Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Coming Home Chapter 132 - Edward

~oOo~

From: EAMasen
To: Bella Swan
Date Sent: Sun, Sept 05, 2010 at 6:23 A.M.
Date Received: Sun, Sept 05, 2010 at 3:23 A.M.
Subject: I don't share, Miss Swan.

You have to be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. As much as I'm sure Rose deserves some credit, I'm not sure she deserves all the credit. You are sexy, Isabella – she merely took the photographic proof. I don't know what I did to earn those pictures, but by God, I'll be sure to earn them when I get my hands on you again. And I'll be sure to continue to earn them for the rest of my life.

One day, my love... I'm going to be the one to set you on top of that piano in order to taste every inch of skin you're teasing me with in these pictures. I want to see what sounds we make when I set your ass on the keys and step between those gorgeous legs of yours. I'm going to pull you into my lap and play for you because I know you love it. I haven't played much lately. I miss my muse, Bella.

By the sound of things, it seems you girls had a good time yesterday. That was an enormous amount of popcorn. LOL Your teeth must hate you today.

My sweet, beautiful girl... I miss you more than you can imagine. I'm right there with you. I know what I'm missing, what it's like to wake up in an empty bed, to wish I could blink and have you in my arms. Four weeks seems like an eternity. There are times that I'm not sure I'll survive it without you, but we have to try, baby. The end will be so worth it.

I know this is hard. Believe me. And it only gets worse with the worries of work and everyday bullshit. You're not alone, sweetheart. Just be glad you weren't one of my recruits the first day I had to finally give in and wash the sheets after you left. I was not exactly...pleasant. **raises eyebrow at you** You were gone, your sweet smell was gone, and I was not happy about any of it.

I want you to do me a favor, Isabella. I want you to take the day, sleep late, lounge around in my T-shirt. In fact, I don't even want you to get dressed once you're out of bed. There's nothing better than a day you never leave the house or get out of your pajamas, so do that for me. And then later tonight, I'll call you. Deal? Email back if you want, but don't you dare wash a dish, edit a book, or grade one single paper. Got me?

I love you more with each passing day.

Forever yours,
Edward

P.S. One of these pictures contains a look I recognize, Isabella. Your eyes are dark, you're not exactly looking at the camera, and you're biting down on that sweet bottom lip. What were you thinking about, sexy girl? Hmm? And did it make you wet for me? Because the mere idea that you were wet and ready, sitting on top of my piano... Bella you have no idea what I want to do to you...

~oooOOOooo~

Tampa... Sunday, September 05, 2010 at 7:03 A.M.

I closed my laptop and set it on the bed, my head falling to my hands. My girl sounded lonely and tired and sad, despite the fun she'd had taking the pictures for me. She'd done so fucking much for me since the very beginning – listening, sending packages, teaching me how to laugh again, simply loving me without question. It was time I did something in return, dammit.

Tugging on my sneakers, I walked down the hall to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. I needed to run, to think, but I also knew I couldn't pull off what I wanted to do for Bella alone. At one point in my life, I might've tried to struggle through things alone, but I found I didn't have to anymore. Plus, Jazz would've kicked my ass for not asking.

Walking back down the hall, I bypassed Emmett's room, trying to figure out if his snores sounded like sawing wood or growling bears. Maybe a little of both. I knocked on Jasper's door, knowing he was probably up and just reading.

"Yeah," he said, and I cracked the door. "What's up, Sarge?"

"I need your help. Come for a run with me," I told him, jerking my thumb toward the front door.

He smirked, nodded, and chuckled once. "Got it."

Once we'd stretched, run around Bayshore, and arrived at Ballast Point Park, I'd pretty much figured out what I wanted to do; I just needed help getting it done. I explained everything to Jasper, who listened intently while rubbing his chin.

"Will you be able to get leave on Friday?" he asked, sitting down on the bench at the end of the pier.

"I've never taken a leave. Ever. I'm asking for one single day before my release. I can't imagine I'll be denied," I told him, shrugging a shoulder. "My record proves itself."

"True," he mused. Then he looked up at me. "Why a hotel? Why not Bella's house?"

I was shaking my head no before he even finished the question. "I'm not setting foot in that house until I'm no longer a soldier in the Army. I don't want to see it until I'm actually going...home."

He nodded like he understood, which he probably did.

"I'm doing this for her, to give her what she wants for her birthday, not to satisfy any curiosities. She does everything for me...for us," I urged him, not that he was arguing, but I felt the need to make sure he knew just how important this was.

"We'll need Emmett, believe it or not," he chuckled, looking up at me and pulling out his phone as he stood up. "We just can't let him talk to Bella. Asshole can't keep a secret. It's why we didn't tell him about Bella coming here for you."

Laughing, I nodded. "Okay, so what's first?"

Grinning, he dialed his phone, putting it on speakerphone. "First? We call in reinforcements."

"Jazzy, it's early," Alice grumbled. "I love you, but...damn..."

"Sorry, darlin', but Sarge and I need your help," he told her, and we both smiled when she squeaked.

"You're so coming here for her birthday, aren't you, Edward?" she practically yelled.

"Yes, shorty," I chuckled, shaking my head at how she instantly knew. "Can you help us?"

"Oh ho! Yes, I can. Let me get a pen and notebook," she giggled, and we could both hear her rummaging around on the other end. "Oh, Edward...this will mean everything to her."

"I hope so," I sighed, leaning against the pier railing.

"Okay, boys," she sighed happily. "What's the plan?"

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 131 - Bella

~oOo~

Seattle... Saturday, September 04, 2010 at 3:48 P.M.

"Picture time!" Alice squealed, grinning.

She and Rose were at my house for the day. We'd decided on a day of girl time, the first chance we'd really had to just chill since school started. I was already tired because we'd spent the morning washing our cars, and then this afternoon, we'd gone to the spa and the mall to do some shopping, finally coming back here to relax before ordering pizza for dinner and watching some movies we'd picked out.

I was also tired because it had been late before I'd gotten to sleep on Friday, but I'd gotten a ton of stuff done around the house. The rest of my papers and stuff were organized, and the books were all put up on the new bookshelf in the guest room turned music-slash-reading room. I'd had the pictures that Edward had sent from when we'd gotten them taken together in Florida for over a month, but I hadn't hung them yet, so those were now on the walls throughout the house. My favorite was one of the two of us caught unaware – his arm around my waist, hand on my stomach, and my fingers curled around his, both looking down and laughing at something silly and naughty he'd just whispered in my ear. I had hung that one in the bedroom, where I could see it every morning when I woke and every night before I slept.

Shaking my head slightly to bring my attention back to Alice, I grinned. "Rose, you have your camera, right?"

She nodded. "In my bag. You still want to do all the shots you talked about?"

"Yup," I answered, popping the "p." Standing up, I stretched and said, "Let me go change. We'll do the ones in the red dress first and go from there."

I hurried into the bedroom, pulling off my jeans, T-shirt, and bra. The dress was strapless, so I didn't wear it often, but Edward hadn't seen it yet, so I wanted to wear it for these.

Alice knocked and poked her head in. "Ready? I'll touch up your make-up and fluff your hair."

Following her into the bathroom, I said, "I don't think it needs much, but have at it." They had done my hair at the spa, and shopping hadn't really hurt it at all. It just needed to be combed through and smoothed out.

Once I was ready, I grabbed the matching red stilettos from the shoebox in my closet – another thing I didn't wear often for fear of breaking my neck. They were the exact shade as the dress, and they had a four-inch heel and a ribbon that wrapped around my ankle, tying in a pretty bow in front. I wouldn't put them on until I was already in position.

Alice and I headed to the other room, where Rose was waiting with her camera. She had already put the step stool up just beside the piano, so I handed Alice the shoes and climbed up barefoot, settling myself on the closed lid. Alice slid the shoes on my feet, tying the bows perfectly, and then I carefully drew my knees up and set my feet on the piano. No matter how sexy these pictures turned out, I would never forgive myself if I scratched Edward's piano.

Rose took several photos of me in various poses. In one, my legs were crossed slightly, arms wrapped around them, and my head was bent to rest on my knee as I looked off to the side at the camera. In another, I was lying down on my side, knees bent and kind of curled in on myself, one hand resting on the piano near my head.

My favorite of those was when I sat up near the front of the piano; one foot was resting carefully on the keys, knee bent with my elbow resting on it, and the other was positioned so my legs were parted slightly. Turning slightly sideways so you couldn't see anything, I rested back on my hand. The entire position, despite holding myself steady in order to not scratch the piano, made me feel sexy – chest out, legs open, but not quite, and I was pretty sure Rose caught my daydreamy expression trying to imagine Edward sitting right on that piano bench between my legs.

"Okay," Rose said with a grin. "Lose the dress and shoes and put on that blue lingerie set you bought this morning."

I nodded, reaching down to undo the ribbons around my ankles and letting the shoes drop to the floor. Once Alice had moved the step stool back, I carefully climbed down, picked up the shoes, and hurried back to the bedroom. Tossing the dress and shoes onto the bed, I grabbed the Victoria's Secret sack and pulled out the blue scraps of silk. The other pictures could be shown to Emmett and Jasper if he wanted, but the ones I would be taking next were for his eyes – and my girls, obviously – only.

Walking confidently back into other room wearing the sexy lace bra and matching cheeky panties – because even in these, I wasn't going to wear dental floss – I climbed barefoot back up onto the piano. Rose took shots of me on my stomach, my knees bent and feet in the air, as well as of me on my knees, sitting on my calves, getting a few other pictures as she and Alice directed me on how to move and when to hold a position.

Finally, it was time for the last few shots. As I pulled off my lingerie, Alice went to get the white satin sheet from my bedroom. When she came back in and handed it to me, I wrapped it around me and lay on my back across the front, one arm holding the sheet gathered between my breasts, the other down and resting my hand lightly on the keys of the piano. After a few similar shots to the lingerie ones, I sat up, drawing my knees up to my chest, and let Alice and Rose drape the sheet strategically to just barely cover everything. I was going for teasing and seduction, rather than pornography – although Rose tried to tell me that Edward certainly wouldn't mind.

"Bells, you know he'd love to see one of you without the sheet. How about soft-core, rather than hard-core?" she offered convincingly.

At my hesitation, Alice grinned. "He really would love it, Bella. You know that..."

With a groaning sigh, I unfurled the sheet and handed it over, holding up my hands. "Fine, I'm all yours," I laughed.

~oooOOOooo~

From: Bella Swan
To: EAMasen
Date Sent: Sun, Sept 05, 2010 at 1:13 A.M.
Date Received: Sun, Sept 05, 2010 at 4:13 A.M.
Subject: Consider this a late birthday present. ;)

Edward,

As you can see, we were busy today! *laugh* Rose did a fantastic job of making me look sexy, didn't she? I almost didn't recognize myself in a few of them. Obviously, you can tell which ones are for your eyes only...The others you can share with the boys if you want to. If not, that's fine, too.

We had a great day. You already heard on the phone call earlier about shopping and the spa. After pictures, we ordered in pizza and popped in Hot Tub Time Machine, which was hysterical. We ended up watching three more movies: The Bounty Hunter, with Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, which was fun and pretty funny; Date Night, with Tina Fey and Steve Carrell, which was damn funny; and my favorite, The Back-Up Plan, with Jennifer Lopez and sexy ex-vampire Alex O'Laughlin.

I'm so stuffed because we made four different batches of popcorn. *laugh* We started off with just plain butter and salt, but then with the second movie, we wanted some parmesan cheese and a whole bunch of dried herbs and cayenne pepper. That's when our sweet tooth kicked in for all of us. We had a bowl of buttered cinnamon and sugar, as well as a bowl of plain drizzled with white and dark chocolate. So good, but so full! Now I'm lying in bed, on my side, because I tried putting my laptop up on my stomach, but that was not comfortable! LOL

I'm so tired, my eyes keep closing, but I just had to email you. Watching those romantic comedies was fun, but all they did was serve to make me miss you. I know we only have four weeks left, but that seems like forever. It's so much harder now than it was before I came to Florida. Not that I would change that, of course, but now I know what I'm missing... If I could snap my fingers and have you appear, I would. I wake up every morning, my hand reaching out to find you on the other side of the bed, and every morning, I'm disappointed. So yes, I'm anxious for October second, because I'll be in your arms, and you'll be there every morning when I wake up. *sigh*

I'd better get some sleep. Just going to be a quiet day tomorrow, I think, so will probably try to sleep in. We'll see.

I love you, Sarge.

