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Haunted Mindscapes

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Bella POV

“I’m sorry, love. I couldn’t find him,” Edward said ruefully.

He was lying. I could see it in the tight set of his jaw. He had found Jacob, but Jacob had refused to come back to talk to me.

I never intended for him to hear about our engagement like that. I was angry that Edward had manipulated the situation so he could say it knowing he was listening. Now my best friend was hurting, and it was all my fault. I had to get over this belief that Jacob belonged in my life. It wasn’t fair to him. My future was Edward now. All I did by trying to have them both was hurt us all.

I ducked back into the tent to give myself a moment to wipe away the tears that were creeping down my cheeks. I didn’t want Edward to see the evidence of my pain, though he would probably know anyway. Sometimes vampire senses were very inconvenient.    

“Would you prefer to be alone?” Edward asked from the tent door.

Though I knew he only meant for the moment, his words triggered the deep fear of his leaving. I shook my head violently. “Don’t leave me.”

“Never,” he said fervently. He came and sat beside me. Not too close as it was still so cold here. I closed the gap between us and rested my head on his arm; he wrapped it around my shoulders and pulled me close.

We sat in silence for an immeasurable period of time before I heard movement outside and glanced up.

“It’s Seth,” he said, then paused for a moment, concentrating on whatever he was hearing in Seth’s thoughts. “The pack are getting into position now, but the family haven’t arrived.”

“Why not?” I asked. My mind immediately went to all the possible reasons for their delay, none of them were good.

“It is not that!” Edward said harshly. “They will be there.”

I looked to him for an explanation, and he sighed heavily. “Leah,” he sneered her name, “believes the delay is because we are leaving the pack to fight alone. She is, of course, mistaken. They will be there soon. There is still time.”

I wondered how much time there really was. I was equally anxious for the fight to be over and terrified for it to start.

 “It’s okay, love,” Edward said, brushing his cool fingertips across my cheek. “Soon it will all be…” He trailed off, his brow furrowed in confusion.

“What’s happened?” I asked.

“Alice and Esme are coming,” he said. “Alice has seen something.”

Seen what? My heart sped as my anxiety increased. I didn’t know what could have brought them here instead of to the clearing, but it couldn’t be anything good.

Edward moved smoothly to the tent door and unzipped it sending a rush of cold air at me. I wrapped my jacket around myself a little tighter and joined him outside. Seth was resting on his hindquarters, watching as Alice and Esme made their way towards us at a rapid pace.

“Calm down, Bella,” Alice trilled, evidently hearing the evidence of my panic. “There is nothing to worry about.”

“Then why are you here?” I asked.

“There has been a change of plans,” she said. Though her tone was light, I could see the tension in her eyes and Esme’s barely concealed worry. “Esme is going to stay here with you and Edward is coming to the clearing with us.”

“He is?” I asked blankly.

“No, he isn’t,” Edward said firmly. He locked eyes with Alice, looking immovable. “I made Bella a promise, and I am going to honor it.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” she said scathingly. “Do you want to get yourself killed?”

My breath gusted from me in a whoosh, and I rocked back on my heels.

Killed! Edward could be killed.

“Calm down, love,” Edward said, placing a supporting hand on my shoulder. “I am fine.”

Edward’s voice felt like it was coming from miles away. My hand reached out and gripped his wrist as if by holding him I could protect him from whatever Alice had seen.

Esme wrapped an arm around my waist steadying me. I leaned into her touch, taking both comfort and strength from her.

“What did you see, Alice?” My voice was no more than a whisper, but, naturally, they all heard it anyway. Seth was looking at me with an oddly sympathetic expression on his wolf face.

“Edward’s future is blank after the fight,” she said. “Everyone else is there but him.”

Blank future. I knew what that meant. Dead or making no decisions. Whichever the cause behind his lack of future, I didn’t like it.  

“And if he comes with you now?” I asked. “You can protect him, right?”

“Bella, I don’t need protecting,” Edward said, sounding affronted. 

“If he can stop being a stubborn fool and come with me he will be fine,” she assured me.

I turned to look him directly in the eye. “Then you’re going.”

“There is no ne—”

“You’re going!” My voice was almost a shout. I had never spoken to Edward like this before, but the tension and fear curdling in my stomach was making it hard to remain in control of myself.

I didn’t want him to go; I wanted him here where I could see him, but I had no hope of protecting him with my feeble strength.

He looked into my eyes and saw the resolve there. He sighed heavily. “Fine, I will go with them, but you have to swear to me that you will be safe. No trying to persuade Esme to bring you to the fight, no wandering off into the woods alone, and for God’s sake, Bella, no crazy heroics.”

“I promise,” I said hurriedly.

He cupped my cheeks in his cool hands and looked at me as if memorizing my face. I held his wrists, feeling the satin smooth marble skin against my own.

