bed one final time.

It was nearly dark by the time I returned to our warm but clammy sod house. My clothes were still damp, and I was chilled to the bone. Alice had me strip and parked me in front of the fire, handing me a cup of warm soup with a piece of bread for my supper. The mood was understandably somber, the house too quiet without Bea's lively chatter.

When we climbed into bed that night, I pulled Alice to my chest, her back to my front, and holding her tightly. She whimpered quietly into her pillow. "Oh, my darling, I'm so sorry about Bea," I murmured reaching up to stroke her cheek, wiping away the tears I found there.

"Oh, Edward. I'm the one who's sorry. I couldn't find something in the dugout, and suddenly she wasn't with me. I ran out just in time to see her slip and tumble into the water. By the time I got there, the current had taken her too far out into the river. Mattie was running for you before I could say anything..." she let out a muffled sob.

I wrapped my body around hers, giving her my warmth and comfort the best way I could. Words were never my strength; I found it easiest to talk with my actions.

"Shhhh. It's okay." I stroked and caressed Alice tenderly, trying to ease her pain. I rubbed my hand lightly over her swollen belly, reminding us both that new life was coming. It would never replace the life lost, but it gave us something to focus on, to look forward to. I continued touching her gently, holding her close until we fell asleep.

In the morning, I was unusually tired and a bit shaky, but I went out to do my chores with Samuel regardless. I don't remember collapsing in our sod barn, but Sam and Alice had to practically carry me back to the house. I burned with fever for more than three days. Mattie fell next, then Samuel, and finally Alice. Of course, Alice wouldn't stay in bed, trying to nurse us all. On the fourth morning, I woke from my delirium and realized the fever had broken. Mattie's serious eyes met mine as she washed my face with a cool, damp cloth.

"Thank you, baby girl. Are you okay?" I croaked, my voice rusty from lack of use.

"Yes, Papa. I was sick a little, but Ma and Sam are bad."

I turned and jerked myself up onto my elbow to look at Alice next to me in our bed. She was deathly pale, her face glistening with sweat, her nightgown sweat soaked.

"How long has she been like this, baby?"

"Almost as long as you, but she stopped making sounds last night."

"Alice? Alice, sweetheart? Darling? Love? Can you hear me? Please, stay with me now. You have to stay with me — I need you." I smoothed her matted hair away from her face. I took the cloth from Mattie's hand and washed Alice's face tenderly. Her lips were swollen, dry, and cracked. She didn't flutter so much as an eyelash as I tended to her, spoke to her, touched her. If her stillness didn't tell me, the heat of her skin did. It was too late. Though I begged her to stay with me, not to leave, she breathed her last before noon.

Samuel lingered for several days. At one point, it looked like he was going to mend, even sitting by the fire for a bit. But at nightfall, he slipped into a deep delirium and by dawn, he was dead. He had been our oldest, not yet 13.

There was no more wood for coffins. Mattie and I did our best to wash and dress their bodies for burial, and I wrapped each in an old sheet. It wasn't much, but it was the best I could do. I placed their bodies in our dugout until I was strong enough to dig their graves. It was cold now, and I knew I needed to put them to bed before the ground froze and I'd have to wait until spring.

I was hoping Emmett or one of his boys would stop by and help me; and when they didn't, I just assumed they were still busy bringing in the last of their crops. It took me a couple of days in my weakened state, but I finally got both graves dug. Mattie had become my shadow and rarely left my side, doing all she could to nurse me until I was well and strong again. I finally got Alice and Samuel settled into place a week after they'd passed. I put Alice between our children, and said a special prayer for the soul of our unborn child as tears streamed unchecked down my cheeks and I held Mattie close by my side.

As much as I wanted to lose myself in my grief, I couldn't. I had a pair of serious grey eyes that captured me and kept me here. I now had all the farm work to do, as she had all the housework. Mattie was only nine, way too young to shoulder such a burden, but there wasn't anyone else. She was a strong little girl, and while she had always been on the quiet, shy side, she was now positively taciturn.

~ o ~

A few days after the burials, I saddled up one of our horses, Old Jack, and lifted Mattie into the saddle, climbing up after her. It had been too long without contact from Emmett or his family, and it was past time to share my sad news. I needed his help finishing up a few things around my homestead that required at least two strong backs. I was worried that the winter snows would have us trapped inside before I could batten everything down.

The air was cold, with the smell of snow in the sharp wind. I hugged Mattie close to me, taking comfort in the presence of her small body, while trying to keep her warm, not wanting her to catch a chill. We were so very alike in temperament and mood, each worried the other would die and leave us truly alone, it made us protective and cautious.

The familiar ride didn't take long, and I always enjoyed seeing how the land changed across the seasons. I knew something was wrong the minute we were in sight of Emmett's soddy. It was too quiet. No one was in the yard. There was no shout of greeting, no joyful welcome. Only the silence and stillness that accompanies death.

With dread, I climbed out of the saddle and told Mattie to stay put. I didn't know what I'd find, and I didn't want her to see whatever it was. Her eyes were huge in her face. I could feel her fear, and tried to smile to reassure her. I failed.

The house was clean but empty, and I moved on to check the outbuildings. I noticed then the wagon was gone, and felt relief pour through me.

They were simply out on the farm somewhere, not massacred, not dead. I let my breath out with a big whoosh. I hadn't realized I had been holding it. Knowing they'd be back soon, I settled Old Jack in the barn while Mattie and I waited in the house.

It wasn't long before I heard the jingle of the wagon. We went out to meet them, but only Bella and Thomas were on the seat, and the wagon itself was empty save a shovel. My heart sank. Instinctively, I pulled Mattie back into me, my arms around her shoulders. Thomas pulled up the team in silence and helped his mother down from the wagon seat.

"Bella," I nodded in greeting. She nodded in return, and entered the house without a word. When I went to follow, Thomas stopped me.

"Uh, I wouldn't right now, if I were you, Uncle Edward," he said.

"What's wrong, Thomas? What's happened?" I could see his eyes were red and swollen from crying. He sighed and looked down, not meeting my eyes.

"I need to get the horses unhitched and bedded down." He turned to his task.

"All right, I'll help you. Mattie, why don't you go in the house and see if Aunt Bella needs help with lunch." I gave her a little push as I could sense her reluctance to leave me.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Thomas told me everything. Not long after Emmett returned from his trip to town, Rose, only a few months old, came down with a stuffy nose. Emmett loved his boys and they roughhoused together, but I knew that deep down, he envied me my girls. He'd always wanted one of his own.

"We all did everything we could, Uncle Edward, but she started coughing, and. . . and," his breath hitched, "and she was gone." His voice dropped down to a whisper and he turned away to rub his eyes with the back of his hand.

Thomas said they were all upset by Rose's death, but Emmett was so torn up by it that even Bella couldn't calm him down. After they buried Rose, Emmett stayed out on the farm late into the night with the twins, Matthew and Mark. Thomas would have, too, but Emmett insisted he go and be with his mother.

Two days later, Emmett, Matthew and Mark were all struck by the grippe.

"Pa refused to stay in bed and went out day after day to do his chores. I. . . I found him in the barn, but I couldn't move him."

I sighed. Emmett was strong as an ox and unused to being ill or physically weak. It was his undoing in the end.

"Matthew and Mark got out of bed to help me drag Pa into the house. He. . . he. . . ." Thomas was openly crying now, "He just stopped breathin' after awhile, Uncle Edward. . . . " His voice trailed off and he swallowed hard.

I put my hand on his shoulder and patted it lightly. When he could draw a steady breath, Thomas finished his sad tale.

Matthew and Mark were set on digging Emmett's grave, and the three boys buried Emmett the next day.

"They'd been getting better, Uncle Edward, but that night they took sick again. . . ." I didn't need to hear what he couldn't bring himself to say.

Thomas had to dig the graves to bury his brothers alone. There was not enough wood for coffins for them, so Bella wrapped the prepared bodies in old sheets, as I had had to do. They were just coming back from burying the twins when Mattie and I greeted them in the yard.

Tending to the horses was comforting to both of us as we shared our unhappy stories of sickness and death. I was shocked, the breath literally knocked out of my body, when I heard of Emmett's death. I couldn't imagine him weak or felled by a fever or illness. My older brother had been larger than life my entire existence, and I didn't understand how I could survive when he didn't.

It was sobering. In a matter of weeks, our large, ever-expanding family had been reduced to just four — Bella, Mattie, Thomas, and me. Winter was coming, the frozen pellets of cold, dry snow beginning to pelt the ground as we crossed to the house. The vow I made to Emmett the night before we left home loomed large in my mind.

"Edward, promise me that if anything ever happens to me, that you will take care of my Bella for me. I know you love my kids like your own, so I'm not worried about them. But Bella is special. I know you don't agree, and you two don't always get along, but please, for me? She's my wife and I love her with my whole heart. Please take care of her, look after her, keep her safe for me."

His eyes were full of tears as he looked at me, begging me to care for his family. Bella and I not getting along was an understatement, but I didn't think I'd ever have to worry about it, figuring if either of us weren't going to make it, it would be me.

"You know I'll take care of Alice for you like she were my own. She's like a sister to me, man. And your girls... your girls would be safe with me. I would protect them with my life if need be. You know this. I'm only asking you to do the same for me."

"Of course I'll take care of your family, your wife, Emmett. You don't even need to ask me that. We're brothers till the end, and I do love your kids like my own. And I promise to do my best by Bella, knowing you'd do the same for Alice."

He'd wrapped me in a bear hug, tears spilling down his cheeks in gratitude. It had been an unspoken agreement between us since we'd each married, but it clearly eased his mind to hear the words out loud. I'd never dreamed then that I would be honoring that promise so soon.

How could we ever survive this? How could I keep us all safe in the months and years ahead? I'm the only man for two families. How do I do this?

I had no idea. I was at sea.

~ o ~

Bella had refused to speak with me that day. She had silently dropped a plate of cornbread and beans in front of me before going to their sleeping area and drawing the privacy curtain. I sighed, and the memory of our first meeting flashed in my mind.