Forever,
Bella

~oOo~

Monday, July 30, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Coming Home Pic Teases





Coming Home Chapter 130 - Edward

~oOo~

Tampa... Monday, August 23, 2010 at 11:23 A.M.

"I'm so fucking tired of this cafeteria bullshit," Emmett grumbled as we walked into the food court area.

"Well, maybe if you hadn't eaten most of the food Bella and the girls had put away for us in like the first three weeks, you wouldn't be bitchin'," Jasper countered, shrugging a shoulder and giving him a look that basically told him to not to even try to deny it.

"I didn't," he lied through his damn teeth.

I laughed, shaking my head. "Em, man... You ate both tuna casseroles in one day. Don't fucking try it..."

Emmett grinned shamelessly. "Yeah, well, Bells knows I can't resist those..."

Rolling my eyes and smirking at him, I pulled my phone out when it chirped with a text alert. "Speaking of," I muttered, opening her message.

B: Oh, Sarge, the flowers are beautiful! Thank you! :) Love you! Consider yourself smooched to pieces. Xoxoxo

Before I placed my lunch order, I sent her a quick reply.

E: Love you, too. I'm glad you like them, sweet girl. I'm pretty damn sure they aren't as beautiful as you are, but I'm hoping that they bring you a good first day back to school. Call me tonight when you get home, Miss Swan. I want to hear everything! :)

B: You got it, handsome. :)

~oooOOOooo~

"Masen!" Lieutenant Morris called from across the field. "You and Corporals Whitlock and McCarty get over here."

"Aw, hell. What'd we do this time?" Jasper groaned.

"No idea," I said, shrugging as we double-timed it by some of the newer recruits that were working the obstacle course.

Morris waved away our salutes as soon as we arrived in front of him. "Not one of you three are re-upping? Not one?"

"No, sir," we answered him.

"Well, shit," he hissed, rubbing his face and giving the course a disdainful look. "That means I have to promote someone."

"May I make a few suggestions, sir?" I offered. He didn't really know my squad, and I'd been expecting this for a few weeks now.

"Go on," he said slowly, wearing a smirk.

"Wells, sir. He's just recently re-upped, his family is now living on base, and that temporary cast should be off soon. He's got the respect of the men, sir," I explained, gesturing to where Jeff Wells was finishing up for the day. He limped alongside the course wearing a cast that he could actually walk on.

"Ramirez, too," Emmett added, jerking his chin, and I nodded in agreement.

"Ramirez is tough but fair, sir," Jasper piped in. "But Wells has seen shit up close and personal. He'll make a good teacher."

"Both men are set for another four years, sir," I told Morris. "You can trust them both."

Morris cracked a small smile. "I'll consider it. Thank you, Masen. What's next for you three?"

"Home, sir," we all answered, wearing what I was sure were matching grins.

"Where's home?" he snorted, shaking his head at us.

"Seattle, sir."

"Got it," he laughed, waving us away. "Go. End this shit for the day. I've got a ballet recital I can't miss."

I called a halt to the training, sending the men on their way for the day. After a short debate, the guys decided on Chinese for dinner. I offered to call it in on my way home so it would be delivered soon after we all got to the house. They were going to stop by the store to grab a few things we were running low on – laundry detergent, beer, soda, and bottled water, not to mention paper plates. Those assholes were killing my ass with the always-full sink of fucking dirty dishes.

I was just throwing away my garbage as I tossed the last half of an eggroll in my mouth when my phone finally rang.

"Hey, bootiful," I mumbled with a full mouth.

"Are you eating?" Bella giggled.

"I was," I said after finally swallowing. "I'm done now."

"Dare I ask what was for dinner?" she sighed, but I could hear the smile in her voice nonetheless.

"Chinese," I said proudly. Bella hated when we did the fast food thing every damn day. She even went as far as sending Jasper some of her easiest recipes, but we didn't always cook at home now that her frozen stash had dwindled away.

"Good boy," she purred.

"I don't know about that, Miss Swan," I sighed dramatically, closing my bedroom door. "Three eggrolls and a pint of lo mein isn't exactly saintly, but I was a starving man. Besides, the things I've been thinking about you today wouldn't be considered particularly...good."

"Oh, Sarge, I'm sure it was plenty...good," she giggled back.

Grinning, I shook my head. "How was the first day back, love?"

"Hard, tiring, but I've got great kids this year. I've got a group of boys that remind me of you, Jazz, and Em...almost to a tee. It's rather frightening, actually," she laughed. "They're thick as thieves. A loud, funny one, a quiet, clever one, and then the really cute, shy one."

I laughed, settling back against the headboard of the bed. "Any stolen kisses or pulled pigtails on the first day?"

"Yes, of course. Poor Jeremy just about had heart failure. He's the sweet, shy one," she snickered. "Little Sophie gave him no choice in the matter. She just ran up to him at recess, planted a big sloppy kiss on on his cheek, and ran off."

I groaned out a laugh. "Oh, poor kid."

"His buddies, Ryan and Paul, spent the rest of recess guarding him." Bella huffed a laugh but went on to tell me about a few of her other new students, including a shy little girl that was new to the area. She didn't know anyone from the previous year, so Bella had to stop the kids from picking on her; she understood what it was like to hate being the center of attention.

"We have a few new teachers this year because one had a baby – a little girl – and another retired. Mike's all over them like white on rice. It's rather disturbing," she huffed.

"And just how is he with you?" I asked, unable to stop myself or the slight growl that came through my tone.

"Relax, Sarge. He was a perfect gentleman. Or as close to one as he can be." She murmured the last sentence. "He started with his same old crap until he saw my ring."

"The ring I gave you..."

"Yep," she chirped. "That one. And once he saw my flowers with your card, he muttered something about getting his ass kicked and left me alone." She laughed again. "Thank you again for those, by the way."

"You're very welcome, sweet girl," I said with a grin, trying to imagine what this douchebag, Mike, looked like. He sounded like a pussy, which Emmett had called him more than once, but he could schmooze the girls around him, so he couldn't be all that repulsive. The fact that he was fucking clueless about those same women made me chuckle.

"You might want to tell him that Emmett's still pissed," I said, shrugging one shoulder that I knew she couldn't see. "He hasn't quite forgiven him for the whole cheating on you thing. Big brother issues and all. I'm saving my opinion for when I meet him, which should prove all sorts of entertaining."

"Mike is a sexual harassment case waiting to happen," Bella stated with a touch of laughter to her voice. "In fact, I'm pretty sure the new teacher, Angela, is just ballsy enough to put him in his place – and I think she's engaged – but Jessica fell for it instantly. Poor, hopeless girl.

"All in all, it was a good first day," she concluded. "How was yours?"

"I had to pick my replacement... Well, mine, and the guys' replacements," I told her, pulling at a loose string on my fatigues. They'd seen better days, but I didn't want to replace them, not when I was out of this place in like six weeks. "We also are getting reports back that our training is really working. Some of our first classes are doing really well overseas."

"Good, babe. That's really good," she gushed. "God, I miss you," she suddenly groaned, sighing heavily.

"I miss you, too, sweetheart," I countered, trying to sound soothing, but I knew I sounded just as frustrated. Six weeks was so close, yet so far. Only the month of September and a week left in August stood in our way. Which reminded me... "Bella, what do you want for your birthday?" I asked, bracing myself for her reaction.

"Edward, please don't go crazy," she begged. "Please? I just want you wearing a big bow. Okay?" she snarked.

Laughing, my head fell back to the wall. "I'll see what I can do," I chuckled. "But what do you want? Maybe something you can't always have or something you need but never get?"

"I can't think of a thing... Well, other than you and that bow. That seems to have taken over in my imagination," she giggled. "Red...definitely, red. Only wrapped around your..."

"Don't make me call Charlie," I interrupted her with a warning because I knew where that was going. "I'll set up some elaborate thing..."

"You wouldn't dare!"

"I would, and you know it. Just...think about it, love," I chuckled. "I've got Jasper on my side. Don't think I don't. If he set up my fan-fucking-tastic birthday surprise, just imagine what I can get him to do for you."

She harrumphed stubbornly, saying, "You know what, Masen? Do your worst. I have no idea what I want, and I'm not fighting you...all of you – Alice and Rose have already started prying. Just...don't listen to them. I heard rumors of male strippers...though, I'm not sure whether they were kidding or not."

I laughed, just because I couldn't help it. "Absolutely fucking not! No greased up lap dances for you, Isabella."

"Are you offering?" she laughed. "Because I'll save every dollar bill I have until October just to tuck them on you."

I slapped a hand to my forehead. "I'm making no promises."

"Bring the bow," she giggled.

"Go eat dinner, sweet girl. I see I'm on my own for your birthday. Remember that I gave you ample opportunity to help a guy out, but no... You wanted to be silly. Your window has officially closed," I growled dramatically.

Bella laughed again, happy, sweet, and full of life, and I couldn't love her more if I tried. "I'm sure I'll live, Edward. I'll call you later."

Grinning, I shook my head. "Good. I wonder if I could hire a clown to go to the school..."

"Edward, don't you dare..." she squeaked, and I could tell she was going to say more, but I ended the call on purpose, just to drive her crazy, getting up to go talk to Jasper.

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 129 - Bella

~oOo~

Friday... August 20, 2010 at 2:33 P.M.

I waved to Mrs. Jackson when I climbed out of the car, smiling at the sweet little grandmother shuffling slowly across her lawn.

"Hello, Miss Mary," I told her, accepting her hug.

When she pulled back, her bony hands, still strong even at eighty-three, cupped my face. "Isabella!" she said warmly. "How are you, dear? You look wonderful. How's that man of yours?"

"I'm great." I couldn't help the smile that I was sure stretched from ear to ear. "Edward is doing well. He said to give you one of these the next time I saw you..." I leaned down and brushed her cheek with a kiss.

Miss Mary looked flustered for a moment, her eyes twinkling. "Well, that dear boy. Tell him I expect a better one than that when he comes home," she teased, winking at me. "Not too long now, is it?"

Shaking my head, I sighed. "Just over a month now. Six weeks. Still too long."

"Bah," she said firmly. "That's nothing, child. You can do it. You're a strong one, Isabella Swan. Now, I came over for a reason. Your young man sent you a package, and since you were out, the delivery boy left it with me. I signed for it and said I would get it to you when you arrived home. It's a bit heavy for me, or I'd have brought it over."

"Thank you very much, Miss Mary." I smiled and gestured to my car. "I've got groceries in the back seat. Let me unload them, and then I'll come over and get it, all right?"

"That will be fine, Isabella. You come over when you're ready." She smiled and patted my cheek before turning and making the trip back to her house, leaving me alone by my car.

~oooOOOooo~

Twenty minutes later, I was back on my couch with the rather hefty box from Edward on the floor between my feet. The first thing I pulled out was an envelope with my name in Edward's handwriting. Opening it, I saw a short note.

My sweet Bella,

Since I can't be there in person, I wanted to send you some things that will hopefully help you start out your new school year right. I emailed Alice and asked what kind of things would be most helpful, and she sent me a list of some of the supplies you normally buy for your classroom. I know you've already bought some, but she assured me that you would need more, so hopefully what I got will help later in the year if nothing else.

I also included a few other things I thought would be cute or helpful...and a few things I just couldn't resist.

Yours always,

Edward

My eyes welled with tears before I'd even looked at the contents of the box. Edward was the sweetest man I'd ever met.

Setting the letter down on the table beside the couch, I turned my attention back to the box in front of me. The first thing I noticed was the stack of notebook paper and boxes upon boxes of pencils, pens, colored pencils, and erasers. From what I could tell, there was enough there to stock my classroom for the rest of the school year, even if I had more than a couple of kids who came to school without them due to financial issues at home.

Also inside the box were two smaller boxes – one about the size of a shoe box and wrapped in the funny papers and a thinner but wider one underneath it. I pulled out both boxes, and on the funny papers one, written in Edward's script with a black marker, were the words, "Open last!" Raising an eyebrow, I set it aside and grabbed the other box.

I had to chuckle when I saw that it was a plaque with the word "teacher" in all capital red, yellow, and blue letters. From the picture on the front, six brightly colored wood cutouts resembling pencils hung down from the plaque to be used as school passes. I carefully opened the lid and pulled out passes for the hall, office, boys, girls, nurse, and library. Just as I'd guessed, each had a small hole on the end to hang on the six hooks on the plaque. This would be perfect to put up on the wall beside my desk.