“I’ll look after her, Edward. I promise,” Esme reassured him.

Edward nodded, but didn’t lift his eyes from my own. Very slowly he lowered his head to mine and kissed me. I lost myself in the kiss.Not caring that we had an audience, I tangled my hands in his hair and gripped him to me with all my paltry strength.

He didn’t resist my hands; he held me to him locking me in place. With a jolt of fear, I realized why his was familiar. The night we separated, me for Phoenix, him to hunt James, he had kissed me like this. It was a kiss filled with desperation and unspeakable words. Again, the night of my eighteenth birthday, he had kissed me like this. That night he had been taking the last comfort in me before he left. Now he was taking strength and reassurance from the kiss before he was forced to leave me again.

Tears pricked at my eyes and my gasping breaths became unsteady.

He pulled back and frowned.   “Bella, I don’t have to—”

“Go!” I said, cutting him off. “Go now, and then hurry back to me.”

“Always,” he vowed.

He embraced Esme briefly and nodded in response to an unheard remark.

Alice squeezed my hand. “See you soon, Bella.”

I nodded jerkily and watched as they ran from us and out of sight.

As soon as they were gone, I hurried back into the tent and curled up on the sleeping bag, finally allowing the tears to fall.

Esme came in and sat beside me. She rubbed my back as my shoulders shook with sobs.

My tears seemed unending, but eventually the flow slowed and ceased. I sat up on the sleeping bag and hugged my jacket around myself.

“I’m sorry about that,” I said apologetically.

“There is nothing to apologize for,” Esme said. “The fact it hurts you so much is proof of your love. You should never apologize for loving.”

I hadn’t thought of it like before, and I found it comforting. Love hurt, but it was worth the pain. Edward was worth the pain.

“It will all be over soon,” she said, running a soothing hand through my hair.

“What if something goes wrong?” I asked plaintively. “What if someone gets hurt?” Hurt because of me. Though the rest of my statement went unsaid, Esme seemed to know what I was thinking as she gave my hand a gentle squeeze.

“Our family is strong, Bella. If I believed for a moment they were in danger, I would be there with them now.”

‘Our family.’ I liked the sound of that. I vowed that next time there was danger I would not be the cause of it, but the cure. Soon I would be strong, strong enough to protect my Edward rather than the other way around.

Seth whimpered outside the tent, and I felt a chill of fear; the fight was starting.

We fell silent. I listened to the wind whipping around the small clearing of our camp and shaking the frame of the tent.

“So, how does it feel to be a high school graduate?” Esme asked. I knew she was trying to distract us both from our fear, and I played along.

“Anticlimactic in a way,” I said honestly. “Before I came to Forks, college was my focus, and high school was an important step along the way. Then I met Edward and it became simply something to get out of the way before he would change me.” I smiled ruefully. “That seems very stupid when I say it aloud.”

She smiled indulgently. “I understand. What you and Edward have is more than any human ceremony. I feel the same about Carlisle. Though, I admit I am a little jealous of you.”

My brow furrowed in confusion as I tried to imagine any reason Esme had to be jealous of me.

“I’ve never been to high school,” she said, studying the weave of the tent with a concentrated look. “My children have all graduated countless times, but I am too old. I could have gone to college of course, but it would have felt like cheating to forge a diploma.”

I considered her words. It was sad that Esme’s age prevented her from experiencing these seminal moments. I understood why it would feel like cheating to go to college, but I wished there was something I could do. As soon as the thought occurred, so did the solution.

“When I am finally ready to be around humans again, I will go to college,” I said. “I will need people around me to help…”

“Of course you will, dear.“ She hurried to assure me. “Edward will make sure to keep you safe, and Jasper, as you know, has experience in these things. We will not let you hurt anyone.”

That wasn’t the point I was trying to make, so I became a little more direct.

“I was hoping you would come too,” I said, trying to look innocent rather than conniving as I felt. “We could do it together. After all, my diploma will have to be forged.”

She was quiet for a long time, and I worried that I had somehow offended her, but when she spoke she sounded excited.

“You know that is a lovely idea.” She laughed. “Carlisle will be very pleased with you. He has been trying to persuade me to do this for a long time. What do you think I should study?”

The conversation that she had incited to distract me from my fear served to distract us both as we discussed colleges and majors.

Seth paced back and forth outside of the tent, occasionally letting out a low growl. They didn’t sound too distressed, which made me suspect he was more upset that he was unable to join the fight, rather than because he was seeing any real danger.

Esme’s soft voice and her hand running through my hair helped to relax me. In her own way she had just as soothing a presence as Jasper.