Walking down the sidewalk as boys, I pushed Emmett and ran being playful and rowdy after school one day. I could hear his footsteps getting closer and I looked over my shoulder to see where he was when I crashed into something warm and soft, causing us both to fall. When I looked up, Emmett had disappeared and a girl was lying facedown in a mud puddle in the street. I couldn't help laughing when she raised her head from the muck, I'd never seen anything the like before. When I went to help her up with a big grin plastered on my face, she angry swatted my hand away calling me a heathen before stomping off with her head held high.

It had only gone downhill from there. I somehow always managed to make some sort of mistake that humiliated her or ruined some piece of her property whenever we ran into each other. I thought it'd get better when Emmett started courting her, or at least after they married, but Bella had a long memory and nursed her grudge at every opportunity. She and Alice got along like a house a fire, and our children grew up together, but it was always plain she just couldn't abide me at all.

Mattie and I went home after lunch, and returned the following afternoon. I helped Thomas with a few things that needed doing, and he promised to come help me the next day. Bella would not come out of the house and disappeared behind the privacy curtain when I went in to speak with her.

"Bella, Thomas is coming to my place tomorrow to help me with a few things. I hope you'll come with him." My words were met with silence. I sighed and left with Mattie.

Thomas came by himself the next few days. At 14, he was bigger, older and stronger than Samuel, which was a big help, but there was more to do on my farm than I realized to finish my winter preparations. On the fourth morning, Thomas didn't come as planned. I was immediately worried, and started out towards Emmett's place. Less than halfway there, I encountered Bella, stomping her way towards mine.

"My son is no longer coming to help you. We have our own farm to run, and he has all the chores he can handle without having to do all of yours, too. You'll just have to make do without him," she spat angrily.

I was stunned into silence, my eyes wide. Our interactions in the past had been disasters, it was true, but we had worked side by side and our families had helped each others for years. I couldn't believe she would say such things to my face.

That's just the grief talking.

"I know, Bella," I said in a voice meant to calm her. "I've wanted to talk to you about that very thing. If we're going to survive this winter, we have to work together."

"We don't need your help. We can do just fine on our own, thank you very much."

"That's not what I was saying...."

"I don't want to hear it. I've said my piece and I'm going home. You are not welcome on our property."

"But, Bella, I promised Emmett..."

"Don't you ever speak his name to me again. Do you hear me? I've had to put up with you all these years because you were his brother, but now he's gone and I don't ever want to see your face darken my door. Goodbye, Edward." She whirled and started back the direction she'd come.

"But, Bella..."

She whirled back and glared at me fiercely. "Goodbye, Edward," she hissed, and left me standing there on my own with my mouth open.

Emmett, need your help here. She's your wife. I know I promised, but she's forbidden my help. What do you want me to do now?

In answer, the heavens opened up and rain spilled from the sky.

~ o ~

The days following this encounter found me busy from before light until after dark trying desperately to finish preparing our sod house and barn for winter, laying in enough wood and water, and marking paths to all these places so I could find my way to them and home again should a blizzard blow or the snow drift over my head.

Mattie was busy collecting the dried prairie grass and any lingering nuts or berries she could find. I went hunting every few days, bringing us small game and fowl to butcher and dry. Alice had turned our first shelter, a dugout on the creek bank, into a root cellar to store our food and supplies. I was grateful I didn't have to fortify our stores against plunder by large predators like bears. The smaller raccoons proved to be quite crafty, and I had to be especially inventive to defeat their thieving little hands.

The first major snowfall found us well prepared and reasonably snug in our dirt and grass home. I'd had to fill in the window openings, so it was dark inside, and with a dirt floor and dirt walls, it could only be so clean. But I'd worked hard to seal up all the places water dripped in when it rained, and where the wind blew in, and was pleased with my efforts. It was still cold inside, with frost greeting us every morning, but once the fire was bright in the hearth and the lantern lit, I daresay it was cheerful.

On fine days, I took Mattie out hunting with me or to check the few traps I'd set up. I didn't expect much, and didn't have much luck, but it gave me something constructive to do, and provided fresh meat for us on occasion. When the weather was foul, I focused on Mattie's education, teaching her to read, write, and do basic ciphers. I didn't have much education myself, but, as with everything else, I did the best I could and hoped it was enough.

On Thanksgiving, Mattie dug into our food pantry and prepared a special meal of dried rabbit, with canned peas and potatoes from our garden. For dessert, we shared a small bowl of fruit crumble she'd concocted out of some odds and ends in the root cellar. After I said grace, I cleared my throat and spoke, "As has long been our family tradition, I'll share some things I'm grateful for. I'm grateful for the gift of life, for this food I'm lucky to have, for the grace of my daughter, and the beautiful land we live on."

Mattie surprised me by chiming in. "I'm grateful for Papa, and for Mama watching over us in heaven with Samuel, Mary, Sarah, and Bea. I know there are other little girls out there who are not so lucky as me."

Her words caused a lump in my throat I had to swallow down before I could take the first bite of my supper. As Mattie and I ate in our usual comfortable silence, I wondered how Bella and Thomas were spending the day. Bella was a fine cook, but she was used to the fuss and ruckus of a house full of rowdy boys who ate each meal like it was their last. The quiet along with so few mouths to feed must be painful for her, and I had no doubt that Thomas missed his Pa and older brothers. Like me, he'd always been in the shadow of the twins and I'm sure he was lonely and at sea without them. I was surely lost without my larger-than-life big brother to lean on.

 A/N: The next chapter will post sometime soon :-)
Trust, Love, and Sex

Disclaimer: Last I checked, Twilight still belonged to Stephenie Meyers, not me. Damn.

A/N: I must give a shout out to my beta, LJ Summers, who helped me stick it out with this bad boy, and to Kitsushel who was my late night sounding board. Without them, this story would be collecting dust in the back of my mind.

She was the type of woman who rendered me both instantly speechless and instantly hard. All I could do was stand there like an idiot with my mouth open. She was gorgeous. Pale skin with a smattering of freckles, beautiful reddish brown eyes, a great rack and a nice ass. She was curvy in all the right places and, though she tried to hide this under bulky ill-fitting jeans and a too loose t-shirt, there was no question in my mind that an incredible body was under there.

"Can I help you?" She turned to me fully now.

I just blinked slowly in response.

"Hello? Do you need something?"

Yeah I need something. You, right here, right now. My mind filled with images of throwing her up against the counter, ripping her jeans off, bending her over, and pounding inside of her until we were both screaming in release.

"Hey! Wonder boy!" She snapped her fingers near my face, bringing me back to the here and now. My head jerked and my eyes focused on her nose. I couldn't bring myself to meet her eyes as I felt the heat rising in my cheeks.

"Yeah, um, I'm Edward, and I'm supposed to start here today?" My voice rose at the end, like it was a question. You are such a fucktard.

"Yeah, Max told me to expect you. Your t-shirt, hat, and apron are in the back room." She pointed to a door marked Employees Only. "Go get changed and grab a towel from the bleach bucket by the door, the tables need wiping down." She turned, shaking her head, and disappeared behind the commercial espresso machine.

I became aware then that I was painfully hard and the bulge in my jeans was obvious and formidable. That's a helluva first impression, sport. Fuck! Never when I want, always when I don't. Shit. My cheeks crimson, I shuffled into the back room and quickly changed into my uniform.

Still hard as a rock, I looked around for a fridge, freezer, or even a sink with cold running water. I found the last in a corner and soaked some paper towels with cold water. Finding a shadowed corner, I faced the wall and removed the offending hard on from my pants. I wrapped it in the cold, wet paper towels and hissed at the sensation on my sensitive skin. Fuck, that's cold!

The cold did its job well. It always did. My dick shrank from the cold and wet, my balls shriveling in the onslaught. It wasn't the kindest way to handle myself, but it was quick and effective. Now limp, I tucked myself away and threw the paper towels out before washing my hands and grabbing a cloth towel from the bucket by the door. My first shift at my new job had officially begun.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –
At least I made it through without doing anything stupid and embarrassing myself, I thought as I walked home after my first shift. Barista Queen seemed okay. I still didn't know her name, but the title fit. I'd never seen such a complicated espresso machine before. She said Max had it imported from Italy and that it was really finicky, so I wasn't to touch it. Fine by me. I was positive I'd break the damn thing if I so much as breathed on it, and I sure as hell couldn't afford to replace it.

I mostly cleaned, bussed, and washed the cups. People are such slobs sometimes when they don't have to clean up after themselves. Disgusting. Especially the ladies room. I'll never understand why women trash a public bathroom. Guys never do that shit.

By this time, I'd reached my apartment. Well, the apartment I shared with four other guys and the women that sometimes stayed over, was a better description. I couldn't really call them friends; we didn't really hang out or do anything together. I opened the door and slipped inside. A couple of them were playing video games while a third was watching some shit movie. I walked past them silently; they didn't acknowledge me and I didn't say anything to them. I was the resident ghost.

I dropped my stuff on the battered, fifth-hand desk in my room and popped open my laptop. I had several hours of research to do for a paper I planned to start tomorrow.

I don't know when I fell asleep, my computer still glowing in my lap. I scrubbed my hands roughly over my face and scratched my head as I squinted at the now-bright screen. I made sure to save what I was working on before closing the lid and setting it carefully on the floor next to the bed. I didn't even bother removing my clothes – just slipped a little lower down and curled up on my side. My eyes closed immediately and I saw the brightness of the screen behind my eyelids. I started to drift to sleep when Barista Queen's face blazed in the bright spot on my eyelids and I heard her voice while smelling coffee. I sat bolt upright in bed.

What the fuck?

My heart was pounding by this point and I looked around the room wildly. I was sure she was there somehow, her voice was so clear and the smell of coffee was so strong. But my room was empty and dark and smelled of musk and mold. I slowly laid back on the pillows and stared up at the patterns of shadow and light on the ceiling for a long, long time.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

She slowly began populating my dreams after that. During my next shift two days later, I finally learned her name. Bella. She mostly ignored me as I ignored her and I liked that. I was grateful not to have to talk much or answer a string of nosy questions. As long as I showed up on time, did my work well and didn't fuck up too much, we got along great. It was somehow comfortable and easy between us from the get-go, and for some odd reason I felt I could trust her.

