Saturday, June 30, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Coming Home Pic Tease


Coming Home Chapter 52 - Edward

~oOo~

From: EAMasen
To: Bella Swan
Date Sent: Fri, May 21, 2010 at 12:34 P.M.
Date Received: Fri, May 21, 2010 at 12:24 A.M.
Subject: The docs gave me a thumbs up!

Hey, my Bella...

I'm sorry I'm late getting back to you, but I slept for most of yesterday and then had to let the docs give me the once-over. The swelling in my ribs has gone down, so all that's left is the bruising and the tenderness, but even that is getting a little better. Stephens still wants me off my feet til Monday, so I'm stuck. And I'm so utterly fucking bored sitting around here. I think I've reread every email we've sent, read every book I own, and stared at your pictures more times that I probably should. **grin**

Miss Swan, your orders this weekend, besides whatever naughty pictures you're planning on taking, are to get some rest. At least sleep in one day, would you? I know that when I got hurt, they woke you up, and you probably didn't go back to sleep, did you? **raising an eyebrow up at you** No, you didn't. So please? For me? Try to rest, okay?

Traveling with you...Hmm... I'd love to show you Chicago. Just because I don't want to live there doesn't mean I didn't love it. I think you'd like the food, the busy city, and I'd like to show you where I grew up. If we're talking outside the country, then I'm with you on Australia and Europe. And yeah, Seattle is totally first...

My cock... Oh, Isabella. You make me blush... And I really, really need to hear that word from you, not see it written down in an email. Something just gets lost in translation, I think. You know what they say about curiosity, don't you, my love? ;) I could so tease you. I'm smaller than a torpedo, but bigger than a bullet? LMAO Let me put it this way, love... I'm a perfectly healthy man that's proportioned to my size 11 shoe, my 6' 2" frame, and my hands that can span a full octave on the piano. I've never had one complaint, except maybe soreness the next day. To put it bluntly, I'm over 8 1/2" completely hard, which seems to be the norm these days, especially when I talk to you, which also means I have the cleanest fucking dick in the United States Army! Happy? (I had the doc measure...just for you. ;) At least he'll keep that shit to himself.)

God, I love you, sweetheart. I find myself laughing at something you've written or said all times of the damn day or night. You are hands down the best thing that's ever happened to me. And I miss your voice. I want to call you this weekend before you go back to work and before I go back on duty. Can we plan a call...say Sunday?

Your plans for your house sound perfect to me. I can't wait to play for you, help you move stuff around, to sleep next to you. And I'm so very jealous of all the things you're planning to do over the summer. :( I never thought of school as fun, but if YOU were in my class, I just might enjoy it. It's good that you get to see your parents. I know your dad is in Washington, and you mentioned in a previous email that your mom is in Florida. Whereabouts?

I'm going to go play poker with Jazz and Em. Write back soon.

Love you,
Edward

P.S. Your turn to squirm, Miss Swan, because this is payback. Question... Where is the most interesting or craziest place you've ever had sex? My answer is... I'm not sure yet. YET, Isabella, because I promise you that no place will be sacred when I get to you. Nowhere. Cars, public places, elevators, stairwells...nowhere. Trust me.

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 51 - Bella

~oOo~

From: Bella Swan
To: EAMasen
Date Sent: Thurs, May 20, 2010 at 6:18 A.M.
Date Received: Thurs, May 20, 2010 at 6:18 P.M.
Subject: You caught me... My secret life as a circus clown.

Hey, handsome.

I'm so out of it, I'm actually drinking real coffee! (Ok, so I doctored it up with lots of milk & sugar, but still...) I was so exhausted all day yesterday that I ended up falling asleep last night about 7:00, and I slept all the way through until just a few minutes ago, when I stumbled out of bed. I'm not quite all the way awake yet, but I feel better than I did by last night, that's for sure.

I wish there was a way for me to visit you this summer, but since there isn't, I've begun making plans. I told my dad when I was there last that I'd come for a couple of weeks, and I emailed my mom last night and asked if she'd like the girls and me to come down for a bit, too. I also have a couple of classes scheduled to take at the university (I signed up for a business class and an Educational Psychology course that looked interesting.), just to have something to keep myself busy while you're away.

*snort* Edward Masen, if I really wanted to ask how big your cock was, I'd come out and ask. ;) Yeah, babe, of course I'm serious about wanting to get your piano here. The only place I can imagine it fitting without absolutely crowding us out of house and home is the spare bedroom/office. And that's totally fine. No one comes to visit and stays for any length of time, and with my laptop, I can set up at the kitchen table or just on the couch if I'm not grading papers. We can put the double bed that's in there into storage, either move the small desk into the other bedroom or just get rid of it, and then turn the spare room into a music room. We *might* (I'd have to measure to be sure) be able to fit a love seat in there, as well as a small bookshelf, so we can both be in there at the same time. I can sit and read while I listen to you play or whatever.

I've seen a few episodes of Once Upon a Time, but they kind of lost me as a viewer when the sheriff was killed. :( I do love the idea of all you big macho men sitting around, debating fairytales and such. **laugh**

Hmm, what would I change about myself? Physically, sometimes I feel like my nose is a little too big or my jaw/face is a little too wide. I also have a bigger behind than I'd like, although I try to stay in shape enough that it doesn't get too big. heh I'd also like to figure out how to save more money than I do. I mean, it's not like I don't know HOW to, but that I have a hard time doing it. I spent way too much money on books, pretty things from Victoria's Secret, and what not and only put a little into savings.

Oh, baby, just you wait... I have already picked out the stuff I'm going to wear on Saturday when we take pictures. You wanted blue lingerie, Sarge, you're getting blue lingerie. Any requests? ;)

I'd better go start getting ready for school. Before I go, though... Question time. *grin*

If you could travel anywhere in the world (yes, I know your answer would be Seattle...but say that isn't an option...or say it's WITH me. LOL), where would you go – and why?

For me, it would have to be a tie between Paris (It's the city of love, after all. ;) ), Tuscany (I've heard it's absolutely beautiful.), and Australia. For some reason, I've always wanted to visit. Maybe it's the kangaroos, or maybe it's just the accent. LOL Really, I'd love to just visit Europe and travel everywhere – Scotland, Ireland, England, Italy, France...

I love you, babe. Sending you lots of kisses to your chest to make it feel better!

Love,
Bella

P.S. By the way... How big ARE you? ;)

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 50 - Edward

~oOo~

From: EAMasen
To: Bella Swan
Date Sent: Thur, May 20, 2010 at 8:32 A.M.
Date Received: Wed, May 19, 2010 at 8:32 P.M.
Subject: At least the drug induced visions are entertaining...

My love...

I'm so fucking bored! And it's only day two of being stuck alone in bed. The only reason I want to stay in bed is when I'm finally with you. When I'm alone in bed, I think of you, and that is still a problem.

Hmm...a secret circus performer... Does that mean you're all bendy and stuff? Or maybe you just tame lions for a living? I know! You secretly wear really big shoes and bright wigs. No, wait, that shit's just frightening. Never mind. But let's go back to the bendy situation... LOL

I'm so glad that Christopher is doing better, sweetheart. That's the best news! I can't believe that your school year is almost over. It makes me wish I was stateside. I think I'd beg, plead, crawl on broken glass to get you to come to me, even if it was just for a day. Of course, once I have you, I may not let you go.

Okay, so we'll drop the 20 part of it. Just...Question Time... Marriage and kids, huh? Let's see how best to answer this. I envied my parents' relationship because what the Wicked Witch and I had never measured up. She wanted marriage, kids, the picket fence, but she wanted those things as a status symbol, not because she wanted them with me. I avoided the topic. Always. I mean, if I didn't even want to admit that going to college together was not something I wanted, then getting married was absolutely out of the question.

Marriage is the ultimate in commitment to me, love, because I can only imagine doing it once. So yes, I see myself married in the future. The fact that I'm discussing it with you means more than you imagine. I think the same goes for kids, too. I'm certainly not opposed to the idea of kids. And I find myself smiling like an idiot as I write this, because I can't wait to figure all this shit out with you.

Oh, Isabella... Are you sure you're asking how big my...piano is? Are we back to that again, you nosy little thing? ;) I'm pretty sure I've given you...ample hints. LOL

My piano is a baby grand, so it will take up a lot of space, sweetheart. Are you sure about moving it? Really? It would mean a lot if I could bring it with me, because yeah, baby...I would love to play for you. Anytime, anything you want.

Guilty pleasures are kind of funny around here... You'd be surprised just how many military men are hooked on reality shows, soap operas, and romance novels. LOL Video games are an easy thing to get addicted to, and I do play occasionally. Emmett and Jasper play Madden football all the time. It's obvious that I have a sweet tooth, Bella, so your cookies feed that pretty damn well. But I will admit that there is a group of us that are kinda wrapped up in that new show... Once Upon a Time. We can't help it, because every last character from every fairy tale we'd heard about as kids is in it, but they're all living in modern times and they don't know who they are! Even funnier is watching these giant men arguing about Cinderella, Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin. **laugh**

My turn for a question. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Physically, it would probably be my hair...though I've learned to live with it. It just sticks up every-damn-where, no matter what I do to it. While I've been over here, I try to keep it cut close. Emotionally, I guess I wish I could just block shit out and not worry about the next few months. I just want time to fly. I'm ready to start my life over...with you.

I'm going to make my way down to the mess tent, beautiful, then take some meds and go back to bed.

I love you so fucking much,
Edward

P.S. I'm a weak and desperate man, Isabella, especially when it comes to you. You're responsible for whatever happens when you send those pictures you're about to pose for. Have mercy on me, love. And if you don't, then brace yourself for the consequences.

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 49 - Bella

~oOo~

From: Bella Swan
To: EAMasen
Date Sent: Wed, May 19, 2010 at 5:47 P.M.
Date Received: Thurs, May 20, 2010 at 5:47 A.M.
Subject: What? You didn't know I was secretly a circus performer? ;)

Aww, sweetie, I hope the meds have kicked in by now! Drugged dreams are always fun, aren't they? I had some pain pills when I broke my ankle a few years ago, and man, they made me loopy!

I'm glad to hear your CO told you to take a few extra days off. You need to be feeling completely better before you go back out in the field so you're at a hundred percent. No, you can't control the actions of others, but being at top performance yourself will help, so take the time and let your body heal. You hear me, Sarge?