I closed the box and set it aside, reaching into the big box to get the only other thing inside. When I pulled out the tote, I realized I'd seen one like it while in Tampa and had told Edward. It was large enough to fit my laptop plus all the papers and stuff I'd have to carry to and from school, a few zippered pockets for smaller things, and a place for a water bottle on the side. He had gotten it monogrammed with my initials on the front, too.

It was all too much, and I hadn't even opened the last box yet. I swiped at the tear that had leaked from my eye and then set the tote beside me, finally picking up the comics-covered box.

When I tore open the wrapping, I actually laughed out loud, my tears gone. Tied with a big red ribbon were – I took a quick count – ten pairs of boy short panties. From the words on the back of the top of one, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy them all.

Untying the ribbon, I started looking through them, starting with the four pink pairs on top, which read: Peace, Love, Third Grade; Warning, I am silently correcting your grammar; Hot For Teacher; and an adorable spiderweb with Some Teacher, just like "Some Pig" in Charlotte's Web.

There were also four white pairs with red trim: I teach for a living... What's your superpower?; "Naughty teacher" with an apple beside it; three students with a teacher covering her ears and saying "You're not the boss of me!"; and Don't make me use my teacher voice.

At the bottom of the stack were two red pairs: You can't scare me... I'm a teacher; and Danger: Teacher in a bad mood.

Giggling, I set them all down and pulled my cell phone from my pocket, dialing Edward's number.

He answered just after the second ring. "Hey, sweetheart. How's your last free Friday going?"

I smiled. "Quiet, but good. Better once I got home to find this huge box with Mrs. Jackson next door."

Edward chuckled. "Did you give her a kiss for me?"

"Yes," I huffed playfully. "The woman is old enough to be your grandmother, and she said she expects a better one when you get home."

The chuckle turned into a full-blown laugh at that. I could just picture his green eyes alight with amusement, his grin stretching across his face.

"I'll be sure to do that," he teased. "So you got the box? Why did sweet Miss Mary have it?"

I explained about having been gone to the grocery store when the UPS truck stopped by. "So once I got the groceries put away, I went back to her house to get it." I sighed, looking down at all the stuff he'd sent. "Edward, panties aside, this was just way too much..."

"Is it stuff you can use?"

"Of course! But the bag was expen—"

"Isabella, will you use it?" he interrupted to ask.

Sighing softly, I finally said in a small voice, "Every day."

"Then it was worth every penny." Then he chuckled darkly. "If you'd like, you can pay me back by modeling some of those new clothes you got in the box."

I laughed. "You've got a deal, Sarge."

"Good," he purred, the word sending shivers from my ear to my core. "Now, talk to me, love. Are you ready for school to start on Monday?"

I kicked my shoes off and lay back on the couch, settling in to chat. "I think I am, yeah. Let me tell you about the posters and stuff I put up today..."

~oOo~

Sunday, July 29, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Coming Home Pics






Coming Home Chapter 128 - Edward

~oOo~

Tampa... Friday, August 06, 2010 at 10:23 P.M.

B: It's all here, babe. Everything looks great. The piano, as you can see, is gorgeous and fits perfectly. I think we have...more than you anticipated. *laugh* Have fun with the guys, and call me after, ok? Love you!

"Fuck, I missed a text from Bella," I sighed, walking through the parking lot of the bar.

I stumbled a few steps, coming to a complete and utter halt as I took in my piano now sitting in Bella's house. It fit. Hell, not only did it fit, but my girl had made the room just beautiful. It looked like it fucking belonged there.

"Just call her when we get home," Jasper sort of slurred, tossing me the keys to his rental truck.

He'd had a little more to drink than I'd had. In fact, I tended to drink less than the two of them when we went out. Emmett wasn't much better, but he was talking to Rose on the phone as we all piled in.

"Yeah," I muttered, sending Bella a quick text back.

E: Hey, sweet girl. I'll call you in 10 min. Sorry I missed your message.

B: No biggie. Can't wait, handsome! :)

"So your shit came today," Emmett chuckled happily from the back seat now that he was off the phone, smacking my shoulder lightly. "Rosie said she was over there, man. That's awesome!"

Grinning because I just fucking couldn't help it, I said, "It did. Bella sent a picture and everything." I pulled out of the parking lot onto the main road. "Though, she said there was more than she'd anticipated."

I frowned, trying to remember just exactly what had been in that storage unit. I hadn't really paid attention to the email that Marcus had sent. I'd seen a few boxes, my piano and its bench, but I hadn't really thought to look for anything else. Plus, I trusted Bella to keep an eye out for anything wrong.

Once we were home and I'd kicked off my shoes and fallen onto the bed, I dialed Bella.

"Now you have to come to Seattle. I'm holding your stuff hostage," she giggled in answer to only one ring of the phone.

"I would've come without my stuff, sweet girl," I chuckled. "No need to threaten innocent boxes."

"Oh, gotcha," she snickered happily. "Did you have fun tonight? Are you drunk?"

"I did, and no, I'm...comfortably numb," I told her, shrugging a shoulder that I realized she couldn't see. "I only had a few beers. Em and Jazz, on the other hand..." I huffed a laugh. "I'm sure they'll sleep in tomorrow."

"Oh, boy."

"Yeah. So everything looked okay? It'd been in storage for ages." I sat up, shifting to lean against the headboard.

"It looks perfect, babe. I didn't see one problem. And God, that piano is gorgeous."

Smiling, I sighed. "Yeah, I can't wait to play it again."

"Well, the movers suggested having it tuned, due to the move, but...me, either," she told me.

"Beautiful, what did you mean by more than anticipated? There should be only a handful of boxes."

"No, sweetie, there was chest, a leather chair, a rocking chair, and a desk, too. There's also a letter that came with it," she explained.

"Well, what's it say?" I asked, curious as to how I hadn't remembered those other things.

"Edward, I didn't open your stuff," she answered nervously.

"Please," I scoffed, rolling my eyes. "I've got no secrets from you, love. Will you read it to me? It's probably from the lawyer."

There was a rustling of paper over the line, and my girl was quiet for a moment.

"Oh, it's from Irina," she said softly, and then she started reading.

"Dear Edward,

I hope that this letter...and your things...find you well. Garrett found out when the movers were emptying your storage, and I wanted to make sure a few things made it to you. Sweetie, these were important things that I think Elizabeth would have wanted you to keep, but you were so intent on just... Well, maybe if I remind you of their history, you'll understand why I did it.

The rocking chair and the hope chest were your mother's. If I'm not mistaken, she rocked you in that thing every night when you were a baby, but the chest had been passed down from her mother. I'm not really sure what's in it. The desk was your father's in his home office, and the only reason I thought you might want it was because you used to sit behind it and pretend to be him from just about the time you could walk. He loved it, Edward. You have no idea. And that manly leather chair was the same chair you two would watch baseball games in until you were too big to sit on his lap. I thought Liz would lose her mind every time you ate popcorn in it, but she loved watching the two of you in your little bubble of teams, players, and stats.

Look, sweetheart, I understand wanting to get away, especially after Ed's death. And I completely understood why you left all of it behind, but you were young, grieving, and not thinking so clearly, so I took the liberty of thinking ahead for you. Please don't be upset with me. If you don't want these things, that's fine, but I thought I'd at least give you the option. These things...they're your history, your memories, and good ones, at that.

All I want for you, Edward...all your parents wanted for you, sweetie...was for you to be happy, and from the sound of it, you've achieved it. You've grown into an extremely honorable, smart young man. Your parents would be so proud of you, and know that Garrett and I are, too, because you could have taken a different path, a darker path, but you didn't. I'm so very grateful that you're out of the line of fire and back in the U.S. And I want you to know that just because things didn't work out with Tanya doesn't mean you can't come to me or Garrett if you need us. We'll always be there for you, son.

Much love,

Irina"

I rubbed my eye with the heel of my hand, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "Is it too much, Bella? Will it fit...at least until I can see them?"

"I've made it fit, Edward," she stated firmly, but her voice was gentle, like the sweet touches to my face I missed. "The rocking chair and the chest fit just fine in the bedroom. And the leather chair has already made friends with my sofa."

I snorted, shaking my head and sighing. "And the desk?" I asked, having forgotten just how much I'd loved my father's office, how many hours I'd just hung out in there with him.

"Well, it's out of the way for now," she started. "We weren't sure if it would fit in the room with the piano, so it's tucked away in the corner of my dining room. You boys can move it when you get home."

Home.

"Okay," I whispered, suddenly so fucking homesick for my girl that I was almost physically ill. "I should probably call her and thank her, huh?"

"Yes, babe. You should. That was incredible of her to do that for you," Bella said, a reverent tone to her voice. "She and your mom were close?"

"Yeah." I huffed a laugh. "Like sisters. Maybe my mother told her to do it. I don't know."

"Or maybe they knew each other so well that she didn't have to ask," she suggested. "I would know what Alice would want saved."

"Maybe."

"Oh, and I stacked your boxes in the piano room. You can go through them when you get here," Bella said.

"Sweet girl, if you need to—"

"I'm not going through your stuff without you," she interrupted with a giggle. "First of all, boxes mean the possibility of spiders, and you'll truly have to save me from that nightmare. And second, I'd rather you be here..."

Smiling, I said, "Yes, ma'am."

"Besides, who knows if you have some sort of panty collection in there," she teased, and I couldn't help but bark out a laugh.

"The only pair of panties I've ever saved is yours from our date, Isabella," I crooned, my eyes flickering to the closet, where I knew for a fact her underwear was currently residing in the pocket of my suit jacket that I'd worn that night.

"Mmm, that was a good night," she purred.

"Indeed, Miss Swan," I chuckled darkly. "One I intend on repeating as soon as my ass gets home – only this time, I won't have to clean the car so soon."

"I look forward to it, Sarge," she countered with a giggle. "Go call Irina, you silly ass. Then you can call me back and tell me all the naughty things you intend to do to me in my own house, Masen."

Laughing, my head fell back to the wall. "Yes, ma'am. Trust me, that list is long, twisted, and rather detailed."

"Excellent," she laughed shamelessly.

We were quiet for just a moment, before I finally said, "Thanks, love."

"Are you okay, Edward?"

"I will be... When I get home, I'll be just perfect," I sighed, smiling at the mere thought of it.

"Good," she chirped. "Now...go thank her. You need to. And call me back. I need to take this twisted and detailed list down for future reference."

I laughed, falling in love with her just a little more and missing her with all that I had. "Okay... Love you."

"Love you, too."

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 127 - Bella

~oOo~

Seattle... Friday, August 06, 2010 at 4:24 P.M.

"Nope," I said into the phone, tucking it between my ear and my shoulder. "I haven't heard from them yet, but I expect to anytime."

Alice made a "hmming" sound for a moment and then was quiet. "You're sure they are supposed to be there today?"

I shrugged without thinking she wouldn't be able to see me, nearly dropping the phone in the process. "Edward told me they left Chicago yesterday and that he was told before six o'clock tonight. So..."

"You want me to come over and wait with you? You don't have to be alone when they get there, you know."

Smiling, I shifted the phone from my shoulder to my hand. "I'm not worried about that, but if you guys want to come over for dinner, I have some chicken breasts marinating. I was planning to do a big salad, and there's plenty of stuff for all of us."

"I'll call Rose," she promptly said, adding, "We'll be there in a few."

"Okay," I told her, laughing as she hung up.

My phone beeped, signaling an incoming message.

E: Hi, beautiful. Have they gotten there yet? You aren't alone, are you?

I laughed as I hit Reply.

B: Not you, too! Alice just asked me about being here alone when they showed up (and no, they haven't yet). Don't worry, she and Rose are coming over for dinner anytime, so I won't be alone for long.

E: Good, I was worried. I know you can take care of yourself, but it's in my nature to worry about you.

B: And I love you for that. I'll be fine. I promise. Now, I thought you guys were going out to the bar to shoot some pool or something tonight. Did plans change?

Just as I hit Send, my phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Yes, this is Frank, from Chicago Moovers. Is this—" there was a pause and a shuffle of papers in the background "—Isabella Swan?"

Sitting up straight, I answered, "Yes, this is she."

"Oh, good. Just wanted to double check that you were home. We should be arriving at your address in the next hour or so. We had a flat tire, or we'd have been there sooner."

I smiled, knowing that the delay would make my girls and Edward feel better because I wouldn't be alone when the movers arrived. "Yup, I'll be here. I parked in my neighbor's drive today, so you have plenty of space to pull into the driveway."

"Okay, great. See you then."

Hanging up the phone, I saw that I had a new text from Edward. Before opening that, I shot off a new one to Alice.

B: Park on street. Just heard from movers. Here in hour or so.

