OMG, guys, this is not a drill, this is actually happening!
"After Nightfall" has been nominated for Top Ten Fics completed in January on the TwiFanfictionRecs blog! Writing this story has kept me sane and happy throughout this pandemic, so if you've enjoyed reading it, I would be forever grateful for your vote!
You can vote once a day, every 24 hours (just go to the twifanfictionrecs . com website and the poll should be the first thing you see - or go to my profile page and find the direct link there).
As a means to thank you in advance for your votes, I'll be dropping this bonus chapter here, in case you were wondering what Edward and Bella have been up to after the events of "After Nightfall" wrapped up :). If I ever write a sequel, consider this the prologue.
Endlessly grateful to CoppertopJ for being the loveliest editor in the world and to DaniDarlingxx for being the pre-reader of my dreams!
Seven years later
I had been a mess all night. I knew Tyler was scheduled first thing in the morning and this made me unusually nervous. The kid was quite possibly one of the sweetest, kindest patients I had ever had, which made my mission today all the more demanding - I wanted to help him, if only he could gather the courage to talk. But I knew things were hardly ever black and white when it came to children and their emotional availability to open up.
"You're going to pop a vein or something if you keep frowning like that," Bella sighed deeply, as she was getting dressed - the same maddening combination of tight blue pencil skirt and white blouse that had driven me insane the day prior.
"I just might if you will be anywhere near me wearing that again."
"I'm sure you can keep it in your pants until tonight, when we get back home, mister. Besides, aren't you the master of self control?"
"You're pushing your luck there, sweetheart," I warned her teasingly. "I'm far from perfect when it comes to resisting you."
"Good thing Jasper has these days off then - this way, he won't be there to temper you."
"Oh, don't remind me of Jazz. Alice has avoided me all week, I'm starting to think they're up to something."
"They just want some time alone, no need to overthink it."
"Have you met me?"
Outside, the rain had calmed down enough for us to get to the car without getting completely soaked. It wasn't even six A.M., which meant that the sun was still waiting under the horizon to shine its light - not that it would shine too brightly, given the thick blanket of clouds above us.
Glasgow was only beginning to wake up by the time we arrived in the parking lot of the clinic. A sense of pride washed over me every time I saw the ivy climbing up the old walls of the building. This clinic was a joint project between me, my wife, Jasper and Alice. The idea behind it had been nothing more than pillow talk at first, back when Bella and I were still traveling the world; considering the fact that I could read minds - and the fact that my gift had proven useful a lifetime ago, back when one lovely kid in particular was trying to run from her past - she suggested that I put my gift to good use and help those kids that need psychological guidance, but that are too afraid to let things out fully. I brushed it off at first - but the more and more I thought about it, I realized it made sense.
When we returned, we knew it was time to put our plan into motion somehow. I already had a Master's degree in Psychology, but I still needed a PhD if I wanted to be an actual psychologist. Bella needed a little more than that, so she started studying for her Bachelor's degree at the University of Glasgow. By the time I was finished with my PhD, six years had passed. Bella had just completed her dissertation and she was getting ready to get her own PhD - that was when Jasper and Alice jumped in.
With Jasper's affinity for legal paperwork and Alice's expertise in business, we managed to open our own private clinic - a small, old-school building that Esme had found for rent, facing the Clyde River. When she wasn't studying, Bella was my assistant psychologist. It took us another six months to get everything in place and hire a few people: an accountant, a receptionist and a marketing officer. But when we officially opened our doors to the world, it was all worth it. Besides, it was a welcome change of pace from our usual highschool routine.
Knowing how expensive psychological care could get, we had decided to offer it for free - after all, we catered to kids. And there was no point in being greedy, since we had enough resources to pay our employees, thanks to Alice being our own personal Wolf of Wall Street when it came to investing in the stock market.
In my short experience of being a psychologist, I had met a fair amount of special kids. But none of them had troubled me quite like young Tyler did. He was 14 and he barely ever talked. He hadn't always been like this - there had been a point in his life when he was quite a lively fellow. His silence had begun soon after he had started attending street dance lessons, to impress a girl he liked; naturally, his mother - a lovely, if not a bit chaotic woman in her forties - got worried and decided to bring him in.
