Hello again, devoted TTI readers! You all are truly the best. It's your continued excitement for this story that has enabled me to keep chasing these plot bunnies in my head when it comes to Hockeyward and Skaterella. I just can't quit these two! I hope you all enjoy this outtake of Hockeyward's POV of the day of Bella's free skate at the Vancouver Olympics (aka Chapter 25).
Vancouver - January 2010
Sitting on the back deck of our rental villa, overlooking the snow laden mountains of Vancouver, I breathed in a moment of peace and silence. There had been precious little of either since arriving in Canada and no matter the outcome later that night there was unlikely to be any until returning to Minnesota. So I sat, controlling my breath and attempting to calm my thrumming heart.
In a little over nine hours the woman I loved would be on the ice fighting for gold. Four minutes to encompass a lifetime of effort, training, and determination. And I could do absolutely nothing to help her. It was an arrogant concern. She didn't need my help in this. Bella was more than capable of achieving anything she set out to do, and yet I couldn't help but wish I could shoulder some of the immense pressure she had to be feeling.
The sound of the sliding door had my shoulders tensing, only to relax again a moment later when I recognized the gentle pattern of my mother's footsteps. She draped the warm weight of a blanket on my shoulders, rubbing them twice before she sat beside me on the steps. I lifted a corner, inviting her to tuck herself by my side and share the covering. She balanced two metal thermoses in the crook of her arm, passing one off to me once she was settled and tapping her own to mine.
"Get any sleep?"
I took a cautious sip from my steaming mug of coffee, lifting a shoulder in an evasive shrug. I never could lie to my mother.
"Big day," she murmured, taking a sip from her own.
I snorted. "Understatement."
"How's she doing?"
"Good, I think," I said, glancing back toward the house as if I could somehow see through walls and find her. "Calm. She's stretching."
"Well, then I'm surprised to find you out here," Mom teased, nudging me in the side.
My jaw dropped and I could feel the rosy flush of embarrassment staining my cheeks.
"Jesus, Mom," I groaned. "No one would suspect that Emmett comes by his crude sense of humor naturally."
She unleashed a full-bodied laugh, always finding joy in embarrassing her children.
I shook my head and chuckled along with her. "She needs to concentrate. No distractions."
"You know I'm only teasing. It's just..." She sighed, turning her head to study my face. "It's so good to see you happy."
"I am." I nodded, meeting her gaze. "She's...everything."
The smile on her face matched my own as she reached out to smooth back a strand of my wild hair.
She scooted herself closer and laid her head on my shoulder as we sat together, quietly sipping our coffee in comfortable silence. My mother's serene presence could only do so much and before long I could feel the nerves slowly crawling their way back in to stiffen my muscles and make my knee jitter.
Mom pressed her hand to my knee, putting a stop to the bobbing motion. "I won't tell you not to worry, but she's going to be great. She's ready."
"I know. I just can't help but feel helpless."
Mom set her mug aside, turning toward me and laying her warm hands on my cheeks.
"You're protective. She's been through so much to get here and you want to help carry the load," she said in that voice that said she knew me to my core. "But she is so strong. And a lot of that strength comes from you, from our family. These months, those relationships, they've only increased the strength she's always had within her. So today, when Bella steps out on that ice alone, we all can be confident that she will do exactly what she was born to do: triumph."
I nodded, the truth of her words chasing the nerves back and filling me with certainty. Mom was always a champ at the pep talks.
She patted my cheeks before releasing my face and reaching for her coffee. "Rumor has it a piece of you will be out there on the ice tonight, too," she said, taking a sip.
I quirked an eyebrow in question.
"A musical piece?" she clarified.
"She told you?" As far as I knew, Bella had kept her program change from everyone save for me and Marcus.
She glanced around the empty deck before cupping her hand by her mouth, leaning in with an exaggerated whisper as if she were letting me in on a secret. "I'm kind of responsible for submitting her music."
I laughed, lifting my mug to my lips. Leave it to my mother. Everyone thought Alice was the detective of the family, but there were no secrets from Esme.
"It's beautiful, Edward," she said, her tone filled with pride. "Truly."
My lips turned up at the compliment, though I shrugged a shoulder. "It's her." How could it be anything but beautiful?
"My sweet boy. I always knew you had this vast well of love to give. But seeing you with her? It greatly surpasses even the wildest hopes I had for you." Her voice was thick with emotion as the tears making her eyes glossy spilled over her cheeks. "I'm just so glad you found each other."
I pulled her into my arms, wrapping her in a tight hug. Though I'd outgrown her more than a decade before, a part of me was always surprised by how small my mother was in my embrace. Maybe because her love always felt so large. I could feel her tears against my neck and I pressed a kiss to her hair. "You big softy."
She laughed and lifted her head, brushing her hands over her cheeks as I kept my arm around her shoulders.
"Have you seen it?" I asked. "Her program?"
"No. She & Marcus have kept this little change-up pretty close to the vest. I don't think anyone else has a clue. Alice just thinks it's a new costume for her 'Moonlight Sonata' routine."
"Yeah, she's been a sneaky one," I agreed, squeezing her shoulder.
She studied my face for a moment before declaring, "You've seen it."
I nodded, warmth filling my chest and a grin taking over my lips as my mind filled with images of that perfect afternoon. "The day I proposed. I was going to wait a little longer to ask her, until after all this was over. But I stood on that ice with her, watching her skate to the notes I wrote when I first fell in love with her, and I couldn't wait one moment longer."