I let my mind wander to what would happen next. The ring that was currently burning a hole in Edward’s pocket featured prominently in my thoughts. Soon I would have to face Charlie and Renee and tell them I was getting married. It was not a conversation I anticipated with glee. Renee never made any secret of her scorn for marriage, and Charlie was sure to be furious at the thought of my tying myself to Edward. That thought brought with it an image of Jacob’s face. He would suffer, but I couldn’t live a half life to protect him.

Suddenly, Esme’s head snapped up and a low growl built in her chest. I blinked and she was on her feet at the tent door.

“Seth!” she snapped, and he barked once in answer. What he could have been saying I didn’t know; all I knew was that something had gone terribly wrong.

“Stay here,” Esme said fiercely and vanished out of the tent door and into the snow packed clearing.

I curled myself into a ball and hugged my arms around myself. Outside Seth was growling, but there was no sound to tell me what the danger was. My dull human ears were no use here.

“You’re okay, Bella,” Esme said from outside. “Stay there and everything will be okay.”

I heard a laugh in response. It was high and childish, like a baby’s delighted gurgle. 

“Such lies,” the voice accompanying the laugh said. “She will not be okay, by the time I have finished with her she will be anything but. She will be dead, and you will be ashes.”

There was only one voice that could speak of my demise with such relish: Victoria.

“Don’t listen to her,” Esme said. Though I could not see what was happening beyond my canvas screen my mind created clear images to taunt me with. I shuddered with fear.

Seth’s growling increased in volume, then abruptly cut off with a whimper.

“Kill it, Riley!” Victoria hissed.

Who was Riley?

There was a grunt of pain and the sound of stone colliding with meat. Though I felt guilty for the thought, I couldn’t help but be grateful that I was able discern the sound of Seth’s pain instead of Esme’s. It was cruel of me, callous, Seth and the rest of the pack were risking their lives because of me, but I couldn’t help it.

My relief was short-lived, as the sound of a second collision reached my ears and this time I recognized the noise of vampires colliding. I had heard it as Jasper instructed the family on how best to fight the newborns. The sound had shocked me then, even though it was in play; now, it terrified me. 

I heard a shriek of pain and didn’t know whether it was Esme’s or Victoria’s. I couldn’t bear not knowing. I had to see. It wasn’t I was any safer inside my frail canvas shelter than I was outside. Even if it had been made of steel it wouldn’t have slowed Victoria for long. With trembling movements, I edged my way to the mouth of the tent and stepped out into the snow.

Seth was on his feet, but one of his hind legs was raised from the ground as if it was causing him pain. There was an unfamiliar vampire standing close to Seth. He looked only a few years older than me, but the perfect features that were a mark of vampirism made it hard to judge.

Esme and Victoria were standing fifteen feet apart. Their stances were identical, both were slightly crouched with their hands making claws at their sides.

It looked like Victoria had been the one to scream in pain as her right arm looked strangely uneven. She turned her crimson gaze to me and smiled a cold, cruel smile. 

“Bella, nice of you to join us.”

With a furious snarl, Esme launched herself at Victoria.

I couldn’t make out the blows Esme and Victoria rained upon one another, I could only hear the echoing crashes as they made contact. My hands came up to cover my ears. I wanted to close my eyes, but they were frozen open and stinging as the wind whipped at my face. 

Seth and the other vampire were still fighting. I could see them easier than Esme and Victoria as their moves were slower. Seth cowered back on his hindquarters then with a move like the strike of a cobra he snapped forward and clamped his jaws around the arm of the vampire. With a screeching sound, he pulled back and spat something white onto the ground.

With a lurching sensation in my stomach I saw that it was the vampire’s forearm. The hand was dragging itself across the ground towards it owner with crablike sideways movements.

I dropped to my knees and retched, bringing up the water that was all the breakfast I’d had that morning.

“Victoria!” The vampire howled. He was gripping the stump that had been an arm only moments ago, with a look of horror.

Seth used his distraction to snap at the vampire’s leg, sending him sprawling to the ground.

Esme and Victoria’s fight stilled for a moment as Victoria glanced at her fallen ally. There was no pity or sadness in her eyes, just annoyance. Taking advantage of the situation, Esme lurched at Victoria and pulled back a hank of her hair. Her head lowered to Victoria’s neck and I was sure this was it, Victoria had to be killed, but in a move so fast it was a blur to my eyes, Victoria pushed Esme away and pinned her to the ground.

Now, it was her mouth that was lowering to Esme's neck and Esme that would surely be killed.

I couldn’t let it happen. Disregarding my promise to Edward, I snatched up a jagged rock from the floor.

Victoria’s head lowered slowly. She was relishing the moment, but it snapped up as I called her name.

“Victoria!” As I said it I drove the point of the rock into the crease of my elbow and down my arm. My blood flowed freely from the cut and drew the attention of every vampire in the clearing. The vampire Seth had fought struggled towards me, dragging himself along with his one remaining arm.