It didn't take me long at all to understand what was going on. Tyler might have been as quiet as a mouse, but his mind wasn't. Every few minutes, his thoughts would intermingle with a specific set of short flashbacks: the hands of a woman under his shirt, the same hands unbuckling his belt, her piercingly blue eyes too close for comfort, her voice telling him his friends would be jealous if they knew. Piecing together the flashbacks and his other thoughts, I had realized that the woman in question was his dance instructor. She couldn't have been older than 25, yet she was a monster through and through.
And it drove me insane that I had made no progress with Tyler during our three appointments together. While pushing him was the last thing on my mind, I couldn't bear to know that he would have to attend those dance lessons again. After our first appointment, I made sure to tell his mother that putting an end to his street dance career might be a good first step. When she asked me why, I simply told her that the lessons could be a source of additional stress for him. Thankfully, she didn't question my advice.
Still, I had no actual evidence to go against the dance instructor - but I would, soon enough. Carlisle already knew a lawyer that could get Tyler's abuser in no time, if he decided to speak.
As we stepped past the mahogany doors, Bella squeezed my hand tightly, getting my attention. I looked at her and she smiled.
"You're going to do great today, precious," she told me.
"Thank you, I hope."
Once inside, I could see Mia, our receptionist, getting ready at her desk, fumbling with what must have been a lipstick. She had dark circles under her eyes, a testament of her night of partying. There was still a faint trace of alcohol in her blood, but she did her best to cover it when she raised her eyes up to us and offered us her most convincing smile.
"Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen!"
"Good morning, Mia - you're awfully early," I noticed.
A small flash of her last few hours spent in a stranger's bed made me realize that she had not slept at all in fact.
"Rough night, sir," she grimaced, not quite lying.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
She sighed, looking longingly at my behind as I guided Bella towards our shared office. Mia was a nice girl, truly - she had just finished studying Liberal Arts and she was trying to find her purpose. But that purpose didn't seem to come as easily as she would have liked. Nice as she was, I tried to keep my distance from her. I might have felt more comfortable in her presence had she not had such a peculiar and unspoken fascination with my butt whenever I turned around.
"Let's go out tonight," I suggested as soon as I closed the door behind me, my voice barely hiding the edge of my thoughts. "Just you and me. What do you say?"
"I'd love nothing more than that, but I've got that exam tomorrow, and you know it. Besides, I've still got to do some writing for my paper."
"You'll do amazing regardless, love, you always do."
"Let's just take a raincheck, okay?"
I growled, not pleased, but also understanding her motives. My escape could wait - and it had to, especially now that more pressing issues had to be handled.
Tyler arrived alone this time, carrying a note from his mother in which she was excusing herself for not being able to bring him to the clinic herself today, due to some stomach bug she had caught. I walked in with moderate expectations, and I walked out after an hour with every single one of them crushed.
He didn't talk. Again.
Granted, it was only our fourth appointment, and selective mutism in teenagers was not something that went away overnight - even more so when it was caused by a profound traumatic experience. But keeping everything in was not a healthy coping mechanism either. For the entirety of our appointment, I could hear his thoughts clashing chaotically inside his brain, making him question everything. A part of him wanted to let the story out - but the bigger part of him would not let him. He was convinced that if he would have said anything to me, I would mock him for not being 'man enough' - an agonizing worry for a 14 year old to have.
I made sure to allow for warm-up time. I tried focusing solely on nonverbal communication, with moderately good results. I tried easing him in with a prop, as any guidebook would have recommended, but his thoughts soon showed me that he found this approach downright stupid. I tried touching upon some topics that he used to be interested in, according to his mother - and while I did pique his interest, it hadn't been enough to get him to respond.
By the end, hardly any progress had been made.
The rest of the day went by in a blur, my mind constantly trying to find ways around the Tyler situation. Carlisle had advised me to be patient, but it was easier said than done. How could I be patient, when a kid was suffering in silence, with no peace in sight? And how could I be patient, when his abuser was out there, possibly preying on other children? My past self would have got rid of her without thinking twice about it.