I didn't really know what her deal was and that piqued my interest. She always dressed in baggy jeans and shirts that practically swallowed her whole. Her shoes were cool – a real array of sneakers – but that was her only adornment. No jewelry, no makeup, no bling. There seemed to be no guy either, and I wondered if maybe she batted for the other team or was a switch-hitter. I watched her carefully over the next month or so, trying to figure her out.

She could handle the fussy Italian espresso machine like it was an extension of her own body. Coffee was coffee to me. I couldn't taste much difference and preferred basic plain old drip to anything else. Not the best dude to work in a highbrow coffeehouse.

"Hey, Ed!"

"Yeah, Queenie?" I smirked at her, knowing she hated that as much as I hated Ed.

She rolled her eyes but didn't slow her motions. We were closing up and she was elbow deep cleaning the machine for the morning shift.

"You're on trash duty tonight."

"Got it."

I pulled the small can out from under the counter at her feet. She backed out of the way to make space for me while keeping her hands on the machine in front of her. I grabbed the top edges of the bag and jerked it from the can. The wet coffee grounds were too heavy – it hadn't been emptied after the lunch rush – and the bag burst, dousing her from the waist down in cold, soggy grounds along with whatever else had been tossed in throughout the day. She gasped and I froze, cringing, waiting for an explosion that didn't come.

"Well, don't just stand there, silly. Fix it."

"I'm so sorry! I didn't..."

"Don't worry about it. Not the first time it's happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Not your fault. Sam should have done it at the end of his shift."

"But your clothes, your shoes..."

"Are just things. I'll throw 'em in the wash." She shrugged and laughed. She had a nice laugh. It was catching, and I couldn't stop my mouth from turning up into a smile. I didn't realize that that had been happening more often, lately.

I bent to attack the mess and immediately felt something cold and squishy land on my back.

"Oh! I'm sorry! I didn't see you there," she gasped. I looked up to see her holding an empty portafilter in her hand.

"You dumped that on me on purpose, didn't you?"

"No, I swear it was an accident. I really didn't see you."

But her look was too innocent and her stomach was trembling with the effort to hold in her laughter. I was instantly angry, and my face darkened. Just as I was opening my mouth, she lost her fight and laughter poured forth.

"You should see your face!" She slapped her thigh with her free hand as she laughed harder.
My mouthed moved, opening and closing, but no sound would come out. My anger dissolved in the face of her delightful laughter.

"Think that's funny, do ya?" My voice was tinged with my residual temper. I grabbed a handful of the wet grinds from the floor and flung them at her chest. I hit her square between the boobs. Nice shot!

As I was busy congratulating myself, her hand darted down and I found myself face first in the heaping pile covering her feet. She howled with laughter above me. I quickly reached up, grabbed the back of her shirt and yanked down as I knocked her knees out from under her. She dropped to the floor surprisingly gracefully but landed right in the middle of the mess, her eyes wide in surprise. A flurry of hands lifted and squashed the goop all over any reachable body part for the next minute or so as we playfully battled it out.

I realized I was laughing so hard my arms were becoming weak, and I grabbed her hands in an attempt to stop our impromptu food fight. They were strangely hard and cold and she jerked them away before I could really register what they felt like.

She looked at me carefully, then said, "You have a nice laugh. You should use it more often."
My smile dimmed and I looked away, muttering under my breath, "Yeah, 'cause there's just so much to laugh about in my life."

"It can't be that bad."

My head jerked back sharply of it's own accord. She heard that? How could she hear that?


"Really, is it that bad?" she was serious now and concern was written on her face.

Pity. Greeeeaaaat. Playtime's over.

"What business is it of yours? Fuckin A. Give it a rest. It doesn't concern you." I pushed up off the floor quickly, turned on my heel and strode into the back room to get the shit needed to clean up the mess we'd made. When I came back out, she didn't say anything. She made as if to help me clean up, but I brushed her off brusquely.

I don't need your help or your pity. I do just fine on my own. And if you don't like my sucky attitude, you can fucking fire me for all I care.

I could feel my face flush and my eyes unexpectedly burned with unshed tears.

What the fuck, man? Get it together! Limpy The Dickless Wonder's bad enough, what are we now Tear Boy? Cry Baby? Shut it, just shut it. Not helping, here.

"Hey, are you okay?" A cool hand brushed my shoulder.

I just nodded and clenched my teeth.

"You sure you don't want some help with this? We'll both get out of here faster."

I shook my head and kept scooping the grounds into a plastic-bag-lined box. There was a long pause as she watched me work.

"Are you planning on leaving the bag in the box and taking the whole thing out to the trash?"

"Yeah, so?"

"That's actually a really good idea. We're lucky the health inspector hasn't shown up when a bag's burst and there's shit all over back here. That goes into effect immediately, I'll let everyone know."

I just nodded.

"I'm going to go count the till in the back room. Let me know when you leave, okay?"

"Sure thing."

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

Thus the strange, awkward dance between us unexpectedly shifted gears. Sometimes playful, sometimes hostile, always charged and oddly erotic. She'd been a frequent visitor in my dreams, but before she was a bit player and on the sidelines, clothed. Now, Bella was regularly the star, naked and splayed out below me. I never dreamed of her on top. Didn't dream of any woman on top. That was a definite dick deflator.

When I saw her at the coffeehouse, it was hard to separate Dream Bella from Real Bella and despite my efforts to the contrary, we touched and bumped against each other all the time. I finally realized that she was initiating much of that contact. Her gentle, persistent questions and authentic concern wore me down, and I began to talk to her more. It was nice. She was nice, and I felt nice in her company.

About six weeks later, she invited me to her place after work. We'd both worked the day shift and got off in the early evening. I knew she lived on a houseboat in Eastlake, but that could mean anything from a 750 square foot shack to a multistory floating McMansion.

Her place was amazing – arty and funky with lots of wood and huge windows. She sparked the gas fire and offered me a beer to go with the food we'd picked up on the way. Simple food, a comfortable house and good company. I felt almost human again. When the stars came out, we moved up to the rooftop deck to gaze through her telescope.

She was so different from any other girl – hell, any other person I knew. I was captivated by her, which made me nervous, which kept me limp. I was actually kind of glad about that for once. When I saw her that first day, my body just reacted to her like a picture in a magazine. Now that I knew her, she was real, and my body was its usual unreliable self.

When it came time for me to leave, she walked me to the door and I paused considering whether I could steal a kiss from her or not. I was a chicken shit and settled for brushing her hair out of her face and tucking it behind her ear.

"Goodnight, Bella. Thanks for having me over. I had a nice time."

"Me, too. I hope you'll come again. You're nice company." She smiled and stepped back, opening the door for me.

I ducked my head, blushing shyly, and headed to my dank, dark, lonely, people-filled apartment. The contrast was startling and I shook my head as I walked to the bus stop.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

Hanging out at Bella's quickly became a regular thing. We didn't really go on dates. I wasn't a dating kind of guy and she seemed just fine with that. I noticed she ate very little when we occasionally shared meals, but she was so small I never really worried about it.

One night, about ten days later when we were watching some cheesy chick flick, I finally worked up the nerve to plant one on her. It was tentative and I hesitated when she didn't kiss me back at first.

Damn she's always so fucking cold.

When I started to pull away, she brought her hand up, cupping my head and pulling my lips back to hers. She pressed gentle, chaste kisses on me until I pressed my mouth more firmly against hers. When our lips began moving in harmony after a few mismatched attempts, I sighed through my nose in pleasure and gratitude and she moaned. I twitched. We made out on the couch and it was incredible to just kiss and talk softly together for hours.

I found it harder and harder to keep my hands and lips to myself when we worked together, much less when we were alone. We spent many nights on the roof deck or in front of the fire making out. The days began blurring together and it was easy to lose track of time. One night we got lost in each other and I wound up spending the night on the couch as it had grown so late, I missed the last bus back to the U District. When I woke it was sunny and beautiful. I looked all around for her, but Bella was not outside or in any common area of the house. I finally found her buried under the covers in her bedroom.

"Hey, wake up, sleepy head! It's a beautiful day – sunny in Seattle! Let's go for a picnic. Maybe catch the ferry over to Bainbridge." I went to pull the covers off her head, but they wouldn't budge. "Oh, c'mon! Don't be like that!" I found the sides of her body beneath the blanket and began tickling her.

"Edward... Edward! Enough – stop!"

I didn't miss the fact that she wasn't laughing; she was serious. I dropped my hands immediately.

"I think you should go now, Edward."

"But... but we planned to spend the day together today. Last night..."

"I know what we talked about last night. Things have changed. And, uh, it's best..."

"Things have changed in like five hours? Bullshit! Come out here and talk to me. This is me, and I don't like not being able to see your beautiful face."

I heard her sigh. "Edward, I can't. Please believe me. Just trust me when I say it's better if you go now. I'll see you tomorrow at Max Java."

"You can't come out from under the covers? That's just silly! What, you suddenly have some sort of hideous rash or something? C'mon, lemme see. Dr. Edward is here with a cure for whatever ails ya."

I grabbed and pulled at the bedclothes, finally succeeding in getting the blanket down, but the sheet wouldn't budge.

"Edward, stop. I'm serious now. I'm not playing around. Please leave."

I dropped my playfulness and met her serious tone. "Bella? Baby, what is it? This isn't like you and you're scaring me. If you're sick or need medical attention, please let me take you to the doctor or the hospital. I'm not leaving until I see your face and know you're okay."

"You have to. Just take my word for it. I'm fine."

"If you're fine, then why are you hiding?"

"Please, can't you just trust me?"

"Yes and no. I trust you, but I need to see for myself that you're fine. Then I'll leave, I promise."

I began to struggle to uncover her in earnest.

Geez, she's fucking strong. I can't believe...

Suddenly, there was a loud ripping noise as the sheet gave way between our struggling hands and the filtered sunlight fell full across her face.

Sparkles. She's... she's... it's like she has glitter all over her face. What the fuck is that?

Her eyes closed in defeat as the sparkling light bounced off my face.

"Wow, baby, that's some night cream you use. What the hell is it? You look like you have glitter all over your face," I couldn't stop the laughter from escaping. "Hell, Bella, is this what you wanted to hide from me? Your glitter cream? What's the big fucking deal?"

