Chapter 15

A/N: Why, yes, the answer to life, the universe, and everything *is* 42.

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After the arduous, and near life-threatening, trek through the night-time, wintry landscape to the outhouse, and hauling in more firewood as Bella had commanded, McCoy had been more than ready for another nap curled up in his borrowed blanket. He’d even considered moving the cot closer to the little stove. Once again, he wondered how humans could live in such a snowy, cold place. Shivering in the beyond frigid air left him feeling exhausted.

Bella noticed his strength was flagging and cajoled him into eating the chicken noodle soup. Not that she’d threatened him or anything, but she had gone to the trouble of digging out a few of the cooking pots from the attic and heating it up for him. How could he refuse her? As soon as he took the first spoonful, she disappeared into the attic again.

While she had been rummaging around in the attic, oohing and ahhing over some of the books, McCoy had sat uncomfortably on his cot, eating his soup, as the blond Warlord across the room eyed him like he was the next thing on the menu.

Or maybe that wasn’t it … exactly. Bella, evidently, had quite a high regard for the man and had urged him to tell McCoy about some of his past. What little he heard sounded like utter Hell. McCoy had been in some battles in space and on various planets, but the shadows in the vampire’s golden eyes as he glossed over his long history told McCoy volumes more. He’d seen those same dark clouds in the eyes of others. There were times he saw them in his own when he looked in the mirror.

He felt a certain kinship with the former Confederate Major. McCoy could never understand the nightmare of fighting other vampires for land, but he knew what it was like to be under fire, fearing for your life and the lives of others—to have shipmates brutally taken. To do everything in your power to save someone who was wounded, and still lose them.

As Bella bumped and shuffled around above them, mumbling to herself, McCoy finished his dinner—or was it breakfast? He sat the bowl and spoon aside and wrapped the blanket more tightly around his shoulders. Bella respected and admired the vampire sitting at the little table, and McCoy could tell he felt the same about her. Why else would he have let her order him around?

Maybe it was for the same reason McCoy did, and he wasn’t even exactly sure of the motivation himself. All he knew was he felt strongly for her and his life was richer for having met her. Of course, he was alive simply because she had raced into it.

Jasper slowly lowered his head and blinked as if he was agreeing with him.

Was he able to read minds, too? No. Bella had said he could feel emotions. A vague sense of unease washed over him. As long as Jasper was around, he’d have to guard his thoughts and keep a check on his feelings.

Jasper raised his eyebrows and nodded at him.

A quilt landing on the floor with a thud disrupted the wordless communication between them, and McCoy wrenched his gaze from Jasper’s.

There was more to that vampire allure than McCoy had realized.

Bella dropped from the hole in the ceiling, grabbed the blanket from the floor, and shook it out. “Brought down another. This cabin is insulated really well, but there’s a front coming through. It’ll only get colder.”

“Colder?” McCoy groaned. “How can it possibly get colder?”

“This isn’t even the worst part of winter yet. Lived on space ships too long?” Bella asked with a gleam in her eye.

“Maybe I have,” McCoy replied, knowing she was just teasing him. “Humans—most humanoids—tend to prefer more temperate climes.”

Bella tucked the colorful patchwork around McCoy and sat at the foot of the cot, toeing off her boots and drawing her legs up. She wrapped her arms around them. “That quilt is so pretty. I’d like to learn how to do that. And I have plenty of time now!”

Her enthusiasm brightened the whole room.

“Speaking of time … like Jasper said outside, age doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to vampires.” Bella shrugged. “Carlisle is more than three hundred years older than Esme, and they are perfect for each other. Should they break up because he’s older? Edward being almost a hundred years older than me didn’t make him more mature. He just went to school more than I did.” She dropped her forehead to her knees. “I really don’t want to talk about Edward right now.”

“Bella,” Jasper began quietly, finally breaking his silence. “I would remind you that, very often, what humans experience before they are turned has quite an impact on their … personality after they become vampires. What Edward has told you about his human life are the things that were strongest and clearest in his mind. He had dreams of being a hero in the war. Then people all around him, and his family, were struck down by the flu. First his father, then his mother, died right in front of him. He was ill, fevered, delirious—on the point of death—when Carlisle changed him.”

“I know that,” Bella mumbled into her legs.

“His thoughts on the war were impossibly romantic. He was a child dreaming of adulation and ticker-tape parades. Of course, he couldn’t know what war actually entails. Then his safe little world came crashing down around him.”

“I understand that’s why he would be clingy and controlling.” Bella peeked at Jasper over her knees. “But that doesn’t explain …”

“Edward’s entire focus was on the glory of war. He wanted his father to be proud of him. Why do you think it’s so important that he never disappoint Carlisle?”

McCoy inelegantly cleared his throat. “If you two want to talk privately, I … I can go outside.” He started to unwrap himself from the blankets.

“No, Leonard. You don’t have to do that.” Bella reached out and put her hand on his arm to stop him. “I babbled enough already. You must have figured out Edward wasn’t a real husband to me, and I made a mistake in marrying him before I knew him better. Jasper is trying to make excuses for Edward being uninterested in me.”

“Not excuses. Reasons.” Jasper tilted his head. “He might be a brooding romantic, but—”

You’re defending him?” Bella asked in disbelief and lifted her head, a dark frown coloring her face. “I should suffer because he’s asexual due to daddy issues?”

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