Edward, I'm not going anywhere. Yes, I was scared out of my mind, but never once did I doubt that my place is beside you, supporting you, even from thousands of miles away. If you can be strong enough to fight in Afghanistan, I can be strong enough to sit here in my comfortable little house, with almost everything I could ever want, and love you. So just put that fear that I'm going to run kicking and screaming out of your head. I'm. Not. Going. Anywhere. And come October? I'll be right there, waiting. Jazz and Em are right. We are your family now. I am your future, and you are mine, so get used to it, Masen. ;)

I totally understand not being able to keep your parents' house. I don't know how big it is or how much space I have right now, but somehow, some way, when you get out here, we're going to get that piano from storage and find someplace to put it here with us. I want you to have that connection to your mom, to your past, and the good memories that come with it. I want to sit beside you when you play, and I want to listen as you come up with new melodies. So that piano is coming here, no doubt about it.

Today was a good day for the kids. They are all just positively itching to get out of school, so they are hyper as fuck. We have a countdown calendar, so they've each been getting a turn in taking away a number. Today was Christopher's day, and I just have to say that he looks better than I've seen him in a while. He's still shy, quiet, but he had more smiles today than he's had in months. He brought his own lunch today, too, and there was so much food, he had leftovers, which he never had before. I can tell Kathy and Jim are doing wonders for him. It makes my heart feel close to bursting at how much better he's doing, and it's only been a few days. Kids are resilient creatures. They continually amaze me.

Ok, let's see... 20 Questions time. (Honestly, I have no idea how far in we are...but 10 questions, 20 questions...30? It doesn't matter. I want to know everything about you, because every little thing I learn makes me love you that much more.)

I have two today. One...what is your guilty pleasure? Be it food, music, movie, whatever. What are you almost ashamed to admit you like? *laugh* For me...oh damn, don't think any less of me, but for me it's the Real Housewives of...well, anywhere. I can't help but love the stupid drama of those shows. They make my life seem calm and peaceful and so very normal. LOL

Ok, so...two... Do you see yourself married? Kids? Growing up, with my parents as an example, I was sure that marriage wasn't for me. I also never felt the need to be a mother. Becoming a teacher made me think that maybe I could have kids, because the joy of seeing them grow, learn...it's amazing. And...until you...I still wasn't sure about the other. Now? I can't imagine my life without you in it. Does that mean marriage? I don't know. I find my view on that maybe changing, too. Hearing your obvious love as you talk about your parents and their marriage gives me hope that not every marriage will end up like my parents'.

My stomach is trying to crawl out of my body in search of food. I didn't eat much at lunch, so I'm going to go see what I have in the freezer that I can heat up in the oven. I think I have some meatballs and sauce, so I may throw some water on to boil and have spaghetti.

I love you, Edward. (Fuck, it feels good to say that...)

Bella

P.S. The girls and I are getting together this weekend to take some pictures for you and the boys. Although...just so you know now...the ones of me will be for your eyes only. I think I told you I have blue of...in all aspects of my wardrobe...right? I think it's high time you see what I mean. ;)

~oOo~

Thursday, June 28, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Fate Interrupted Chapter 6

~oOo~

Chapter 6

BPOV

My phone bleeped from my pocket, and I scowled at the message from Alice.

A: Twenty-two minutes. And you'll live. I promise.

I tsked, rolling my eyes at her, and shoved my phone back into my pocket. I went back to helping Esme re-pot a few flowers. It was just the two of us in the back yard for the moment, though Edward wasn't far and Carlisle was inside the house. Everyone else had gone to meet the Denali clan and go for a hunt.

"Isabella, what's wrong with you?" Esme laughed, nudging my shoulder with her own. "If looks could kill, my poor daisies would be withered."

"Nothing," I scoffed, shaking my head and forcing my attention on the task at hand.

I had no luck whatsoever with gardening, but Esme insisted it was a calming activity, which it was, but only because her presence made it that way. If it were all on me, the poor garden would look like the Apocalypse had hit. When she first started to teach me, I was heavy handed and had no patience for it, but I'd been an angry newborn at the time. Now it was our time to chat, though I wasn't feeling very talkative at the moment.

"Liar," she chuckled, shaking her head.

"Alice says they're on their way," I said softly, not elaborating on my mood, but as usual, it came spilling out to her in a hiss. "Did we have to call them? I mean, really? It's just that... Okay, calling them was fine, but did they have to come here?"

"They merely want to show their support for Carlisle, dear," she soothed, gracefully pulling one plant from its pot and slipping it into a bigger, prettier planter.

I wanted to call bullshit when I heard it, because I knew them, but I didn't. "No, Carmen and Eleazar are coming to show their support. The rest are just...curious, and you know it."

"Maybe," she said, cracking the fuck up.

She knew how I felt about the three Denali sisters. Well, more specifically...one Denali sister. Tanya. I'd been introduced to them not long after my change. We'd stayed in Alaska for a few months in order to get not only my finances squared away but to give me a chance to relax after Charlie's death. They'd all been very welcoming until they'd heard why I'd been changed. Or really...the who behind the reason for my change: Edward. Then they went from welcoming to regaling me with endless stories because they'd met him decades back – and they'd all wanted him.

Tanya, Kate, and Irina were considered the original succubi. They were stunning, possessing powers that drew in men. If they wanted someone, they got them. Emmett called it their "voodoo mojo." Now, they shared the same diet as we did, but back when they'd first been changed, they would lure human men into their beds, give them the highest of sexual pleasure, only to finally drain them. The diet had changed, but their love of men had not. And I wasn't so sure they cared whether the men were human or not.

They also couldn't be any different from each other. Kate was my favorite of the three. She had long blonde hair, a carefree attitude, and a sweet smile. We both shared a love of books. Irina was a bit more playful and mischievous, with a touch of a mean streak in her. And then there was Tanya, who wore her beauty and her power like a warm, winter coat. It was practically an aura around her. Her walk, her gestures, her speech, even a toss of her strawberry blonde hair – it all dripped with endless carnal and sensual knowledge.

When the three women had found out about Alice's vision concerning Edward being my mate, they'd scoffed, not believing he'd ever come back. But that didn't mean that they didn't tell me all about him – from their point of view.

Every last one of them had tried to bed him, but he'd politely declined them – a thought that still made me smile. Kate had called him "deliciously handsome," telling me that his quiet, cool nature was sexy. Irina had called him "a tall drink of water," with hair that begged to be pulled. Tanya, however, said that he was "hung like a horse" and had the potential to be "an amazing lover." How she knew the former, I'd never know, because I was petrified to ask. In all honestly, the three woman had scared me back then.

"Why is Aro taking so damn long?" I asked, squishing the flower I was supposed to be re-potting down into its new home. "It's utterly ridiculous in this day and age for it to take this long to travel. He's probably got more money that God Himself, yet Alice hasn't seen them leave Italy. He could just...I don't know...charter a fucking plane," I ranted, instantly regretting my language. "Sorry..."

"Sweetheart, you're tearing up my marigolds," she chuckled, gently taking the pot from me and pushing it away. She turned me to face her, whispering, "No one is taking him from you, Bella. Not Aro and certainly not those hussies from Alaska." She kissed my cheek when I smirked at her. "He's your mate, and he loves you. You watch how that works if those three get a wild idea in their head because he not only will hear it, he'll hate it. He despised it back then, and he'll be no different now." She paused just long enough for me to nod. "As far as Aro is concerned, well...no one threatens my family. If he can't accept us, then we'll fight. We've done nothing wrong, according to their rules. And they can't separate mates. It's a concrete law."

I could see that she was nervous, but she was determined that the right would win out in this situation. I wanted to believe her, and there was a part of me that did. I was just angry enough to know that if push came to shove, I'd kill anyone that touched my family. And I'd completely snap if they tried to touch a hair on Edward's head. But Carlisle wanted us calm, cool, and collected. He wanted to approach the Volturi with facts and reason and a polite decline to their invitation of joining them. He wanted to prove that we were better than they were.

"Do you think that's what Felix meant? When he told me that they'd be bringing their wives, do you think he meant for me to do something about it?" I asked her, but it was my favorite smooth, velvet voice that answered me.

"That's exactly what he meant," Edward said, setting two bags of potting soil down on the table that Esme had sent him to the shed for. "In his mind, he saw it coming down to a fight. He sees the wives as...um, leverage, so to speak."

I nodded, trying to wrap my head around that, but said nothing. I'd never been in a real fight before. Wrestling matches with my brothers, yes...a true battle, definitely not.

Turning back to the table, I reached for one of the bags that he'd brought. "Alice said they're almost here," I mumbled, "so I guess we'd better finish this..."

"I'll finish here, Bella. Go get cleaned up," Esme said, shooing both of us away from her table. "Go!" she laughed. "And don't touch anything but the kitchen sink! Both of you."

"God, you're so bossy!" I teased her with a laugh, absolutely loving the sound of Edward's amused chuckle at us. "Heaven forbid a speck of dirt sully your house," I growled, dodging a clump of potting soil aimed at my head.

"Mmhm, go!" she ordered, smirking and pointing toward the house.

Edward followed me quietly into the house, leaning next to me as I washed my hands. Once his were clean, he picked me up and set me on the kitchen counter, stepping between my legs.

Cupping my face, he whispered, "What are you thinking? You've been closed to me all day."

I groaned, hiding my face in my favorite spot – the crook of his neck and shoulder. My body shook with his light chuckle, but he held me close, dropping sweet, soft kisses to my cheek.

"You really don't want to know," I mumbled against his skin, closing my eyes as the scent of him invaded my nose. It was soothing down to my very bones. "It's dumb."

"It is impossible for any thought of yours to be...dumb, Bella," he snickered. "Try me."

Keeping my face hidden, I opened my mind, letting him hear my thoughts during my chat with Esme, including my memories of the Denali sisters.

He groaned, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "Beautiful, you have nothing to worry about with them."

"I know, I know," I muttered, gripping the back of his shirt in tight fistfuls. "I told you it was dumb."

"Want to know how Tanya knows...that about me?" he asked, his voice sounding amused yet a touch embarrassed.

Gasping, I pulled back, gaping up at him. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Wait, wait," he laughed. "Love, it's not what you think. You're right on one thing... They were relentless..."

"Tanya saw you?" I interrupted in almost a squeak.

"She tried to barge in on my shower once, thought it would work out in her favor," he explained quickly, looking even more embarrassed. "I heard her coming. Anything she saw was quickly covered up by a towel. What she saw and what she bragged to her sisters about seeing are two very different things, Bella. I promise you. Tanya does not like to...fail."

I humphed, rolling my eyes.

"Isabella," he growled sexily, pressing his forehead to mine. "I know what they are. Nothing about the...desires or feelings they instill in men is real. And they most certainly do not hold anything resembling a caring emotion for their prey."

I snorted at the word "prey."

"That's what men are to them, sweetheart," he continued. "It's a contest, an ante between them to see if they can reel in the object of their...obsession...not affection." He kissed my lips softly. "Kate, Irina, and Tanya consider themselves the original succubi, but they most certainly aren't the only ones out there. They only win if the man has no mind of his own." He huffed a laugh, giving me a slightly crooked smile. "It also helps that I can hear their bullshit before they actually try anything. They never could hide their thoughts from me. In fact, it might've been a good thing that my own talent back then was new. I hadn't learned to filter thoughts, so everything was right there."

