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Burn

Summary:
After years of war and unrequited love, an Infantryman returns from the front, reuniting with the only girl he ever wanted. RATED M. AU/AH. E/B. Entry for the Officer and a Gentleman Contest.


Notes:


1. Burn

Rating 5/5   Word Count 4725   Review this Chapter

He thought that he might like her the day their class left the schoolhouse, traveling to the garden by the river. She had worn a light blue dress and twirled in the sunshine, all dark hair and skinny white legs.

He thought he might like her even more one day while playing in the yard, she with her friends and he with his. A boys vs. girls game of tag had begun and he liked the idea of touching her.

He thought he might like to dance with her when the school formal was announced, conversations with her friends overheard by eavesdropping after class. Before he could ask, he learned she was already excited about a date, the chance of inviting her himself passing before he could grasp it.

He thought he might ask her to take a walk with him that night. He was dressed in his best and she was achingly beautiful, standing alone while her date smoked with friends. The light blue gown, so different from the childish version she’d once worn, inspired feelings he’d never spoken of, making him want to kiss her.

Years passed, each one filled with his distant observations, and with her occasional, casual smiles for him. He went his way, she went hers, and life moved forward.

He thought he might write to her after so many brutal months on the front, her remembered smile a delusion of joy in the fog of daily terror. As months passed, men died and officers ordered retreats; his once-colorful world darkened. The cold months of that last winter carved her place in his heart. The freezing of bitter elements destroyed bodies and souls, but he could not be broken. He fought when he was told to, but in free time he daydreamed of her smile and sweetness, unsure of why it was always her.

When sleep laid so heavily upon him, neither the ache of starvation nor the whirring of bullets could rouse him from those dreams, from replaying that night of the dance again and again. In his mind, they took that walk together to the grove and she kissed him with soft lips, touched him with hands of silk, and asked him to make love with her. They did so in the warm, fragrant summertime grass, with the dress she wore pooled around them.

When the pressure of mortal concerns crushed his will and he was too tired to dream of sex, he imagined her walking to him through the mud and pain, remaining clean, her smile so radiant, so beautiful. The smile he had witnessed from a longing distance for years.

It was an unholy contrast, bringing angels to Hell, but he wished for his rescue from artillery and blood, wished for the soft touch of her alabaster skin. Wished he could be clean and well-dressed in his uniform, walking toward her and not death.

He knew then that he might love her.

One summer night, shells barraged the scorched earth with ferocity, sending dirt flying and men moaning, and he believed he would die.

After the onslaught, the lost were respected and he retreated to his corner, unscathed but shaken, finally committing pen to paper. By a small fire in the trenches of a world war, he stared wordlessly at the dirty, blank note, every introduction or message seeming so strange.

With death under his nails and soot-stained sweat stinging his eyes, he realized his insanity. It had been four long years since he’d seen her smile, since they’d silently nodded on the rural streets of their hometown.

The illusion of familiarity was all in his head; she was no more than a stranger and he was grasping.

That damning reminder sucked the life from him, ripping away his imaginary refuge. Manic, yet realizing his delusion, Edward broke for the first time, understanding he wouldn’t go to her, knowing he would die there in the dirt. He had seen it happen to other men, but never like this, never to him. Silently and painfully, he sobbed for three solid minutes, wiping his life away with the tears. He could hardly remember those days now, each one passing in a blur of obligation and fear.

And then after what seemed a lifetime of victories and defeats, of triumphs and tragedies, he was finally free from gritty patriotism. Changed, but alive, he returned to their hometown.

Country villages were cradles for gossip and Edward’s uniformed arrival was celebrated by tow-headed beauties and sweet girls anxious to see the soldier’s return. Many men had been lost, those that remained were much sought after. Though he preferred private company, repeated invitations to the town events couldn’t go ignored, so he attended, each setting him alongside a young girl eager for his attentions. And any man would have been a fool not to pursue ladies so ripe for the plucking, Edward had only one woman in mind.

Nearly a week after his arrival and at a time he found advantageous, he cornered the local physician in town, inquiring about Bella’s health after ten minutes of small talk. Edward learned from the good doctor that she was living up north, having been married and widowed years ago.

That news was repeated in casual response to a politely curious question, but the force of the words crushed his chest. And in the darkest corner of his heart, he vainly, selfishly hoped she was free for him. For weeks, he planned his strategy, his tactics for approaching the angel a monumental task. He needed her to know what he felt for her, regardless of the consequences.