"Oh Edward." Mom's chin quivered as the tears started back in earnest and she buried herself back in my arms, wrapping hers around my middle and holding me tight. "Now that'll be in my head tonight while I watch her skate. As if I wasn't already guaranteed to bawl like a baby."
I chuckled and rubbed my hands up and down her back.
"Do you remember watching the coverage from Torino?" I asked, feeling her nod against my chest. "She skated so well and she looked so happy. Until she stepped off the ice and Renee was there. Criticizing, judging, stealing the light from her eyes."
"I remember," Mom murmured, sniffling. "It broke my heart and I didn't even know her."
"But tonight, she's going to skate her heart out. She's going to blow everyone away, I just know it." I nudged her face up so I could see her red-rimmed eyes, a copy of my own. "And when she steps off the ice, you'll be there. Loving her, raising her up, giving her exactly what she's always deserved from a mother and never had...until you. As much as I wish I could be there with her tonight, I think you're exactly who she'll need. I'm so glad she has you."
The lip quiver returned, and she gently punched me on the shoulder. "Damn it, Edward! I'm going to use up all my tears before noon if you keep this up."
A box of Kleenex appeared between us and we both looked up to see that Alice had joined us on the deck.
"Alright, you two. Let's pull it together, shall we? Mom, if you keep crying you're going to have puffy eyes tonight and you know how many cameras are going to be hovering."
Mom laughed and pulled three tissues from the box, wiping under her eyes. "Yes, thank you, Mary Alice. Because my puffy eyes are what all the cameras will be focused on."
"Always here to watch out for your image, Mom."
"Get in here," Mom commanded, tugging Alice's wrist and scooching just far enough from my side to allow my sister to plunk herself on the step between us.
"How's our girl doing?" Mom asked.
"Emmett's keeping her distracted," Alice assured us, reaching for my abandoned, cooling coffee and taking a sip. "He challenged her to an arm wrestling contest."
"Oh great." I groaned, moving to get up.
"Cool it, Lancelot," Alice jabbed, pulling me back down with a laugh. "He's teaching her a card game. He'll keep her from getting into her head too much."
I huffed and bumped her knee with mine. "That wasn't funny."
"Maybe I should tell him to come out here and distract you instead," she teased. "You seem more agitated than she is."
I shrugged but couldn't argue.
"I don't know what you're so worried about. She crushed the Sonata at Nationals. Tonight's going to be a cakewalk."
Mom's eyes met mine over Alice's head for only a moment, but it was enough for my observant sister to scent blood in the water.
"What?" Alice demanded, glancing back and forth between my mother and I, our faces matching pictures of innocence.
"What what?" I asked.
"What was that look about?" She gestured at my face, not to be deterred.
"There wasn't a look," I insisted, leaning back on my hands, attempting nonchalance. "You're right; she's going to be amazing. I should chill out.
"Okay, now I know something's going on. Which one of you's going to crack first? You know I will make you talk," Alice pressed, turning her scrutinizing gaze on our mother.
"Should we tell her?" Mom asked.
I shrugged. "She's going to find out soon enough."
"Bella's not skating to Moonlight Sonata tonight," Mom informed Alice.
"Yes she is." Alice's brow scrunched in confusion. "I made her a new costume for it."
"Not for the Sonata," I countered.
"What are you talking about? Why wouldn't she be skating the Sonata?"
"Because she decided she wanted a different song for her last competition. Something that's very special to her," Mom explained, smiling softly at me.
"But that's crazy! What else could she possibly- Oh." Alice gasped and turned her eyes on me as it hit her. "Edward. Her lullaby?"
I nodded, smirking as her face crumpled with tears.
"Oooooh that is…. It's just so perfect!" She cried, a combination of squealing and sobbing.
"Come here, waterworks," I ribbed her as I pulled my sister into a hug.
Mom laughed and passed Alice a tissue as she wrapped her arms around the two of us. "Like mother, like daughter."
Alice giggled and I rolled my eyes at the two of them, too used to their displays of emotion to feel anything but love and amusement.
Mom patted us both on the backs as she sat up. "I should go see about pulling something together for lunch."
"Oh, no need, Mom," Alice objected. "Dad's got Rose and Jasper in the kitchen with him. They've got it covered."
"Oh now I see," Mom laughed, poking Alice in the side. "You didn't come to check on us, you were avoiding KP."
"You know we'll just get stuck with the clean up," I pointed out.
"You might," Alice acknowledged with a smirk. "I have to help Bella get ready. It's a very involved process. Could take hours."
"Mary Alice Cullen Whitlock," Mom sighed, brushing her daughter's hair, "Always weaseling your way out of chores."
"It's a gift."
After lunch and a relaxing afternoon, Alice and Rose did steal Bella away to help her get ready. I hung out with the guys in the living room, watching the afternoon's slalom coverage from Whistler on the big screen, keeping an ear out for the girls. Once I saw my sister and Rose chattering on their way to the kitchen, I slipped away, needing a minute alone with my girl.
Taking the stairs two at a time, I hustled down the hall only to pause at the open door of the room Bella and I shared.
She was facing away from me, standing in front of the full length mirror that leaned against the wall. She wore her warm ups, a red Team USA tank and navy track pants, her jacket laying on the bed next to her. Her hair was slicked back, tamed into a neat bun that left her neck and shoulders beautifully bare, so pale and strong. Her eyes were lowered, not focused on anything as she inhaled deeply, holding it for a moment before blowing out a long, shaky breath. Her hand rested on her hip, her thumb absently circling the spot where I knew her swan was imprinted on her skin.