His grin was smug and too adorable as he tapped his temple, and it allowed me to relax just a little, but the approaching guests didn't make me feel any less intimidated. It was a rare feeling for me because not much bothered me about my immortality, but the Denali sisters were like the popular human girls in high school that made everyone else feel small, awkward, and ugly.

The growl that suddenly escaped Edward as he heard my mind was deep, angry, and rumbled through his chest. "You aren't any of those things, Bella. You're the complete opposite of them, actually. Again, it's their power..." He paused, his eyes still dark and angry as he studied my face. "When you saw them last, was your shield under control?"

I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "Hardly."

He smirked, kissing my lips softly. "Use it," he ordered gently, cupping my face. "This time, use it. See what difference it makes when they can't use their talent against you."

My eyebrows shot up. "Okay," I said softly. "So...wait... It works on both men and women?" I asked, and he nodded. "They pull the men to them but make the women feel inept so it clears their way?"

"Exactly."

"What about you?" I asked, running my fingers through his hair.

He grinned, shaking his head. "Nothing could tear me away from you, love. If it didn't work before I knew you, do you really think it'll work now that I have you?" he asked, and I shook my head no. "Good, because the things they offered were not things I wanted."

Tilting my chin up, he kissed me slow and deep, leaving me breathless, despite the fact that I didn't actually need the air.

Trailing light, sweet kisses to my ear, his voice was smooth, sexy. "If I remember correctly, the things they showed me are things I've already done...with you. They are things I only want...with you. And I want them again...and again...and again."

He dropped long, open mouth kisses with each "and again" he murmured sexily against my skin, which was driving me crazy but made me laugh at the same time. Smiling against my throat, he finally pulled back.

"Use your shield, and know that I belong to you. It's as simple as that," he stated firmly but ever so softly against my lips.

"I love you," I giggled, shaking my head at how he'd completely changed my mood.

Another smug-ass grin graced his beautiful face at that thought, and he kissed me roughly. "I love you too, beautiful. And it's my job to take care of you. You've certainly taken amazing care of me since I've been here. Now... Brace yourself, because they're here."

Without giving me a chance to grumble about it, he scooped me up onto his back and walked us out to the yard.

EPOV

I had not seen the Denali clan since at least two years prior to leaving Carlisle. Our memories never fade as immortals, so the sight of four beautiful women – all with varying shades of blonde aside from Carmen, who was raven black – was not a shock. What was a shock was the immense sense of jealousy that Jasper was suddenly trying his damnedest to change. It was jealousy at my Bella.

Keeping her close after she slid down to the grass, I gave Jasper a inquisitive glance.

He mere shrugged, thinking, It wasn't there on the way here, man. I don't know why it would change now.

As Carlisle joined us, there were hugs and greetings, but I stayed back, keeping Bella at my side. I just wanted long enough to see what exactly was the problem. Smiling when it finally hit me, I relaxed. They were jealous of Bella's faith. They'd never believed that Alice's vision would come true, so to see that it had, to see Bella completely and obviously happy and mated was amazing to them. They also could see that they had no power over her anymore.

"You remember Edward, don't you?" Carlisle verified.

"Yes, of course," Carmen said with a smile. "It's good to see you again, Edward."

"I'm glad to see you back where you belong." Eleazar beamed as he shook my hand.

"Thank you. It's good to see you both," I said, giving a nod to the three ladies. "Kate, Irina...Tanya."

"Edward," they all chimed together, which caused every woman in my family to internally scoff – especially Rose, who had no patience for the "cows" in front of her.

Women were just as territorial as men. It was a fact – a fact that made me chuckle and squeeze Bella's hand.

Eleazar turned his attention to Bella, his thoughts assessing her talent, something that was his talent. He could see in humans what capabilities they would have as vampires. As vampires, he could see everything they could do, everything that their talent consisted of, even if the subject didn't know it themselves. He was a legend in Volterra. Aro still wished that Eleazar worked for him.

"There she is," Eleazar said in as booming a voice as I'd ever heard him, smiling widely. "Haven't you learned a thing or two?" He chuckled at her grin.

"I suppose, Eleazar," she laughed, hugging him and then Carmen.

"Hmm," he mused, giving her a dramatic glare. "Though...there's still more to you..."

"Really?" Carlisle asked, completely intrigued, as was I.

Eleazar's thoughts were strange, because he felt more than saw how talents worked. His eyes flickered to me because he knew that I could read minds. He'd known it the first second we'd been introduced almost a hundred years ago.

She could level them, Edward. And she's barely aware of her power. His thoughts came as more of a warning but with the utmost respect. It's why Aro wants her so badly. She would be the ultimate in defense.

"Tapping into it would hurt her," I stated, shaking my head. "It's...emotional for her."

Bella squeezed my hand because she knew I hated anything that upset her, but we'd finally sat down with Carlisle and Jasper just about a week prior. I needed to know just exactly what they knew about her talent. According to them, Bella had been unable to control her shield when she was angry or upset. It had taken a year for her newborn mania to wear off and another year of the family continuously working with her to calm her shield down into something she could handle. What she did now was impressive. What she might possibly be able to do with it could be deadly.

And then there was Bella. She actually feared her talent. She was afraid of being unable to control it, so she had learned to pull it all in. The little things like allowing me into her thoughts, the blocking of someone's touch, and the ability to push someone away – those were easy for her. They came as naturally to her as breathing. It was no different than Alice's visions, Jasper's emotional control, and my mind reading. But her defense mechanism was still untapped because Bella wouldn't allow it, really. She'd shattered furniture and windows, leveled trees in the woods, and destroyed her car, and it had scared her.

"I must apologize," he said with a sad smile, turning to Carlisle. "I don't mean any disrespect. However, you have our support. I'm afraid it was from me that Aro gained his knowledge of your family." He paused at the shocked sounds that came from my family, but he went on. "Carmen and I visited Spain a few months ago. We wanted to see the old country. Out of respect for the brothers, we stopped in Italy for a visit. I had not realized just how power-hungry Aro had become. He gave me no choice but to allow him to touch me. He saw everything, of course."

"You went for me," Carlisle surmised, grimacing a bit when Eleazar and Carmen both nodded.

I saw it all. Carlisle had spoken to Eleazar about his upcoming trip to Spain. Eleazar and Carmen had actually offered to look for me. Carlisle, despite all the years of separation, just wanted to know if I was alive, but he would never think of asking that of anyone. In Eleazar's attempt to help an old friend, he'd showed Aro just what powers now resided with Carlisle. Aro wanted them all, but he wanted Bella the most because through Eleazar's thoughts, he knew just what she was capable of.

"You weren't there, of course," Carmen stated, glancing up at me. "And Aro wouldn't say anything about you."

"Oh, damn," I sighed, shaking my head. "That's how he knew of Bella, of Alice...even Jasper. And because you were looking for me, he specifically gave me the job of bringing Bella back."

"Damn, Aro's a cruel bastard," Kate suddenly spoke up, her face scrunched up in disgust as her sisters nodded in agreement.

"So it's true," Emmett gasped. "He really would've used Bella against Carlisle. And he would've done it knowing Alice saw that Bella was your mate."

"And then he would've destroyed her," Alice added sadly. "In every way, he would've wrecked her. He would've had no choice but to kill her."

Bella let out a heavy breath but merely shook her head. She didn't know what to make of any of it. She felt that she was never anything special as a human, so this was too much to even conceive. All she knew was that she wanted to be left alone, to live her life with her family...and now with me. My Bella didn't like the attention.

"Enough," I stated, gazing down at Bella.

"I'm okay," she lied, smiling when she knew that I saw it.

"Well, maybe I'm not," I huffed dramatically just to see her golden eyes twinkle.

"Perhaps we should get inside. Alice will keep us alerted to Aro's decisions," Carlisle sighed, looking weary.

Esme and Carlisle led Carmen and Eleazar into the house. Alice's mind was warning me that Tanya was contemplating saying something to me, but it was Jasper and Emmett that I was concentrating on, because they were a little angry at Eleazar for revealing things to Aro. They wanted to protect the family, especially Bella, but they felt a touch betrayed by someone that they felt was family.

I turned to them, keeping Bella's hand in mine. "It doesn't work that way," I told them both, which caused everyone in the yard to stop. "Aro gives you the impression that it's your choice to let him read your mind, but there really isn't a choice at all. He considers it rude if you decline him, like you're hiding something from the Volturi. He throws his power in your face, showing you that with a single word, he could have you ripped apart. Eleazar would've had no alternative but to allow Aro to touch him."

"That's inside the castle," Emmett pointed out. "What happens in our own...back yard?" he asked, gesturing around him.

I shook my head. "I'm not sure. If what Felix said was true, then we'll have to hope that it's Marcus that sees reason. Only he would be able to convince his brother that Bella is my mate."

Jasper and Emmett nodded, but Alice's mental laughter caused me to give her a quick glance. She was standing next to Bella, who was looking nervous but calm as she stared at the Denali sisters.

"So it's true... You are mated, Edward," Tanya purred, her mind deciding to push her power my way.

"Don't even try it, Tanya," I said rather harshly, frowning at her. "It won't work, because it's absolutely true. Save it for your humans."

Irina chuckled, and Kate rolled her eyes at her, but Tanya smiled smugly, shrugging her shoulder.

"Can't blame a girl for trying. Just making sure that Isabella isn't being deceived," Tanya replied coyly.

I wanted to growl at the accusation, but Bella laughed softly, saying, "I told you, Tanya... Never bet against Alice."

We started toward the house, but Alice froze, her eyes glazing over. I spun to look at her at the same time that Jasper pulled her close.

"What is it, darlin'?" he asked, his eyes never leaving her face, and I noticed for the first time that he never sent her any emotion when she was seeing a vision. He simply allowed her to feel whatever it was the visions gave her.

I swallowed nervously, seeing exactly what Alice was seeing.

We both spoke at the same time. "They're leaving Italy today."

~oooOOOooo~

You really aren't the one that should be working with her, Edward, Jasper thought to me, wincing when I shot an angry glare his way. It should be Emmett. He can piss her off quicker than any of us.

I knew he was right, but that didn't mean I needed to hear it in my damn head every few minutes. I catered to Bella, took it easy on her, which in turn meant that she was too relaxed to push her shield to its maximum potential. She was amazing and could block every single one of us from Jasper's power, Emmett's strength, even one on one attacks from Kate's strange talent, which was some sort of shocking touch.