But each time he set firm plans in place to write or visit, he reconsidered and delayed, agonized over reducing the magnitude of the love he felt to simple language. After all, the stark truth he’d accepted on that battlefield was still the same; they were strangers.

One afternoon, after pacing and obsessing, he gave up. Dulling the gnawing ache in his chest with two shots of liquor, he finally picked up a pen.

This time, words poured like a once-dam-blocked river rushing free. Ink flew and splattered and the product was messy, but honest. He poured out his soul, using words he’d hardly ever thought, let alone spoken. When he was finished, the ink on his face and nails stood as a testament to his desperation, and he decided then it was better this way. Better to write her of his love now, with the black fluid of communication on his hand than the dirt of battle.

He believed that all of that wanting might have prepared him for her, giving him profound appreciation for even her tiniest virtues.

Before sending the letter, he had considered drafting it again, realizing he had given her everything. But he was done agonizing and it didn’t matter, anyway. Life was fleeting and precious and to delay any further was cowardice. Given all that he was asking, she would need to know his intentions.

He had spent so long expecting to die that he wanted nothing more now than to live.

*

In her mind, snapshots of his face existed, a pleasantly recalled catalog of moments past, but nothing more.

Bella Swan hardly knew Edward Cullen beyond their playground interactions so many years ago. She remembered that he was quiet and regular in all the ways that counted, with a handsome face and kind eyes. The summer after they had all finished school, she’d seen him at the market in his tidy Infantry uniform, thinking he’d grown into a fine man. His tight jacket displayed his obvious strength, causing her to linger in the aisle near the dairy, watching him select eggs.

But her circle didn’t run with his and she’d not allowed herself to consider him further.

He went his way and she went hers, strangers from the same small town.

For a short time, the war was a looming, foreboding thing, something women like her strived to ignore, their time spent instead with innocent gossip and nightly flirtations. It was then that she met her husband: a sweet, thoughtful debonair who made her laugh and flush with passion. She fell in love with his charm, leaving her small country home for the city. Their first months together were a whirlwind. He took her to society parties, entertained notable men and women, and married her in a beautiful riverside ceremony. She couldn’t recall a happier time. Her days were filled with friends and life, and her nights with his warm love.

And then he left for the front, like every man who could; without him, her joy was dismantled. Soon, the war was a dark, never-ending absolute, a giant abyss that stole her husband and her future. Nightly raids and eerie alarms kept her pacing until dawn and nightmares of blood and iron made her cry. In the city, food was scarce and days were cold, accidental deaths a reminder of their poverty.

Every day, she waited for her husband to return, feeling more selfish all the while for expecting him when so many others were grieving. A quiet brand of despair and foreboding hovered over every day, but she waited. For those painful, black months the silence of the city was louder than thunder. Lonely and overbearing silence; the kind that opened up the saddest parts of her. Deep down, she knew he was gone before the letter arrived.

By the time signed treaties ended the war, having sold all they had but her home and books, she had lost everything that mattered. As time passed and seasons changed, she was resigned to her now-silent home and meager wages at the local bakery. To solitude.

It was in this dark, hopeless place that a letter arrived from Edward Cullen.

Her shock at seeing his name was a flash and then a burn. She barely made it to her house before tearing the letter open.

Dear Bella,

I should call you Isabella, but for so long you’ve been dear to me that I cannot speak of you formally.

Please know that I send this letter with a heavy heart full of hesitation, knowing you may never deign to respond. I ask now for your forgiveness, as I am sometimes rough in habit and do not possess the will or desire to delay my natural urgency.

I am home from the war and I have thought of nothing but you since my return. During the years since I saw you last, memories of you have kept me thinking and feeling.

I mean not to offend you and silence would be an honorable and well-deserved response, but I must convey that I love you.

I do not know if you are happy where you are, but if you are still unattached and amenable to a meeting in the most respectable of circumstances, I would be honored to host your stay.

But if you do visit, know this: I seek to have you, love you, touch you, cherish and protect you for the rest of my life. Think this not overzealous, but the inclinations of a passion gone too-long ignored.

Most honestly and sincerely,

Edward Cullen

She read the letter again and again, feeling intrigued and yet ashamed for being moved by such forward language. Shocked, she sat, laughing breathlessly at this stranger’s words, which were almost… romantic.