It was a little after four P.M. when Mia informed me that the girl who was scheduled next - the last appointment of the day - had called in sick. I hadn't expected relief to overcome me like it did and I almost felt guilty for it.
"Just reschedule it and take the rest of the day off then," I suggested.
"I've still got to finish the end of the month report, sir," she responded coyly.
"I could use some sleep though. I'm never doing late night booty calls again, fuck that."
"Don't worry about it. I'll have Jasper finish it when he returns. Just go home, get some rest. And tell Marie and Jackson to do the same, while you're at it."
She refrained from jumping up with joy and resumed herself to a simple, polite 'thank you'. I walked away as she was packing her things and returned to the office. Bella's nose was in a book - some manual about the theory of behaviorism. But as soon as she saw me, she put the book down, rushing to welcome me with an embrace.
"You look like a mess," my wife observed. "This day hasn't been easy on you, has it?"
"It hasn't, love."
"Tyler?" she guessed correctly.
"Precisely. It's driving me insane."
"He's still not there, Edward. You can't force progress."
"I wouldn't dream of forcing him to do anything. Whatever his pace is, I'll modulate myself to replicate it. But he's just… he's suffering so much. If only you could hear him."
She sighed, pressing her lips on the side of my neck in the process. After being frustrated all day, the sudden contact sent my head spinning.
"You'll get him there, I know you can," she murmured against my skin.
"What if I can't, my love?"
"Well, in a way, you've done it in the past," she reminded me, and we both fell silent after that.
It was never easy to bring up that specific part of the past. It had been more than eight years since we had last seen Nellie, yet her memory had never left us - not that it could, when I never failed to ask Alice for weekly updates on what the future held for the little one. But it hurt to remember all the same - and especially to ponder on what could have been.
I tried concentrating less on that and more on Bella's lips working their way up to my ears. I pulled her closer to me, allowing myself to forget and simply concentrate on the fragrant storm of lavender and sugar that was taking over my senses. No day could be truly bad when I had her with me and I was more aware of that fact now that her hands were in my hair, her mouth searching for mine.
Without a word, I kissed her - perhaps too roughly, but I couldn't find it in me to care. She became a melted mess in no time, quivering and pulling at my strands as if there was no tomorrow. Not once parting from her, my hands grabbed the hem of her skirt and I started rolling it up, until all the fabric was ruffled over her hips. Feeling the urgency grow stronger, I squeezed the soft flesh of her buttocks, digging at it with my nails.
"Damn this skirt," I groaned, my pants suddenly too tight for comfort. "I've got to have you right now."
"But Mia? And Jackson, and Marie…"
While she seemed worried about the staff hearing us, her body was making the decisions for her, because she was unbuckling my belt and unzipping my pants with speed as she was speaking.
"I've told them to take the rest of the day off. They're leaving as we speak."
Bella's hand tightened around my cock and started moving it up and down, a mere preview of what I needed.
"Fuck," I gasped, unable to think of anything else when her hand was stroking me like that. "On my desk, love. Now."
She refused to part from me, so I had to guide her with my hands, encouraging her with playful smacks over her tantalizing bottom. I made sure to rip her underwear in the process - by the time she was bent over my desk, there was no barrier between us. I grabbed her wrists and held them behind her back, my action causing her to moan in anticipation.
"Tell me how you want it, Bella," I demanded, as I grazed between her legs with my erection, feeling her arousal coating me.
"I want you to be a little more explicit, if you know what's good for you."
She groaned when I pushed my tip between her folds - not entering, just teasing.
"Fuck me hard," she gasped, trying to push herself on me.
With my free hand, I gathered her locks in my fist and pulled at them.
"More," I said.
"I… want you to bite my neck until it hurts."
"Mhmmmm, I can do that. Other requests?"
"Ah, damn… just quit the teasing and fuck me, Edward!"
I laughed at the annoyed desperation in her voice and tightened my grip on her hair and wrists.
"So feisty," I offered. "What you wish is what you get, my love."