She sat up and let the sheet drop to her lap, exposing more skin to the light. She was wearing a wifebeater and what looked to be men's boxers to sleep in. What skin I could see sparkled and shimmered. I'd never seen anything more beautiful or more strange in my entire life. This little creature who wore baggy boy's skate clothes was ethereal. Dainty. Feminine. Stunningly gorgeous.

I gaped like an open-mouthed fish from Pike's Place. She sat there, silent and still as a statue, head bowed, shoulders slumped, eyes closed.

"Beautiful," I finally managed to gasp as one finger reached to stroke her upper arm. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and when I pulled my finger away to look at the tip, it wasn't covered in glitter. I looked back at her in wonder, looked more closely, and realized the glitter was in her skin. I gulped loudly. "Bella?"

"Now you see me as I truly am. A freak. You can go now. I trust you not to say anything to anyone. Goodbye, Edward."

Wait, what? My brain couldn't make sense of her words. A freak? No, strange, wonderful and odd, maybe, but not a freak.

"What do you mean, goodbye?"

"I know you're repulsed. Really. I don't blame you. Just... just go," she finally whispered, clearly distressed.

"Repulsed? Freak? What are you talking about? I've never seen anything more beautiful in all my life!" I grabbed her hand and held it to the light, making the rainbows from her sparkling skin even brighter. "Are we even looking at the same thing?"

She was silent and unmoving.

"Look, Bella!" I held her hand under her nose, she turned her head away and squeezed her eyes shut.

Of course she's seen her skin in the sunlight. Duh!

"Bella!" I grabbed her by both upper arms and shook her slightly, "Bella, open your eyes and look at me. Talk to me. Please don't shut me out. Not now. Please," my voice trembled with emotion and fear. She remained still and silent. "Bella, I... I... You... you treat me like... Bella, please! I haven't felt this alive in so long! You can't shut me out now," I wailed like a child. "I need you, please... don't make me leave... please." I buried my face in my hands to hide my shame in admitting this to her. The thought of being without her crushed the air right out of my lungs and I collapsed forward on the bed beside her, my feet still on the floor.

"Oh, Edward. Sweetheart. Stop." She placed a hand on my head. "I didn't want you to see me like this. I just wanted you to go away for now, that's all. I thought you'd be horrified and run screaming out the door. I can't believe you're still here and begging me to stay. Of course you can... if you still want to."

I raised my head from my hands and looked into her eyes. There was no pity, only sadness and concern, and something more. Something I hadn't seen before.

"Yes. Yes, I want to stay. I... I..." I trailed off. Love you. The words popped unbidden into my mind. I knew they were true, but I couldn't get them through my lips. Chicken shit. Will you fucking shut up? 
Having a moment here! Focus!


"Yeah... uh... I really like you, Bella. I'm comfortable here. It's okay if I stay, yeah?"

"Yes. I really like you, too. And you can stay if you like. But we need to talk and I must warn you that I don't expect you to want to stay when I'm through saying what I have to say. It's important to know that you can leave anytime, but I'm asking you to hear me out. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure. You can tell me anything. What is it, baby? Some sort of medical mystery? It's quite an amazing skin condition..." I couldn't help but stretch out my hand and touch her arm again. She reached up and took my hand in hers. "Sweetheart, you're so cold. Can I get you something warmer to wear?"

She laughed humorlessly before drawing a deep breath. She looked away briefly before squaring her shoulders and turning her head towards me, catching my eyes with hers.

"There's no easy or gentle way to say this."

"Then just say it."

She sighed once more and squeezed my hand, never breaking her gaze from mine. "Edward... Edward, I'm not human."

All right, I'll play. "What are you, then?" I smirked slightly despite the seriousness of her expression and the tension pervading the room.

"Edward, I'm a vampire."

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

Yeah, so that wasn't an answer I was expecting. She spoke for a long time as I listened in silence. I was a little overwhelmed and certainly stunned to discover my supposedly twenty-something girlfriend was really more than 500 years old. Bella told me everything about her life including how she became a vampire at the hands of a deranged incubus. He'd become inexplicably enraged when he discovered she was a virgin and, not wanting to lose his control, he pierced her skin and drooled venom into the wound without biting her. When she awoke, she was clothed and alone. He'd changed and abandoned her – her last human memory hearing him cursing her to a solitary existence.

She held nothing back and answered every question I had honestly and completely. No one had ever been so direct and open with me before. Her trust in me, as well as her vulnerability, inspired and intimidated me. It was also incredibly sexy.

Morning became afternoon and afternoon slid into evening before we had hashed everything through. If I'd had any thoughts of leaving, they were gone now, a new bond forged between us in honesty and authenticity. We'd taken several breaks to accommodate my human needs, and twilight found us back in the living room on the couch before the fire. A comfortable silence had stretched between us as she snuggled to my chest and I played with her hair.



"Can I ask you something?"

"You can ask me anything, Bella."

"Have you ever been with a girl before?"

"You mean like had a girlfriend, or more than that?"


I sighed. Gotta be honest, man. It was the only way to honor her honesty with me. "I've never really even had an official girlfriend, Bella."

"But that doesn't mean you haven't, like, done things, right?"

"Are you asking if I've kissed a girl before?"


"Yes, I've kissed a girl before. More than one, actually."


"Other than you? No. Nothing like that has happened in a long time."

"Have you done more than kiss?"

"With others? Yes."

"Like what?"

"Bella, I was told that kissing and telling wasn't gentlemanly. But I want to be honest with you as you've been so honest with me," I breathed out heavily through my nose. "I've made out before, more than once, and with more than one girl. A little heavy petting, but not much. No more."

"So... you haven't done it?"

"If by 'it' you mean sex, then no, I haven't."

"Me neither," she said in a small voice. "I was only kissed once before you."

"Really?" I was astonished.

"Really." I could hear the smile in her voice.

I tipped her head back by pulling slightly on her hair. Her eyes fixed on my mouth and she licked her lips. I lost it and claimed her mouth with my own. She kissed me back with fervor and enthusiasm. The days, weeks, and months of talking, getting to know each other, flirting, screwing around, and finally the honesty and vulnerability sparked the embers between us into flames. I deepened our kiss and she moaned softly. Before I knew it, our shirts were on the floor and we were lying side by side on the sofa, making out passionately.

I was lost in her mouth. It was cold, wet and wonderful. I simply couldn't get enough of her. My hands roamed freely across her bare upper body. The fingers of one of her hands twisted into my hair, the other slid down my back and cupped my ass. I groaned loudly – I couldn't help myself – we'd never touched below the waist before.

I wanted her. I wanted her so badly, but I knew I had to hold back, to rein in my passion. So I pulled her tight to me without grinding myself into her. I knew there was no way she wouldn't feel my pulsing erection against her stomach even through the layers of denim and cotton between us. She moaned in response when my hot hardness registered against her cool skin, and she squeezed my ass before sliding her hand into my back pocket and pulling me even closer.

"Ah... If you keep that up... I don't... Oh!" I gasped as she broke from my mouth and started licking and nibbling with her lips down my neck. Her thigh slipped between mine and I couldn't stop myself from pressing into her firmly.

She rolled me more onto my back and slid her hand down the outside of my thigh, pulling it around her own, encouraging my hips to move against her. I moaned as I sought the needed friction, still trying to hold back and failing miserably.

I felt her begin to writhe against my thigh, instinctively trying to find her own friction, but she was awkward and unsure in her movements and I could feel the frustration coming off of her in waves. She was kissing along my shoulder as I slid my hands down her back and under the waistband of her jeans.

She froze for a split second as I palmed her ass over her panties. I started to remove my hands but she gasped, "No, don't stop... So warm... Keep going..." and dropped her head down to capture my nipple between her lips.

"Oh... uuunghh," I groaned out at the sudden coldness on my sensitive flesh. The contrast in temperature was indescribable. My arms and hands tightened on her body as I arched into her mouth, unintentionally pressing her sweet spot just as she needed with my thigh.

She cried out my name before flicking her cold tongue repeatedly over my hard nipple, the fingers of her other hand playing with the one on the other side of my chest.

I gritted my teeth for a moment before giving in completely and pushing up against her with abandon while pulling her down to meet me thrust for thrust.

Whoa. This got intense really quickly.

"Hey, Bella," I gasped, bringing one hand up to her chin to tilt her face up so I could look into her eyes. They were black with lust and longing. I had never seen her this way – wild, primal, instinctual. I could truly see part of her vampire nature, and while it was a little intimidating, mostly it was sexy as hell, and I became even harder, something I thought completely impossible.

"I just... So intense... Is this, are you... Okay?"

Her smile was a flash of radiance before she claimed my lips with her own. Her kiss was passionate, plainly communicating her desire for me. I could feel my dick weeping for her in my pants, and I wondered if this was really it, if we were going all the way tonight. The instant I thought that, I regretted it as my cock twitched once and immediately began to soften.

Noooooo! Not again! Oh, please, ANYTHING but this...

Frantically, I cast around for something else to focus on, something that would increase my excitement and hopefully my hard on.

"Bella, baby. Can I touch you?" I murmured against her lips, only briefly interrupting her kiss. She hummed her assent without slowing her lips or hesitating for a second.

I pushed her back so we were on our sides again. Then I slid my hand slowly down her torso from her shoulder, over her breast, down her ribs, and to the button on her jeans. I hesitated only a moment, but she was apparently impatient as her hand opened the front of her jeans wide. She then placed her hand over mine and guided me under the front of her cotton boy shorts. She pulled her hand out, leaving me to find my way to her treasure while her fingers sought mine through my jeans.

As I parted her lips with my fingertips and dove into her wetness, I became aware that her juices were extra slippery, like the world's most perfect lube. So wet, but so cold. Will I ever get used to it?

"Oh my God... Oh... So wet... So fucking good..." My amazement slipped unfiltered through my lips.

She moaned softly in my ear, and I was vaguely aware of my dick twitching against the pressure she was applying through my pants. I couldn't let myself get distracted – this was too important and my confidence was shaky enough as it was.

I began seeking the source of her wetness. It was all so slick and soft, and without increasing heat to guide me, I had a little trouble finding her opening.

"More..." she gasped, her bottom arm clinging to my shoulder almost painfully; her other fingers nearly wrapped completely around my shaft.

Shit that's cold even through my pants...