Her eyes flicked up, meeting mine and watching in the mirror as I crossed the room to place my hands on her shoulders, stroking softly down her biceps until they came to link with her fingers. Her head tilted, naturally allowing me space to lower mine to press a light kiss to the curve of her neck and nuzzle into her soft skin.
We stood together like that, simply breathing in perfect sync. It was always that way with her. She moved, I moved. Like gravity. Constant. Unwavering. As essential as the pulse in her veins, the breath in my lungs.
Savoring that feeling of perfect rightness, I wrapped our melded arms around her middle, cocooning her to my chest. She hummed in soft contentment as I traced the tip of my nose along the spot where her neck met her jaw.
Watching her in the mirror, I could already envision the thick ribbon circling her neck, weighed down by solid gold that would fall below her breasts, a gleaming contrast to the deep blue of her skating dress. I would never say a word to pressure her–she'd been battered with the expectations of everyone around her for too long–but I couldn't wrap my mind around any other outcome. She didn't need to win, not for me or anyone else, but I was certain she would just the same.
That's not what she needed to hear. No inspirational speeches or rallying cries of victory or how she was going to win the day. I could imagine she'd heard them all before. Instead I placed one hand on her heart and the other on her hip, over the swan that had been her source of strength when she'd felt invisible.
"Bella," I sighed, waiting until her eyes fluttered open to meet mine again. "I'm so proud of you. The woman you are, the mountains you've climbed. You're the strongest person I know. I'm so lucky to be yours."
She smiled and squeezed my hands, a silent acknowledgement of what she'd finally come to accept. She was seen, she was loved, just for who she was.
I reached over and picked up her jacket off the bed, holding it while she slipped her arms into the sleeves before turning to face me. She laid her hands on my chest, my forehead lowering to meet hers.
"I'm really glad I got to change my program," she whispered. "You'll be out there with me. Every breath, every step."
"Skate for you. Not for me, or Marcus or for anyone else," I said, my lips brushing at her hairline. "Go out there and skate with everything you have because you love it and because you're the best goddamn skater there is."
She laughed, blushing as she took a step back, but I wouldn't let her.
"You are," I persisted. "You're amazing. And no matter what happens tonight that won't change. You, Isabella Marie Swan, are amazing."
"Edward," she sighed, cupping my face in her hands. "I love you."
I leaned down and captured her lips, pouring everything I had, everything I was into it, because everything I had was hers.
"My Bella. How I love you."
Downstairs everyone bid their goodbyes and well wishes before Bella left with Marcus and Mom to head to the rink. The rest of us still had a few hours before we had to leave for the coliseum. In reality we could have waited even longer since we knew Bella wouldn't skate until the final group, but Alice was insistent that we take in the full event and I was not going to be the one to argue, especially when I knew that just being in the same building as Bella would calm the worst of my own nerves.
Twenty minutes before the first skater hit the ice we made our way to our seats. This early in the event the crowds were low and it was easy to get checked in and find our section. I wished we could sit right on the boards as we had at Nationals, but the set up at Pacific Coliseum didn't allow any fans that close to the ice and we had to settle for seats a bit further back, though still at center ice.
Emmett took advantage of the practically empty stands, camping out in the empty row behind us with his nachos on one side and his knee hooked over the armrest to sprawl out over two seats. Dad rolled his eyes and simply told him he'd have to move when more people started to show up. The event would last almost three hours from the first warm up group through the medal ceremony. Twenty-three skaters, each with a four minute program and time for scoring. We were in for a long night.
Seated in the stands, I couldn't help but think back to that night four years earlier when I'd sat in my parents living room at home, squabbling with my siblings, whining about being forced to watch a night of figure skating. So much had changed. Our family had grown. Jasper became a brother to Emmett and me, first through the team and our friendship, then officially when he married Alice. Rosalie was practically a sister. And Bella, of course. She may not have been sitting with us but her presence was everywhere, from the buzz of her name in the air to her father sitting in the seat beside my dad. Yes, we'd all come a long way since that night.
Shortly before the event started, our little group was joined by Eric, Garrett and a handful of other Olympians we'd gotten to know over the past week. We had quite the cheering section going.
Skater after skater performed. We applauded when they hit their landings, cringed when they fell. Emmett kept up a colorful commentary through it all, making up for the lack of the television voices providing their assessment of each routine. Someone had passed him a program and he'd started scrawling scores and stats and predictions like he was in a high stakes fantasy football draft. He was surprisingly spot on and was even able to predict many of the scores within a few points. Who knew my burly brother would turn into an expert at figure skating?
I'd picked up a lot within the last year since meeting Bella. Sit spins, laybacks, spirals, I could identify many of the moves I saw, though I don't know that'd I'd ever fully understand the difference between a flip, a lutz, and a salchow. A jump was a jump, right?
What I did know is that none of these skaters could hold a candle to my girl.
Though I did my best to focus on each athlete that hit the ice, a huge part of my mind was preoccupied with the one waiting somewhere behind the curtains. What was she doing at that moment? Stretching, jogging? What was she listening to? Was she calm? Anxious? We didn't text, as we had at some of her previous events. The Olympics were a little more strict about cell phone use backstage. I wondered if I could pay off one of the camera guys to just follow her every move and keep it up on the corner of the jumbotron. Creepy stalker much? Still, I was comforted by the reminder that Mom was with her, Marcus too.
About halfway through the event, the energy in the building shifted. The volume increased, the fans reacting to the rising stakes. The skaters performed in groups according to their rankings from the short program so the further along we got, the more likely it was that one of these skaters would hit the podium. Ultimately though, it came down to the final five.