We were all working, planning, practicing together in a field not far from the Cullen home, the Denali clan included. From what Alice and I could piece together from her vision, the Volturi would arrive by the end of the week. No decisions that we made affected the outcome. They were coming. We tried deciding everything – leaving, hiding, running, even scattering ourselves throughout the city – but nothing changed her vision of seeing the Volturi approaching the Cullen home. From what we could see, they would be coming through the forests from the south, so we at least had the advantage of knowing the where. And we were going to exploit that. We were going to meet them before they could reach anywhere near humans.

Eleazar and Carlisle insisted that we train, that we try to push Bella, because Alice's vision also started to narrow in on a victory – one where the Volturi walked away from us. It seemed to focus on my Bella, but that's what scared the shit out of me. One second, we were all lined up against Aro, and the next second, Bella completely disappeared. And then...we fought. It was flashes, incomplete sequences. It was driving Alice and me insane.

"Fine," I snapped, raising a hand at him before he could say anything else, and then I turned to Bella with a defeated sigh. "Sweetheart, maybe you should—"

"Work with Emmett?" she surmised, giving both Jasper and me a deadly raised eyebrow. "Um...no. You lived with these assholes. You know how they think. I want to work with you. Stop babying me, Edward."

Carlisle's amused thoughts flickered through my mind but went away just as quickly as they came, as did everyone else's around us. I fought my smile and shook my head slowly as I ran a hand through my hair.

"Go on, Spitfire. Kick his ass!" Emmett cheered, grinning like a loon when I snorted into a short, soft laugh.

I gazed over at her and then rubbed my face in frustration. I really needed to let go of the thought that "babying" her, as she put it, was protecting her. It actually wasn't helping anything.

"Okay," I finally conceded with a nod, walking to her, but I wanted everyone to hear what I had to say. They were going to need to understand these things. "Aro's bringing everyone. He's going to act like he's civil, like he's royalty, and give Carlisle a chance to answer for the crimes for which he's been accused. What he really wants is to touch him, read his mind. He's going to want to read mine. The fact that Eleazar is here will anger him, because he'll know at that moment that his secret is out, that we know what he's been planning against the family the whole time.

"He's accusing us of attracting too much attention. He's assuming that Carlisle lied to him, that we aren't mated, so he'll want to reinstate my...contract with him..."

"Well, we all know what you get when you assume," Emmett muttered, rolling his eyes.

I half-smiled at that, but he was kind of right. "The real crime that we're facing is a fact. We are unlike others out there. Immortals don't live like this, in this large of a group. At least the ones on regular diets of human blood. Our numbers will make him nervous, paranoid, and very angry. And Caius will agree with him."

"So why is Marcus the key?" Bella asked.

"Marcus sees the bonds between relationships. He sees the connections, so he'll be able to let Aro know that we are mated," I explained, gesturing between us. "The problem with Marcus, though, is that he's also going to see just how loyal we all are to Carlisle."

"True," Eleazar muttered. "Carlisle will be accused of building an army."

"Dammit," Carlisle sighed, but his mind was filled with worry and love for his family, even the extended members. Son, you think he'll use that against us. Against me? His thoughts were nervous as I nodded to him once but answered for everyone.

"Yes, he'll use that against you. He'll call for your destruction, or...he'll call for an exchange," I stated angrily. "Our lives in exchange for yours. He'll want Bella, myself, Alice, Jasper...any talent he can get his hands on, especially if he gets the opportunity to read my mind."

"So..." Bella growled, dragging the word out. "So we don't let him touch you."

"Bella, it's not that simple," Carlisle sighed. "In Aro's eyes, if Edward refuses, then he's hiding something."

"We're all hiding something," Rose said, shrugging a shoulder. "Let him try to read our minds; Bella will shield us."

Bella's nose wrinkled at that, but she looked up to me. "I can shield myself that way but not others. He can touch me without reading my mind, but when I shield others, he won't be able to get near them. I can't do it any other way."

"I know," I told her with a nod. "Which is why you need to understand just who and what is coming with him."

"Tell me," she whispered, readying herself as I circled around her.

"Jane. Aro's favorite weapon," I started, jerking a chin to Jasper. "Her power is strong, deadly. She works like you and Jasper...remotely. She doesn't have to touch someone like Kate does to bring them to their knees with pain so strong that it feels worse than the three day burn of the change. You need to be able to shield us from her...and still be able to fight."

Alice giggled lightly when Jasper decided to help out by sending wave after wave of different emotions – fear, anger, confusion, sorrow. Bella felt it all, swirling her shield up around us and crouching into a fighting stance.

"Good girl," I praised her just softly enough that she could hear me before taking a defensive stance across from her. Everything that Jasper was emitting cut off abruptly. "Next...Alec. He'll work like Jane, only not as painful. His power is easy to spot. It'll look like the heat shimmering in the distance on a hot road but rolling in slowly, only he can affect much more than one person. You'll think you're not so much powerless when it reaches you but senseless...numb. It'll take away your sense of sight, sound, smell and pain. Don't let it."

Bella nodded that she heard me, but her thoughts of attacking me gave her away.

Catching her in mid-jump and putting her back flat on the ground while I loomed over her, I growled, "Close your mind to me! Give them...nothing. Don't think, just use instinct. You aren't human, so don't think like one. Give into what you truly are, if only for this." I flicked the tip of her nose, just so she knew it was still us, still playful, but I needed her to pay attention, focus.

A wicked smile briefly curled up on her lips before she was back on her feet again, all thoughts disappearing instantly from my mind. All her shields stayed in place – the one around the two of us, protecting us from Jasper, and the one around her mind, keeping her thoughts from me. She crouched again; this time, her eyes had darkened to a pitch black. When she attacked, it was fierce, fast, and deadly. I just barely ducked in time, spinning to counter her hits, kicks, and grasping fingers. She backed away proudly, and I couldn't help but shoot a wink her way.

"Now... Dimitri and James. Trackers," I continued, circling her again. "Dimitri has been doing this for a very long time. If you run, he will find you. He doesn't use scent; he uses your mind," I told her, tapping my temple as I faced her again. "Which means, love, that you really have to keep that beautiful head shielded."

"Okay," she said softly, nervously, with a nod.

"James, however, uses all of his senses, including one specifically built to track. It's almost like Alice, where he can predict your next step...and the next and the next. Understand?" I asked, and she nodded. "He's dangerous not because he can find you but for what he does once he gets his hands on you. He's cruel, evil, and a sadist. He's a rabid dog they keep leashed until they need him. He's completely unstable."

"Who else?" Esme asked from the side.

"Renata, a shield meant for Aro alone but significantly less powerful than Bella," I replied, giving everyone a quick glance. "And Heidi and Chelsea. They work similarly – though, when I left, Chelsea was not quite ready to take anywhere. She was the most recently changed, so she's still a volatile newborn. They draw people in, pull them in like pied pipers." I spun to Kate, Tanya, and Irina. "You three could counter that without even blinking. You may even work really well against James, because he's just... Well, you three..."

The Denali women chuckled, but Bella's giggle made me smile.

"So what you're saying, Edward, is that he's a horndog and the sisters here fit the bill?" Bella asked, her giggle lacing through her words like a tinkling bell.

"Well, right," I sighed, rolling my eyes at everyone's laughter.

"We so got this," Emmett murmured just loudly enough that everyone stopped laughing and nodded in agreement. "I mean," he sputtered, gesturing to Carlisle, "we'll stay still and quiet, but if something happens, then we're on it."

We started to relax, but Bella merely said, "Again."

When I spun my head her way, her thoughts opened briefly. No one hurts my family. No one hurts you. Again. More.

"Okay," I stated firmly with a nod. "The royal guard is strength and speed. No more, no less. That's a straight up brawl if we get that far."

Before I could blink, Bella vaulted across the few feet between us, landing firmly on my chest. "Show me," she growled, ignoring the cheers from her brothers and the catcalls from Rose and Alice.

Grinning, I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip, shaking my head. But looking her straight in the eyes, I said only one word. "Run."

Instantly, the weight of her lifted off my chest, and she not only left the clearing and the family behind, but she vaulted up into the tree tops of the surrounding woods, using the branches like steps to take her higher and higher. Tracking her by scent was the only way to stay on her trail. I couldn't hear her mind, and she was silent as a soft breeze as she ran away from me. I barely heard the laughter of everyone fade away from the clearing as we tunneled deeper and deeper into the forest.

My speed was the only thing I could rely on at the moment in order to catch up to her. Her shield was blocking her mind from me, and her path was erratic, until she suddenly stopped, turning from defense to offense in the blink of an eye. Using her shield, she trapped me, dropping the two of us to the forest floor.

"What does James really do?" she asked, standing over me.

"He's a pig," I grunted, struggling uselessly against her power. Finally, I just collapsed back to the leafy ground in defeat.

"As in..." she prompted, raising a deadly eyebrow up at me.

"As in... He likes the game, the chase...the capture," I told her. "He toys with his prey. Aro feeds it well. Gives him status and power and leeway."

"Should I take him out first?"

I was shaking my head no before she even finished the question. "No. Jane. Jane first, Bella. You have no idea the pain... Then Alec, because he will cause confusion, and he can blind us all."

She nodded, turning away from me at the same time I felt her shield lift from me. "I'm scared, Edward."

"I know, love. I am, too." I stood up from the ground, dusting myself off. "I'm sorry my mistakes have brought us here."

She shook her head, waving that off. "No, don't," she said, leaning against a tree and locking gazes with me. "I'm scared for Carlisle. I'd rather us do anything than for something to happen to him. Does that make sense?"

I nodded. "I really don't want you in Italy, Bella. I'd do just about anything in order for that not to happen. I'd rather fight than to take you away from everything."

Her mind was now open to me, her fears swirling heavily in the forefront. She was scared to lose her family, for Carlisle to get in trouble for having too many immortals around him when all he wanted was to care them...for us – and her biggest fear was something happening to me. She could barely think the words death, separation, or loss. And on top of all of that, she was absolutely terrified she couldn't do what she needed to do to protect us, that her shield would fail her.

"Hey, hey," I said, closing the distance between us. Bracing my hands on the tree on either side of her head, I kissed her lips softly. "You won't fail, sweetheart. We'll be there right next to you. Even if you hold them off until we can come to some sort of agreement with Aro, then you'll have succeeded."

I studied her face, listened to her thoughts, all as she stood there silent, her eyes locked somewhere between my chest and my chin.

"What else worries you?" I asked her, tilting her gaze up with my fingers underneath her chin.

"My shield is..." She sighed, looking away from me toward the setting sun, her skin glimmering slightly under its rays. "Unstable," she finally finished with a heavy, nervous sigh.

"Hardly," I scoffed, gesturing to the tree we'd just fallen from. "But if you're talking about pushing yourself, then tell me about it. Why are you afraid?"