My eyes did not linger on him though; there was someone far more important here. Victoria.

She was visibly torn. Her desire split between the blood streaking down my arm and onto the ground, and Esme, her prey, at her mercy.

Her desire for my destruction was more pressing.

She slammed Esme’s head against the ground and sprang at me. 

She threw me over her stone shoulder with such force the air was driven from my lungs, and then set off running. Unlike the smooth movements of running with Edward, this was jerky and painful.

I heard a wolf howl and someone shouting but I couldn’t make out the words. I tried to catch a glimpse of Esme; she had to be following us, but the cold air slamming against my face made my eyes squeeze shut.

“Esme!” I tried to scream, but it came out as a whimper. The effort sent fiery hot shard of pain into my chest. She had done some damage to my ribs when she threw me over her shoulder. 

“She’s not coming, little girl,” Victoria said with glee. “None of them are coming for you now.”

She was lying. I knew it. My family loved me; they wouldn’t leave me to her cruelties. 

The blood streamed from the cut in my arm leaving a crimson trail behind us. At least we will be easy to find, I thought disjointedly.

We ran for what felt like miles. My ribs became more painful with every step she took. She occasionally looked behind her; whether she was hearing my family’s approach or she was just checking, I didn’t know, but I clung to the hope that it was the former. I couldn’t see or hear anything of them, but my dull human senses were no match to her vampire ones.

The smell of salt water came to me on the air and the trees began to thin. Victoria’s pace sped impossibly faster, and then we were flying. The air whipped at my face and the pressure holding me to her tightened, and then we hit the water.

We submerged with dizzying speed, and then I felt us shooting to the surface again. I clamped my mouth shut against the water trying to force its way into my lungs.

As my head broke the surface, I drew gulping breaths of cold air and droplets of water. I choked, but Victoria paid me no mind. She gripped my shoulder painfully, holding me out of the water as she yanked the hat from my head, taking a hank of hair with it, and then stripped me of my jacket.

“W-w-w-what are you doing?” I asked through my chattering teeth. I didn’t expect an answer, and I was shocked when she gave one.

“I am setting the scene, of course.”

Her task complete, she took off swimming again, dragging me behind her like a life buoy. She took no care to hold my head out of the water, and the speed we were moving at made it hard for me to stay afloat. Soon I was back to clamping my mouth shut and gasping at the air when my head surfaced.

Something seemed to spur her into action and she dove beneath the surface dragging me down with her. My lungs burned for air and black spots swum in front of my eyes. I needed oxygen desperately. The reflex to draw a breath, even though I knew it would be a breath of water, was overpowering. I couldn’t fight it, the need was too great. My mouth opened and the water flowed freely into my mouth and lungs.

I managed only a few seconds of consciousness before the darkness swallowed me.

xXx

The fire started at my throat and crept its way across my chest and into my heart. Once it touched upon that vital organ, it flamed out over my whole body.

I didn’t understand the fire. The last thing I remembered was the water. How had the water created fire?

Another wave of flame swept over me and I stopped caring about anything but the pain. A scream built in my throat and I screeched my pain to the grey sky. 

I screamed and begged and pleaded. I wanted water. I wanted relief. I wanted death. There was no reprieve from the pain, though. It swept through me, igniting every cell and fiber of my being.

My eyes closed and I lost myself in the pain.

When I opened my eyes again it was dark, and though the fire still raged, I seemed to have gained the ability to think through the pain.

I understood now that I wasn’t on fire in the literal sense, but changing from human to vampire. Someone had bitten me, but I didn’t know who. My thoughts were blurred. I remembered thunder, then water—was it the rain?— and then darkness. And now the fire.

There was supposed to be someone with me, I remembered that, but I couldn’t remember who. This change was the result of some agreement, a deal, but the details were too fuzzy to make out.  I knew I had once wanted this though, and there was an important reason for it and so I should not protest the pain.

I locked my jaw shut and focused on what I could hear around me.

Someone was close to me, I could hear them shifting restlessly, but I couldn’t seem to make my head turn to look at them; it was as if the burn had made me a statue. 

“Edward?” I whimpered.

The only answer I received was a mocking laugh. It was not my Edward. He would never laugh as I suffered. None of my family would. They would be talking to me, reminding me that the pain would pass, that it was worth it.

 “Well, well, well, what do we have here?”a coolly amused voice said. “You have some explaining to do nomad. This was not in the plan.”

“I will kill it,” a second voice said. “But not until it is finished. I want it to feel the same pain James did. Burn from venom, and then burn from the flames. It is justice.”

James!

It all rushed back at me. Edward, Esme, Seth, the vampire, a fight, and Victoria.

“Edward!” I moaned.