When the final warm up group was announced, my heart began to race, anticipating the moment I'd finally see Bella hit the ice. When she came through the boards, our section was on our feet, hooting and hollering, waving flags and signs. She looked up, laughing and waving when she spotted us, blowing a kiss that I knew was meant for me before she began her first laps around the ice.
"She looks amazing!" Alice was practically bouncing on her toes beside me as we remained on our feet.
"She looks relaxed. Focused," Dad said from the other side of me, clapping a hand on my shoulder as we watched her circle, stretch, rolling her neck as she shook out her shoulders.
"Okay folks, place your bets," Emmett said, pulling the pen from behind his ear and the rolled program from under his seat. "We've got our girl B and rookie star Weber for the good ol' U S of A, then Japan, Canada, and Finland to cap off the night. Italy and Russia are currently sitting one and two. Who wants to call it?"
"Oh, a betting pool, I like it!" Eric clapped his hands, bouncing in his seat.
"We don't need bets," Alice insisted. "Bella's getting gold, Japan silver; Italy will take bronze."
"Really, short stuff? You sound pretty confident. And Italy for bronze? You think?" Garrett scoffed, leaning forward and resting his hands on the back of her seat.
"That's just the way it's going to be."
"Any challengers?" Emmett asked, gesturing up and down our rows.
"I'll take Canada for bronze. It is her home turf, maybe she'll pull something out," Charlie said, throwing his hat in.
"Anybody else? Dad? Jazz-man?"
Lots of head shaking and silence.
"Really? No one else in this crew likes to gamble?" Garrett asked incredulously.
"Nobody bets against my Alice. At least not more than once." Jasper squeezed her shoulder with a wink.
"It's true. Save your money and just trust the woman." Rose nodded, turning in her seat. "It's like she's some sort of psychic with these things."
"Okay then, all knowing one, what are the odds of Miss Swan landing a clean triple axel?" Garrett asked.
"Oh, it's happening."
"I don't know, Alice," Eric said skeptically. "Nothing against Bella, the girl's a champ and I fully support your call of her taking gold, but a triple axel's only been landed clean in competition like three times before. Not just in the Olympics, but in like ANY competition ever."
"Well then tonight will make four."
As if to prove the point, Bella rounded the boards, gaining speed and clearly prepping for a jump. She perfectly rotated three and a half times, landing solidly on her opposite foot facing the opposite direction of where she'd launched. The axel. Unlike the other jumps, this one I knew, and she'd just killed it.
A few in the crowd cheered, with more joining in when she prepped for another pass and nailed it again.
Alice turned in her seat with a lifted brow. "Any questions?"
Garrett just shook his head, jaw dropped, while Eric asked, "Is it too late to change my bet?"
"Don't drain it all in the warm-up, Babybel!" Emmett shouted through cupped hands.
"She's not. She's going to fucking crush this," Rosalie clapped in excitement, channeling an Alice-level energy.
"Skaters, this concludes the warmup. Would you please clear the ice?" the announcer declared.
Mom met Bella at the boards with her skate guards and jacket, wrapping her arm around Bella's waist as they stepped out of sight to wait for her turn. Knowing my mom was right there with her dulled the sharpest edge of my nerves, but only slightly. Now that it was Bella's group I found it hard to concentrate on anything but her, yet I did my best to be present in the moment and take in the action.
Angela was up first and our section cheered and chanted as she took her place. After a shaky start she seemed to rally, but it wouldn't be enough. She landed third on the board, being quickly overtaken when the Finnish skater took second, bumping her off the podium while Italy still hung on to first.
Then it was Bella's turn. I swear the air seemed to charge when she stepped out on the ice, only moments after the flower sweepers finished clearing the debris. She never looked up when the previous skater's scores and standing were announced, entirely focused on herself and the task at hand. Stopping briefly at the boards to conference with Marcus, she turned to make her way to center ice with a confident smile when her name was announced.
I could feel Alice's eyes on me as she bounced giddily in her seat, but I wasn't willing to take my eyes off Bella for one second. Instead I held out my hand and gave my sister's a squeeze as we waited for the music to start.
When those first familiar chords filled the arena, I felt as much as heard the soft gasp beside me as my father reached out to grip my arm.
"Edward, it's-" he whispered.
I could only nod as I leaned forward in my seat, blocking out the murmurs around me as my family came to the realization of what Bella had done. My breath caught in my lungs and I was entirely under Bella's spell, like always. Bewitched, enchanted, enraptured by the movements of her body and expressions on her face as she practically floated across the ice.
It wasn't even like watching a competition, it was practically a tutorial on how to flawlessly execute a figure skating routine. Yet, somehow that wasn't right. Tutorial was too clinical for the magic she displayed. She commanded every square inch of that ice. Strength and beauty. Grace and courage. No wobbles or even a hint of a stumble. Jumps, spins, spirals, it didn't matter what element she executed, they were all perfect. Effortless.
As she approached the halfway mark in her program I could feel the entire group around me hold their breath at what we all knew was coming.
While I had all the faith in the world in Bella's abilities, I was aware just how difficult a feat that jump was to take on. Months worth of falls, bruises, ice packs and tears flashed through my mind in an instant and I found myself biting my knuckles and praying.
"Come on, baby," I whispered as she rounded the boards, picking up speed as the music built and she prepped for her jump.
Bella launched herself in the air, soaring over the ice in three and a half perfect rotations before touching back down less than two seconds later, her exquisite face unflinching as her blades met the ice like she didn't just join the ranks of figure skating history with her strong, solid landing.