And with that, I pushed myself all the way in, sliding in the deliciously tight space and crying out at the delirious sensation of her walls clenching around me. I cursed, letting the lust of our union consume me. I bucked my hips, retreating slightly, only to thrust myself with full force immediately after.
Bella allowed her shield to fall and suddenly, we were one single being: moving, breathing, panting, dripping. It was always so easy to forget which thoughts were mine and which were hers in these moments. Our needs complimented themselves in such a way, that it felt as if her musings were mere extensions of mine and vice-versa.
When she wanted faster, I wanted faster. When she wanted deeper, I wanted deeper. When she was getting closer to the edge of the void, I was right there with her. When she needed an incentive to fall over, I was already whispering delightful obscenities in her ear to get her to unravel.
We came fast and hard the first time around, my teeth sinking inside her throat right as she was coming undone, breaking a quarter of the desk in our mutual frenzy. The second time, we chose the much safer, sturdier floor, taking our time to enjoy each other. She ended up above me, licking up and down my shaft, as I was busy moving my tongue between her folds, savouring the distinctive taste of our combined orgasms.
I had no idea where time had gone when my phone started vibrating, indicating that I had received a message. I ignored it at first, deciding that nothing could be as important as offering my wife another orgasm as she was riding my face with rapacity. But when the vibrations kept buzzing, not a sign in sight that they would stop anytime soon, Bella reached for the annoying device and handed it to me. She moved a bit, until her buttocks arrived on my chest, to allow me some room to breathe - as if I wanted such a thing.
Unwillingly, I unlocked the screen.
"Alice is unbelievable", I groaned, seeing the eight text messages my sister had sent me within the span of one minute.
"What is it?"
"She wants us to come home to the main house."
"Did she tell you why?"
"No, just that it's urgent."
Bella pouted, her mind silently reflecting upon whether we had time to squeeze in one last round of sex before leaving. I was getting ready to prove to her that we could, when my phone vibrated once more. The new message was clear as day:
'No, there is not enough time for that. Trust me, you don't want to miss this. Get your asses here. NOW!'
Lacking any kind of motivation, we picked up our clothes from the floor and started getting dressed. The broken-down desk looked tragic, but there was nothing I could do about it now. Deciding that this was a problem for another time, I closed the blinds of the office and exited in a hurry.
The drizzle from the morning had turned into a full-blown torrential rain. By the time we were inside the car, we looked as if we had dived underwater with our clothes on. We chatted idly on the way back, trying to come up with various explanations for Alice's strange behaviour in the past couple of days and her erratic texts. The explanation that seemed to make most sense to both of us was our upcoming wedding anniversary - we wanted nothing more than to take two weeks off just for ourselves, but Alice was also convinced that a party would be in order before we left. Maybe this was the reason she had avoided me to the best of her capabilities: she just wanted to surprise us without either of us having the chance to protest properly.
Back home, I parked the car in the driveway, somewhat thankful that Bella's shield was drowning out the clamor of mental voices that would have normally filled my head years ago. I much preferred the silence when it came to my family. I had unwillingly invaded their privacy for too long, so having a constant way out from their thoughts felt like a blessing. I sniffed the air carefully, expecting to inhale a scent that would give Alice away: balloons, flowers, confetti, anything. But there was nothing.
Bella looked at me, raising an eyebrow, and I simply shrugged, unsure of what to expect. We stepped inside the house, hearing a low conversation coming from the living room - at this point, I was even expecting some sort of prank, given the fact that there were no party decorations in sight, yet the atmosphere felt oddly ominous. But just as we were entering the glass-walled living room, I saw her.
Sitting on the sofa, dressed in a black robe.
Surrounded by my entire family.
Laughing at one of Emmett's dumb jokes.
I froze in place, unable to move another inch. This was a hallucination. It had to be, there was no other reasonable explanation for what I was seeing. It had been almost a decade since I had last seen her before my very eyes, this just couldn't be her. I felt Bella's hand gripping mine tightly through a haze, almost as if she wasn't even here.
Was I going insane? Was it even possible?