Her soft voice broke through my intense concentration.

"Baby? Edward?"

I pulled back to look at her, puzzled, but her eyes remained downcast.

"I'm sorry... Did I... Did I do something wrong?" she whispered.

Wha... FUCK NOOOO! My dick was completely flaccid under her hand. Motherfucking piece of shit limp dick! Goddamnit! Fuck it all!

Completely humiliated, I turned away from her abruptly. I curled in on myself, my hands buried in my hair, my knees almost to my chest.

UNFUCKING BELIEVABLE! Loser, loser, LOSER! You're as limp and lame as your good for nothing dick. You'll never be anything better. You're a fucking fool to think it would ever be different. No girl you want wants such a fucked up guy like you in her life. Limpy the Dickless Wonder strikes again.

"Edward!" She was shaking me roughly by now. "Edward! Talk to me! Tell me! What did I do? What did I do wrong? Please..." Her voice broke on the last word, and I suddenly realized that she'd be crying now if she could.

Fuck! You made her cry, you piece of shit! Happy now? Not really, no.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Bella," I sighed finally. I moved to the edge of the couch and sat up, my back to her. "It's my fault. I'm sorry. I'll go home, now." I grabbed my shirt from the floor before I stood up. Pulling it over my head, I walked to the door and paused with my hand on the knob, "Um... Don't worry about work. I, uh, won't be coming in any more. Just send my last check to my place, okay?" I turned the knob and pulled, but the door wouldn't open.

"No, it's not okay, and you won't do any such thing." She was standing beside me holding the door closed.

When did she...

"You aren't leaving here until you talk to me. And this..." she gestured between me and the couch, "...this bullshit you just spewed isn't talking." She glowered at me until I let go of the doorknob and backed away.

"Can't you just fucking let me leave, please?"

"After everything we've shared, the things I've told you that I haven't ever told anyone? No. Fucking. Way."

I sighed heavily, rolled my eyes, crossed my arms over my chest, and pressed my lips into a thin hard line.

"You want to throw this all away? For what? I don't even know what just happened! I refuse to let you run away from this. From us. Please. Not like this. Please. Just talk to me. Tell me what happened. You owe me that much, at least."

I sighed again. I knew she was right. There was no reason for my fucked-up-ness to rub off on her. She was too good for that, too good for me, and she deserved better than what I was dishing. I couldn't tell her the truth, but I could come up with something that should let me walk away.

She took my hand and led me to one of the comfy chairs in front of the window wall. "Sit. Talk." She pushed me slightly on my chest before taking a seat in the chair opposite.

I slouched down in my chair and ran my palms nervously up and down my thighs. "Yeah, well... um... I just... I just don't think this is going to work out," I said in a rush.

"Bullshit. You're stalling. Tell me."

"What do you want me to say?"

"The truth. I'm not accepting anything less."

"What truth do you want? What more needs to be said? Jesus Christ!"

"What the fuck just happened here? One minute you're all over me, panting and driving me crazy, and the next you quit and try to leave? What am I supposed to think?"

"Do I have to spell it out for you? Are you actually going to make me say it? Fuck!"

"Apparently I am, because I haven't a clue what's going on. I've never done this before, remember? Just fucking tell me already? What. The. Hell. Did. I. Do?"

"You didn't DO anything! How many times do I have to tell you that! Huh? Feeling my dick go limp under your hand wasn't emasculating enough for you? You fucking gotta make me SAY it? FUCK YOU!" I roared at her before leaping from the chair and charging for the door, my humiliation complete. I couldn't wait around for the laughter, the knife twist to my gut, cutting what little remained of my balls off.

You're such a fucking pussy. Grow a pair, will ya?

She wrapped me up in a vise grip from behind.

"What is fucking wrong with you? Stop trying to run away and talk to me! This is ME here, not just some random chick. Friends first, no secrets, remember?"

Just when I didn't think it could get any more humiliating, it did. I suddenly burst into tears and started sobbing uncontrollably. Scared the living shit out of me – I couldn't stop – all those years of pain, humiliation, and deep, burning shame scalded its way out of me.

She released me enough to turn me around to face her, and I buried my face against her shoulder, clinging to her with every ounce of strength I had. She rubbed gentle circles on my back but said nothing, just letting me cry it out. When I slowed to hiccuping snotty sobs, she pulled away to take both my hands in hers and lead me to the bathroom. She dampened a washcloth and tenderly wiped my tear streaked face before turning the tap to fill the bathtub. I couldn't let go of her, and she held my hand as she added several generous scoops of sea salt to the steaming water.

Turning back to me, she removed my clothing carefully as I stood there taking deep, shuddering breaths. We still hadn't spoken and it was all I could do to simply touch her hair. I couldn't bear to look at her, and kept my eyes glued to the floor.

This was not how I'd pictured being naked before her for the first time, and I wanted to cover my limpness. Before I could, however, she took both my hands in hers and gently led me to the rapidly filling tub, steadying me as I stepped into the swirling water and sank down. I had to admit it was soothing and heavenly.

I involuntarily made a small noise of complaint in the back of my throat when she pulled away.

"I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here. Just a second," she said, reaching down to run her fingers across the top of my head. She stayed within my reach as she turned shyly away and unceremoniously stripped before me. Reaching into a vanity drawer, she pulled out a chopstick and quickly piled her hair on top of her head in a messy bun.

This was not how I'd pictured her being naked in front of me for the first time, either, and I could sense her shyness, but no hesitancy. Somehow we both seemed to understand that our nakedness wasn't about sexuality and lust, it was about vulnerability. Stripping away the final layers between us.

I took another deep, shuddering breath as she stepped into the water with me and sat down facing me, her hips between my feet, her feet mirroring mine around me. My hands dropped into the water and rested lightly on her shins. Again, she mirrored my actions and rested her hands on my legs. We were now immersed naked together and wrapped around each other in a comforting, non-sexual way.

"You can tell me anything, Edward. There's no one here but us. We are the only two beings on the planet right now. Please let me ease your pain. Share your burden. I want to love you. Please let me."

"I don't know if I can, Bella. It's so painful. I'm so ashamed," I barely breathed the last part, but I knew she could hear me. Two tears trickled down my cheeks, my eyes completely fixed on my lap and the limpness that bobbed in the water there mocking me.

She made a sound of concern in her throat and reached for my hand, pulling it slightly to get me to look at her. I resisted and buried my face in my free hand, taking one final shuddering breath before beginning.

"This is my biggest secret, Bella. Lots of people know, but not because I told. Because she told." I couldn't stop the bitterness from creeping into my voice.

Bella said nothing. Just softly ran her thumb across the back of my hand and waited. I could tell she spoke the truth – for her there was no one else in the world in that moment but me, and she'd wait as long as I needed to find the words to express what suddenly needed to be said. It was as if what had happened on the sofa lanced a large, deep abscess bringing forth hidden wells of pain, and the tears had washed the infection out, leaving behind the job of thoroughly cleansing the wound.

No time like the present.

I told her the whole shameful story. I left no detail out, not even how badly I had treated others sometimes in the name of popularity. How the girls all loved me and the guys all wanted to be me. That the most beautiful girl in school, Victoria, couldn't keep her hands off me.

"She had lots of experience and I had none. I think she guessed I didn't have a lot, but whatever I lacked, I made up for with enthusiasm.

"One night, we were suddenly naked in her bed and she was straddling me. We'd made out before, and had done some heavy petting, but this was a first. I was excited and nervous as hell. She was grinding herself all over me and I was ready to hand her my v-card.

"She suddenly lifted up and started to impale herself on me. I grabbed her hips and held her off. I wasn't wearing a condom. She brushed me off saying she was on the pill, but I insisted on protection. I'd never put a condom on before and I tried to put it on inside out. She lost her patience and grabbed it from me, turning it over and rolling it on while laughing at me for being a lame ass.

"She actually pinched my cheek and called me a little boy. When she reached for me again, she only found a semi, and that was it. My limpness was an insult to her. She was pissed and literally kicked me out of her bed before chasing me out of the house. By the time I got to class on Monday, everyone knew I couldn't get it up for the hottest chick in school.

"I was known as Limpy The Dickless Wonder, or Limpy for short, forever after that.

I'd become a complete joke in just over 24 hours. It totally sucked. My grades dropped, I quit all volunteer and extracurricular activities, and my dreams just dried up.

"I thought when I started U-Dub, everything would change, but it didn't. I've even gone to the psych clinic at school in desperation. I thought things would be different with you because things are so different with you. But, no. I'm nothing but a limp dick and I never will be anything else."

I sighed and squeezed her hand lightly, finally looking her in the eye and offering a small sad smile.

"Oh baby, I'm sorry you had such an awful experience. What a hateful bitch! Sex is a private, intimate thing between two people. It's simply horrible that she outed you like that. What a violation! Just tell me this – why didn't you fight back? I gather you didn't expose her as the aggressor?"

"No, I was so humiliated, I just couldn't. Who would have believed me anyway? I was a completely willing participant. She didn't force me to do anything. I really wanted to fuck her. My body simply failed me, and I couldn't live the reputation down. End of story. So, you're not squicked out by this?"

"No. I couldn't give a fuck about it. I've lived for hundreds of years without sex and I can live for hundreds more. Life is about so much more than sex to me."

"Are you saying you don't want me that way?"

"No, not at all. Hello! Were you not here an hour ago when I was begging you for more? It's just not the end all and be all for me that it is for others. What matters to me is you. Being with you whatever that looks like."


"Yes, really."

"You're serious. It really doesn't bug you."

"No. Not at all. I think I'd be more disturbed if you'd actually gone through with it. To give someone like that your virginity. You're worth so much more, Edward. So much."

I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing while blushing bashfully. It had been a long time since anyone had stood up for me, had accepted me in all my failings and weaknesses. I was really falling for this girl, woman, vampire, whatever the hell she was.

I sat forward and touched her cheek with my fingertips. "You're really something. You know that?" I brushed my lips across hers softly.

"Yeah, well," she responded. "The water's getting cold for the human. We'd better get out."

We moved to a large, white, fluffy rug in front of her fireplace. Our bodies remained in contact, but we weren't snuggling. Like the bath, this wasn't about cuddling, sex, and romance. This was about being completely vulnerable in front of each other and it was reflected in our nudity. We were consciously and intentionally stripping away the last barriers between us together. Something neither of us had ever done.