"Yes! That's what I'm talking about, B!" Emmett shouted from down the row, pumping his fists in the air while the others threw their arms up and cheered.
"Amazing," my dad murmured beside me, shaking his head and grinning. Turning his head, I caught him sharing a look of pride with Charlie.
A momentous triumph and it was over in a heartbeat. No matter how many times I'd watched her execute a jump I still for the life of me could not figure out how she did it. The height, the speed, the rotations? The woman was a powerhouse.
Part of me wanted to join the hails of the crowd, shouting and beating my chest over my girl's brilliance, but I found myself unable to move as long as she still skated.
For the next two minutes I watched Bella skate, my heart aching in my chest at how absolutely beautiful she was. Every once in a while the ring on her finger would catch the light and spark brilliantly through the arena, making me grin. God, she was gorgeous, and she was mine. Forever.
Everyone around me was on their feet before she hit her final pose, drowning out the last twinkling notes of the music with their cheers. As soon as her feet stopped, I shot to mine, arms thrown triumphantly in the air. Dad was clutching my shoulder and finally I could turn and acknowledge him. He threw his arms around me, clapping my back and jumping up and down in one of the most uninhibited displays I'd ever seen from him. Alice squeezed her way between us and quickly our trio was buried in a dog pile of our family, a chaotic huddle of hugs and tears and euphoric shouting.
I twisted my neck, managing to pop my head out of the frey to find Bella standing at center ice, the reality of the moment clearly just hitting her as she clutched her neck, eyes wide and astonished for a moment before her face brightened into the most glorious smile. She raised up her hands, then curled her arms around her head, laughing and crying as the moment overwhelmed her.
The uproarious cheering in the coliseum reached deafening levels as Bella turned to acknowledge each side of the crowd, dipping a graceful curtsey. Finally she turned back to face us and her eyes immediately found mine despite the crowd of thousands surrounding her. I knew the pure wonder on her face mirrored my own, down to the tear tracks on our cheeks. I didn't think there would ever come a day when that program wouldn't bring me to tears and I felt no urge to hide them.
She kept her eyes on mine as she glided to the boards, only breaking when my mother practically tackled her, kissing her cheeks, wrapping her arms around her and lifting her clean off her feet. With their heads close together, I could practically hear the words of love and praise from where I sat.
Marcus joined their embrace for a moment before ushering their trio to the bench in the kiss and cry to await her scores.
I alternated between watching Bella where she waited, too far to read her expressions clearly, and the close up vision of her on the jumbotron, sipping her water, smiling and waving at the pockets of fans who continued to cheer after the roars faded. It felt like hours as we waited for the announcer to come back over the speakers, though it couldn't have been more than a few minutes.
"The scores please for Isabella Swan of the United States."
"Everybody shut up!" Emmett yelled, as if his single voice could quiet the chatter of the enormous stadium.
"Oh gosh, this is it!" Alice squealed, grasping my hand tight. Dad grabbed my other hand and glancing down the row I noticed the lot of us linked together from Charlie straight down to Rose. A united team, willing our champion to take the day.
"The free skating score, please," the voice paused briefly before continuing on, practically drowned out by the crowd's cheers after the first words she announced as the score flashed up on the board. "She has earned 152.27 points in the free program, which is a new season's best. Isabella Swan has a total score of 229.48 points and is currently in first place."
Our group exchanged another round of hugs, high fives and back slaps. Bella was squished between Marcus and Esme, all laughing with glee. When Bella rose to her feet and waved at the crowd, we all shouted "We love you, Bella!" in unison, our voices rising above the rest of the crowd as she grinned and blew kisses back to us before she left the kiss and cry, heading back behind the curtain to wait once more.
While our group was running high on adrenaline, the night was far from over. Unlike in hockey where the win for our team marked the end of the event, there were still two skaters to perform, both of which stood a chance to dethrone our champion.
I could barely focus as the action continued on, remembering four years ago when I watched on TV as Bella got beat out of first after a practically flawless program. Instead I sat in the stands with my head down, hands gripping my hair as I waited, praying for her to hold on for just two more skaters. I wasn't breathing any easier after the Canadian skater had a couple rough falls and was announced in third place, leaving only the Japanese skater with the chance to come out on top.
"I don't think I can watch," Emmett said, gnawing on his fingernails as the skater was announced. "I can't take the suspense. Do you think B's back there having a mental breakdown? Because I'm about to have a freaking heart attack out here."
"Dude, pull it together." Jasper swatted Emmett's head, jerking his head in my direction.
"What? Eddie's not the only one with a stake in this. She's my sister!"
While I appreciated Jasper's sentiment, I was right there with my brother. I couldn't watch. I buried my head in my hands, the knee jerking from earlier in the day back in full force.
"I'm sure she's doing just fine," Dad said, rubbing his hand up my back, giving my shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "She's been through this before and she's got your mother there to keep her calm."
"Thanks, Dad," I replied without lifting my head, simply patting his hand where it remained on my shoulder.
"We're almost there, son."
The final program began and I spent the next four minutes trying not to read into the sounds of the crowd around me as my eyes were clamped shut. My father's hand was unflinching, giving no indication of what was playing out on the ice, though based on the cheering and applause coming from varying sections of the crowd, she seemed to skate well.
Finally the music stopped and I was able to open my eyes again. She looked pleased as she made her bows and left the ice and I found myself anxiously looking down to my brother.
Emmett shrugged, uncertainty twisting his lips. "I don't know, guys. She was pretty damn good. She didn't have an axel but she had some strong jumping passes late in the program that'll get her some bonus points."