"When I let go...when I lose control of it...things happen," she whispered, her chin trembling. "When I was a newborn, I leveled two acres of trees in Washington the day that Charlie died. The one time I slipped in my diet, I shattered a small hunting cabin...and it was fifty feet away. The day that Tanya told me about seeing you...I know she lied," she huffed, rolling her eyes, "but I didn't know that then. I shredded a car from the inside out. A car, Edward! A two ton piece of machinery held together by fiberglass and metal! Carlisle had just given me the damn thing!"

I fought my smile, shaking my head. "You can learn to control that part, too, my sweet, beautiful girl."

She grimaced, her nose wrinkling adorably. "How?"

"Come here," I said, gently tugging her from the tree. I situated us in the center of a small clearing, bracing my hands on her shoulders. "When those things happened, love, what were you feeling?"

"Anger."

I nodded, because I'd suspected as much. "Okay, anything specific?"

"No... Well, with Charlie and the human I killed, I was angry with myself. With Tanya, I was just..." Her voice trailed off, but I nodded.

"Jealous?" I provided.

"Yeah, maybe," she sighed, her shoulders slumping just slightly under my touch. "I was extremely frustrated that I'd been changed, I couldn't control anything, and the fact that I was changed so that you'd show..."

"Oh," I snickered, kissing her lips when she frowned up at me. "You were pissed off at me!"

She smirked, trying to glare at me, but it turned into a giggle and a shrug. "I guess I'd hoped that once I'd been changed, you'd just...show up."

My eyebrows shot up, but I nodded and smiled. "Good. Remember that feeling?" I asked, and she said that she did. "Harness it. Relive it, right now. You were...what? Tired of waiting? Tired of feeling like you didn't fit in? You didn't understand why no man was good enough? Hmm? Did you think I was out...just fucking every mortal and immortal woman that I laid eyes on?"

I knew I was baiting her, but I could see that it was working. Her eyes blackened, her mouth tightened into a thin line, and her mind exploded with the memory of her pure, unadulterated fury.

"Did you think I knew all about you but opted to ignore it?" I asked, growling when her shield burst forth from her with a strength and power I wasn't prepared for, which caused me to stumble backwards several steps.

"Yes," she whispered, her hands balling up into tiny fists.

"You felt foolish for waiting?" I goaded her, using her biggest fear from back then.

"Yes!" she snarled, her growl lacing through her voice.

If I wasn't prepared for her anger at me, then I really wasn't ready for what her shield did. If it weren't for the push of wind that preceded it, I wouldn't have known to hit the deck. The sound of falling trees, crushing wood, and scared wildlife was a din of pure chaos. Limbs, leaves, and the unfortunate birds nest fell down on and around me.

Pushing my way out of the pile, I stood up, quickly surveying my surroundings. The woods looked like a giant blade had just shaved off every tree in a large three yard circle around us. It was fairly similar to what crop circles looked like.

Spinning back to Bella, I said, "Hold that! Keep that feeling, Bella. Can you feel it?"

She nodded, her eyes wide, but they were locked on the farthest row of trees that were bending under her shield's strength. They were practically snapping, but not quite. She was harnessing it, controlling it.

"Good girl," I breathed, because the sight was damned shocking. "If you remember that feeling, that initial burst, Bella, then you can draw on it later. Anytime, anyplace. Right?"

"Yeah," she whispered, nodding. "But I almost hurt you..."

"Nah," I chuckled, shaking my head and running my fingers through my hair to rid it of leaves and twigs. "I actually felt it coming. A rush of air..." I mused, gazing slowly around.

"Edward?"

"Hmm?" I hummed, locking gazes with her.

"Can I stop now?"

Grinning, I nodded. "Yes, baby."

Another rush of air breezed over my head, but it seemed she controlled it this time. I ducked a little but suddenly found her wrapped around me like a limpet.

"I didn't mean it," she whispered.

"Yes, you did," I chuckled, kissing the top of her head. "But it's okay that you were frustrated, sweetheart. I don't blame you. At all."

"I love you," she mumbled into my chest.

"And I you," I sighed, closing my eyes at the magnitude of love that this tiny, fierce, yet so very fragile creature caused me to feel. "And believe me, I didn't know about you, Bella. If I had, I would've at least come to verify this supposed mate."

Her giggle shook us both, but she held me closer.

"We should get back," I whispered, but my hands betrayed me, running through her hair, down her back, and across her bottom.

"I don't want to," she murmured, pulling back from my chest to look up at me. The honey in her eyes swirled away, darkening to a deep amber, and then faded to black.

"Okay," I surrendered instantly, because after a hundred years of restraint, control, and calculating decisions, I had been completely taken over by the girl in my arms. With her, my personality had been boiled down to the seventeen-year-old boy in which I was frozen. All other thoughts vanished, leaving only what she wanted, what she asked of me. In fact, there was a part of me deep down that hoped she'd beg to run away from this upcoming fight, to hide, but I knew that she wouldn't. We couldn't, because it wasn't fair to the family, especially Carlisle.

No words were spoken as the sun set slowly. Barely leaving any space between us, clothes were carefully removed, hands touched, and kisses were placed on lips, shoulders, necks. Our foreheads touched as we stood naked in the small clearing. The scent of freshly cut timber was almost overwhelming due to all the trees Bella had destroyed, but I could only feel her, see her, taste her in the air around us.

It was earthy and floral, filling my mind with the knowledge that I had made her that way, that it was me that she wanted. Pulling her closer, I trapped my arousal between us, but I needed to feel every inch of skin against mine. Tiny hands branded my flesh from my ass, up my back, finally gripping my shoulders.

I could hear every thought in her beautiful mind. Her love for me was breathtaking, but her need to touch, to memorize, to lose herself in us if only for a moment made my chest ache.

"We'll stay together, Bella," I vowed in a whisper against her lips in order to soothe her unspoken fears. "With the family, alone for safety, or even in Italy...but we will stay together. I swear it."

A little whimper escaped her as she pressed further into me, turning her head to kiss me. There was no preamble for this kiss; it was desperate, loving, and full of everything she was trying to give me. Skimming my hands down her back, I cupped her ass and scooped her up in order to wrap her around me. A low growl rumbled out of me when her sweet, wet sex slid erotically over my erection. Laying her down on our discarded clothes, the kiss never broke. Heavy exhales pushed out against cheeks, tongues entwined, and lips glided wetly against each other.

Inside, inside, inside, Bella mentally begged, not wanting anything to do with foreplay.

I could sense that she was ready, feel it coating my cock, but my hand ghosted down her side to slip between her folds as my other hand braced itself by her head. Sinking two fingers into her, I couldn't help the smug smile that crooked up the corner of my mouth as her whole being rolled in want and need. Her mouth fell open, her breath caught, and she couldn't decide whether to grip the grass around us or me...anywhere on me – biceps, shoulders, sides, ass. It really just didn't matter to her because she just wanted more, closer, deeper, harder, faster.

"I'll give you all those things, my sweet girl," I promised in a deep voice that I could barely recognize as my own. "Just come for me one time. One great big beautiful time, love. Please..."

Her juices coated my fingers, dripping down to the palm of my hand. Her breathing stopped completely as her head arched back. Circling my thumb around the little bundle of nerves that set her off every time, I had to bite my bottom lip at the sight underneath me in order to control my instinct to take, to bury myself deep inside of her, to claim my mate over and over. Muscles taut, eyes rolling back, chest heaving, and tiny fingers that finally decided my biceps were their favorite spot caused a purring growl to escape me as I watched my own fingers sink into her over and over.

"Oh, baby...let it go. All of it."

I'd lived a very long time, seen things in the world that were considered the utmost in beauty, and I'd seen climaxes in so many minds that I'd lost count, but nothing beat the actual feel of my mate succumbing to my touch, my voice. Locking eyes with pitch black, feeling her walls clench down on my fingers, and watching as she lost herself to her orgasm...nothing came close to just how stunning that was. Her stomach tightened, her hips rose up off the ground, and my name came spilling out of her in a breathless chanting prayer. Fucking flawless.

Bella's little body trembled as she settled down from the aftershocks of her climax, but her hands pulled and tugged at me.

"Edward, please," she whispered, wrapping her arms around my neck when I fell to brace my elbows on either side of her head.

"I love you...so much. Tell me you know that," I whispered against her lips, her jaw, her neck.

"Yes," she said, her breathing hitching just a little on the simple word. Reaching between us, she lined me up at her entrance, locking gazes with me when I hissed at just how sensitive I was. "Show me," she stated, using the same words she'd used when we were training just mere minutes prior.

Gritting my teeth, I sank slowly inside of her, reaching down to hitch her leg up higher in order to go that much deeper. I paused, dropping my forehead to hers, squeezing my eyes closed as I panted heavily for needless air. She felt too good, too right, and it was all I could do not to come instantly.

"I don't think I'll ever get use to the feel of you," I confessed, shaking my head slightly and finally opening my eyes to meet hers. "So, so fucking good, Bella. Damn."

Her fingers trailed down my back to my ass, and she tilted her hips in order to pull me in even deeper.

"I know," she agreed, her head falling back as she shamelessly rolled her hips again. "Edward...baby, please..."

"Fuck," I hissed, pulling almost all the way out of her only to thrust right back in.

I took her deep and hard, slowing down just to watch her face for every bite of her bottom lip, every eye roll, but our hands were not still. Cupping, gripping, memorizing, we touched everywhere. I tried to commit to memory every way her nipples would peak, but it was different every single time. They'd harden under my hand, my palm, but they became like diamonds in my mouth.

Kisses were deep and desperate, but growls were a duet of both of our voices. Sitting back on my heels, I watched my cock slip in and out of her, shaking my head at the sight.

"That is so...perfect," I muttered, pulling her hips to me over and over. I couldn't help but grin when her mind exploded with lust and curiosity. "You wanna watch me fuck you, love?" I asked, grasping her legs and then spreading them wider and pinning them against her stomach.

Slowly, I sank into her again and again, licking my lips at the sight of the feral look that crossed her face as her eyes locked on where we were joined.

"Jesus, that's..."

"Yeah."

It was too much. All of it. Watching her watch us, the feel of just how tight she was this way, and the sight of her hand snaking down her stomach in order to touch herself was overload. I could feel the tips of her fingers brush against my cock every time I moved inside of her, and my begging began.

"Oh, baby...come for me again. With me. Together."

When her insides fluttered around me, I tried to ride out her spasms, but it was impossible. With a few more deep thrusts, I buried myself to the hilt, coming hard, expletives erupting from me against my will. Setting her legs down, I didn't bother to pull out of her. I wanted to stay forever buried in her, surrounded by her, but I knew it wouldn't last.

Bracing my elbows on either side of her head, I dropped kisses to every inch of her face, grinning when it stopped being sweet to her and started being silly, causing an adorable giggle to shake us both. I brushed her hair out of her face, finally placing just one more kiss to her smiling lips.