Not even on my darkest days since we had parted ways, had I had this insanity happen to me. She was nothing more than a chimera, I tried convincing myself. Just something my mind had come up with to soothe the hurt of not knowing how to help Tyler. But then again, chimeras couldn't talk.
And this one most definitely could, when she opened her mouth to talk:
"Are you going to stay there and stare all day, weirdos?"
My wife was the first to move. I watched, completely paralyzed, as she went to the sofa and hugged the small robe-wearing figure tightly. I heard Rosalie's laugh, I saw my parents holding on to each other tightly, but I was still having trouble comprehending the scene in front of me.
Not many seconds had passed since I had stopped in my tracks, dumbfounded. Nellie - who could not possibly be Nellie - raised up and came to me, rolling her eyes right before throwing her arms around me. Carefully, full of uncertainty and expecting her to disappear any second, I embraced her in return. It very much felt as if I was holding an illusion in my arms.
"Are you real?" I asked, like an idiot.
"No, I'm a fucking hologram, old man."
I looked down at her and she raised her eyes at me - the same dark marmalade eyes from my memories - and started laughing. Quite possibly one of the purest sounds in the world.
"H-how… just how is this possible?" I demanded to know. "How are you here?"
"She's here for a routine check, bro," Emmett announced from where he was standing, sounding positively smug. "The Italian royalty wants to know if we're up to something."
"Close enough, big guy," Nell said, pulling away from our shared hug.
"I don't understand," I admitted.
"Let's give them some privacy," my father suggested kindly, but firmly. "We already know the story."
Emmett protested, invoking his 'right to see Edward be a total daddy', but Rosalie nudged him to move with her elbow. Alice and Jasper threw a knowing look at our little trio right before disappearing upstairs, with the rest. And just like that, Bella and I remained alone with Nellie, for the first time in almost a decade. She made herself comfortable on the sofa once again, and we joined her, sitting down on either side of her.
"So… hi," she said.
"Hi right back," Bella chuckled, and she sounded just as overwhelmed as I was feeling inside.
"I know this is not something either of you expected, but… I've been thinking of doing it for a while."
"It's a long story and I might not have enough time until Jane and Alec get back, but here it goes: I've been toying around with Chelsea's and Corin's powers for years. It was tough to steal them at first, but I've learned to do it when Aro wasn't looking. The thing is… they're the glue that keeps the entire coven together. Chelsea manipulates relationships and Corin induces them into a false sense of contentment. It hasn't been easy, but... I think I've managed to loosen their foundation."
"Wait a minute," I interrupted, terrified of what this meant for her. "I've seen you doing some stuff in Alice's visions, but not to this extent. If that is the case, how are you still alive? Aro must have read your thoughts at least once."
"Aro hasn't read my thoughts in seven years, Edward. I've managed to keep him at bay. He's convinced I'm his right-hand ally."
"But… Chelsea and Corin must have told him something… right?" Bella quipped, just as confused as I was.
"How could they? They're under the spell of their own powers without even knowing."
"This is a dangerous game you're playing, kid."
"I guess it might have been, had I not taken my time to perfect it. It's not something I've done overnight, you know? It's taken me years to get here. This is the only reason I'm here now, in fact. The fake bonds and the induced contentment are almost part of who they are now, after so many years - kind of like it used to be before, when Chelsea and Corin were doing this of their own accord."
I stared at her, trying to digest all this new information.
"If Aro reads your mind just once, you are screwed," I pointed out. "You do realize this, right?"
"Except he won't."
"Why are you doing this, Nellie?" Bella asked, reaching out to grab her hand. "You're playing with fire. Just the fact that you're here now might spell trouble for you."
"It's just a routine coven check-up. Don't worry about me."
"But you've said Jane and Alec are close by."
"Yes, hunting at the outskirts of the city, because I've asked them to. They're harmless - Jane and I have this tacit understanding that if she lets me be, I don't steal her power. And Alec's got a bit of a crush on me, so he's a non-issue."
She looked at me, then at Bella, then back at me, almost as if she was expecting a round of applause. But I could not do it, now that I was beginning to understand just what exactly she had been trying to do since we had separated.