Then I flipped over to Edward's text.

E: Nope. We just got there, actually. We had to take Jasper's truck because my SUV has a flat – which we found out when we got outside to leave.

B: That seems to be going around. Just heard from the movers. They had a flat tire so they were running behind. Should be here in an hour or so. The girls will be here before then.

E: Good. Call if you need me, love.

B: Will do. Love you! Have fun!

E: Love you, too, sweet girl. Say hello to Alice & Rose.

~oooOOOooo~

Just under two hours later, I tried to hand Frank a tip for himself and his two guys, Dustin and Steve, but he waved me off.

"Already covered." He handed me a business card, which had the same picture of the cows carrying a sofa that I'd seen on the side of their truck. "Call this number if you find something wrong later or the next time you need something moved."

"Thanks so much," I told him, smiling at the three of them. They'd been polite, friendly, and hadn't made me feel at all nervous once, and all of Edward's things had been in perfect condition from what I could tell. "Have a safe drive back to Chicago."

"Thank you, ma'am," the three of them echoed before stepping through the front door and closing it behind them.

Alice and Rose giggled from their spots on the couch.

"I think Dustin – call me Dusty, ma'am – had a crush," Alice sang, drawing out the last word.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, well, Steve couldn't take his eyes off you, and Frank certainly smiled at Rose enough."

"He was old enough to be my father," Rose said with a shudder. "Nice guy, though."

Laughing, I agreed with a nod and then turned to the corner of the living room, which was now crammed with stuff. "I wonder if Edward knew about that stuff," I said, gesturing to the furniture. "From what he'd mentioned, he was only expecting the piano and a few boxes."

"Open the letter and find out," Alice prompted.

Shaking my head, I picked up the sealed envelope and turned it over in my hands. "It's addressed to Edward. I'll tell him about it and let him decide what he wants me to do."

I pulled my phone from my pocket and walked back to the spare bedroom-turned-music room. Seeing the piano a second time still took my breath away. It had been dusty when they first delivered it, but while Rose and Alice supervised the unloading of the rest of the stuff, I had cleaned it using some old T-shirts that I'd relegated to the cleaning pile. A bit of damp cloth to get off the dust, and the black surface was shining like new. I could imagine Edward sitting down on the matching bench behind the keys and playing for me, and my heart just ached for it. Suddenly, I just needed to hear his voice. I didn't want to interrupt his guy time, though, so I decided to send him a text.

Snapping a picture of the piano, I attached it to the message.

B: It's all here, babe. Everything looks great. The piano, as you can see, is gorgeous and fits perfectly. I think we have...more than you anticipated. *laugh* Have fun with the guys, and call me after, ok? Love you!

When he hadn't replied in a couple of minutes, I figured it was too loud in the bar for him to hear the message alert, so I stuck my phone back in my pocket and headed back to the girls. Edward would call when he got the message, so for now, I would just relax and enjoy my evening with my friends.

~oOo~

Saturday, July 28, 2012 | By: Drotuno

Coming Home Pic Tease


Coming Home Chapter 126 - Edward

~oOo~

From: EAMasen
To: Bella Swan
Date Sent: Sat, July 31, 2010 at 8:25 A.M.
Date Received: Sat, July 31, 2010 at 5:25 A.M.
Subject: Fwd: Re: The property of Sgt. Edward A. Masen Jr.

Hello, my sweet girl...

I just wanted to keep you in the loop. This is all the shipping stuff you'll need, but as you can see, I gave them your contact information in case they need you. I don't think they'll bug you until they actually get to Seattle. But if they do, just call me. I'll help you with anything they need to know.

I love you, Bella. My life is in your hands, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Forever yours,
Edward

- Forwarded message -
From: Marcus Volturi
To: EAMasen
Date Sent: Sat, July 31, 2010 at 10:05 A.M.
Date Received: Sat, July 31, 2010 at 11:05 A.M.
Subject: Re: The property of Sgt. Edward A. Masen Jr.

Sgt. Masen,

It would be my pleasure to personally see to it that your things are loaded and transported safely. Your father, Edward Sr., was kind enough to take me on fresh out of law school, so it's the least I could do to help his son get settled.

I've researched local movers, and you'll see that I attached the information of the company that I've hired. They come highly recommended, especially concerning the moving of your piano. Though, I did take the liberty of using their insurance policy just to be on the safe side. To make things easier on Miss Swan, they've agreed to set it up for her, as well.

I'm personally meeting them at your storage facility next week. I'll email you photos as they're loading. You or Miss Swan can inspect everything once it arrives in Seattle, just to check for any damages through transport. Please let me know immediately if any damages do occur, and we'll pursue just compensation.

Please let me know if there is anything else you'll be needing. I'll be glad to see to it that all your financial information is taken care of until you settle in Seattle.

Thank you,
Marcus Volturi, Esq.
Denali, Volturi, & Associates

On July 30, 2010 8:22 A.M., "Edward Masen" Edward A. Masen wrote:

Marcus,

I appreciate your taking over my case. I hold no ill will toward Garrett Denali, but due to the close and personal nature of our relationship, I thought it was best that I obtain a different lawyer.

My question to you is this: Would you please be kind enough to start the shipping process of my things from Chicago to Seattle? Attached is the address and contact information of Miss Isabella Swan. She will be taking possession of my things until October, when I'll be leaving Florida to join her. Please make sure you obtain a moving company that can handle my piano since not all movers will do so. Trust me, it was a task getting it moved into storage.

Please let me know if there will be any problems getting this done. And thank you for confirmation that Miss Swan has been added as my beneficiary.

Sincerely,
Sgt. E. A. Masen Jr.

~oooOOOooo~

Tampa... Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 9:18 P.M.

Popping the last bite of sandwich into my mouth, I flipped through my phone. The house was quiet because Emmett and Jasper were shooting pool with some of the guys. They'd invited me as usual, but I'd declined. I knew I'd be hearing from Bella at some point today. And I had, which caused me to smile as I looked at the last of the pictures she'd just sent.

I shook my head at the paint hand prints clearly on her breasts and ass, but it was the happy, silly grin she was sporting that made my chest swell. Bella occasionally needed reassurance that there was light at the end of this long ass tunnel, and I didn't blame her one bit. Our beginning wasn't exactly the norm, so some of our relationship was pure, blind faith. If the information about the movers didn't help set her mind at ease, then only my arrival would, but I just hoped it helped. For me, on the other hand, seeing my girl absolutely stupid with happiness about cleaning out a spare room just for me, for my things... Well, there was nothing like it.

My phone started to vibrate and ring in my hands, and I immediately picked up.

"There's my little Van Gogh," I chuckled.

"God, I hope not. He went mad and cut his own ear off!" she countered with a laugh. "I miss you, babe, but um...no."

Laughing, my head fell to the back of the sofa. "I like your ears. Leave them."

"I think I will, thank you very much," she sighed happily. "Looks okay, right? The room?"

"Oh, sweetheart, it could be painted camo for all I care. It's beautiful," I told her honestly. "I can't wait to see what you do next."

"I'll send you more pictures soon, I promise," she vowed.

"Hey," I said, sitting up straighter. "Did you check your email this morning?"

"No, sweetie, not yet; I knew I'd call you. Why?"

"I forwarded the movers' info to you. They'll be loading up sometime next week, so you should be getting it all by the sixth or seventh. Is that okay? Will you be done by then?" I asked her, thinking I may have been rushing her.

"That's perfect, actually," she squealed, making me grin. "All I have left is to put the bookshelves back once the paint is dry."

"Speaking of paint, sexy girl," I growled dramatically in order to tease her. "Care to tell me whose hands touched what's mine?"

Her laugh was loud and silly. "Yeah, Alice's. She came up behind me and did it. I got her back, though. I rolled that rusty color all the way down her back. It's all still yours, handsome, because Alice isn't my type. Trust me."

"I do," I said with a smile. "Totally. But for a minute there, I thought some neighbor came over..."

"Edward, I live next door to an elderly woman, who, by the way, is just itching to meet you. Says you're a fox," she giggled.

"I am a fox," I chuckled, letting the sound of her laugh warm me through and through. "You didn't show her my underwear picture, did you?"

"No! That's all mine."

"Good," I sighed in relief. "Not that I care, really, but it would be a little uncomfortable knowing that the little old lady next door has seen what I look like in my skivvies before I even move in."

"She'd like it, though. She's a shameless thing," Bella chuckled.

Smiling, I could feel my whole body relax at just this simple conversation. I couldn't wait for any of it – meeting neighbors and Charlie, learning to get around a new city, trying to figure out my career. Which reminded me...

"Baby, when I get home, there's something we need to talk about," I started, rubbing the back of my neck.

"Okay," she said, dragging out the word.

"It's just... I need to figure out what I'm going to do once I'm there," I told her. "Your father offered to help me join the police force in Seattle, but..." I paused when she groaned. "Exactly, sweet girl. I don't know if I could do that to you. You already worry about your dad, and he's in a small town. This would be a big city. I saw your face when I got hurt. I don't know if I could take seeing you like that again."

"Edward, I'd back whatever decision you made. Honestly," she said, but I wasn't convinced. "Would I be terrified of something happening to you? Yes, but that wouldn't change, even if you were just driving to the damn store."

"I know that, but I was thinking of...going back to school," I said softly, unsure of what she'd think. "Is that stupid? I mean, I would be like the oldest freshman there." I chuckled, running a hand over my short hair.

"It doesn't matter your age, babe," she giggled. "School? Really? What for?"

"Music Education. I want to teach piano like my mother," I stated, bracing myself for laughter, but it didn't come.

"Oh, Edward. I think you'd be really good at it. And yeah, if that's what you want, I'm a hundred percent behind you," she gushed.

"I have time to decide, and I'm sure that I'll need to re-test and shit, but I just... I mean... I can still take care of you, Bella," I rambled, standing up and started to pace.

"Babe, stop. I know you'll take care of me. I'm not worried about it," she stated firmly. "Why don't you give it some more thought, and we can talk about it again once you're here? But I will tell you that U-Dub has a fantastic music department."

"Yeah?" I asked, leaning in the kitchen. "I think Jasper's thinking of school, too. History or something. I heard him talking to Alice the other night."

"Well, good. You can go together. Then you won't be the only old man," she teased.

Grinning, I rolled my eyes. "I'll show you old man, Isabella."

"You'd make a cute old man," she mused aloud, which only caused me to laugh.

"Hush, sexy girl. I'm pretty sure you'll drive me to an early grave just by trying to keep up with you. I'm not done exploring every inch of you, beautiful," I crooned to her, just to hear the sweet moan echo over the phone.

"Yeah, what a way to go...death by orgasm... I'll be sure to put that on your tombstone, babe," she said wryly.

Laughing, I shook my head, glancing up when the boys pulled into the driveway. I walked down the hall to my bedroom, closing the door behind me; I just wanted my girl. No distractions.

I fell down onto my bed, gazing up at the ceiling. "So school starts soon. You ready?" I asked her, letting her sweet voice fill the void of not having her with me. In fact, I planned on keeping her talking all damn night because damn, I just missed her.

~oOo~

Coming Home Chapter 125 - Bella

~oOo~

Seattle... Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 8:42 A.M.

I was elbow deep in cookie dough and muffin batter when Alice and Rose let themselves in and found their way to the kitchen. If I got some stuff to the post office before noon, the boys would get it on Monday, so it needed to go out today. I'd been up since about seven, unable to sleep, so I'd been baking.

"God, Bells," Rose huffed, shaking her head. "Say some of those are for us, too." She was eyeing both the blueberry and chocolate chip muffins hungrily.

Laughing, I tilted my head to the microwave. "Hit the button to start that. I set some aside for us. They just need to be warmed up. You brought coffee?"

Alice buzzed into the room, holding a tray with three large to-go cups in it. "Right here. I got a venti, figuring you needed it since you made us come over this early."

I cleaned off as much of the remaining dough from my hands as I could and then picked up the cup, bringing it to my mouth for a long, delicious sip. "Mmm. Perfect."

Rose grabbed the plate of muffins when the ding echoed through the kitchen and followed us to the table.

Over breakfast, Alice shared some big news. "My parents are going to Haiti."

"What?" I asked, completely confused. When I looked to my left, Rose was echoing my fish expression.

She frowned, shrugging. "There is still a ton of relief effort going on after the earthquake there in January. Dad is to go over to fill in for a friend of his who is over there with his wife. But they just found out the wife is pregnant, so they decided they wanted to come home now instead of December like they'd planned."