“It’s awake again,” Victoria said in a disappointed tone. “It has been quiet for a while now. I hoped its mind was going.”

“Edward, please,” I begged. He had to be here. He wouldn’t have left me to face this alone.

Someone slapped me across my cheek, hard enough to make my head rock to the side.

“Careful,” a voice I recognized as Jane’s said. “She’s not done yet. You want her to feel it all don’t you? If you kill her, you will miss your chance.”

“I want it to suffer,” Victoria said, evidently enjoying the evidence of my pain.

I made a concerted effort to control my cries again. I didn’t want her to have the pleasure of hearing me cry.

“It already is,” a softly accented voice said. I recognized this one from Volterra, but I couldn’t bring a face to mind.

“What are you going to do with it?” Jane asked. “You cannot keep it here. The Cullens will search for her.”

Her words gave me hope. They would search for me, and they would find me. I just had to hang on a little longer.

“What do you suggest?” Victoria asked.

“We will take her back to my masters. They would like to see her again, I am sure.”

“No.” The word slipped through my teeth without my permission. I couldn’t go back to that place. If I was there, Edward would never find me.

“Quiet!” Victoria snapped, punctuating her words with a sharp blow to the jaw. “If I go to your masters, what is to stop them from taking the girl from me? I want my revenge.”

“And you shall have it. Just as soon as we reach Volterra.”

Strong arms pulled at me and I was crushed against a stone chest. It made it hard to breathe. My head swam, and I found myself losing my grip on the present again.

Soon all that was left to me was the pain. 

Chapter Text

Aro POV

I heard a flurry of movement in the hall, and a moment later Jane entered the room followed by a familiar nomad and Felix, in whose arms was a person in the midst of the change. Felix dropped the human to the floor with a meaty thud.

“Was your meal interrupted, Felix?” Caius asked sardonically.

I barely concealed my shock as I recognized the face. It was the Cullen boy’s human. She was twisting and writhing, but quiet; her jaws were clamped together holding back her cries.

“What has happened here?” I asked.

Jane flitted to my side and held out her hand obligingly.

“Thank you, dear Jane,” I said, “but I think our guest may be the best person to explain this.”I recognized the nomad from the Cullen boy’s memories. He had been trying to capture her before his arrival in the city last time. Something had happened between his human and the nomad’s mate. He believed the woman was hunting his human, and he was evidently correct.

Jane scowled as the nomad, Victoria, hurried forward her hand outstretched. I took it, and was immediately overcome with a wealth of memories and thoughts.

Her mate had been a tracker, and he had chosen the human girl as his prey. In his attempt to destroy her, he had been destroyed. She’d vowed vengeance on the girl and had been trying for a year to isolate her from her protectors. First the Cullens, and then… oh my… werewolves. No, not true werewolves, shapeshifters. Some genetic quirk made the youth of a small tribe mutate into enormous beasts. This warranted further study.

I pushed aside that thought for the moment and continued in my perusal of Victoria’s thoughts. She had created newborn vampires. First with the mind to protection, and then, as her plans solidified, as an army to fight the Cullens. I had to admire her ingenuity. She had controlled her army by telling them the myths about the destructive sun were true. I had never even thought of such a thing. It was genius.

The way she had avoided Alice Cullen’s gift was clever, too. By making no decisions herself, she rendered the psychic blind. I would have to bear that in mind.

My guard had found her and, using initiative I did not know she possessed, Jane made the agreement to allow Victoria her revenge. Though she didn’t know it, I was sure Jane planned to destroy Victoria herself once the battle was over. Victoria made the decision to watch the battles, and then crossed scent trail of the Cullen boy. She followed it to its source and found the human girl and Carlisle’s mate, Esme. The battle was short-lived and dull as she heard the approach of my guard and fled.

I dropped her hand and looked to Jane. “Where is your brother, dear one?”

“He and Demetri are with the Cullens, Master,” she said. “We found the nomad and the human and thought you would like to see them again. Alec is holding the Cullens still and awaits your word to retreat. They are going to be very upset.” She smiled evilly as she finished. If there was one thing my dear one enjoyed more than pleasing me, it was to enjoy the pain of another; be it physical or emotional. 

“You did well,” I said.

She was elated at my compliment. Unlike many of my guard that were bound to me by Chelsea’s wonderful talent, Jane and her brother truly lived to serve.

The human on the ground whimpered the name of her love, and then fell silent again. Her infatuation with the boy was tiresome and foolish. Though I would never admit it to another, I was a little envious of the adoration she bestowed upon him. Marcus had read their bonds, and he learned that, despite the fickle nature of human relations, she was tied to the boy in a way Marcus had never seen before. That a human’s love could surpass the bond of my mate and I was insulting.