"I've never loved anyone in my life, Edward. I've only ever had friends at a distance. I avoid other vampires. I've never wanted to be close to anyone, not even when I was human. And I've never wanted to be kissed or touched. Ever. I've never felt safe with anyone but you. Only you," she said staring into the fire and playing with my fingers.

I was stunned by her admission. 500 years? Fuckin A! And I thought seven was some kind of record. Dude! "May I ask you a question, Bella?"

"Of course, you may ask me anything."

"Do you really believe you are cursed? Like forever?"

"Yes. I do."

"What does that mean exactly?"

"It means that I am to exist in solitary misery for all eternity. I can never have children. There will be no husband. I will always live on the fringes of existence. I may be surrounded by beings, but I am doomed to forever walk alone."

"Okay... So this curse thing. Is that why you've never changed anyone?"

"Yes, mostly. And I never will. I will not curse anyone else to this life. As you said, there's nothing to be done about the past. It's done now, but it sure fucks with the present," she smiled bitterly.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

I woke much later to the sun streaming in the windows of Bella's houseboat. As I stretched and rolled over, I realized I was still naked under the bedding. It was oddly comfortable. I slipped from between the sheets to find a handsome indigo and white cotton robe waiting for me across the end of the bed. I donned it and made a quick pit stop in the bathroom before heading into the kitchen.

I opened the fridge and found a pile of blood bags. Yeah, that's gonna take some time to get used to. I picked up a few to see if she had a particular type she liked. I wonder if AB- tastes different than O+. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason, as I found a little of everything in her stash.

There was an unexpected knock on the door, and I jumped, dropping the blood bags on the floor.

"Shit!" Thank fuck they didn't break.

I heard laughter, and Bella passed by the kitchen with a smirk on her face as she went to the entry.

"Who is it?" she called through the closed door.

"Yummy dot com with your order, ma'am," came the reply.

"Oh, right. The cash is in an envelope there on the bench by the door. I don't need any change."

"I see it. Would you like me to leave the groceries on the bench?"

"Yes, that would be perfect, thank you."

The rustling of bags could be heard through the wall.

"You have a good day, now."

"Thanks. You, too."

We could hear his footsteps retreating.

"I got some of your favorites as well as a few new things I thought you might like," she said as I stepped out the door to grab the bags.

The kitchen was so tiny that there really wasn't room for more than one, so she grabbed a blood bag from the fridge and retreated into the living room. Dude! That's a little intense. I shivered slightly before making quick work of putting the groceries away.

I grabbed a bottle of juice and a breakfast bar and joined her by the windows. It was clear by the wear on the chairs that this was her favorite spot. Her skin threw refracted rainbows all around the room.

"Aren't you worried about the neighbors?" I asked curiously. I had mostly seen her carefully crafted facade – the face she showed all humans. Her casualness about her real nature was new to me.

"Worried about the neighbors how?" she looked up from her book at me, confusion clear on her face. "Oh! You mean this?" She held up her arm, making the sparkles and rainbows shift and dance.

"Yeah, that."

"The windows are tinted so that I have complete privacy. We can see out clearly, but no one can see inside, not even at night when the lights are on. That's why no curtains or blinds. This is the one place I can completely be myself, and I like the idea of hiding in plain view. Actually makes for fewer questions than when I lived in more isolated locations."

"Makes sense, I guess." I sat down across from her. "Thanks for the robe, by the way. It's nice," I said fingering the soft cotton.

"It's a yukata from Japan. I love kimono and have quite a collection."

I noticed she had on a wifebeater and boy shorts. "Where's yours?" I asked playfully.

"I prefer as little clothing as possible when I'm home. Normally I'd have on nothing at all," she grinned wickedly at me, "but I didn't want to make you uncomfortable, so I aimed for something in between."

My eyes widened and she just chuckled in response before taking a sip from her bag.

I decided to change the subject. "I noticed that your stock is all different types. You don't have a preference, or does it all taste the same?"

"The types don't really taste different, each human does." She paused, letting that sink in. "I don't really have a preference honestly, what's important to me is the expiration date. I take from the blood bank only what is marked for destruction. For use in humans, blood drawn has a limited shelf life. For vampires, it doesn't matter. It may not taste as fresh, but the nutrition is the same either way. It's just a supplement for me anyway."


"Yeah. My main diet is animal. I've found I need a small percentage of human blood to keep me sharp and strong, and to make my eyes a more natural color."

"Huh," was all I could answer to that. I knew some of these things, but not to the detail she was now sharing with me. I abruptly realized things had shifted between us while I slept. That's typical. You slept through something important. And then it came to me that it wasn't a thing – an event – it was a process that began when she first began unveiling her secret.

"What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking about how things seem different this morning. You're more open, more detailed. I don't sense hesitation or calculation in your answers. It's more comfortable yet that's uncomfortable because it's new... Never mind, I'm not making any sense."

"Yes, you are. I understand completely, and you're right. It's nice, isn't it?"

"Yes, just a little strange. I think it'll take me a little time to get used to it."

"Yeah? Me, too." She smiled a shy, happy smile. One I'd never seen before but really, really liked.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

We spent the rest of the weekend at her place just hanging out, reading, watching a few dvd's, sharing companionable silence. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before and it was wonderful.

So many things I'd always feared or puzzled over how to handle in a relationship were simply non-issues for us. Maybe because it was all so new, or this was the first one for either of us, or that we weren't having sex, or maybe it was because she was vampire and I was human. I didn't know and couldn't have cared less. I simply basked in her loving acceptance and attention and did my best to return it in kind and with equal measure.

I never slept at my old apartment again after that. We didn't really talk about it per se, but I just couldn't return for any length of time to the bro pad hell hole. One night as we were closing the shop, she suggested we swing by my apartment and get the rest of my stuff. A couple of months had already passed, but the guys hadn't even noticed. They were surprised when I cleaned out my room with Bella's help, but didn't seem too concerned about covering my part of the rent starting at the end of the month.

When we got back to the houseboat, I found she'd already cleared space in several places for my gear. It wasn't like I was squeezed in at the edges and corners either. My few prized possessions were featured prominently in the living room, but the biggest surprise was the loft. She'd converted it into a study for me with bookshelves, file cabinet, sound system, comfy chairs, and a beautiful antique desk. I was completely overwhelmed, especially since the loft had some of the best views in the house, and had heretofore been her art studio and refuge within her oasis in the city.

I had no words, and when I wrapped her in my arms in gratitude, I realized none were needed. Looking in her eyes, I understood that it had been her joy to create this space for me. Her way to support me in my studies and hopefully future career. I finally got that she was not going to leave me or throw me out. That she really loved me, deeply and truly, and wanted me in her life always.

I didn't think it was possible for me to love someone like I loved her, and I loved her more every day. I pulled back enough to bend down and press my lips to hers. I poured my feelings into long, lingering kisses and felt the fire stir in my belly for the first time since that profound night months ago.

Of course we'd fooled around in the intervening time, but it was more loving, playful and sweet than passionate or lustful. And it wasn't like erections were a rare thing, either. They were naturally part of our interactions, but we both sort of ignored them, neither of us looking for an unpleasant repeat of the past.

I'd thought that the lack of sex and intense sex play would break any relationship, but it seemed to only make ours stronger. We'd come together pretty quickly, and as we'd learned, we both had trust and intimacy issues that could be explosive and had been individually damaging.

Bella had taught me that there really was more in life and intimacy than sex, and it was one of the many things I cherished about her. It was not that she didn't want me that way, but she made it plain that she was perfectly content if it never happened. This lack of pressure and new perspective allowed me breathing room and space to redefine sex in my own mind. I could see now that I'd placed way too much emphasis on it, and allowed it to define my life, to define me.

It was the best gift anyone had ever given me. She gave me myself back. She saw me exactly as I was, not as I could be, or would be, or might be, and she loved me in spite of – or maybe because of – all my frailties and foibles.

These thoughts flashed through my mind briefly, unexpectedly fueling the desire coursing through my body. I moaned and deepened our kiss, tasting her passion in my mouth. Things were rapidly getting heated as our hands began pulling at clothing, skin, hair – anything we could find to bring our bodies closer together. I tried really hard to stay present and in the moment with her, but failed as usual, and it wasn't long before my raging hard on deflated completely, extinguishing the fire with it.

I sighed deeply and pressed my forehead to hers, closing my eyes. "I'm sorry, Bella."

"Sorry for what? You have nothing to be sorry for." She touched my cheek gently and I opened my eyes to hers. "I love you no matter what. You are the one making a big deal out of this. I wish you'd just let it go. Please? For me?" She looked lovingly and longingly in my eyes. I could see she was completely sincere. Impossibly, I loved her even more in that moment.

"I'm doing my best."

"I know you are, sweetheart." She stretched up and kissed me gently. "Come, it's late and you've had a long day. I'd like to lay in your arms while you sleep. Okay?"

I nodded and allowed her to lead me downstairs to the bedroom. I didn't make it five minutes before I was sound asleep.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

When I woke, I was alone as usual. I'd been sporting some impressive morning wood lately, and this morning was no exception. My dick was a veritable tent pole under the bedding, and I couldn't help but feel a little proud – yet disappointed that I was the only one around to see.

I checked the alarm clock and was pleased that I was awake early enough to have a little extra time this morning. I slipped from our bed and headed for the shower without bothering to cover my nakedness. We rarely slept clothed anymore. Bella had broken me of that habit shortly after I the first weekend I stayed over, and it wasn't long after that that she instituted a clothing-optional rule for the whole house. That took a little getting used to, but I had to admit it was nice not having to worry about it.

I loved the instant hot water in the houseboat – tankless water heaters ruled. I stepped under the hard spray and reached for the body wash. Pleased and somewhat surprised that I still sported a decent hard on, I lathered my shaft and began stroking myself. Instead of softer, I got harder and couldn't hold back the moan in my chest. Christ, that felt good.

I stepped forward a bit so the spray cascaded down my back and put my free hand up on the shower wall to lean on as I began pumping my fist in earnest. Images of Bella began flashing in my mind, but instead of fearing them, I welcomed them. I imagined her opening the shower door and stepping in behind me. It was so real, I could almost smell her, feel her cool hand when she caressed my back.