"Wow, Ali," Rose murmured. "Are you going to be okay?"

Alice shrugged again. "The only other time they've been out of the country was when Jasper was home. But then...Jazz is only in Florida, so he's not in the middle of the war zone anymore. I'll be okay."

"When do they leave?" I looked at her, raising an eyebrow in question.

"They aren't sure exactly yet. Sometime in the next few weeks." Alice sighed before turning to me with a smile. "Now, what are our plans?"

Grinning, I told them more about what I wanted to do today.

Once I was finished, Alice mumbled around her bite of blueberry, "So basically, we're going to try to empty out the guest room completely today?"

Nodding, I took another bite of the chocolate chip, chewing thoroughly before answering. "Yeah, the bed can be broken down and put into storage, the desk can be tossed – I was looking at it yesterday and decided it's old enough and beaten up enough that there's no point in saving it – and I want to move all the papers out to the dining room so I can go through them."

"You're going to put up some bookshelves right? So why not just leave the books in there to put up on those once they are up?" Rose took a sip of coffee, raising an eyebrow in question.

I grinned and tilted my chin toward the corner of the room, where two regular and one small can of paint sat with rollers, brushes, and everything else we'd need.

"Oh, man..." Alice looked down at her clothes. "I'm glad I wore old clothes."

"Did you bring Jasper's truck?" I asked, smooshing the rest of the crumbs with my finger to pop them into my mouth.

She nodded. "Yup. You want to use it to move the bed?"

"Yeah. The mattress won't fit in my car. This way, if I have any boxes that can be stored, we can move them, too. With the three of us, it shouldn't be too heavy." I shrugged. "But first, I want to get that last batch of cookies in the oven so they have time to cook and cool before we send the box of stuff for the boys. You guys brought what you want to send?"

They nodded, and Rose pointed back toward the living room. "It's all in there. I'm just sending Em a shirt and a video."

I so didn't want to know, but I did file that idea away for later.

Alice smirked. "Jazz is getting pictures, a shirt, and...other clothes."

Holding up a hand, I chuckled. "Yeah, enough said, both of you."

"Oh please," Alice scoffed. "Like you aren't sending something naughty to Edward." She grinned.

I grinned and shook my head. "Not this time. I have an idea for next time, though..."

~oooOOOooo~

For the rest of the morning, as I finished the cookies and packed up the box, the girls and I chatted about the start of school. They tried to pry more information out of me about my idea, but I wasn't budging. I knew it had to do with Edward's piano, which was supposed to be delivered with the rest of his stuff at some point in the next couple of weeks, but until I'd figured out just what I wanted to do, I wasn't spilling. So instead, we talked about who would be taking over the spot for the now retired fourth grade teacher, whether or not Mrs. Johnson, the first grade teacher who was pregnant and due a month or so after school started would actually be there for the start of school, and various other gossip about the teachers and upcoming school year.

"Okay, I think that's it," Rose said, setting in the last box of cookies. "Did we miss anything?"

I peeked in and saw the three T-shirts, as well as the dozens of cookies, muffins, lemon bars, and various other goodies I'd been making the last few days. I'd made quite a few – each of their favorites, as well as a bunch for the three of them to share. I'd sent a few pictures in the last box, so I was just sending back his shirts to get "re-scented."

"Looks good," I said as Alice nodded.

We taped up the box, wrote out the address info on a paper we then taped to the front, and then Alice volunteered to take it to the post office.

"You guys can start moving boxes of books and papers out of the room, and then we can do the bed and desk and stuff when I get back," she said, picking up the box, which seemed about as big as Alice herself.

~oooOOOooo~

Rose and I worked in silence, moving box after box, and when Alice returned, we took apart the bed and moved it out to the truck. Alice and Rose would stop by the storage unit when they left here and unload it. Getting it out of the truck and into the small unit would be easier than getting it up into the truck had been, so they'd have no problem doing it by themselves. Rose was used to working on heavy cars, and Alice was small but stronger than she looked, so I wasn't worried.

Once the desk was out at the curb with a "Free!" sign, the room was empty. I grabbed my phone and took a few shots of the room with the pretty hardwood floor and plain white walls. Opening a text, I attached the pictures and wrote out a few lines for Edward.

B: Hey, babe! Hope you're relaxing on your day off! Here's what the girls and I have been doing!

It wasn't three minutes later when my phone beeped with a reply.

E: Hi, sweetheart. Wow! You ladies have been busy! Jasper said that room was pretty filled the last time he saw it. Did you do that all today?

B: We did, yeah. We're going to paint now, too, so it's dry and ready for your piano and stuff whenever they get delivered.

E: That's great, Bella. Thank you so much, love. It means the world that you're making the room for that.

B: Of course, Sarge. Wherever you go, the piano goes, and there's no question that you're coming here. Plus, you know how much I love hearing you play. I'm excited to have that opportunity anytime we want once you're here!

E: Me, too. I swear, every time I sit down at the keyboard, I imagine you beside me and remember playing for you, and it makes me miss you all the more.

B: That will always be one of my favorite memories of my trip to Florida, Edward...hearing you play.

"Bella, let's paint!"

I turned to see Rose and Alice in the doorway, holding all the stuff we needed. "K. Give me a sec."

B: I need to go. The girls want to paint so we can relax the rest of the day. I'll send you pictures once the paint is on so you can see!

E: Have fun! Love you, sweet girl.

B: Love you, too.

I tossed my phone into the hall and took the plastic sheeting from Rose's hands. "All right, let's get to work."

~oooOOOooo~

Nearly two hours later, the first coat was done, including the "Delicious Melon," a pale, pale orange-yellow for 3 walls, including the wall with the French doors, and "Emotional," an adobe type darker color for the wall I was going to put a loveseat in front of. They needed a second coat, but that would have to wait until at least tonight. I wasn't in a huge rush. We'd gotten almost as much paint on ourselves as we had on the walls, and I knew I needed to show Edward, so I made sure my hands were clean and then picked up my phone, snapping a couple of pictures of the room before handing the phone to Rose.

"Take a couple of me to send to Edward," I said with a giggle, looking at the orange hand prints Alice had put over my boobs on my chest. Then I turned around so she could get a picture of the hand prints she'd left on my ass.

After taking pictures of them with their phones so they could send them to Emmett and Jasper, I attached the new photos of the room and myself to a new text to Edward.

B: Well, first coat is done, and as you can see, I'm in dire need of a shower. How we managed to get it in my hair, I'll never know. I'll call you after, if that's ok?

E: **laugh** I'd say I should be jealous of those hand prints, baby, but truth be told, I'm actually just REALLY turned on. Of course you can call me after. You'd better! I miss your voice. Now go get cleaned up, love, and I'll talk to you in a few minutes.

I laughed, shaking my head, and then walked the girls to the door. Once they were gone, I headed to the shower, still giggling at Edward being turned on because of the hand prints on my chest and ass.

~oOo~

Fate Interrupted Chapter 8

~oOo~

Chapter 8

BPOV

"You know," Emmett mused, wiping the rain off of his face, "we could lead this shit across the country. Hand them straight to the wolves. They've always been itchin' for a fight."

The ground rumbled and shook with the force of one immortal tackling another. Edward and Jasper were trying out new strategies, new techniques while the rest of us looked on. The two guys were fairly matched in fighting skills – almost even. Where Jasper felt Edward's emotions, used them, played them against him, Edward could read Jasper's mind, so not only could he see what attack methods were coming at him, he could see how his own emotions were being manipulated.

"It's not their fight," Carlisle stated calmly. "It would be unfair to involve them without warning. We can't just bring a war down on their land." He flinched when another collision vibrated the ground as Jasper and Edward continued to spar, but he smiled at the boys' laughter through it all. "Besides," he continued, looking back to Emmett, "we've got more support coming our way. I believe Jasper's contacted his old friends Peter and Charlotte, and I'm waiting to hear back from an old friend of mine."

"Draw, dammit!" Jasper laughed, shoving Edward off of him. "Any more, and the humans will know it's not thunder they hear in this storm."

I grinned at Edward's smug smile as he pushed his wet hair from his forehead before helping Jasper to his feet. They shoved at each other, and despite the impending visit from the Volturi, it was really good to see Edward fitting in with my brothers. I couldn't help but giggle silently when Edward waved Carlisle forward.

"That should be interesting," Alice muttered, wearing a wry smirk, peeking with one eye.

"No kidding," I laughed softly, though it died quickly as I looked over at her weary face. "Okay?"

"Yeah," she sighed. "Nothing new...yet."

She'd begged me to shield her from all the minds and decisions that were being made on a continuous basis with so many of us around her, especially since we only had three days left before Aro was due to appear. Alice wanted to focus on Demetri, Felix, even Aro without the interruption of the second to second decisions behind everyone's training. So we sat off to the side against a large tree completely off everyone's radar – Edward's mind reading, Jasper's empathy, and everyone else's super hearing; we kept our voices low in order to not interfere.

Eventually, I would have to leave her because Edward needed to work with me. He needed to train without the ability to hear thoughts – something Carlisle had insisted on since his fight with James.

Alice opened both eyes, smiling as Edward and Carlisle circled one another, both wearing poker faces of concentration. In fact, the other fight between Rosalie and Tanya came to a standstill as everyone looked on. For a moment, I wondered if it was because this was the first time the two of them had faced off in over eighty years.

"It's been a long time since I've had to put you in your place," Carlisle taunted, smirking at his "oldest" son.

"I was a newborn then, Carlisle," Edward laughed, again clawing at his wet hair. "I could hear every mind within a five-mile radius. I've learned to filter that."

"Ten years old is no newborn, son. Look at Bella," he teased with a chuckle.

Edward scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Do not use your youngest, most gifted child against me. She's rare, and you know it."

That statement made us all laugh, and Edward shot me a quick wink as he continued to circle our father.

"What about that hot-headed temper of yours?" Carlisle countered with a laugh.

"No, that I still have," Edward said with a grin, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip.

In the blink of an eye, Edward launched himself at Carlisle. He was lithe and controlled, graceful and strong. He looked like a large cat on the prowl. Carlisle, on the other hand, was calm and easy in his movements, just barely dodging Edward's attack. It was fast and furious, their fight. Both men were using a different style against each other than they had against other opponents. It was like watching a chess match – move and counter, move and counter. Just when one had the other where they wanted, it would completely unravel, and they'd have to start over with whatever goal they were working toward in their minds.

Esme sat down beside me, leaning back against the tree. "They used to drive me crazy with this when I first joined them. This was before Rosalie."

Alice and I laughed but didn't take our eyes off the fight.

"Carlisle said that Edward had nervous, angry energy that he had to expel," she chuckled. "He didn't always give in, because he said Edward needed to learn to control that side of him, but when he did, I made them go far from the house."

Grinning, I nodded. I could well imagine her shooing them outside like playful boys.

"It was around that time that Carlisle bought Edward his piano." Her voice was wistful and sorrowful, and suddenly, the practice fight wasn't important.

Alice and I spun our gazes to her, and I knew my mouth was hanging open.

She smiled sadly because she knew Edward wouldn't go near that piano now. On more than one occasion, we'd caught him staring at it, but he wouldn't touch it. He'd change the subject or walk into another room, but he wouldn't hear of playing it. I didn't push him, because I knew that there was something holding him back.

"See, Edward played as a human," she explained. "I thought maybe if he had an outlet, a good one, then he'd could focus all his anger into it. When I suggested it to Carlisle, he agreed with me."

"Was he good?" Alice asked.

Esme huffed a laugh, but her chin trembled just a little. "Oh, he was...beautiful. It was like hearing the sounds of heaven through his fingers. And the calm that would take over him..." She shook her head slowly, letting out a sigh. "I wish he'd play again."

"He knows," I told her, smiling sadly. "He says he's not that man anymore."

"Oh, but he is," she gushed softly, just like the proud mother she was. "He is that man, only better now. I wish he'd see it."

"Bella, shield!" a bunch of voices yelled, and immediately, I shot up a wall in front of the three of us.

I laughed as Edward and Carlisle tumbled into my shield, only to bounce off of it. "Watch where you're going, boys!" I teased them, but they collapsed onto their backs into the wet grass, wearing twin amused grins.

Getting up from the tree, I strolled over to Edward, keeping him pinned down on the ground with my shield. I straddled him, plopped down on his stomach, and smirked at the grunt that escaped him.

"My turn with you, handsome," I chuckled, rolling my eyes at the shameless darkening of his eyes. I knew him so well. So I switched to thoughts. Not that, you insatiable thing. I meant practice.