"Screw that," Eric spoke up from behind us. "Bella's got it by at least 5 points, easy. Grade of execution, technical merit, artistic composition, transitions?" He ticked off on his fingers. "There was no contest. And we all know no one can come near her spins and spirals. The woman is inhumanly perfect when it comes to those elements."
While we all tried to have faith in Eric's confident words (he was the best equipped to know, being a skater himself) the bubble of anxiety still tingled in the air as the jumbotron replayed highlights of the Japanese skater's best moves.
"How you holding up down there, Chief?" Jasper called down the row to Charlie, who sat beside my dad, looking more agitated than I'd ever seen him.
"Could use a beer or ten, kid, that's a fact."
Dad gave him a hearty pat on the back. "Hang in there a little longer and we'll get you a whole keg of whatever your heart desires, Charlie."
Finally the announcer called for the scores to be read.
"Here we go!" Emmett clapped, clasping hands with Rose and Jasper, linking the chain down our row once again. My heart raced as the screen split to show not only the Japanese skater awaiting her score, but my girl sitting in the backstage lounge. When the announcer spoke, Bella sat forward, clearly focused on a screen that would show the results.
Her face suddenly crumbled, her hands coming up to block her expression and for one horrible moment my heart sank, thinking maybe Eric was wrong, that it had happened again. But then I heard the cheers, and saw my mother's elated grin as she embraced Bella's shaking shoulders.
The thought barely had an instant to take root in my brain before I was smothered once again in the heap of my family's celebration. By the time I extracted myself the giant screen in the middle of the arena only showed my Bella, tears cascading down her rosy cheeks and the brightest smile stretching her lips as she was hugged and congratulated. I wanted nothing more than to be there with her, to sweep her up into my arms and kiss her until neither of us could breathe.
As we waited for the podium to get set up, my heart pounded in anticipation as if it were me on the brink of something massive. And in a way it was me, because Bella was my heart, such a part of me that I could no longer remember what my life was without her at the very center of it. She'd stumbled into my arms and I had been forever changed.
The crews were working fast to hang the flags and roll out the rugs for the officials, but we still had a few minutes to kill. Rose plopped herself in Emmett's lap, gesturing for us all to lean in.
"So no one wants to talk about how B just pulled a completely new program out of her adorable little ass in the middle of the mother fucking Olympics?!"
"Oh yeah, no shit! You two have been holding out on us, Beethoven." Emmett pointed an accusing finger at me. "When did that happen?"
"Nah, he's more Mozart than Beethoven," Jasper disputed.
"Or that one dude," Emmett snapped his fingers, "De Pussy!"
"It's Debussy, numb nuts," I corrected him, rolling my eyes.
"Pause!" Eric shouted, leaning between Emmett and Jasper's shoulders to better participate in the conversation. "What are we talking about? Beethoven who?"
"The song Bella just skated to? Our little composer here wrote it," Alice explained, poking at my cheeks while I swatted her away.
"Not only did he write it," Rose spoke up. "He wrote it just for Bella and named it 'Bella's Lullaby'."
Eric looked back and forth between me and my siblings with skepticism all over his face. "You're joking, right?"
They all shook their heads while I simply shrugged. Maybe in the past I would have blushed or bashfully brushed off the attention, but I had nothing to hide. Call me a sap or a sissy but I was proud of the woman I loved and the way we loved each other and there was nothing embarrassing or emasculating about it.
"So let me get this straight: you're a professional hockey god, moonlighting as some sort of musical prodigy, and you're getting married to an ice princess, who's not only America's sweetheart but is universally credited as one of the most beautiful figure skaters of all time? Oh my God you two really are disgustingly perfect," Eric groaned. "Just go sell your story to Warner Brothers and leave the rest of us to our dull and dismal lives!"
While the group continued teasing me, Dad's phone buzzed in his pocket and he retrieved it with a grin. "Ah, my darling wife. Aren't you a little busy down there?"
"Is it Mom? Is Bella with her? Can I talk to her?" I asked, grabbing for the phone only to be nudged away as he stood, stepped around Charlie and out into the aisle.
I could only imagine the look on my face resembled a pouting toddler as he plugged one ear, nodding and smiling as he spoke quietly into the phone. Not cool.
I jumped up, intent on following him, only to be tugged back down into the seat my father had vacated.
"Sit down, son," Charlie said, clapping me on the shoulder. "You'll get to see her soon."
"I know," I sighed. "Sorry, Charlie. I'm sure you're anxious to see her, too."
He nodded, his mustache twitching with his smile. "I can remember her very first award ceremony. She had to have been, oh seven or eight? Bitty little thing with big brown eyes that seemed to take up most of her face and a sparkly pink dress. It was… you could tell even then that she was something special. Not saying that just because she was mine. All the other kids out there, they'd sort of fumble their way around the ice, spin a little and everyone would cheer because they were cute and all, but when Bella was out there… I've never seen someone so tiny who looked so capable."
"Sounds like not much has changed. I don't think there's anything she can't do, if she sets her mind to it."
"Yeah, she sure is something special. I just wish…" He trailed off, sighing as he rubbed his hands over his face. Suspecting the regrets running through his mind, I tried to reassure him.
"I'm not going to tell you that all those years don't matter, because I know both you and Bella wish things had been different, but you're here now. And that's what really matters."
He nodded, chewing on his lip before reaching out and patting me twice on the knee.
A few moments later Dad returned.
"Ope, gonna sneak right past ya here, Charlie," he said, scooching past Charlie and me to settle into my abandoned seat.
"Well?" I asked anxiously.