Jane held out her hand to me again, eager for more compliments and I indulged her. Taking her hand I read the newest thoughts held within her mind. She had waited until dark and then gone to Victoria and the now changing Bella. She expressed her displeasure at the course of events— Jane wanted to see the human dead; she had harbored a desire for revenge since she had been bested by the humans queerly protected mind. She brought her here to me, not only for my pleasure, but because she hoped here she would be allowed free rein to punish the human.

Her desire for revenge was marvelous. I took pride in the dark creature I had created. And also inspiration. I was also displeased that my gift had been beaten by the girl, and I now saw the perfect opportunity for revenge. And a little experimentation.

I moved swiftly to the human girl’s side and took her hand. There was nothing but silence for my gift. The sensation was not entirely unpleasant. I could see the attraction she held for the Cullen boy. She provided him with company while allowing him rest for his constantly bombarded mind. She provided me with the same rest while experiencing human contact. To never touch without seeing the thoughts of another became wearisome over the millennia. 

She was changing fast; if I was to implement my plan it had to be soon.

I addressed Victoria. “You may leave us.”

She looked mutinous. “I was told I would have revenge.”

“And trust me you will, though I shall be the one to exact it for you. What is to happen now is a matter for my brothers and I alone to witness. Please feel free to return in a few days, though. I am sure you will be satisfied with the results.”

It would have been interesting to keep her here, but I wanted this to be my victory, not hers. Besides, from what I had seen in her thoughts she was determined that the girl should die. I had no intention of letting that happen. Yet.  

“Felix, Jane, please see our guest out of the city,” I instructed.

Felix clapped an enormous hand on her shoulder and directed her out of the room. Jane gave me a slavish look and then followed him out of the door.  

“What are you plotting, Aro?” Caius asked when we were alone.

“I am feeling inquisitive today,” I began, and he smiled. There were few days I was not feeling inquisitive; it was a natural side affect of living as long as I had. “I should like to experiment with the human mind a little.”

I well remembered all I had learned from Alice and the Cullen boy’s last visit. This girl was besotted not only with him, but with his family too. She loved them, and for the most part, they her. I had seen all that had transpired in the thoughts of both Jane and Victoria, and that had solidified my plan.

“I am going to test the limits of a changing mind,” I said with obvious relish.

I explained my plan to Caius and the utterly disinterested Marcus in hissed tones; it would not do for the girl to hear our plotting.

Caius had none of my inquisitiveness, but he did have a streak of cruelty that this plan appealed to greatly. He smiled. “After you, dear brother.”

I knelt at the girl’s side and took her hand in mine. I had to seem comforting, for now anyway.

As vampires, we had the ability to perfectly reproduce the voice of another. It was an innocuous talent compared to the others at our disposal, but I was going to use it to my advantage.

“Bella,” I began, mimicking the perfect cadences of Carlisle with ease.

“Carlisle?” she whimpered, her eyes remaining tightly closed. I could render her blind of course, but it would be easier for the charade if I didn’t.

 “Yes, Bella, it is me.”

“Where’s Edward?” Desperation and pain made her tone hoarse.

“He’ll be here soon.”

Caius quirked an eyebrow and I shook my head. I was not going to spoil it all with the revelation I had planned just yet. That was for the grand finale. First, I had to set my scene.

“It hurts,” she whimpered.

“I remember,” I said simply.

Caius muffled a laugh behind his hand. He was enjoying this almost as much as I was.

“Bella, there are things we need to discuss,” I said. “You are going to be a vampire.”

“I know.” There was obvious happiness in her tone, despite the agony she was feeling.

“You are going to be a vampire, and you are going to be alone.”

“Why?” It came out as a moan as the pain broke over her.

“Because you killed them, Bella. You killed my family, and I cannot bear to look at you now. It is only my duty to see you through your change that keeps me at your side.”  

“No, I didn’t! I couldn’t!”

“Yes, you did,” I hissed. “They were here for you, and we fought them to protect you. Now they are dead and it is all your fault.”

She whimpered and I saw a solitary tear streak down her cheek. Possibly the last she could shed as the venom worked its way through her body. It gave me a surge of satisfaction that I had drawn this last sign of human weakness from her. 

“Who?”

I had to concentrate for my next task. I had never heard him speak in person, but Alice’s memories had been full of the voice of her mate. Fashioning a light southern accent I spoke in the voice of Jasper.

“Alice. You killed my Alice.”

She screamed. It was a drawn out sound of both her mental anguish and physical agony. It was immensely gratifying to hear.

“My sweet Alice is dead because she tried to save you. After all she had done for you, you killed her. Now I shall kill you.”

Caius smiled, and came lightly to my side. “Not yet, Jasper,” he said in Carlisle’s soft tones. “She needs to hear it all. She needs to know what she has done to us all.”