I dropped my head and closed my eyes at the sensation and allowed myself deeper into the fantasy. She was now sliding her front all across my back, the water acting as a lubricant. It was amazingly erotic and I grew harder in my hand.

I felt her hand smooth down my arm and wrap around the outside of mine as I tightened it around my shaft. She was careful not to touch anything but my fingers with her hand as she followed my movements.

"Mmmmmmm. Feels good," I breathed, changing my pace and rhythm. Her body was now fully pressed up against mine, and only slightly cooler as the water and my body heated her stony flesh.

I wanted her fingers on my naked throbbing flesh for the first time. I wanted it like I'd never wanted anything before. I spread my fingers open, encouraging hers to move into the spaces between mine, and groaned gutturally when I felt her do so.

"Oh, Bella, uuuunng..."

The sensation of her finally touching me while I was bare, hot, and hard drove me to pump faster as I felt my climax nearing. She tightened her grip around me as I slid my fingers partway from under hers. She was now touching me more than I was, and it made me wild with passion and lust. I wanted this, I wanted her. God, did I want her.

Suddenly, my movement changed from still hips and pumping fist to thrusting hips and unmoving hand. I could almost see myself thrusting into her body over and over again as I pulled my hand the rest of the way from under hers and put it on the shower wall.

I began to make incoherent noises as my breath rasped in my throat. My movements became frenzied and I lost any sense of regularity in my rhythm. I was hovering right at the edge of orgasm. I made three more powerful thrusts and came hard all over the shower wall. My body arched, and I threw my head back shouting my ecstasy to the ceiling. I stilled momentarily in my bliss before dropping my head, pulling in deep breaths.

I opened my eyes finally, seeing my cum on the wall in front of me before dropping my gaze further downward. I froze.

"I-I-I... ahhhh... whaa..." I gurgled incoherently. I didn't actually believe my eyes and reached for myself to confirm by touch what it looked like I was seeing. My fingers confirmed it, but my mind still couldn't accept it as real. Her fingers were indeed wrapped around my slowly flagging cock.

I traced her arm around my body, and she was really behind me in the shower. She held perfectly still while I sorted this out for myself. I could feel my mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, but sound completely escaped me. I was totally dumbfounded and just stood there like a statue for several minutes until my brain finished processing.

"Y-y-your r-really h-here," I finally stuttered out. "I-I'm really here. In the shower. I, uh, I thought I was dreaming. In bed. Alone." Incredible.

She finally moved and let go of me to wrap both arms around my waist and squeeze.

"I didn't know for sure, but I thought it might be something like that. I felt you call to me while I was hunting. I came straight away because I hadn't felt you like that before. When I got close enough, I heard the shower and was confused until you moaned. By then, I was here, and almost couldn't get to you fast enough you were pulling me to you so forcefully. When I opened the door and stepped in behind you, it felt as if you were in a trance, and I let my intuition guide me in joining with your vision."

"Wait," I breathed. "You... felt... me?"

"Well, kind of. I heard you say my name in my head and felt an irresistible pull in my chest. I sensed you needed me. It's happened before, I just didn't say anything."

"That's just... wow. You're amazing." I turned within her arms. "I love you."

"I know. I love you, too."

"No. I mean I really love you."

She laughed. "I really love you, too."

"Bella, I fucking love you. I want to be with you forever. Please change me."

Her face fell immediately and her eyes dimmed. "I can't."

"Please, Bella? Please?"

"No, Edward. You know I can't." She dropped her eyes.

"Can't or won't?" I couldn't keep the hurt from my voice.

"Both," she said, looking back up at me. "I can't do that to you. I couldn't do it to a stranger I didn't care about, much less the man I love with all my heart. I just can't. I won't." Her tone brooked no argument and it was clear that for her the subject was closed.

Not wanting to spoil the moment further, I let it go, but it was far from over in my mind.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

I wish I could say the next six months were complete bliss. They weren't. My inconsistencies in the erection department continued. I never knew when it would be a yes, a no, or a maybe. After our success in the shower, I actually felt more pressure to perform, not less. Being with Bella that way was simply incredible and I wanted her more than I did before. I didn't even know that was physically or emotionally possible, but the cliche about ignorance is bliss because you don't know what you're missing? Yeah, that's fucking true.

But, it wasn't all bad news in the sex department. The experience upped the ante for Bella, too, and while my dick might not be in the game with the rest of us, I wasn't going to let my girl down. It just pushed me to become more creative with my fingers and tongue. I'd watched my fair share of porn for the stimulation as well as to learn something about how to do it before I actually was faced with doing it.

So, when Bella and I started fooling around for real, all I knew was what I'd learned by watching porn – boobs, nipples, fingering, clit licking and rubbing, anal, vag and blow jobs. She'd never even touched herself before, so I supposedly was the one with more experience between the two of us. However, I was so body conscious and awkward at first, my head filled with all sorts of unrealistic expectations, cultural and moral messages, and locker room misinformation that it took me quite a while to become comfortable with real physical intimacy.

"Sex is natural, so don't push it, Edward."

"How would you know, Bella?"

"I don't from personal experience. Just observation. Our bodies speak to each other and will know when the other is ready. Nudity is really no big deal. It's how we come into this world – a body's just a body." She shrugged.

It became a game – a very fun game, I might add – between us to find new and intriguing ways to tease and turn on the other without going for the usual spots on the body. I got her one night without touching her by just breathing on her skin and hovering my hand close enough to feel the electricity hum between us, my heat radiating into her trembling body until just at the very end when I barely smoothed a single fingertip over her clit. The memory of that still put a grin on my face. It was amazing to know that I, limp dick extraordinaire, could bring such pleasure to a woman. My woman.

"What are you thinking about my love?"

I was pulled from my reverie by her soft voice.

"You. What else?"

"What about me? I want to know what specifically put that glorious smile on your face along with that in your hand," she raised an eyebrow playfully while gesturing to a promising erection I hadn't even noticed I had or was palming in my lap.

Sheepishly, I grinned even wider. "I was thinking about that night I drove you crazy without touching you.

"Ah, yes," she said, biting her lip. "That was quite an experience. You're rather proud of that, aren't you?"

I blushed but held her gaze, challenging her back. "Yes, yes I am. It's one of the crowning achievements in my life," I teased.

She just hummed in response.

"Would you like a repeat performance?"

"Hmmm. Tempting. But I had another idea in mind."

"Oh, what's that?"

"I'd rather show than tell."

"Sounds promising. Show me."

And she did. For several hours. It was a yes night, and I came spectacularly for her. It was a slow road, overcoming all my training to wilt at coldness when she was so cold herself, not counting the fact that human male gonads were biologically designed to do so. We usually ended up in the tub or shower where she could warm her skin with water. Tonight was no different, and we were basking intertwined in the candlelit tub, cuddling in the afterglow.


"Yes, love?"

"I'm curious about something."


"Um..." Dude, this is awkward. Just forget it.

"What sweetheart?"

"I was just wondering... I know you were a virgin when he turned you..."


"Well, um..." For christsakes, just spit it out! "Bella, what happened to your hymen?" I blushed deeply.

"Oh! It was broken in a childhood accident when I was a little girl. A group of rowdy boys were playing a game and I got in their way. They pushed me to the ground roughly and I landed hard on a sharp rock with my legs splayed open. I bled so much they ran for help. The midwife told me what happened, that my maidenhead had been broken in the fall and that's what had caused the bleeding."

"That must have hurt."

"It did, but I was more scared than hurt. I never thought about it one way or the other before, but now I'm glad because that's something we don't have to worry about – my granite skin coming between us." She tilted her head up and kissed me softly.

"I thought you didn't care about sex. That it wasn't important to you. That you could live without it."

"That's true. I've watched others find a sort of animalistic pleasure and release from sex, but I didn't think that the intimacy and connection we share was actually possible. I thought it was a myth, a fantasy – the stuff of legends. You've shown me differently. I want to join with you. I want to be with you. I want to feel you moving inside me as I look into your eyes. I want it all with you, Edward. Only you. And only when the time is right for both of us. I know it will happen when we're ready. Until then, what we do is all I need." She captured my lips with hers and I was lost in her all over again.

– ◈ ◊ ◈ –

Things began to happen rapidly in the months following. Graduation neared and an adjunct teaching position opened up in my department that I was offered and accepted. I brought up her changing me regularly, but she remained resolute in her refusal while I begged, pleaded, and cajoled to no effect.

The night before graduation, I finally burst in my frustration and desperation and asked the questions I feared the most.

"Bella, what if I were dying? Wouldn't you turn me then? Would you not save me and keep me with you forever?"

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering. "No, my love. I would not. I simply cannot do this to you. I love you too much. I would miss and mourn you for the rest of my existence, but no. No, my love I would not."

I was stunned into silence. "You seriously wouldn't save me?"

"No. Because it would not be saving, it would be cursing."

"You could let me go. Just like that."

"It would be painful and hard. But I have seen a lot of death in my very long life. It's just a part of immortality. Everyone dies eventually except me and those like me. Trust me on this when I say this is really not a life you want."

"You can't make that decision for me! I want you! I want to be with you FOREVER. What part of that don't you understand?"

"Human emotions change. I've seen it. I've felt it. Mine don't. It is as if I'm cast in stone at the moment of change. And if they do change, the change is equally permanent. You won't feel this way forever, trust me."

"That's bullshit! I love you now! If you change me now while I love you this much, I will love you forever. You just said it yourself – cast in stone at the moment of change."

She drew a quick breath and her eyes widened. Ha! Wasn't expecting that one, huh?

"Regardless, Edward. It doesn't matter. It doesn't change anything. We've been over and over this. I won't do it, and that's final. Please, just drop it. Please."

I couldn't refuse her when she begged like that; and she was so resolute and calm I knew I was defeated yet again. I sighed and nodded my acquiescence, pulling her into my arms. It was hard for either of us to see the other's point of view, and arguing was getting us nowhere. I was really stubborn, but something told me she'd out-stubborn me on this one.

I sighed again and said, "Let's go take a bath. Tomorrow's a big day and I don't want to fight anymore."

She agreed without hesitation.