"Cool your jets, son. Bella was being prepped for the medal ceremony. You think I really would have kept the phone from you if she was on it?"
"What did Mom want then?"
"Your mother pulled some very difficult strings and managed to get us access backstage after the ceremony. Bella will have several interviews and it'll take her a while to finish up on the ice. Knowing how eager some of us will be to see her–" he gave me a pointed look, ruffling my hair, "–she didn't think we'd want to wait for her back at the house."
"Seriously?" I grinned, thinking how much closer that got me to the congratulatory kiss I was dreaming about.
"Make sure to thank your mother."
Dad turned to pass the message along to the rest of the group and suddenly I was the one channeling the manic energy more typical of my sister. Bouncing in my seat, drumming my hands on my lap, I wanted the ceremony to be over so I could race to her side. Still, I couldn't wish the moments away. Bella had earned this. It was her time.
When the flags and the podium were staged, a handful of officials walked out onto the scene, taking their place as the announcer declared the victory ceremony about to begin. With my eyes glued on the curtain where I'd seen Bella disappear earlier, I saw her the moment she re-emerged. She followed where the aide gestured, lined up by the boards with the other medalists. Apparently I wasn't the only one anxious for the moment. As she stood there waiting her turn, she bounced on her toes, kneading her hands together as her gaze darted around the arena, taking it all in.
"BELLA!" The gang in my row shouted, whooping and hollering to get her attention. She laughed and waved, gesturing for them to tone it down as the announcer began introducing the bronze medalist.
Then her eyes shifted to meet mine. The world around me disappeared and all I could see was her smiling back at me. She laid her hands over her heart, one on top of the other and squeezed. Even from hundreds of feet away I could feel her grip on my own heart as I mirrored the gesture. Without a word I told her everything I was feeling. How much I loved her, how proud of her I was, how I was in total awe of her. She nodded, her lips pressed in a quivering smile because she knew.
"Gold medalist and Olympic champion, representing the United States of America, Isabella Swan!"
The arena erupted with cheers, the clang of cowbells, and an assortment of other noisemakers as she beamed at me once more before stepping out onto the ice. I cheered with the rest, cupping my hands around my mouth and raising my voice until I was sure I'd wake the next morning without one. After bowing to each side, she stepped onto the mat, hugging and kissing the cheeks of the bronze medalist, then the silver, before climbing to the top. Where she belonged.
The ceremony was short and sweet, the crowd applauding as each athlete lowered her head to receive her medal. When it was Bella's turn and she lifted her head, eyes fluttering as she cradled the medal to her chest, I found I couldn't cheer, couldn't yell or applaud with the thousands of others around me. I was completely frozen, overwhelmed by her. The national anthem rang out as the flags were hoisted. I remembered that moment when I saw her through the glass back at the X, when the girl of my dreams reappeared after I was sure I'd lost her forever. I didn't know her then. But watching her sweet pink lips mouthing the words, I'd felt pulled to her. Now, not only did I know her, love her, respect and cherish her, but that pull was stronger than ever.
As the final notes rang out, Bella broke into a luminous smile, brushing tears from her cheeks as she waved to the cheering crowd once more. The others joined her on the top tier for photos and then they were each handed their nation's flag to take a victory lap around the ice. The three stopped at various points around the boards for pictures or to speak to reporters as the crowd began to disburse, the announcer bidding everyone a safe night.
Dad nudged me to get a move on. It was hard to walk away when Bella was still on the ice, but as much as I hated to tear my eyes away from her, I was more eager to get my hands on her.
After bidding goodnight to Eric and the rest of the group, our family made our way backstage. Following the directions Mom had provided we moved in the opposite direction of the crowds. Charlie and Dad led the way like a couple chaperones wrangling a group of hyperactive preschoolers on a field trip. We checked through several rounds of security, hustling through the maze of tunnels until at last we spotted Mom in the depths of the arena.
"Why if it isn't Esme Cullen, manager extraordinaire to the new Olympic champion!" Emmett hollered, rushing down the corridor to scoop her up in a hug. The rest of us were close behind, sharing another round of group hugs now that we'd found another member of our team. We were only missing one more to be truly complete.
"Where is she?" I asked eagerly, glancing around as Mom squeezed her arms around me.
"On the ice. Come on, I'll take you out there."
I bent to smack a noisy kiss on her cheek. "You really are the best!"
"The rest of you hoodlums wait here," Mom said, taking my hand and leading me away from the group.
"What?!" Emmett and Alice wailed.
"Just for a few minutes," she assured them. "Let's give your brother a chance to congratulate his fiancée before the rest of you pounce all over the girl."
I practically dragged my mother down the tunnel, only slightly slowing down when she laughed and tugged on my arm.
"She's not going anywhere," Mom promised as I sheepishly grinned, throwing my arm around her shoulders.
"So, how is she? How was she? I mean she was awesome, but was she nervous? She looked okay but it was hard to tell."
"Sweetheart, she just achieved the very pinnacle of what she's worked for her entire life. I'd say she's feeling just fine."
"Yeah, I guess that was a silly question."
"How about you?"
"After your international musical debut?"
"Pfft, like anyone even noticed the music when under Bella's spell."
"Always so modest. Your notes, her skating? It was perfect. Just like the two of you."
I smiled, squeezing my mother to my side as we made our way down the tunnel.
"Who'd have thought all those hours you spent sitting on my lap, plunking out Heart and Soul on the piano would come to this? A world famous composer!"
I scoffed. "That's a bit of a stretch."
We passed through the thick black curtains where I'd watched Bella emerge earlier.