I snarled fiercely, though my eyes danced with mirth. “She killed my Alice!”

“You are not the only one that lost something today,” he said. “Do you forget my own pain?”

“W-w-w-who?” she gasped.

“Esme,” Caius said, affecting a heartbroken tone. “They killed my Esme when she tried to give chase. I was there just in time to see her burn.”

“No! No! No! No!”

“Yes, Bella, you killed our mates,” I said, now making my tone fierce. “For that I should kill you, but I won’t.”

“Why?” she asked plaintively.

If I did not know the human mind better, I would have said she wanted to die. She was such a strange human.

“Because we believe living with your pain is a greater punishment than death,” Caius said.

My smile was now huge as I prepared to drop my final bombshell. I lowered my mouth to her ear and whispered my last words directly to her.

“Edward is dead.”

The scream that came from her was unlike anything I have ever heard before in my long life. It was a feral howl of misery.

The sound echoed from the stone walls and reverberated around my mind. It went on far longer than I would have believed possible, and then cut off sharply. As the scream ended so did her movements. She no longer twisted and writhed; she lay quiescent on the floor. Her eyes were open but they stared unseeingly at the ceiling.

Caius waved in front of her face and there was absolutely no reaction.

“I think we broke her,” he said in an amused tone.

“Well that was the goal after all,” I said mildly. “I admit I am disappointed it was so easy, I thought she would have managed a little longer than that. She seemed so brave in the boy’s memories. Pity.”

Caius rose smoothly to his feet and looked down at the girl with little interest. “Shall we kill it?”

I considered carefully. It would be satisfying to kill her, but also a waste. If the damage was as extensive as I suspected, it would be more entertaining to keep her alive and see what happened. It might be interesting to see how long a vampire could go without feeding before there were physical effects. I had never seen a vampire starve before.

“No. I think we should let her live a little longer at least. She is still changing after all, I should like to see how her awakening progresses.”

I reached out a hand to close her eyes. They were unnerving me just staring up like that. The moment our skin made contact a familiar feeling of power swept through me and my mind was filled with memories that weren’t my own. Either because her mind was truly broken, or because something in the change had opened her to me, I could see all.

A lifetime of memories was there for my perusal, like pages torn from a book and spread across the floor. All I had to do was to focus on one and the image was replayed in my mind in glorious detail. I scanned through some, finding only banal childhood memories. The more interesting were the most recent. It seemed she had struck some kind of deal with the boy, exchanging sexual favors for his promise to change her. It was laudable that he thought he possessed the control; even if she was not his singer he was still far too young to change her safely. He would have lost control and destroyed her.

I looked at her immobile form with its racing heart, pumping the venom through her veins. “Victoria did you a service, really,” I told her. “At least she had the control to change you safely. Your Edward would have drained you dry in minutes.”

Rudely, in my opinion, she did not respond.

I continued to search through the memories, occasionally drawing one to the surface to examine. They were interesting for a human, but only because of the Cullens involvement. I enjoyed her memories of Carlisle immensely. She had admired him greatly. I really couldn’t have chosen a better voice to taunt her with.

I found the most recent memories, those of my and Caius’ taunting, and watched them again and again. They were fascinating. She really had lost her mind. The very last memory I read from her was the moment I told her of Edward’s death. She felt something fragment in her mind and a piece of herself fell away. Every thought since that moment was a repeat of the moment the Cullen boy asked her to marry him. It played on a loop in her mind. It was a strange memory to fixate upon, especially as she didn’t want to marry him anyway.

I soon grew bored of watching that. I rose smoothly to my feet and sat again in my throne.

Now all that was left to do was wait.

Chapter Text

Edward POV

The thought was like a scream. “Edward!”

My eyes snapped to Jacob who was staring back at me. His breath was coming in harsh pants, and his large eyes were wide and horrorstruck.

I immersed myself in the pack mind and searched for the cause of his alarm. It was confusing, as so many thoughts were focused on the fight still playing out around us. Even as I listened Jacob took a kick to the gut from a newborn. He huffed in pain, but he did not take his eyes from me.

Seth’s mental voice was the loudest as he was the most alarmed. He was locked in battle with a newborn, but through his distraction I could see Esme fighting with Victoria.

Fear gripped me. Bella was there, too!

Why had I left her? Why had I allowed myself to listen to Alice?

“Carlisle, Jasper!” I shouted as I ran into the trees. “Victoria is there.”

Needing no more explanation than that, the rest of my family deserted their opponents and ran with me back along my trail to the ridge where Bella, Esme and Seth were taking shelter.

‘You cannot leave us to fight alone!’ Sam shouted through his thoughts. I paid him no mind; Bella was in danger.

I heard Jacob start after us, but Sam ordered his return, using the power of the alpha command to force him to obey.