He laughed, his head falling back to the wet grass. "I don't know if my ego can take much more today, love."

"You're mated, Edward," Carlisle chuckled as he stood up off the ground. "There's no more ego. You might as well get used to it."

Every woman with in hearing range cracked the hell up, while every man groaned in agreement.

"Yeah, Eddie, just hand her your balls now. You'll be better off," Emmett yelled.

That statement caused more laughter and a "damn straight" from Rose.

"Defense only, Bella," Edward stated when I finally allowed him to sit up, but he slipped me down to his lap, keeping me there. "I detest the thought of hitting you."

I huffed a deep sigh, trying my damnedest not to roll my eyes. "I'm not breakable, Edward."

He shook his head. "Doesn't matter. It's not in me to hit you, understand?" he asked softly, cupping my face and wiping away drops of rain from my face like tears. "Defense only."

Edward's eyes had lightened again to a honey gold, but this time, they were sincere, begging me silently to understand.

It bothers you that much? I thought to him.

"Yes. More than I can explain."

"You hit me!" Rose accused, but I could hear by her voice that she was just teasing him.

"You weren't Bella," he said, his eyes never leaving mine. "And that was sort of satisfying," he muttered so softly that only I heard him, which caused me to fight my laughter because the two of them bickered almost every hour.

"No mind reading, big guy," I told him with a smile.

"Fine," he chuckled, grasping me by the waist and setting me on my feet. He stood in front of me, saying, "Okay, give me all you got, beautiful."

I already have, I thought to him.

The smile that spread across his face was beautiful and priceless and filled with everything I just adored about Edward. It was a touch of pride, of shyness...and of course, just sweet disbelief.

"Bella," he sighed, shaking his head. "Focus, or this won't last long," he ordered, raising a sexy-as-all-hell eyebrow up at me, which wasn't helping.

"Don't baby me!" I told him, pointing a finger.

"No babying. Just start, love," he chuckled, circling me like I was a gazelle and he was a lion.

Shielding my thoughts from him, I attacked, catching him slightly off guard, but he recovered quickly. Edward countered every move, every kick, and every hit. I got in a few cheap shots to his stomach, but otherwise, he read me perfectly. Feigning left, I dove for him again, suddenly twisting to my right. Edward saw it coming and wrapped me up in his strong arms, pressing me into the closest tree.

"Close. Good, Bella," he praised, his eyes filled with mischief at how I was wrapped around him. "You'll get me next time."

"No, I pretty much have you where I want you right now," I whispered, rubbing my nose up one side of his and down the other.

"Careful, sweet girl," he crooned, his eyes now swirling to pitch black. "We're not exactly alone."

Grinning shamelessly, I shrugged a shoulder. "Mine," I breathed against his lips.

"Yes," he agreed as Carlisle called an end to the day. "Always."

~oOo~

"Do you know this Peter and Charlotte?" Edward asked as we trudged at a human pace through the Appalachians. Not only had Carlisle insisted that everyone hunt, but Edward needed a break from all the minds that were hanging around the house. "I mean, do you trust them?"

"I trust Jasper," I stated simply, shrugging a shoulder and glancing over at him. "I've met them before, yes. They're a nice couple, mated. They don't share our diet, but they seem to respect our differences, and they certainly respect Jasper. He knew them back in his days with Maria."

Edward's eyebrows shot up, but he merely looked over at me, silently asking for me to elaborate.

I smiled and took his hand. "Jasper's told you, and you said you met Maria, so you know what she was capable of." At his nod, I went on. "Peter and Jasper trained the newborns for Maria. They became friends. When Charlotte was changed, Peter mated with her, but Maria said Charlotte had 'outlived her usefulness.'"

"So Maria ordered Jasper and Peter to kill her," Edward concluded.

"But Peter couldn't do it," I told him. "Jasper helped Peter take her, and the two of them escaped. Later, they came back for Jasper, getting him out of the south."

"That would earn loyalty," Edward mused to himself with a single nod. "And then there's the immortal that Carlisle's thinking of contacting..."

I shrugged a shoulder, thinking it could be anyone because Carlisle had lived a very long time.

"Well, I heard the name Garrett in his mind. The nomad. I've met him before," Edward said, wearing a small smile. "He's extremely loyal to Carlisle. In fact, he hates the Volturi. I think something happened when Carlisle was living in Italy, and he saved Garrett's life from the hands of the brothers. Apparently, Garrett's sire had intended to drain him, but something happened, so instead of dying from his injuries, he was turned. He was out of control when he was brought to Italy. Carlisle took pity because he had practically gone through the same situation."

We came to a standstill, both of us catching a heady scent.

I grinned. "Black bear."

"More than one," he agreed with a chuckle. "Go!"

The little cheater took off without a second glance back, but I was right behind him. Dripping trees and dewy shrubs flew by, adding to my already-soaked clothes. The rain hadn't stopped for two days. We found the two rather large bears just outside a cave. Edward took one, and I took the other, rounding off our diet of two deer each for the night. We resumed our slow walk once the carcasses had been buried, taking us farther away from the house. Carlisle had given all of us twenty-four hours to meet back at home. That would leave us with one more day before the Volturi showed up on our doorstep.

After a few minutes of comfortable silence, we came upon an old, broken-down, wooden fence. In fact, the property surrounding it looked just as broken down, abandoned. What once might have been a small farm was now being taken over by the woods around it. The wood fence was green with moss and lichen, the small barn's door was hanging askew on its hinges, and the tiny house off in the distance had a large hole in the roof. It was quite obvious that no one had seen this place in several years.

"Come," Edward said, gracefully leaping over the fence, but he held out a hand for me once he was on the other side. "We'll get out of the rain for a few."

As the words left his mouth, lightning flickered across the dark gray sky. Fingers of thin fire wove through the heavy clouds, causing a strobe effect. Thunder rumbled long and low for a count of fourteen seconds as Edward led us to the closest shelter, which happened to be the old barn.

The swollen door gave way to Edward's barely-used strength, and it gave an eerie squeal when he closed it back again. The sweet scent of old hay, the vibrating sound of rat heartbeats, the sight of enormous spiders and their homes, and the glittering drips of water from the leaky roof made for a rather creepy environment.

Edward chuckled, glancing over at me. "All girl. Down to your bones, right? Can't take the rats, love?" He laughed harder when I shoved him playfully. "Completely rodent bite proof, can fight immortals twice your size, but you're worried about the spiderwebs in the corner."

"Tell me that when you walk through a spiderweb, you don't turn into a ninja, kicking and karate chopping around like a mad man," I growled, trying my damnedest not to smile at his incessant laughter. "I've seen both my brothers freak the hell out. Impervious skin or not."

"Maybe I'm just used to places like this," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "I've certainly waited out the sun in worse." His voice was soft, contemplative, but his eyes were bright, sweet, and far away.

"I'm just saying," I argued weakly, shaking my head at him. "When you walk through a web, you damn well wanna know where the hell the spider is. That's all," I murmured, gazing around the small barn.

Strong arms wrapped around me, but it was the soothing voice in my ear that caused me to melt back against his chest. "I give you my solemn vow that no arachnid, rodent, or any other creepy creature comes near you, my beautiful girl. If they try, they will meet a most horrible fate."

I grinned, a giggle escaping me. "We're about to have the fight of our lives, but you're protecting me from bugs and shit."

"I would lay down my life for you, Bella," he said, turning me to face him. "Bug, rat, or royal immortal army. Don't you understand that?"

How this suddenly became serious, I had no idea, but Edward's eyes were almost black with their ferocity. The whole lot of us had been trying to keep our wits about us, trying to maintain a positive attitude about proving our word to the Volturi. Edward and I were mated, Carlisle wasn't plotting to take over the vampire world, and our diet didn't make us any less cautious around humans than the next immortal.

We were hoping those truths won out.

Hope. It was the key to our sanity at the moment. We hoped that Aro would believe us and would leave us to live our lives in peace. We hoped that if he didn't, Demetri would show up to help us. We hoped that we didn't have to fight, but if we did, we hoped we came out on top. And my only secret, fear-filled, personal hope was that the man currently listening to every rambling thought I had as he stood stock-still in front of me would still be by my side when it was all over. I would be heartbroken with the loss of someone in my family...but I would die without Edward.

Edward said nothing as he reached out to wipe rain water from my face. His eyes were filled with clear understanding. When he finally did speak, his voice was soft, smooth, sad. "Has Carlisle ever told you his theory on why vampires mate for life?" he asked, nodding once when I shook my head no. He glanced around the barn, his eyes locking in on the loft. "Let's go up there," he whispered. "Jump because that ladder looks...worthless."

He leaped, landing gracefully on the edge of the loft, holding a hand out for me to follow, which I took gratefully once I was up there by his side. The hay loft was dry, still filled with a rather large pile of no longer sweet-smelling hay. It seemed this end of the barn's roof was still holding strong – no leaks, no moisture, just a soft breeze flowing through.

However, the sight of the hay caused a movie to flash through my mind. It was one Emmett and I had watched over and over. Teri Garr singing, "Roll, roll... Roll in ze hay," made me smirk to myself, but I giggled at Edward's blank expression.

"Young Frankenstein? No? You know...Froederick...Eye-gor...Abby Normal? What hump? Really?" I asked, still snickering. When he shook his head no, I sighed. "We really have to catch you up."

He chuckled, shrugging a shoulder, but helped me out of my wet jacket, taking off his, as well. He draped them over the loft's rail. Falling down into the fluffiest part of the haystack, he gestured for me to sit between his legs, which I did so instantly. His face was so very serious that I dropped the whole mental list of movies I thought he needed to see.

With strong arms wrapped around me, his mouth was at my ear. "I couldn't imagine that Carlisle would've told you his theory. He keeps it to himself. I only heard it from his mind, and it caused...major repercussions."

I turned slightly in his arms so that it was more like he was cradling me. I wanted to see his face when he told this to me.

"You know how he was raised, with a strict religious father...zealous, really. And I'm sure he's told you of our many debates over God and souls and the monsters that we are." He kissed my lips quickly to stop my disagreement. "I know, baby. Just wait." Kissing the little dip between my brows, he went on. "Carlisle feels that if we do all that we can, live this life to the best of our ability, that we still stand a chance with God once our lives end. That it's our decisions and actions now that make the difference. When he met Esme – first when she was sixteen and then again when she showed up in his hospital a few years later – he knew. He just...knew she was it for him."

"Yeah, they both told me," I whispered, not understanding the look of sadness crossing his features.

"I was there, remember?" He waited until I nodded and then said, "I was such an ass." He shook his head slowly. "Or maybe it was my frozen age, or my talent not quite under my control. Whatever it was... I didn't get it. I didn't understand how all of a sudden, every thought he had was of her. The man could diagnose an illness, scan through chess plays, and remember a complete symphony that he'd heard once all at one time, but suddenly, it was solely about her. His mind slipped one day. He never said it aloud, but he was watching Esme relearn her love of gardening, and his theory about mating hit me like a ton of bricks. He thinks that our mates are God's consolation to us. That we're given a gift of perfect love in order to survive this long, never-ending life. That not even humans can find that kind of love."

Edward paused his story, but I kept quiet because he was looking at me like I was that gift. Like I was that perfect...thing he'd thought was a myth. I could hear it in his voice. He hadn't believed it back then.

Edward huffed a humorless laugh as he wrapped one of my damp curls around his finger gently. "That would be an understatement, sweet girl. Not only did I not believe it, I came to think he was so wrong. And it wasn't Carlisle I was mad at. It was me. I was so fucking jealous – of the two of them, of what they shared, of his time with her. There was no way – with what we are – that God gifted us with anything. All of it just...pissed me the hell off. But I was so angry anyway. It was part of the reason I left them, especially when Rosalie came into the picture."

"Oh," I sighed softly, finally understanding. "You thought... You were just convinced it would never happen."

"Exactly," he agreed with a nod and another kiss to my lips. "I tried...everything. And I thought I knew it all after ten years of immortality."

His sarcasm and eye roll made me giggle.

"I knew the feelings he felt for Esme," he said, smiling down at me but tapping his temple. "No one gave me that. No one. The Denali sisters, Rose...no one. And I thought it was bullshit." He stopped, shaking his head one time. "No, not bullshit. I thought something was wrong with me."

I cupped either side of his face, shaking my head profusely. "No, no, no! It just wasn't time yet."