"She should be just about done," Mom said, craning her head to look down the ice. "They were thinning out when I went to intercept you guys."
Bella was on the ice talking to a few reporters about 50 feet down. She was angled away from me, her feet swiveling like she couldn't quite manage to stand still as she answered their questions. I hung back, not wanting to interrupt, but then she turned her head. I could tell the moment she spotted me. The polite smile on her face spread and it was like she lit up inside, the joy beaming from her entire being. Already backing away from the reporters, she said a few words to them, then turned and sprinted straight for me. I jogged a few steps out onto the ice to meet her, bracing myself to catch her as she leapt into my arms.
Less than an instant later her lips crashed into mine, her hands clutching at my shoulders as my arms banded around her, holding her against me as her feet dangled off the ice. Our lips met over and over again, each shorter than the last until our smiles grew so big that we could barely manage more than a peck. She rubbed her nose against mine and then leaned back in my arms enough so she could see my face.
"What are you doing down here?" Her hands reached up to caress my jaw, love shining from her eyes.
"I've got connections." I cocked my head to the side, gesturing to where my mom still hovered discreetly by the gate. Bella gave her a nod, thanking her before turning her attention back to me.
"I really should have hired her earlier."
I chuckled, only to be interrupted when Bella swept in to kiss me again. Her fingers curled into the hair at my neck, pulling me deeper until I felt like I was drowning in her. My hands loosened their grip, caressing the curves and contours of the muscles of her back as her feet touched back onto the ice. With me in street shoes and her on her blades our height difference was less than normal. Still she rose onto the peak of her toes and I leaned down into her because any distance was too much in that moment. It didn't matter where we were or who could see, the only thing we knew in that moment was the bliss we found in each other.
After a time our lips parted, though we kept our embrace, her forehead resting against my jaw as I held her.
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. Three more times I tried to speak, only to find myself unable to put into words the feelings in my heart.
Bella pulled back, curiosity quirking her brow.
"Something wrong with your jaw, Cullen?"
I shook my head, opening my mouth but once more unable to speak past the lump in my throat. The expression on my face and glistening of my eyes clued her in and she smiled sweetly up at me.
"That good, huh?"
I simply nodded, my fingers brushing softly over her cheek, lightly trailing down her neck to where the thick blue ribbon lay. With my eyes on hers, I traced the length of it down her chest until they found metal, cool and solidly resting just between her ribs. Only then did my eyes follow, slowly taking in the sight of her. Nothing I'd dreamed could match the reality of how she looked with that circle of gold gleaming against the deep blue of her skating dress and the ivory of her skin.
"You look beautiful in gold," I murmured.
A blush blossomed over her cheeks as she looked down, cupping her medal in her hands as mine rose to cradle hers.
"I did it, Edward," she whispered, raising her eyes to mine with a smile.
"You did. You were amazing. I can't even say- There aren't words- I just-" Abandoning my pathetic attempt at words, I captured her lips again. Our kisses lingered this time, tenderly drawn out and reverent as I poured out all those feelings of awe I'd experienced while watching her that night.
"I think you made your point very clearly," she whispered, her breath shaky.
Wrapping my arms around her and pulling her into a hug, I pressed kisses to the top of her head, her nose, then across her cheeks I told her "I love you. I'm so proud of you. You're perfect. Amazing. Stunning. A champion. The greatest of all time!" My tone was increasingly teasing with each phrase, though no less sincere.
By the time my playfully smacking lips reached her neck, I had dipped her low and she was laughing.
Loud catcalls echoed through the arena and we looked up to find the rest of our group were waiting at the boards.
I gave her one more squeeze, patting her on the butt as I set her back on her feet. "I guess I have to share you with the rest of your fan club."
"Well, maybe for a little while. But I'm looking forward to a private celebration with my number one fan very, very soon," she murmured, trailing her hands up my chest and pressing a kiss to the hinge of my jaw.
I grunted, my throat suddenly scratchy and dry, and not from the earlier shouting. "Yeah, we can definitely make that happen," I said hoarsely.
Bella kept my hand in hers as she tugged me along to where the others stood, waiting to ambush her. Our team was complete now that Bella was present in our jubilant huddle.
As the others swept her up I took a step back and watched. All the people I loved gathered before me: a mess of hugs, tears and laughter, voices all talking over one another as Bella was passed from one to the next, everyone in our family eager for the chance to love on her.
Before I'd met Bella I'd been fairly content, happy even, but looking back, I'd always felt just slightly removed. Now, as Bella held out her hand, beckoning me to join the rest of them, contentment wasn't even a thought. My life was absolutely euphoric with her by my side.
Our party eventually left the ice, returning to the house to pop champagne and rejoice in Bella's triumph.
Later that night, or rather early the next morning, exhausted and slightly buzzed on champagne and celebration, I found out that while her gold medal looked even more beautiful against the blue of her skating dress than I'd imagined, it had nothing on what it looked like against her bare skin.
Swoons. I just love these two and their crazy family. This one was so much fun to write! Yet another outtake that I'd never intended to pursue but thanks to some inspiration from one of YOU amazing readers who reviewed and sparked an idea that finally brought it to life in my head. I absolutely mean it when I say that every review and rec and comment on this fic is appreciated and makes me smile. I would not still be writing these if it weren't for you all! On that note, review or PM and tell me what you think of this one. :) I do have one more fairly epic future take in progress that I fully intend to see through to completion; no promises when that'll post but it's absolutely coming so make sure you "follow" this story to get the alert when it comes out.
Thanks to my beloved Soulmate for, well, you know what for. I love you!