Unsure of what to think as her cheeks flushed with a myriad of emotions from guilt to curiosity, she considered whether to respond. No man had ever spoken to her in such a way, never written her a love letter. But that was just what this was, slightly wrinkled and splattered with ink drops and smudges. Edward Cullen, the quiet, handsome boy from her hometown was in love with her.

In the night that followed, she paced through a range of indefinable passions; moving from fear to embarrassment to desire and then to self-righteous conviction. His suggestion was ridiculous, and although beautifully written, insulting. His words were almost erotic. Have you. Love you. Touch you.

No respectable man spoke to a woman in such a way. Maybe he had “rough habits,” but she did not, and clearly he’d forgotten how to treat a lady.

She told herself that, knowing his intentions, an unsupervised visit was nothing more than scandalous.

But those words repeated in her mind, and though she didn’t know what his voice sounded like, she imagined him saying those things to her. Hundreds of weary footsteps later, she empathized with the longing he must have felt, blushing repeatedly when reading his confession: I must convey that I love you.

Have you, love you, touch you… cherish you.

Over the next four days, she penned twelve drafts, covering each discarded page with carefully practiced calligraphy. While considering what to say in return, she analyzed every word, wrapping sin in ribbon, hoping her brief acceptance of his advances made her less guilty.

Dear Edward Cullen,

I am pleased to hear you have returned from the war safely. I hope this letter finds you well.

It has been a very long time since I’ve seen you, our hometown or the country. I hope the weather is fine and that you find the town as you left it.

As to your offer of friendship, I respectfully accept your invitation and will see you in six days’ time.

Sincerely,

Bella

*

By the time he received her reply, he was humiliated to have sent that letter, but shocked that she had agreed to see him.

Bella. Bella. Bella. Nerves claimed each day and then hour and then minute before her arrival. Never a vain man, Edward wondered if she would find him as attractive as he hoped, wondered further the status of her class, if his home was presentable enough. He told himself he would be a perfect gentleman, and made preparations to be exactly that. She would sleep in his bed and he would have the davenport. His room was tidy and all hers, with fresh linens and space for her trunk.

He was straightening the bedskirt again when a stirring below the window caught his attention. It was the creak of the front gate and then a scuffle of feet on gravel. Darting to the window, he laid eyes on the adult woman Bella for the first time, clothed in a green dress that sped his heart.

He couldn’t get down the stairs fast enough.

With staggered breath he opened the door, the brave words of an absolute man long forgotten. Stunned by her shy smile and cherry-red lips, he admired her delicate, curved figure and bright eyes, thinking she was a muse straight from Bouguereau’s brush.

She stood breathless and weak, shocked by the changes to the boy she hardly remembered. Strong and scarred from tools of war, he was stoic, but handsome—his eyes green and kind. Stepping over his threshold, in that moment, she thought he might have seduced her without a spoken word.

Their meeting proved indicative; magnetic for her, final for him. That day, after polite introductions, they talked like new friends with careful boundaries, walking in his garden, sharing updates on forgotten acquaintances. Sometimes, his admiration was so intense she withdrew into girlish bashfulness.

Dinner that evening was simple, but romantic. He laid out a candle and a blanket in the grass, and she couldn’t recall ever being treated so sweetly. They laughed together easily, both surprised by the foreign sense of joy they felt. Once, as they both reached for bread from the picnic basket, their hands touched, warmth tingling their fingers with the accidental contact.

He was trying to win her and it was working.

As they watched the fiery blaze of the sun leave a ghostly palette of color behind, her lonely heart warmed and he fell even harder. The ethereal form of her wartime apparition disappeared in the face of her tangible beauty. When it was a respectable time for separation, she slept in his bed while he stayed in the sitting room; an awkward arrangement for an inappropriate situation.

Midnight struck and he became borderline desperate, quietly touching himself to thoughts of her nude arrival in the darkness, of tasting her with his tongue, of taking her full hips in his hands. His want for her burned and it was all too much: the prospect of being with her again tomorrow, the unfathomable reality of her being there, and the memory of how her breasts bounced during their walk to the river. With a muffled groan, he reached fruition only to fall asleep, his dreams full of the woman he loved.

For Bella, rest was nearly impossible. The night was not so deafening as that winter of anguish, but loud enough to be heard. His bed was freshly laundered for her, and though it was an expected courtesy, the idea that he’d prepared for her arrival so thoughtfully only increased her admiration. He had been so polite, so kind to her, so sweet and respectful... and handsome and generous.