"It's a good thing we stayed out here. That was not something I need the house to hear," Bella chuckled.

I groaned, nodding in agreement. It was bad enough with just the family, but with the Denali clan hanging around for the last day or so, it had been impossible to be alone with her – too many listening super-hearing ears, too many curious minds, and too many frustrated conversations concerning the Volturi.

I gazed around us, smirking at her little show of temper and destruction. "You know, the humans could really use something like this in the construction industry. Do you think you could level an old building?"

"Shut up," she laughed, shaking her head. "Maybe if I was mad enough..."

I chuckled, kissed her once more, and then sighed in utter contentment, despite the looming visit from Aro. "You're going to do just fine, sweetheart. When push comes to shove, I have a feeling you'll know exactly how to handle yourself."

"We aren't doing anything wrong," she stated softly.

"No, sweet girl, we aren't," I agreed, "but Aro only sees what he wants to. We have to show him and those around him that we are following their rules, their guidelines."

"And if they still don't listen?" she asked, running her fingers slowly through my hair.

I grimaced, dropping my lips to her forehead and admitting for the first time how I really felt. "And if they don't listen... I'll kill them all for threatening you. Royalty or not, they don't deserve to breathe the same air as you, much less take you against your will. I won't have you go through what I did. I refuse."

"Edward..."

"I mean it," I stated, shrugging a shoulder and finally sitting up. I brought her with me, skimming my hands down her hair, over her shoulders, and cupping her face. "You don't need to see the things they do. They are the exact opposite of Carlisle...in every way imaginable. There's no compassion, no debates on God, and there's no sympathy for anyone. It's a cruel life. I will do everything I can to protect you...and the family."

"Together?" she verified, her brow wrinkling with worry.

"Yes, together. I won't lose you." I kissed her lips quickly but paused when I could hear Jasper's mind.

I hate to break you two up, but Alice has seen something. We need you back at the house. She needs you to see, Edward.

"What is it?" Bella asked.

"We have to get back. Alice had another vision," I told her, standing up and offering her a hand.

We dressed quickly, and Bella pulled her hair up into a ponytail. When she was ready, she offered her hand. "I hope it's something good, like Aro's ship caught on fire," she whispered sarcastically.

"Me, too," I chuckled, kissing the back her hand. "Though, somehow, I doubt it."

She laughed but shrugged one shoulder. "Okay, let's go see what she's got," she sighed, taking off in a run.

With my own sigh of regret, impatience, and...fear...I immediately followed after her.

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 48 - Edward

~oOo~

From: EAMasen
To: Bella Swan
Date Sent: Thur, May 20, 2010 at 4:23 A.M.
Date Received: Wed, May 19, 2010 at 4:23 P.M.
Subject: I think a unicorn ran through the barracks...

My beautiful girl,

These pain meds are strong. Like...sweet dreams that make no sense, but you don't want them to end kind of strong. O_o You'll be happy to know that you were in all of them. I didn't know you knew how to swing on a trapeze. I'm sure you can't. **snort** My brain cells will never be the same, I'm sure of it. At least I can think more clearly this morning.

You'll also be happy to know that I've been removed from duty for the next few days – at least for the rest of the weekend. The docs told me two days, but my CO, Stephens, said to take a few more. I'm to rest, only do necessary things, and report back on Monday.

I can't apologize enough for scaring you, love. I think I was scared more for what would happen to you than what actually happened. I never want us to end, Bella. At all. And one mistake could do that. All I could think of between that initial hit and hitting the button to call you was that this was the reality of our situation and it would blatantly show you exactly what I'd been trying to tell you from the start...that I couldn't make you promises. I can try to be safe, try to make smart decisions out in the field, but I can't account for others. Insurgents, fellow squad members, or even a civilian could make a choice that affects me, affects my life.

There was a part of me that was sure that you wouldn't want to deal with this, that you'd end our call, but you didn't. Fuck, baby, you're so strong...stronger than you give yourself credit for. It's okay that you freaked out, because with that freak out came the most beautiful words from you.

Bella, I don't think you understand how much I've fallen in love with you. It's beyond anything I've ever felt. Aside from my parents, I don't think I've ever meant it as much as when I said those words to you. You're so beautiful, but you're wholly beautiful – inside and out. I'm absolutely certain that I fell in love with your spirit before I saw that angelic face. You're everything I need to get through these next few months, and we can do this.

You asked about my plans for when October comes, and up until you flew into my life, I honestly had no answer. I would've probably told you that I would have re-upped, put in for something stateside, and continued on with my military career. I have no home, sweetheart. I'm not telling you that to make you feel sorry for me, but when my parents died, I pulled up roots. Period. Nothing Tanya said, nothing her parents said, or even anything my lawyer advised made a difference. I had no plans to go back. I couldn't keep the house I grew up in because there were too many memories – good ones – and I wanted to keep them that way. Coming back to that house without my parents living there anymore would've ruined it.

Now...things have completely changed. I have you. You are home to me. And despite the fact that I've never even visited Washington, it's the only place I can think to go. When I think of home, it's your gorgeous face that I see. Em and Jazz have repeatedly told me that they, you, and the girls are my family now. That when we're done here, that's where they're taking me. There is no choice in the matter.

I want to build a life with you, whatever that entails. I have to figure out what to do as a career, but I will take care of you. Everything that my parents left behind is now mine. Money isn't an issue, and I have plans on spoiling you like crazy – in every definition of the word. And I don't mean that in some sort of controlling way, Bella. I mean that I want to figure us out together. We can live together or not, we can get as many kittens as you want, or we can take us slow. I don't care. As long as I have you, I'll be a happy man.

I want to spoil you with gifts, devotion, time... I want to see your classroom, where you live, where you sleep. Definitely where you sleep, my love. My heart, body, and soul belong to you. I wasn't kidding you when we Skyped. You own me. I want to feel your body wrapped around mine, make you call my name as I move inside you, and leave you so sated that you can still feel me at the end of the day. I want to whisper that I love you over every inch of your skin.

You are my life now.

Does that answer your question that you were so nervous about asking? Hmm? DON'T be afraid to ask anything of me. Ever.

Em and Jazz are telling me to take my meds now. Apparently, I've been wincing too much. If that's the case, then I need to end this, because there's no telling what I'll say. LOL

Email when you can, and remember that I love you and I'm okay. I promise.

Yours always,
Edward

P.S. I'll take the e-smooches, love, but I'm NOT telling Emmett to do it. Not only would he actually kiss me, but he'd record it and send it to you. Umm...just no. LOL

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 47 - Bella

~oOo~

Seattle... Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 5:45 A.M.

"God, you're so fucking beautiful, Bella," he sighed, "and I love you, too."

I froze, unsure I'd heard him right. When I blinked and really looked at him, I couldn't deny it. The same love I felt for this amazing man, who was risking his life for our country, was clear as day in his eyes as he watched me. He looked beaten, bruised, like he'd been through hell, and a little nervous, but the love was simply pouring out of him.

Laughing, I swiped at my tears, dragging my sleeve across my nose, trying to clean my face as best I could. "Yeah?"

His grin suddenly lit up the screen as he nodded. "Yeah, sweetheart. I fell in love with you somewhere between all your celebrity crushes and your anger with Tanya on my behalf, but after our first Skype call...I was just done. You owned me, and I'm not sure even I knew it yet."

I was nodding even before he finished speaking. "I know, Edward. I think for me, it was right around when you admitted your biggest fear that I started feeling just...more. I admitted it to myself when we Skyped, and then when you went to Kandahar at the end of April... Yeah, babe, that was it."

I saw him wince when he shifted to change positions, and I knew he needed to relax and let whatever pain meds the doctors had given him kick in.

"Sarge, why don't you go lie down? We can talk again when you've gotten some rest, okay?"

"No, Bella," he argued. "I'm all right." But the wince he gave when he raised his hand to run it across his head told me different.

"Oh, baby..." I frowned feeling my eyes water again. "Please, for me, go get some rest. The docs gave you some pain meds, right?" At his reluctant nod, I smiled sadly. "Then take 'em so you'll feel better. We can talk again when you're not feeling like you've been run over by a truck."

"But—"

"No buts, Edward Masen," I said firmly. "I love you, Edward. You have to rest so you feel better, and then we can talk. Okay?"

He finally nodded. "Email me?" he asked hopefully.

I laughed, holding back my tears. "You'll have one when you get up, babe."

"'Kay. I love you, Isabella Swan." His deep green eyes stared into mine through the computer, so serious and full of love that it stole my breath.

"God, Edward, I love you, too. Talk to you soon?"

He nodded, and then, wincing, he leaned up, pressed something on the keyboard, and the screen went black.

I clicked out of Skype and was immediately pulled up and into two sets of arms as my girls made a protective sandwich around me. Somehow, Rose had sneaked into the house while I was talking to Edward.

I felt the tears well up once more, and this time, I didn't bother holding them in. For several long minutes, they simply let me cry, not saying anything but low murmurs of support that I couldn't understand but appreciated nonetheless.

Finally, I pulled away, swiping at my now sore and puffy eyes. "You guys are the best. I knew it's been hard for you all these years, but I don't know if I appreciated just how much until now."

Rose smiled sadly. "I'd love to say it gets easier, Bella, but in reality, it doesn't. I wake up scared every day that something is going to happen to Emmett. I just have to keep saying my prayers and believing that he'll come home safe and sound."

"Yeah," Alice agreed quietly. "And we have each other. You need to know that you can lean on us. When you're feeling worried – or scared shitless – just tell us. You know we've been in your shoes. We live with that same fear every day. I couldn't do this – couldn't handle Jasper being over there – without you and Rose."

I sniffled and nodded. "Thanks for earlier, Ali...for coming to tell me and for helping when I..." I gestured to the bathroom, thinking of how I'd thrown up for what felt like hours.

"That's what friends are for, sweetie. Now," she said, grinning, "are you hungry? Rose brought coffee, and I made pancakes and bacon."

My stomach growled at the thought of the crispy, greasy bacon, making us all laugh. "Ya know, I think I am."

~oooOOOooo~

From: Bella Swan
To: EAMasen
Date Sent: Wed, May 19, 2010 at 7:14 A.M.
Date Received: Wed, May 19, 2010 at 7:14 P.M.
Subject: You'd better be getting some rest, Sergeant Masen...

Hi, babe.

Here's the email I promised. I am just about to get ready for school, but before I jump in the shower, I wanted to tell you that it was so good to see your face and hear your voice. Of course, I wish it had been under better circumstances, but I'm not going to be upset that we got to talk...and that I finally got to tell you that I love you. Hearing those words from your lips, though... God, there was nothing better.