He smiled softly, pressing his forehead to mine, but his eyes were still holding a sadness. "Believe me, love. I know." He sighed deeply, his sweet scent washing over me. "You thought a few minutes ago that you would die without me, and I totally understand. I've seen immortals that have lost their mates. It's a half-life, empty and painful. There's the valiant side of me that wants to beg you to live on if something happens to me, but I can't imagine doing that without you, so I can't ask it. There's a part of me that wants to plan and plot out a future with you, but we've had to put a stop to it. We're in this limbo of sorts, and I hate it."

"Edward, what are you trying to say?" I asked him because he was all over the place.

"If we make it out of this...I swear I'll spend the rest of our existence worshiping you – your heart, mind, and body," he stated firmly. "I'll take advantage of this amazing and beautiful gift I've been given, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure I never deserved it. I've already bound myself to you in this world," he murmured so very softly, his eyes warm and sensual as he tugged my shirt to the side just a bit. His finger traced along his mark on my skin where my neck met my shoulder, causing a shudder to wrack my frame. "I want to bind myself to you in the human one, as well."

Locking gazes with molten gold, I processed what he'd just said...or not said, really. He was talking about marrying me – something that as a human would've caused me to balk. As Edward's mate, it made me absolutely dumbstruck...until I saw the pure fear in his eyes. It wasn't that he thought I'd say no; it was the thought that we'd never get the chance to do it at all.

There were so many things that could go wrong. By law, they couldn't separate us. We were fairly certain that the moment that the Volturi laid eyes on Edward and me, they'd know that we were mated. But that didn't mean they couldn't order our execution, or take us from our family, or even destroy them in retaliation for Edward's "betrayal." And Edward didn't want me in Italy. At all. Ever. And that meant fighting – with or without Demetri.

Following Edward's lead, I didn't say it out loud, but the answer was yes. Always, yes. Reaching up, I traced his gorgeous face as the storm raged outside, only to run my fingers through his rain-dampened hair. Right there in that rundown barn, while curled up together in an old pile of hay, my heart broke and healed all at once. I'd waited so long for him, but he'd waited ten times that for me. And I finally understood what he'd been holding back. He wouldn't ask me to marry him, he wouldn't take the name Cullen from Carlisle, and he wouldn't touch his piano because all of those things meant a new life – a life he wasn't sure he'd get...or one he felt he deserved.

"Edward," I whimpered sadly, wishing not for the first time in my ten immortal years that I could shed tears for him because my thoughts caused the truth to flicker across his face.

His lips met mine roughly, but his voice was barely a sound as his words brushed across my mouth. "Shh... Don't you dare cry for me, sweetheart. Ever."

I was suddenly out of words. Both of us were. The what ifs had finally rendered us speechless. All I wanted was to run away. It was cowardly and low, but it was the truth. My immortality, which used to stretch out before me with limitless time, suddenly felt cut off. And I didn't want it to be over.

Edward rolled us gently, pressing me into the soft hay. "Bella, it's not over, but we can't run."

"I know," I said softly, looking away from him because his beauty was too much to look at sometimes.

He smiled a little at that last thought, cupping my chin and forcing my gaze back to his. "Remind me to shove you in front of a mirror when we get back, love."

Threading my fingers roughly into his hair, I brought his forehead to mine. "Make it go away. Just for now, Edward... Please."

He did exactly as I asked, to the letter. With swift movements, our wet clothes landed off to the side in a pile. Teasing fingers, deep kisses, and smooth skin weren't enough. They just weren't close enough. But long, low, feral growls brought my attention solely to my mate as he loomed over me in pure naked perfection. He forced me to focus, made me forget it all, letting all else fade away.

As Edward brought me to the brink of wanton insanity, he finally sank deep inside of me. It was that instant that nothing else mattered – past or future – but that moment right there.

~oOo~

EPOV

"Jasper!" my girl growled, but it was in complete frustration, not in anger.

"Focus, Spitfire," he chuckled, shoving her playfully.

"I really, really wish everyone would stop telling me to focus," she murmured, giving me a glance out of the corner of her eye, but I merely grinned at her. "I'm well aware of the shit that's coming."

"Well, good; then work with me," Jasper urged, his amusement oozing out over just about all of us.

With a resigned sigh, Bella nodded, looking out over the field of flowers they were sitting in. With a quick flash of anger, Jasper pushed it at her, and we all watched in fascination as her shield severed the blooms several feet away from her. They fell off with barely a whisper, giving the wild open field a "buzz cut," as Emmett was thinking.

"Pull it back, Isabella," Eleazar instructed as he stood behind them. "Don't cut them. Bend them."

How much longer until she snaps, you think? Carlisle's mind met mine, and I turned to look at him. She's stressed, worried, and Jasper's influence is making it worse, enhancing it.

"Her mind is open to me," I told him softly. We were just far enough away that our conversation was private. "She wants to do this, but you're right. She's extremely edgy." I sighed, my eyes taking in every movement she made as she tried again and again. "She knows that she's deadly. She wants to control it, be able to just...hold them back. She doesn't want to accidentally start the fight, but she does want to protect us."

Carlisle hummed that he heard me but kept his voice silent. His mind tried to consider the coming conversation with the Volturi from every angle. What his pride wouldn't let him say aloud, his mind revealed to me – whether on purpose or by accident, I had no idea. It bothered him greatly that the brothers from Italy hadn't taken him at his word. It bothered him even more that it didn't matter if they had. Aro's power had gone to his head, and his imagined threat that he saw in my sire was what was driving him to this confrontation.

Glancing around, I took note of who was with us. The numbers had risen since Bella and I had returned from our hunt and time alone.

There was some of my immediate family – Rose, Emmett, and Alice. The latter was cradled in a low hanging branch trying to see anything and everything that was coming our way. The other two were deep in conversation with Peter and Charlotte, both of whom were here simply as a favor to Jasper, though they held no real loyalty to Italy.

There was the Denali clan – Eleazar, who was still guiding Bella with amazing patience, Carmen, Tanya, Irina, and Kate. The three sisters had surrounded Carlisle's old friend Garrett. I fought my smile as I caught brief thoughts between him and Kate. There was intrigue there. I was certain they weren't mates, but that didn't mean they couldn't be attracted to one another.

And then there were the newcomers – immortals that Demetri had sent our way. They'd shown up on our doorstep with only one instruction: See Carlisle. They made me the most nervous because I didn't know them, but Carlisle did, and he welcomed them with open arms.

Liam, Siobhan, and Maggie were from Ireland. Liam had no talent to speak of, but his mate, Siobhan, seemed to have the ability to force outcomes to her favor, which was Carlisle's belief, not hers. She didn't feel she had any talent whatsoever. Maggie, though, intrigued me and worried me at the same time, if I were to be honest. The Volturi would covet her right along with Alice, Bella, and me. She could sense when someone was lying to her. It was an amazing thing to see through her mind. Where I could see someone's thoughts contradicting what they were actually saying, Maggie could sense the untruth, feel it.

Several other nomads arrived shortly after the Irish coven – Mary and Randall, who were American, and Alistair, Charles, and Mekenna from Europe. They were all gathered around Esme, being received warmly.

Unfortunately, we'd had only one communication from Felix and Demetri. It was a text to me that simply stated they were together, they'd be sending help our way, and they were making their way to us. We had no idea if they would make it in time. Once the others had started arriving, Alice had moved us all to the field she'd seen in her visions. According to her, it would only be a matter of hours before the Volturi showed.

"Twenty-four," I sighed to myself, shaking my head. "That's not enough if this comes down to an actual fight. If they merely bring the royal guard, yes, but if they bring more...absolutely not."

"I know," Carlisle stated without inflection. His face held a weariness and a sadness that I hadn't seen since I'd first been changed. And I can't decide if this gathering will show as an act of aggression or as solidarity.

I huffed, rolling my eyes. "Caius will spin it as aggression. Marcus will see who binds them. And Aro will insist on reading our minds." I gestured between the two of us, because I knew Aro well enough that he'd want to know everything.

"Then we can only pray that good will win out," he sighed, gazing over at me. "If Demetri shows and his call for no confidence works, then we'll have done the right thing. If he doesn't make it, then members of my family – immediate and extended – could be killed."

"Edward!" Alice's voice sounded from across the field. My gaze snapped to hers, despite the distance, and I saw the vision she was having. "Look!"

I groaned, shaking my head. "It seems you scare Aro more than you realize," I told Carlisle. "Alice sees the reason for the four-day wait before their arrival. The reason that they waited weeks before leaving Italy..."

"A newborn army," he concluded.

"Yes."

"How many? Can you tell?" he asked, already mentally calculating the odds.

"Fifty?" I guessed, because through Alice's visions, the number fluctuated continuously. "Give or take?"

"Right...Alice wouldn't be able to pinpoint it. Newborns are unstable. They'd fight amongst themselves," he mused to himself more than to me.

"We'll need Jasper's mind for this," I told him, pushing away from the tree I'd been leaning against.

I approached Jasper, Bella, and Eleazar as Alice and Carlisle gathered everyone else.

"What'd she see?" Jasper and Bella asked at the same time.

"It seems Aro's built himself an army...of newborns," I told them, my gaze locking with Jasper's. "The numbers seem to center around fifty."

Jasper gazed around the field much as I had, tallying up the numbers. When he looked back to me, he said, "It can be done."

"Oh, I know it can, but I think we'll have the advantage," I told him, placing a hand on Bella's shoulder as our thoughts meshed. I turned her to face me. "Beautiful, I know you can fight, and I know that you can hold off an attack, but the key to defeating a newborn army is that," I stated, pointing to the decapitated flowers in front of us. "Do you understand?"

Her eyebrows shot up for a second, but she glanced over the field. She let out a slow breath but met my eyes once again. "I'd need to be out front," she simply said.

"And Carlisle and I will be on either side of you," I concurred with a nod.

She grimaced, her eyes flickering to Jasper for a moment. "I might need Jasper, too."

His grin was crooked, yet a touch evil. "I'm there, Spitfire. Don't you worry."

Eleazar sniffed, gazing around him, but his thoughts were on Bella. "You slice that army in two, and the brothers will definitely see it as an act of war."

"Then we wait," Jasper stated. "We wait for Aro's command. We stand fast...behind Bella. If he's built an army, then this isn't a run-of-the-mill conversation he wants anyway. He's coming to remove us and anyone that stands with us."

"That will work," Alice piped up, and I glanced up at her, noticing that we were now the center of the large group. She nudged me with a small finger. "Look."

Her vision was crystal clear. From the north end of the field in which we were standing, the Volturi would send their army at a run, but if the entire lot of us held fast, Bella's shield would dismantle them, leaving only the royal guard.

"And Felix and Demetri?" I asked.

"They've made no other decision except to come this way. They may be doing it on purpose," she said, shrugging a small shoulder. "They either want the element of surprise, or they..."

"Aren't coming," I finished for her. "We'll have to assume the latter, Alice."

"Yes, but really look, Edward!" she growled, focusing her vision for me. "Who's missing?"

My brow furrowed, shaking my head. "Marcus," I breathed, spinning to face Carlisle. "Why? Why would Marcus not come?" I asked him, but it was Eleazar that answered.

"If he disagrees with his brothers, he has the option of stepping back," he said, frowning. "He holds just as much power as his siblings."

"Or it's a trap," Jasper added. "They split up, come at us from different angles."

"We take the far end of this clearing," Emmett growled. "Give Bells the backdrop of trees behind us. I've seen her use it to brace that shield against."

My eyes locked onto Bella's. She was nodding, but her mind was filled with worry. Her fingers found mine and squeezed, a tremor running through her body. Giving Carlisle a brief look, I turned back to her as they gave us a minute.

"No matter what happens, I'll be right beside you, love," I told her softly. "Stay calm, don't panic, and we'll get through this."

"You can't promise that," she argued weakly.

"Should I rephrase?" I asked her. "We'll do our best to get through this."

The corners of her mouth twitched just a little, but the deep sadness and worry in her amber eyes didn't fade. In fact, her mind swirled around a thought that had a growl erupting from my chest. She was thinking that if it all ended today, she was happy that she'd had this short time with me.

"No!" I snarled, cupping her face. "I refuse to think that way, Bella. That's defeatist thinking. Get rid of it." I turned her to face the group of people getting into position at the farthest end of the clearing. "Look at them. They aren't giving up. They're here. They're going to fight, even if it means just standing as one to show the Volturi that we can't be pushed around.

"You want to run. You want to get away from it, but you can't, baby," I breathed in her ear as we watched Carlisle line up at the front of the group, Esme by his side. "Believe me, I wish like hell I could go back in time, make different decisions. I wish we were still in your apartment on that first night, but we aren't. However, I am willing to fight to get us back to that."