The glimpses from Alice's visions had not been enough to paint the whole picture. Nellie wasn't just trying to dismantle the Volturi from within - she was succeeding, if her words were anything to go by. What that meant for her or for us, I couldn't exactly tell - manipulating the dynamics within a coven was one thing. Escaping from said coven was another thing, considering that those frail dynamics could not hold up for long if she was away, unable to steal Chelsea's and Corin's powers.
"What's the point of all this, Nellie? You're putting yourself in so much danger, but for what?"
"You really need to live a little, old man," she winked at me and I found myself wondering how the years without her had gone by so quickly - right now, it felt as if we had never been parted. "The thing is… there might be a war of sorts coming. I don't know, I might be wrong. But I've made Aro question almost everyone around him, Caius and Marcus included. He's getting a little paranoid."
I left my face fall into my palms, closing my eyes and not quite believing what I was hearing.
"Wow, you're quite a hurricane," Bella observed, pride seeping in her voice.
"I know I am, thank you. So as I was saying, shit might blow up. Or not. But Aro is second-guessing the loyalty of those around him and he's not quite happy. And… I might've made the guard question his authority too."
"You might've done what?" I snapped, opening my eyes to look at her, unsure whether to feel proud, annoyed or a questionable mix of both. "Nellie, dear, are you feeling suicidal?"
"Not at all," she said, shrugging. "Just feeling as if there's no room for overly-conceited monarchs in our world, especially after living with them for what feels like too long."
"All right, but… that means you still can't come live with us… right?" Bella intervened, unwilling to dance around the subject.
The kid's eyebrows danced up from underneath her messy fringe, seemingly surprised by my wife's directiveness.
"Well, no. I mean… I could leave, but it would only be a matter of time before they snapped back to reality - well, the reality Aro had made Chelsea and Corin create. And I'd probably die, which is not cool."
"So what's the plan?" I queried, mentally preparing myself for more madness to follow.
"Stick around until they implode? I don't know, truthfully. I'm not planning every step, because fuck knows how things can change overnight. But it's been going pretty great so far."
She grimaced and remained silent for a while, allowing us to analyze everything she had told us. It was obviously too late to advise her against starting a silent war, since she had already done that. Had I not known her, I would have never believed that this frail-looking girl could wreak havoc like that, without raising a finger. Despite my better judgement, I could not help the pleasant swelling in my chest, that was slowly alerting me that I was, indeed, proud of her. Dangerously so, all things considered.
"Can you promise me you'll be careful?" I questioned her.
"Yes, old man, whatever helps you to calm the fuck down."
"Language," I hissed and she immediately started laughing, as if she had just heard the best joke in the universe.
Bella threw her arms around Nellie, joining her in laughter - and soon enough, I was laughing with them, amazed by the improbability of this temporary reunion. I watched them, trying to convince myself for the third time that night that this was indeed happening. As feeble as this moment was, it was more than I could have hoped for. How many excuses had I invented in these last eight years, in hopes that one of them might be good enough to allow me to go to the Volturi and claim Nellie back? Tons, yet none of them had been good enough to be put into practice without Alice foreseeing some imminent doom. This precious moment was solely Nellie's doing, and I wished with every fibre in my body for it to never end.
But while we were, for all intents and purposes, immortal, time itself wasn't. The moment died too soon, and I found myself saying goodbye when I wasn't even ready to do so. However, this particular goodbye didn't feel definitive, as the one in Paris had felt ages ago. Beyond the embraces and the words, it had a hidden 'see you later' layer underneath, that made it bearable.
When I watched Nellie walk out the door, I knew the stinging in my eyes was not an omen of pain.
It was a herald of hope.
Woah, this was it!
I'm not going to lie, this chapter almost wrote itself, since these ideas have been floating around in my brain for almost two months now. Writing them down felt oddly cathartic.
If you've got any thoughts on what happened and what the future might hold for the Cullens, it would make my day to read your reviews and, as always, respond! :D
And pleeease, don't forget to vote for this story if you've enjoyed it!
Stay safe and happy!