Bella lay awake and thought of him, obsessing over his words with equal intrigue, her fascination with him growing with each minute. The way he looked at her was hypnotic, as if he had a thousand questions to ask her. Already, she adored the way he laughed and how he spoke softly and smiled genuinely. The very thought of him in his once-worn uniform made her blush.

She liked him, and perhaps even more, wondering if she could be happy after all of this time, and if her husband could forgive her.

Sleeping in a foreign bed with unfamiliar scents aside, she was eventually lulled into sleep by sweet fantasies of Edward touching her, cherishing her. Just as he promised.

*

Her touch showed him she wanted to be alone; the past four days had been long for them both. After a discussion of that summer before the war and Edward’s time in the military, Bella had requested to see his uniform, teasing him playfully that Airmen had better colors.

Her request was a ruse, though. She could recall the day she’d seen him at the market, how fine and handsome he was. But her strategy worked.

Now, backed against his own bedroom wall, his breathing was labored like hers, but Edward was ready for her full acceptance; the only way forward from here was making love. His hands remained respectfully on her waist, however, his mind racing over polite conventions for new lovers. Unsure, he decided to follow her lead, to watch her for signs he could have more, feel more, love more.

His admiration perceptively darkened with lust as she stepped closer then, raising one hand to his hair as she slid the other down his stomach.

For Bella, their time together had filled her with intense curiosity; she burned to know why he desired her above all others. To test her sensual power, she watched his mouth and he watched hers as she moved over his belt, rubbing the front of his trousers like the brazen temptress she was not, feeling what was once partial become complete. Shuddering with vulnerability, he swallowed loudly as her hand shook in the wake of his primal, guttural moan. To him, her touch was bold and brave, a perceived demonstration of her readiness. Ever-patient and exhaling heavily, his eyes remained on her mouth as she explored from fingertip to palm, searching his handsome face for affection.

Fascinated by the feel of him, her small tongue swept over her lips, the flash of white teeth biting skin all he could handle. Breaking from the spell, his hands slid above her bottom, pulling their bodies flush. When their lips finally met, he groaned, tasting and feeling her after years of fantasy. Eager but temperate, their tongues touched, the sensation of warmth and wetness weakening his waning restraint. Her kiss was shy at first, but when he grasped her chin for more, that action unlocked pieces of her heart. Bella could feel the nights of loneliness, taste his passion for her on his tongue.

Soon, the warmth of once-uncertain mouths felt familiar as they advanced, both more excited than they could remember feeling. As Bella unbuttoned the pearl beads adorning the front of her dress, Edward backed her toward his bed, now-laden with her perfume. Barely contained by a commitment to be gentle, his hands explored her.

Removing his shirt, Edward shivered, feeling the warmed lace of her undergarments press against his bare skin. With his ministrations and her hasty assistance, her dress fell the rest of the way to the floor.

Lowering herself shyly, her heart racing for what was to come, Bella smiled timidly, giving him permission to pursue her. And there she lay before him, clad in her chemise, wanting his touch more than anything in the world. He approached her slowly, on his hands and knees, his gaze flickering between her lace-covered breasts and her bared stomach, full of wonder and lust.

She was right about his seduction, she decided—he’d managed it all so easily.

Slowly, with the anticipation of a thousand nights, he slid up her body, feeling the so-soft skin and delicate lace. "Beautiful," Edward whispered, staring at Bella's navel. As he explored the soft skin of her belly, kissing and undressing her from his post at her feet, she gave in a little more, threading her hands into his hair in encouragement, feeling pleasantly reckless. The long fingers of his appreciative hand roamed to her hips and around her back, pulling her closer as he lay beside her.

"Thank you," she breathed in response to his compliment, her heart skipping twice from his praise.

As he brought their bodies flush, still believing he was either dreaming or in an alternate universe, she felt a last, quick sting of permanent decision, of panic over what she’d already done. Though she wanted him, wanted to feel again - they hardly knew each other, and it had been so very long for both of them…

He sensed the change in her, searching her eyes tenderly with sudden perception. Slowing his urgency as best he could, he trailed his fingers along her ticklish, pale skin. For Edward, she was a surreal treasure, this moment one he’d dreamed of for years, even in the midst of chaos and death. He wanted to make her his, more than he’d wanted anything – more than rations, a shower, the end of the war or even survival. And more so, he wanted her to want him in return, to love him as he loved her. She sighed and relaxed while he relished the sound, kissing her neck to soothe her.