She spun in front of me, her eyes fierce. "You're right. I'm just—"

"Scared," I finished for her. "I know. Me, too."

"Love you."

"As I you," I countered. "We need to get over there. Alice is telling me they're close."

We joined the group quickly, standing between Carlisle and Esme to our left and Alice and Jasper on the other side.

"They're here," Alice whispered, her eyes locked on the opposite end of the field.

Every one of us shifted just a little, spreading out a few paces. The minds around me were a mixture of different thoughts. The Denalis were thinking of their mother that Aro had order to be executed when she'd created an immortal child. Just about all of the nomads were scoffing at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the slow-moving group. And my family was calculating everything – distance, time, number of enemies, and possible outcomes. There were silent prayers, chanted mantras, and for the few former soldiers among us, final checklists. There was even a soundtrack of different songs floating just underneath the surface. Some were to help the thinker to remain calm, but for Emmett, it was to pump him up. He loved a good fight, and he was ready and willing to "open up a can of whoop-ass," as he was thinking. Though, his choice in songs caused me to glance over at him.

Generals gathered in their masses

Just like witches at black masses

Evil minds that plot destruction

Sorcerer's of death's construction

In the fields the bodies burning

As the war machine keeps turning

Death and hatred to mankind

Poisoning their brainwashed minds

Oh lord yeah!

"Fitting," I stated.

"Hells, yeah. War Pigs is the shit," he muttered. "That's what they are, right?"

"That's enough," Carlisle chided softly, but his voice held no real authority behind the command.

I'd never seen the Volturi approach from this side of the fight. They moved slowly, almost at a human pace. The royal guard surrounded Aro and Caius, and true to Alice's vision, Marcus was missing. Their deep red cloaks were a sharp contrast to the green field, but even from this distance, I could see who was coming. Aro had not only brought his favorite guards, but he'd built himself quite the army, and they were barely under his command. It looked like Alec was using his talent on them, keeping them blind and unaware. More thoughts invaded my mind, but these were filled with malice, war, violence, and bloodlust.

Bella shuffled her feet, and I linked our fingers tighter.

Emmett gripped Bella's shoulders from behind, whispering, "We've so got this, Spitfire. All those times I kicked your ass...take it out on them. Shield us, baby sis."

The familiar push of air brushed over me, and I knew that she'd just wrapped herself around us all.

Aro stepped forward, planting a false and sickening smile on his face. "Carlisle, my old friend. What's this you've done now? I merely wanted a chance to speak with you. There are some charges you must answer for."

Maggie growled low, her thoughts consumed with the lie.

"I could ask the same of you, Aro. A newborn army?" Carlisle replied, gesturing to the eerily-still cluster behind the guard. "Surely you didn't mean to talk."

Bella flinched, her eyes blackening, but her thoughts were directed to me. Someone's attacking my shield. Feels like pinpricks, but they aren't getting through.

"Jane," I whispered back, and she nodded.

Carlisle heard that simple exchange and turned back to Aro. "Aro, please call off your guards. It won't do any good."

Bella relaxed slightly as Jane hissed, her face filled with fury as she leveled her gaze on me. Aro did the same, though he also took in my hand in Bella's. Suddenly, he was livid because he knew. We were mated, and he couldn't do a thing about it.

"Ah, my young Edward," he gushed, and it was all I could do not to roll my eyes at him. "It seems congratulations are in order, I see."

"Cut the shit, Aro," I snarled. "You would never leave the comfort of your castle just to prove I've mated. You wouldn't drag the entire guard out here for a simple conversation. Why are you here?"

Caius sneered, but he kept his mouth shut. The guards shifted uneasily on their feet, their minds filled with hatred for my indignant behavior.

"I still don't have proof," Aro countered with a deep chuckle. "Come to me, son. Let's see what you've been up to since you left me so abruptly."

"I don't think so, Aro," Carlisle answered with a shake of his head. "Where's Marcus? I was so looking forward to seeing him. It's been too long."

Carlisle asked that question for me...and quite possibly Maggie.

"He's been called back to the castle. Urgent business," Aro replied.

I smirked at the same time Maggie sighed, both of us shaking our heads no.

"Enough of this," Caius growled. "This blatant disrespect must stop. Carlisle, you've clearly decided to fight against us. This grotesque diet you insist on partaking is disgusting and disturbing. You've obviously come to fight."

"Merely protecting my family," Carlisle stated calmly and smoothly.

"Family!" Caius scoffed. "Your coven has grown too powerful, too large."

"Not all of us answer to Carlisle," Garrett suddenly piped up. "Some of us answer to...no one."

"The young patriot has spoken," Aro laughed. "Yes, I'm sure you don't answer to anyone, Garrett, but you are quite faithful to Carlisle, aren't you?" Garrett remained quiet, but Aro went on. "I think I'm ready to give judgment."

Oh hell, Alice thought to me. Brace yourself, Edward.

I nodded but said nothing, my eyes never leaving Aro's face.

"Carlisle, I'm going to give you a choice." Aro paused, pacing slowly back and forth in front of his guard. "I've received reports of strange happenings in the city, so clearly you can't control your coven. This strange diet is ridiculous, but it's given you a false sense of self-importance. You've surrounded yourself with talent and strength. And you've stolen my mind reader from me. His contract with me was not over. He didn't fulfill his end of the bargain. You obviously are building up an army against us."

"I'm doing no such thing, Aro. And Edward mated. I do not like my honor questioned," Carlisle stated. How he was remaining calm, I had no idea. "I've done nothing wrong, and neither has any single one of these people."

Aro leaned in to listen to Caius, but I could hear their plan.

"He knows it was James in the city," I murmured quietly. "He's lying. However, no one else with him knows that. Not even Caius. He's going to order your death and the death of anyone that stands beside you. Or he's going to offer to...thin your ranks." I locked gazes with him, well aware of the anger that Jasper was trying to tamper down around us. "Those that don't walk away quietly or don't come with him willingly will be taken against their will."

I didn't have to tell him who. He knew. He was well aware what talents were coveted by Aro – Alice, Jasper, Bella, and myself. He also wanted to protect those talents that had come to stand with Carlisle – Maggie, Siobhan, Kate, and Eleazar.

Carlisle looked to Alice. "Any word on Felix or Demetri?"

"Not yet," she said, but her eyes were slightly glazed. She was flickering through every single probability that she could think of.

Aro stepped forward again. "We think it would be best if Carlisle was removed from his post. Or...several of you can come with us, take a place of honor in my guard. Edward, you can bring your beautiful mate, stand by my side once again."

"No," Bella suddenly growled, and I pulled her to me, keeping her back to my chest.

I smiled. "You heard the lady," I chuckled darkly. "She says no. Aro, you should drop this. Your lies and deception have come to an end. Don't think I don't know," I told him, tapping my temple. "Your guards don't know that you've been leading them falsely for centuries, do they?"

"Make your choice!" Caius snapped, but his mind slipped.

I suddenly saw the reason why Marcus had not joined his brothers. He was against fighting Carlisle. He held no ill will against the man, and he had stated simply that he knew that Aro's contract with me wasn't a contract at all, but blackmail. He could see the connection that didn't exist between us.

When no one else made a move, Aro shook his head sadly. "Such a waste..." he murmured, waving a hand to his guard.

"He's releasing the newborns," I whispered.

"Hold rank!" Jasper commanded as we all crouched into a fighting stance.

But Bella pushed away from me, stepping forward away from us all. She looked so small, so fragile, though I knew she wasn't. For a split second, I wasn't sure what she was going to do – block them, or remove them. Fifty-two red-eyed newborns that had been frozen at just about every age closed in on us quickly, but the extreme rush of air gave me my answer. When the feral army was about half the distance to us, Bella's shield severed them all in two. They fell to the ground, the vibration rumbling through our feet.

Screams of frustration and agony met my ears, minds assaulting me, but I glanced up to see the incredulous look on Aro's and Caius's faces. Their army had been rendered useless. They weren't dead, but being as young as they were, they had no idea what was happening to them.

For the first time, I saw fear crawl over the faces of the Volturi, all of them frozen. They couldn't decide who to look at – the writhing mass of newborns...or Bella.

"I see that you have a secret weapon, Carlisle," Caius stated. "You've come to destroy us."

"I've come to defend myself and my family. I would just as soon walk away from this without fighting," he countered. "Those that stand beside me have grown tired of your ways. We are all well aware of the laws of our kind, and we all follow them to the letter. These false charges will not stand. And you know this, or your brother would've joined you."

"I've heard enough of this, Aro," Caius growled. "Let's end this and go back home. Alec! Jane!"

I dragged Bella back to my chest, my mouth at her ear. "We can't fight them if we can't touch them. Can your shield hold them and them alone?"

The shimmer on the ground had already begun to slowly head our way. Bella flinched again as the twins stepped forward.

"Pull that shield, Bella," Jasper told her, getting ready to run.

"You hold the creepy twins, and we'll get the rest. Got me?" Emmett stated, also stepping forward.

What we didn't realize was that Aro wasn't going down without a true fight. From the trees behind him stepped at least another hundred newborns.

"Dios mio," Eleazar sighed but crept forward into attack position. "This wasn't a judgment; this was an annihilation."

We were completely outnumbered, and several thoughts around me centered on Bella's shield.

I looked to Carlisle, saying, "We have no choice but to rely on her."

"I know," he sighed, eying the shimmer on the ground.

"If Bella so much as moves that shield, Alec and Jane will eke through," I told him. "She can't hold them all."

"I can," Bella sneered. "And I will. Go!"

Through my girl's mind, I could see exactly what she was planning. It would be risky, but she was keeping everything I'd told her in the forefront of her mind. She needed Alec and Jane out of the picture, but the newborns posed a serious risk to the rest of us.

The Volturi gave us no time to discuss it any further because Caius called, "Attack!"

"Steady," Jasper urged, and strangely enough, his mind was calm, ready for the fight. "Hold off until they pass the other newborns."

Our small band crouched in preparation to fight, but a low rumble caused us to glance around. The middle of the field started to shake, the ground breaking up. Flowers and grass were soon replaced by dark dirt bubbling up out of the ground like it was molten lava. Higher and higher it piled, until there was a rather large wall of earth between us and the Volturi.

"Edward!" Alice called at the same time a deeper voice met my ears.

Spinning to the forest behind us, my mouth fell open. "Felix, Demetri..." I turned to Bella. "Let them in, sweetheart."

Suddenly, we were joined by not only Felix and Demetri, but several more people I didn't recognize. However, one, I did, which would explain how there was now a rather high wall in the middle of the clearing.

"Benjamin," I greeted, bowing my head slightly to the small man whose dark skin still showed through his immortal skin.

His grin was infectious as he bowed his head back. "Causing trouble again, Edward?"

"You, too, I see," I chuckled, turning to Felix. "Fantastic timing as always, old friend."

Felix laughed. "I try. Got to keep you on your toes, you know."

Demetri greeted Carlisle solemnly, nodding once to Benjamin and then to Bella. "Bella, this is Benjamin from Egypt. You two should work really well together. Benjamin can manipulate the four elements...fire, earth, water, air."

"Nice to meet you," Bella told him, though she was still struggling against Jane's painful assault.

"Hold steady, okay?" Benjamin asked her, and she nodded.

The rumbling started again, and the wall leveled back out, displaying the Volturi once more.

Demetri stepped forward, his gaze on Aro unwavering. "No one wants to fight you, Aro, but your time for lies and rule is over. We're calling for a vote of no confidence in our leader."

Aro's face went slack with shock as he realized just what had been stated. His mind reeled with different escapes, plots, and plans, but he only countered with one statement.

"You can't call for such a thing if both of my brothers are not present," he said, gesturing proudly around him. "Request denied, and you're all charged with treason."

"Not so fast," Alice piped up, smiling like it was fucking Christmas, but when I saw the vision playing in her mind, I couldn't help but gasp and turn toward the west. "All three brothers are present."

Several immortals stepped through the trees, their leader wearing an expression of absolute blankness. But Marcus's mind was anything but blank. He was assessing the entire scene around him.

When his gaze landed on his brothers, he sighed, shaking his head. "They've called for a vote of no confidence, brothers. They have the right to give witness." Marcus held up his hand when Caius started to argue. "They have the right," he reiterated, but he turned his gaze to Demetri. "Do all of you have cause?"

"I have brought forth several witnesses, master," Demetri stated with reverence.

"Very well, then," he replied, his expressionless gaze falling to me. "We'll start with Edward."

~oOo~