Graduation day passed as they all do, with pomp and circumstance, nerves and tears. It was a long, stressful day at the end of a long, stressful week. Once home, our clothes made a trail to the bathroom door. I couldn't wait another second to be shed of them. The steaming stream of water had never felt so good. I stood still and let it pound the last of the tension from my shoulders and neck. I started to lather up quickly, more in shower mode than making love mode, but Bella's hands took the soap and cloth from mine.

"Please let me," she said, and I all too happily obliged. I never tired of feeling her fingers on me, her skin on mine. The last bits of tiredness and tension rinsed down the drain with the lather. "I celebrate you and all you've accomplished in the last year. Happy anniversary, my love," she murmured, massaging shampoo into my hair and scalp.

"Wow, that's right. We met a year ago today. Happy anniversary, my love." I kissed her. "Anything I've accomplished is because of you, Bella. You've inspired me to be a better man. Your love and acceptance have brought out the best in me, the me that I lost so long ago. Thank you is lame, but it's all I've got."

"You're welcome, sweetheart, though no thanks are needed. You've done the same for me. Please know this."

"I do, or at least I'm learning to." I smiled at her, turning off the water. "Shall we?"

"We shall," she said, exiting the shower and handing me a towel.

On our way up to the deck, I paused in my study long enough to grab my iPod and portable speakers. It was late and the deck was screened from the prying eyes of others. We came up here bare regularly for stargazing, but tonight I only had eyes for Bella. I selected a song and slipped up behind her wrapping my arms around her waist as she looked at the sky.

"Dance with me," I whispered into her hair.

She merely turned in my arms with a smile and placed one hand on my shoulder as I took her free hand in mine, resting my other at her waist. Delicate notes wafted on the gentle evening breeze. I pulled her close and rested my cheek on her head, swaying softly with her. I was filled with a new yet old feeling I couldn't quite place my finger on.

Contentment. Yes, that's the feeling. I want for absolutely nothing in this moment. I need nothing. Desirelessness? I thought that was empty and I feel filled to overflowing...

I heard Bella singing quietly with the song and pulled back to look at her. I had seen love shining from her eyes before many times, and there was nothing special or extraordinary in her face as she sang to me, "You took a chance and you took the fall for us."

I dropped her hand to cup her cheek in mine as I sang her the next few lines, "You came thoughtfully, loved me faithfully. You taught me honor, you did it for me..."

She pulled my face to hers and kissed me with tender passion and slow burning fire. The music faded from my ears, the breeze from my skin and I was left with only the feeling of her in my arms, her breath in my mouth, my heart pounding in my chest.

I groaned pulling her closer, deepening our kiss. With the busyness of the last month, there had been little time or energy for this kind of connection. Some flirty fun, yes, but not fire and intimacy. My body twitched and hardened promisingly. We embraced there for a long time, neither wanting to break our kiss. She finally pulled away and led me to our bedroom below.

Sliding between the sheets, she held her arms out to me and I joined her without hesitation. I couldn't get enough of her – her sighs, her breathy moans, her touch, her taste, her smell. This wasn't about who could excite whom more. There was no game here, there was only sensation, emotion, connection. The giving and receiving of pleasure in equal measure.

I had never felt anything like it before in my life. It was intense, powerful. There was no flagging, no hesitation, no worry or concern. I was dimly aware that I could go on like this for hours, days maybe. My erection came and went and came again. No matter. That was no longer the important thing here. This wasn't about me anymore than it was about her. We were forming something new between us, a third thing, a living, breathing we.

"Bella, Bella, Bella," I breathed into her skin. "Oh my beautiful Bella..."

"Edward, oh..." she gasped. "My love, I didn't know... I never knew..."

I swallowed her words with my lips, my teeth, my tongue. I wanted this woman. I burned for her. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but for the first time I just knew it would. We would find a way together.

"Oh! Edward... ah... I want you," she groaned rolling me onto my back, trailing cool open mouthed kisses down my neck.

"Ung... Bella, ah... oh, my love... I want you, too... But..."

She silenced me with her finger to my lips. Leaning over me, she opened the nightstand drawer. "I bought us a few things in case we ever... you know," she finished shyly. In her hand was warming lube and some sort of ring.

"Wha... Is that..."

"Yes, it's a cock ring."

"Oh my. I like how you think." I couldn't stop the grin from spreading across my face.

"I hope that's not all you like about me," she giggled and rolled onto her back, bringing me with her.
"Stop thinking, Edward." She chuckled seductively. "I love your mind, but it's your body I want to talk with right now."

"Yes ma'am," I grinned against her lips before devouring them. As much as I wanted to take things slow and had fantasized about our first time being special – maybe rose petals in the bed or a long romantic soak in the bathtub – this was definitely not that. I was trying not to grasp and groan, but it was a losing proposition. She clutched and clung to me, pressing herself as tightly to me as she could. And the sounds she was making were driving me wild with desire. I was panting heavily, the parts of my body not against hers coated in a light sheen of sweat.

The realization that this was finally it, we were really going to this, caused me to become harder for the first time ever. My limp dick was a distant memory and I cried out when she wrapped both hands around me and squeezed lightly. My hand instantly sought out her lower lips, the slippery wetness I knew I would find there. I felt her slip something around my shaft and jerked away from her reflexively.

"It's just the cock ring, baby. Pull here, and it will loosen," she demonstrated before tightening it down again. She then applied a small amount of the warming lube.

"Oh my God... Ungh... that feels..." I simply had no more words as my fingers found her entrance and slipped in of their own volition.

Her body arched against mine and I watched her eyes roll slightly up into her head before they closed and she cried out. That sound coming from her lips made me twitch against her thigh. My dick wanted to be where my fingers were. Badly.

She was tight, but I knew I would fit. The skin on the outside of her body was hard and immutable, but this hidden inner skin was softer, more yielding, and felt like velvet over steel. I didn't even notice that I was more or less groaning continuously now, my breathing ragged and uneven, my fingers pumping with a slow, steady rhythm.

"I... ungh... please..." she gasped, not able to speak coherently, her eyes burning and desperate. Her hand brushed mine away before grabbing my throbbing shaft.

"Bella," I ground out before kissing her with complete abandon. I didn't want to be on top of her and she couldn't be over me. I hitched her upper leg around my hip as our bodies moved together, desperate to unite. She moved her hand out of the way so I could position myself at her entrance, the tip eagerly reaching inside of her.

I pressed forward not knowing what to expect. Her hips thrust forward to meet mine. As I sank into her, she embraced me fully. Our eyes widened, our mouths formed into "o's" and we groaned together never breaking eye contact.

I felt my hardness lessening despite the cock ring and warming lube, but it was not because of my mind this time. It was simply a natural biological human male response to cold on the gonads. Beyond that, it was mind-blowing being inside her as we tried to move together. Me, clumsy and awkward; she, graceful and rhythmic. Bella touched my temple lightly and pressed her forehead to mine in a silent reminder to stop thinking and drop into the feeling.

As I felt the coil tighten in my groin, I kissed her hard. "Argh... I'm not... oh... too good... so tight... wet..." I moaned before long. It felt too good and I was continuing to soften. Not gonna last much longer. "Baby... Bella... are you close..."

"No, love. Please don't wait... You feel so good... but, no..."

In desperation, I reached between us and wrapped my hand around my cock. The warmth instantly brought much needed hardness and I tightened the cock ring further. In my groping and fumbling, I stopped my hips and when I began moving them again, we suddenly found our tempo and began moving together in harmony.

I thought I'd explode from the connection, but amazingly, I held on. Because my hand was in the way, I couldn't fully penetrate her, but I needed the warmth to remain hard enough to penetrate at all. As she began grinding on me harder and faster, I stilled and twisted my hand so my thumb came into contact with her clit in the way she needed. Her cries increased in intensity and volume, so I knew I'd stumbled onto something that was bringing her closer to the edge. As I pressed more and began to slide more of my fingers against her, she thrust harder and harder in return. I could feel myself beginning to bruise but I no longer cared. I felt her walls fluttering around me and knew she must be getting close to release.

This fired my own passion and I met her pounding with my own relentless thrusts. I used my fingers with my erection to stimulate as many points as possible on both of us. My movements became more and more erratic as my orgasm began circling my belly. I lost track of what I was doing as we thrashed against each other. I dug my fingers into my own flesh trying to hold on long enough to come inside her. When I felt the edge of my fingernail dig in painfully, inspiration struck. My emotions ran away with any logic that might have been left in my overwhelmed brain.

Yes! I can do this! She won't give in, I know it. But I'll do it for us.

I didn't pause, I didn't think, I acted. I reacted. I bit my lip hard, squeezed my eyes shut, and turned my fingernails on my most sensitive flesh. It took three or four thrusts and more pressure than I expected until I finally felt a fingernail pierce my skin and the pain only drove me on. I'd heard about pain being pleasurable, but I wasn't a believer until that instant.

I dug deeper and pressed harder feeling the pulsing begin, knowing my orgasm was at hand. The skin split in several places from my unrelenting nails as my balls tightened and the hot streams started to pour forth. I let go and plunged into her fully over and over as I rode out the violent bliss that shook my body, stilling buried deep within her. My cry was guttural and victorious as I felt heat enfold me, driving away the cold. I collapsed on her, temporarily unable to move, unwilling to even if I could. I knew I needed the most exposure of her venom mixing with my blood for it to take.

I lay panting, trying to catch my breath as she writhed and moaned beneath me. I didn't know if she'd come or not I was so lost in my own experience. When I felt the burning start in my groin in earnest, I no longer cared anyway. Yes, the burning was painful, but it was a price I'd pay gladly to be with her forever.

"Edward?" she cried out. "Edward! What have you done?" I vaguely felt her pull my hand from behind her back as the fire spread quickly. "No! Edward, I don't want this!" she wailed. I could not move on my own and I could barely hear her over the flames now roaring in my ears. "Edward! How could you do this? You betrayed me! You took this from me! I don't want you to...."

Her voice faded away completely, and I wondered what I would find when I finally woke up. I didn't think she'd leave me, but I suddenly wasn't so sure about anything.

A/N: Lyrics from "My Love" written by Sia Furler and Oliver Kraus

Copyright © 2010 mostly a lurker