“I…” he breathed, his fingers roaming over her silken skin so lightly. "I want to make love with you..." he whispered in her ear, nudging her head to the side.

Bella shivered.

"May I?" he moaned. Wanting to be free and inside heaven, his hips shifted of their own volition, the hope for sinful friction difficult to bear.

"Yes," she whispered, touching his face with her fingers and his lips with her own.

That was all he needed. With a sigh too heavy for the quiet room, Edward unleashed his pent-up want minutely, pulling her against his erection, exploring her mouth with his own, feeling her body close after all this time. She felt so good in his arms, so warm and soft and beautiful.

As he pulled her into his world, she left behind more of her chaste sensibilities. The way he sought her, the careful lovemaking of lips and the slightest touches of tongue all showed her it was time to let go. To be loved by another. To be loved by him.

Bella relaxed into the pillow as he explored her with reverence. "Bella..." Edward breathed absently, the one name he would love forever a chant in his thoughts. With his words and touch, an ache formed in her stomach and moved lower, nerves and bashful grace giving way to lust in the face of his want.

When his nimble fingers shakily lowered the strings of her chemise, she watched in shy fascination; her heart racing faster, thumping hard against her chest. When he pulled the lace down further, her full breasts were bared for him, her nipple so soft in his mouth. Kissing and licking softly, he teased her, his hips jumping at the taste of her. She moaned, so he sucked harder, shifting his ache into her once more.

Escalation seized their composure, his vigorous attentions to her breast rendering them both anxious to proceed. He stopped though, observing her wet, swollen flesh, her lidded eyes – completely in awe of her body. And for just a moment, he let the reality sink in, let the moment own him before he lost final shreds of restraint.

She flushed with passion, but uncertainty prevailed, the switch between reservation and desire surprising in its newness. He continued then, groaning and plumping her breast for his returned mouth, the warmth of erotic need filling her mind with dizzy thoughts. Dazed and tingling all over, she realized she wanted more, wanted to feel his need inside of her. It was all she could think of, all she could focus on.

Slowly, patiently, he bade her body open for him; understanding she was ready, her receptiveness signified by soft sighs and parted legs.

As he touched her in forbidden places, she struggled with his clothing, freeing his belt and then his undergarments. Once linen gave way to strong, smooth skin she reached for his warm erection rendering him helpless to her touch. Thick and throbbing, she gasped as he shifted into her hand absently, imagining him inside of her. Naked together, they breathed and touched, the feel of soft texture over hard driving her to continue caressing, his erection locked between her stomach and his own.

It was time then and they both knew; the silent agreement signified by a long, breathy kiss, his weight settling between her legs.

First penetration left them both breathless. When she furrowed her brow and moaned low in her throat, he withdrew experimentally, watching her slight frown through his slow second invasion. He could hardly think, but he observed her face, hoping to please her. She nodded for him to move and he did, his desire a sight to behold.

The carnal fire of hot skin and wet pleasure eliminated his normal restraint and soon he lost himself in her sweet sex. His mouth explored, his hands gripping her possessively as his quiet, automatic sounds swept everything away. He was making love to her, wanting her, having her. Cherishing her, just as he promised.

Soon, the sound of sensuality, deep thrusts and shallow breaths filled the room, his consumption of her almost shocking.

Pulling her close, he found the infinite pleasure of release, promising never to let her go. He knew that vast, indefinable moments had passed, all of which had led them to this moment.

As his forehead pressed against her neck and he whispered “I love you,” she convinced herself easily that his letter had saved her, that it was by divine design that he had come to her with all this love now and not before.

Twilight passed as they lay spent on his bed, the glow of intimacy keeping them close as he whispered truths in her ear. He told her how he loved her, shocking her with silly memories long-forgotten and dear, tender dreams of a once-dying man.

They stayed awake until dawn, learning each other, asking seemingly trivial questions, punctuating their replies with occasional kisses.

As he talked, he watched her watching him, tracing her face from the bridge of her straight nose to the curve of her bottom lip, picturing her smile. He had never felt more alive, more deeply grateful for his irrational luck and past pain; never felt closer to another person.

Curled into his strong, warm embrace, she rubbed circles against his jaw, memorizing his face, asking questions and listening to his favorite things. Frequently, as he talked and she listened, she found herself thanking God for this chance. For after suffering through the silent aftermath of war, she had grown to appreciate the quiet. Though his feelings had a head start on hers, she was ready now to explore his decade of love.