I'd tell Emmett and Jasper to smother you in kisses for me, but knowing Emmett, I'm afraid he'd actually do it! So consider yourself smooched to pieces, ok?

In answer to your last email, yeah, Sarge, four and a half months feels like an eternity. But we'll get through it. I know we will... Really, there's no other option. None. We'll get through it, and then I'll finally see you in person, be able to touch you like I want to so badly right now. I'll be able to go to sleep in your arms and wake up to find you still there. When I want to kiss you and touch you, I'll be able to because you'll be there. So see, Edward? We'll get through it because when we do, that's what is waiting on the other end of all this.

I love you so damn much. Email when you feel up to it... I'll be waiting.

Love,
Bella

P.S. Have you thought about what your plans are come October? Are you planning to re-up? Did you want to move back to Chicago? I talked about what would happen when we finally see each other in person, but I just realized I don't know what you want, really. *bites lip nervously*

~oOo~

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Coming Home Chapter 46 - Edward

~oOo~

Afghanistan... Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 5:20 P.M.

I rubbed my chest while I waited for the call to connect. The docs had stripped me down to my T-shirt and fatigues, given me something for the pain, and taken me off duty for a few days. Fuck, if that shit wasn't tender!

The call connected, and I swear to God, I'd never seen a more beautiful or sad sight in all my life. Despite her red, puffy eyes and what looked like new tears forming, Bella was just...perfect. Her eyes met mine, and all my pain faded into the background because hers was more important. She was trying so damn hard to hold back her tears.

"Hey, sweetheart," I sighed, sitting forward a bit. "I'm sorry they woke you..."

"Just...tell me you're okay, Edward," she interrupted me as a tear slid slowly down her cheek. "That's all I'm asking."

"Oh, baby, please don't cry. I'm fine. I promise," I vowed, rubbing my face. "I'm just a little banged up, that's all."

"Show me," she ordered, frowning at me, and she was still fucking beautiful, all angry and worried and commanding. "Now, Sarge!"

"Show you?" I verified, cracking a smile. "Bella, this isn't that kind of call."

"Edward Masen, if you don't show me that you're okay, I swear to..." She huffed in her anger, though I could still see her worry. "Now isn't the time for you to play sexy and cute. Show. Me."

"'Kay," I sighed, groaning and wincing when I pulled my shirt up.

I knew for a fact that shit looked worse than it felt, though it felt like utter hell. A long, black and blue – with a little red thrown in for good measure – swipe of a bruise was slashed across my chest. One or two of my upper ribs looked swollen and broken, but they weren't; they'd just taken the brunt of it all.

"What happened?" she whispered, a whole new flock of tears coursing down her face as her eyes watched my hands lower my shirt.

"What did Alice tell you, love?" I countered, sitting forward again.

"I'd rather hear it from you."

"Okay," I conceded, so I told her what had happened, including the part about Wells. "It was so fucking close, Bella," I whispered, shaking my head, barely looking at her, and suddenly everything that had scared me came rushing out of me in one breath. "All I fucking want is to get to you. That's it! That's all. And it seems like all the fucking odds are stacked against me. What if... I mean... What if? I've still got four and a half months of this shit!"

A sob erupted from the computer, and I suddenly felt like an asshole.

"Baby, please, please, don't cry. I'm sorry," I begged, wanting to grab her, but I had to settle for the sides of the fucking desk. "I didn't mean it. I'm just so scared... I'm gonna fuck this up, I just know it."

"Edward," she cried, shaking her head slowly. The tears were a steady stream now, and I'd have given anything in order to be able to wipe them away since it was my fault they were there in the first place. "You're not going to fuck up," she breathed, though she wasn't looking at me. She was looking at her hands. "You can't do that. You just can't," she rambled. I was afraid she was in shock. It was like she wasn't even talking to me. "You have to stay safe, baby. Please. I love you...and nothing can happen to you. I can't lose you."

I sat really still, my eyes watching her face. I wasn't even sure she was aware that she'd said it. My heart exploded in my chest, which actually kind of fucking hurt against my sore-ass ribs, but now I had to calm her down because she needed to know she wasn't alone.

"Bella, love...look at me. Look at the computer," I told her in as calm a voice as I could muster, my hands squeezing into fists, because goddamn it, I wanted to touch her! Sweet, worried brown gazed up at me, and I took a deep breath and let it out, just to try to calm my heart. "I'm sorry that I scared you. I'm sorry we're both freaking out." I smiled, tilting my head at her. "Take a breath and let it out for me, sweetheart."

She did as I asked, swiping at her tears with the back of her hand. "You're okay?" she asked again, her voice rough but still so beautiful.

I chuckled, nodding slowly, because she was just too sweet and cute for words. "Yes. I promise. I let my guard down for a split second..."

"Well, don't do that again," she ordered, frowning at me again. "I mean it, babe. Please?"

Instead of answering her question, I countered it with a few of my own. "We can do this, right? We can make it through? We can tough it through hell in order to get to heaven, right?"

Finally, she cracked a smile, a sweet little giggle escaping her. "Yeah, but..." Her hands curled into claws in front of the screen, like she was trying to reach through the computer. "You have to be so careful, Edward. I'm sorry I'm not handling this well...you're my first high-risk boyfriend."

I laughed, shaking my head at her, because she'd found her sense of humor again. "You were perfect, beautiful. In fact, I expected you to run for the hills at this point."

"No, I can't," she sighed, smiling a sweet smile as she rested her chin on her hands. "You're stuck with me, Sarge."

"Yeah, I see that," I snickered, rubbing my chest a bit, but my smile faded as I just stared at her.

Despite both of us losing it, she was still there. She'd been there since the beginning, shown me that I wasn't alone, and she wasn't going anywhere.

"God, you're so fucking beautiful, Bella," I sighed, finally just surrendering to whatever this was that had happened between us. I couldn't fight it any longer. "And I love you, too."

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 45 - Bella

~oOo~

Seattle... Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 4:52 A.M.

"She's so cute," I said, watching the kitten crawling around on Edward's belly as he lay on the floor of the living room. She kept tripping over her own paws and nearly sliding off of him, and every time, Edward would wince.

"Yeah, but her claws are vicious," he said when he once more had to pull her back up.

I was lost, watching the adorable cuteness of my man and our new pet when I realized he was calling my name.

"Bella?"

I tried to focus, but I couldn't seem to respond to him.

"Bella, wake up."

When he reached up and touched my arm, calling my name again, I jerked, realizing I'd been asleep and dreaming, and the voice hadn't been Edward's, but Alice's.

"Fuck, Alice!" I gasped, rubbing my hand over my face before realization set in that she had to be over in the middle of the fucking night for some specific reason – and nothing I could come up with in my head was good. I shot up, reaching over to switch on the light, glancing at the clock. "What is it? What happened?"

Alice looked as tired as I felt, and her eyes were red, like she'd been crying.

"Oh, God... Jasper?"

She shook her head, finally finding her voice again. "First, Bella, stay calm, okay? Just know that he's okay."

Stay calm... He's okay...

I scrambled out of bed, backing away as I shook my head. "No, no, no!" I growled, my back hitting the wall.

I was still shaking my head when she knelt down in front of me, taking my hands in hers.

"He's okay, sweetie. Edward's okay. He got hit in the vest, but he's okay," she repeated, squeezing my hands tightly and keeping my attention on her.

As she told me how they had found the insurgents they'd been searching for, how Edward had been in the vicinity of the explosion that had almost taken out one of his men, tears started pouring down my cheeks. She explained that he'd gotten the wind knocked out of him and some bumps and bruises, but he was fine. He hadn't wanted to call, because he hadn't wanted me to worry, but Jasper had said he needed me, so he was going to Skype.

"Oh, God, I think I'm going to be sick," I said, gagging as I swallowed back the bile that rose in my throat.

Alice moved out of my way and then followed as I jumped up and raced to the toilet, proceeding to throw up what little I had in my stomach. I retched until all I had left to give were dry heaves. Being the good friend that she is, Alice held my hair back out of my face, and when I was done, she handed me a washcloth that she wet in the bathroom sink.

"Here, B, wipe your face, and then brush your teeth. I'm going to go make you some tea, okay?" she offered. "You have about fifteen minutes before Jasper said he was going to have Edward call."

I nodded, letting her know I'd heard, and then began wiping my face with the damp terrycloth.

After a couple of minutes alone, I stood and grabbed one of the disposable cups from beside the sink, using it to rinse my mouth out first. The leftover bile in my mouth nearly made me gag, so before I even picked up my toothbrush, I swigged some mouthwash, and then quickly brushed my teeth, feeling much less gross. By the time I made it out to the living room, I was much more calm and under control, although my shaking, which had started the moment I'd realized it was Alice that had woken me, hadn't abated.

Alice had set up the laptop on the coffee table in front of the couch, alongside a mug that was still steaming. "Come on, Bella. Drink some tea. You need to calm down as much as you can, because you don't want Edward to see you that upset, trust me."

"H-He's really okay?" I asked, my voice a little scratchy from the awful retching.

She nodded. "Jasper swore he was. The medical team cleared him. No broken bones or anything worse than a few scrapes and bruises. He looks and feels worse than it truly is. Remember when Jasper got the concussion when the Humvee rolled? Remember how awful he looked, cause he'd hit his head, so he had a black eye and his face was all scraped up?"

"Yeah," I answered, sipping the tea carefully.

"He was fine, though. He looked scary, like he was hurt really bad, but he wasn't. He was just fine a couple of days later. It's like that with Edward. So just be prepared, and be strong for him, okay? If you need to break down, you can cry on my shoulder after. It's okay to cry – he will worry if you don't show any emotion, right? – but don't freak out simply because he looks bad." At my nod, she said, "I'm going to go see what I can gather together for breakfast. Rose is coming over, too, so I'm going to make enough for all of us."

"Ali, I don't think I can handle eat—"

"You can, and you will," she said sternly, interrupting me. Her tone much softer now, she continued, "Listen, sweetie, if you're in this with Edward, then this is something you have to learn how to handle. You need to eat to keep up your strength. Getting sick won't help you handle the worry and stress. And Bella?"

"Yeah?" I looked up at her to see a sweet frown on her face.

"If you don't think you can handle this, you need to tell him now. It's not fair to either of you to drag it out."

"No!" I gasped, shaking my head. "I love him, Alice. Period. I'm in this for as long as he'll have me."

One corner of her mouth quirked up and she nodded, glancing up at the clock. "Good. Now, drink your tea. Your man should be calling—"

She was cut off by the alert from Skype saying I had an incoming video call.

With shaky fingers, I reached out to click Accept.

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 44 - Edward

~oOo~

From: EAMasen
To: Bella Swan
Date Sent: Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:13 A.M.
Date Received: Tues, May 18, 2010 at 12:13 P.M.
Subject: You've given me so much, Bella...

Beautiful,

The flowers are just a fraction of what I wish I could give you, but I just had to send you something in return. It hardly makes up for all the cookies, comfort, and smiles you've sent my way, but I wanted you to know that it wasn't unappreciated. It means so much...

Sweetheart, I'll be out of contact for most of the next day. We're going to set a trap out on the road to catch these assholes. We think they're after our supplies. I'm not sure my CO is going to let us come back in until we've caught the bastards. LOL And do you need me to say it, love? Yes, I'll be careful. I swear!

You may knee Mike in the balls any time you feel you need to. You have my permission to do so. Even more, I think you have Emmett's total blessing and support. **laugh** And I'm not quite sure that Mike is off the hook with Em, either, despite the fact that he did what was asked of him...

Four and a half months sounds like forever, doesn't it? :( My beautiful girl, I have to go. We're loading up soon. I promise we'll talk or Skype soon, and I'll email as soon as I get back.

Thinking of you,
Edward

P.S. This panty situation is getting out of hand, Isabella. If I were there, I'd take them from you...and you wouldn't get them back. You wouldn't need them.

~oooOOOooo~

Afghanistan... Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 3:56 P.M.

"Breathe for me, Sarge," someone said to me, but it felt like Emmett was sitting on my chest. I felt a hand smack at my face. "Look at me, son," Lieutenant Stephens commanded. "Take a breath."

Everything had gone from yelling orders and getting into position to explosions and pain. In fact, I wasn't even sure the shit had settled down yet.

I gasped as best I could, feeling like I was coughing up smoke, dust, and both lungs. Clawing at my Kevlar vest and ripping the velcro open, I finally took a deeper, testing breath. "Did we get them?" I rasped.

"Yeah, Sarge, you got them," Stephens chuckled, squeezing my shoulder. "Relax. Just breathe. You'll be fine. You just got the wind knocked out of you, that's all. We'll get those ribs checked ASAP, okay?"

I nodded, breathing a little easier now that I knew we'd eradicated the enemy and my vest was being removed.

"Sarge!" Jasper called, landing next to me. "What the hell happened?"

"The bastards took the bait," Stephens answered. "Shot an RPG at our truck. They missed, hitting that abandoned car over there, but a piece of the fender caught Masen in the chest." Stephens stood up. "Get that truck over here! Set up a checkpoint for the next two days. No vehicle goes through without us knowing about it, but traffic can start again. And someone help get Wells and Masen into the truck!"

"Fuck, Lieutenant, I can walk," I groaned, sitting up with the help of Jasper. "No blood, no foul," I snorted wryly, rolling my eyes up at Stephens.

Outside, I was calm, but inside, I was fucking shaking. That had been a motherfucking close call. My chest felt like shit, but my vest had saved my damn life. Jasper took my weapon but let me make my way to the truck on my own.

"What happened to Wells?" I asked him as he pushed my ass into the back.

Jasper looked past me to Emmett. "Wells got the worst of that RPG bast, Sarge," he said softly. "He'll be okay, but the blast hit him mostly in the leg. He's bleeding, and it looks like the thing's broken, but zero casualties, sir."

Emmett shook his head. "Damn, Ed... Had you not hit the deck like you did, you'd have lost your head!" he gasped, falling down next to me.

"Jesus," I groaned, rubbing my chest. It was sore as fucking hell.

"Shut up, Emmett!" Jasper snapped.

I didn't say a fucking word the whole way back to the base. I made sure Wells was taken care of before I'd let them even touch me, but when they did, the doc assured me that I was just bruised – nothing broken, not even a hairline fracture. Wells, on the other hand, was laid up in the bed a few down from me. He'd thanked me, for fuck's sake, because had I not told him to get down when I had, he wouldn't have a broken leg, he would've lost his life to the major part of the blast.

One of these fucking days, it wouldn't be a close call; it would be the end. Someone wouldn't miss, and I would never get to see the beautiful girl that I now lived for. I couldn't do that to her, but I couldn't let her go, either. I felt like a selfish asshole because it was all I could to not to call her.

I was sitting on a gurney when Jasper and Emmett popped up in front of me. Jasper was holding my laptop, which I'd left in my footlocker before heading out earlier this morning.

"Come on, Sarge," Emmett said, jerking his chin toward the door and helping me gingerly step down to the floor. "Doc says you're cleared. You're gonna call your girl."

"No, this'll scare the shit out of her," I argued, glancing up at the clock. "And it's the middle of the fucking night there!"

"We know all of those things, Edward," Jasper chuckled softly, leading me outside and over to the CO's office. "That's why I had Ali go over there. She's waiting for you to Skype her."

I shook my head, changing the subject for a moment. "How'd you get that?" I asked as he set the laptop down on the desk while I gingerly sat my ass down in front of it.

"I got skills, man." Emmett smirked. "Too many times picking the lock on my dad's liquor cabinet when I was in high school." His expression turned serious, and he pointed to the computer. "Now, call her."

"I don't want to scare her," I countered. "Too many of these, and she won't want to deal with this shit from me."

"Yes, but you need to talk to her. You are the scared one, Ed," Jasper urged, pushing my computer closer to me. "You need her. Bells is stronger than you think. Call her. When I got hurt a few months ago, all I wanted was to talk to Alice. Just call."

Trying to get as comfortable as I could in that fucking chair, I logged onto Skype. Bracing myself, I found her name and connected to the video chat.

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 43 - Bella

~oOo~

Seattle... Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 11:28 A.M.

"Okay, guys, settle down and line up. Miss Stephanie will take you down to the cafeteria for lunch," I called out to the kids, who seemed extra hyper today. Maybe it was because we only had just over a week left of school, but whatever the reason, they were wearing me out, and we were only halfway through the day.

Once they were all gone, I grabbed my bag and headed off to the teacher's lounge, where I could grab something from vending machines and check my email.

There were a few teachers in the room when I entered, and I said hello before making my way to one of the small tables at the back. I had just sat down with a bottle of water and small bags of honey roasted peanuts, Sun Chips, and – dessert – chocolate chunk granola bar, when Mike came waltzing in. Great...

"Hey, Bella," he said, giving me a grin. "You need to come with me."

Shocked – although not too shocked – at his audacity, I quirked an eyebrow and said eloquently, "Huh?"

"I'm supposed to escort you down to the office."

At my still-confused look, he rolled his eyes and huffed. "You have a delivery in the front office, and I was instructed to make sure you got there, so come on." Under his breath, he mumbled just barely loud enough that I could hear, "I'm not getting my ass kicked, so come on, dammit."

I wasn't sure what the hell that meant, so I just ignored it and stood, starting to gather my stuff.

"Just leave it," Mike said, pointing to one of the other third grade teachers. "Barb will watch it for you." He poured on the smarmy charm as he turned to her. "Right, Barb?"

She giggled – actually fucking giggled – and batted her eyelashes. "Yeah, sure, Mike." Waving a hand at me without taking her eyes off of Mike, she said, "Go on, Bella. I'll keep an eye on your stuff for you."

Rolling my eyes, I told her, "Thanks." I knew everything would be fine, but I gave one last look to the laptop, sad that my email from Edward that I was sure was waiting for me would have to continue waiting a few more minutes. "All right, Mike, let's go, then."

Surprisingly, Mike didn't try anything on the way to the office. In fact, he was polite, asking about how the kids were holding up during the last stretch of school before summer, and kept a respectful distance between us, not crowding my personal space. It was like he was a completely different guy than he had been the day before. I didn't know what had changed, but whatever it was, I was thankful for it. I could handle him if I had to, but it really wasn't something I wanted to have to deal with.

When we got to the office, Mike stuck his hands in his pockets, looking nervous for the first time since I'd met him. "Listen, Bella..." He huffed a laugh and shook his head. "Tell Emmett I said hey and that I did what I was supposed to do. Good luck with the new guy."

Comprehension dawned as he turned and headed back down the hall. Somehow, some way, my boys had gotten to him. I'd have laughed, except it was the sweetest thing they'd ever done for me. Emmett and Jasper...and now Edward...were such great guys. Even from halfway across the world, they had my back.

I watched Mike flirting with one of the secretaries who was headed back in this direction and shook my head. I doubted he would ever change. Then I turned back and made my way into the office, feeling my jaw drop as I saw the bouquet sitting in a gorgeous blue glass vase on the front counter. Somehow, I knew without a doubt they were for me. The blue vase and blue flowers? Yeah, they were totally from Edward.

"Ah, Bella!" Mrs. Cope said as she walked to the counter. "You, young lady, have some admirer... These came for you this morning with instructions to wait and that you would come down at lunch to pick them up."

Grinning, I pulled the flowers closer and leaned in to smell them once before pulling away. "Yes, ma'am, I do."

"Go on, child," she said. "No need to wait. There's a card."

Immediately, I turned the flowers so the card came into view. Plucking it from the holder, I pulled it out, trailing my fingers lightly over the soft, white petals of one of the lilies.

Bella,

What we have, what we've created is just ours. It doesn't matter what people think, only what we feel. You mean more to me than I can say. I'm not that brave, but since you've come into my life, I've finally found everything I've ever needed.

One day, I'll hand you flowers, but for now, this will have to do.

Always yours,
Edward

With watery eyes, I thanked Mrs. Cope, picked up the flowers, and rushed back to the lounge, all thoughts of lunch gone. All I wanted was to read his latest email and send him something back.

~oooOOOooo~

From: Bella Swan
To: EAMasen
Date Sent: Tues, May 18, 2010 at 11:35 A.M.
Date Received: Tues, May 18, 2010 at 11:35 P.M.
Subject: Oh Sarge...

Thank you so much for the flowers, babe. They were totally unexpected, but absolutely, completely appreciated. They are gorgeous, Edward, really. I cried when I read the sweet card. They will look beautiful on my desk until I go home later and then on my dresser, so they can be the last thing I look at before I go to sleep and first thing when I wake up every morning. (Don't think I didn't see all the blue... ;) Maybe sometime soon, you can see some of the other blue I teased about before, hmm?)

*laugh* Don't tempt me about kneeing Mike in the balls, honey. Although...whatever Emmett said to him must have worked, because he was so damn polite and...non-Mikey as he walked me to the office, it was funny.

I want to hear your voice again soon, too, Sarge. I can still hear it from our last conversation – that warm honey, Midwestern accent... It's the best damn sound in the world to me now, and I make no apologies for that. As for wrapping yourself around me and never coming up for air? That sounds just about damn perfect to me, babe. We'll get through the next four and a half months and make that a reality, ok?

You are in my thoughts and dreams every moment of every day and night, Edward. Always remember that.

Bella

P.S. Damn you for the wet panties...again! It's a good thing I thought to bring an extra pair, just in case!

~oOo~