‘Go,” Jacob ordered. “Save her.”

I pushed myself harder than I had ever done before. I crossed a deep ravine in one leap and powered through the trees. I couldn’t hear the thoughts of the wolves now, nor any from the ridge where Bella and Esme were, though I continued to try. 

“Alice?” I called back over my shoulder.

“I can’t see anything, Edward,” she said apologetically. “Seth is blocking me.”

I hissed a curse. The damn wolves ability to render Alice blind was never more frustrating than in that moment.

Carlisle was approaching on my left. He was not usually this fast, but his fear for Esme lent him speed.

“What is happening, Edward?” he asked frantically.

“Victoria is there with another newborn. Esme was fighting her.”

He groaned as if in pain. I understood. I felt the same pain. My mother was there fighting another vampire to protect my love. If either of them were hurt... I could not allow that thought to complete.

I was almost within sight of the cliff top beneath which we had camped when the thoughts of Esme reached me; farther than those of Victoria and Seth’s because of familiarity. Esme and Victoria were locked in combat; they rained blows upon one another with dizzying speed. Esme was scared, but determined to protect.

With a mental whoop of triumph Esme pinned Victoria to the ground and lowered her head, preparing to destroy, but, somehow, Victoria evaded her grip and reversed their position. Esme was now pinned to the ground, and Victoria was preparing for the kill. 

‘Victoria!’ I heard Bella’s shout echo in Esme and Victoria’s thoughts.

Bella was standing with a shard of rock in her hand pressed against her elbow. With a determined look she dragged the point along her arm. The blood welled and flowed down her arm, dripping from her fingers like crimson rain.

She had promised me no heroics, but in that moment I was grateful. Her actions had saved Esme’s life. My relief didn’t last long as Victoria slammed Esme’s head against the ground and launched herself at Bella.

I watched through Esme’s eyes as Victoria swept Bella over her shoulder and ran into the trees. Esme screamed Bella’s name and I added my own voice to hers. Seth howled in pain as the newborn punched him in the chest, crushing his ribs. His pain barely registered with me; all my focus was directed to Bella.

I followed Esme’s thoughts as she raced after Bella and Victoria, but they cut off abruptly into silence. I gasped in horror. She was still within my range, I was faster than her and closing the distance fast. Something else had happened to silence her.

“What is it?” Carlisle demanded.

“Victoria has Bella,” I said, telling the truth, but not the whole truth. I couldn’t risk him losing control now; Esme and Bella both needed him. I was barely clinging to my own sanity as it was.

“And Esme?”

“She’s run after them.”

We burst out of the trees at the and into the clearing at the same moment. There were signs of the battle everywhere. The tent Bella had taken shelter in was ragged and torn. Seth was unconscious on the ground and the vampire Victoria had brought with her was bearing down on him, preparing to sink his teeth into Seth’s throat.

Carlisle tackled the vampire to the ground and made short work of decapitating him. Seth whimpered but did not open his eyes.

My eyes were focused on the heavy trail of blood that led away from the tent and into the trees. Bella’s blood. The scent that had once tempted me, now turned my stomach. It was a vivid reminder of what I stood to lose.

I’m coming, Bella. Just hold on a little longer.  I pleaded with her in my mind as if the thoughts could reach her and give her comfort. 

I saw a figure ahead of me and recognized the shape as Esme’s. She was standing perfectly still. Like a statue on the forest path.

“Esme!” I called. She didn’t respond.

I reached her side and yanked her arm turning her to face me. “Esme, what are you doing? Where is Bella?”

Her face was completely expressionless. There was no hint of life in her. “Esme!” I shook her roughly, but it was like shaking a dead body. There was nothing there.

I could do no good there, and Bella was at the mercy of Victoria, so I shouted to Carlisle and started after them again. I had barely gone more than a few paces when I heard movement to my right.

I turned, but before I could see who or what it was everything went black.

xXx

“Edward, what are you doing!” someone shrieked.

I turned and saw Alice and Jasper running towards us.

“I… I don’t know,” I said stupidly. My mind felt fogged and numb, as if I had awoken from a deep sleep. Esme’s eyes were unfocussed, and her thoughts were vague.

“Where is Bella?” Alice demanded

Her name acted as a stimulant. My mind snapped back into focus, and I began running again. The scent of Bella’s blood was weaker now. I didn’t know how much time had passed while I was lost in the darkness, but it was far too long for my liking.

“Where are the others?” I called back to Alice, she and Jasper had come alone.

“They’re taking care of the wolves. They have been seriously hurt.”

It was selfish of me to begrudge the wolves Carlisle’s expertise, especially after they had fought for us, but I needed him with me; Bella needed him. 

“They don’t know if Jacob is going to make it,” Jasper said.

I felt a pang of horror at the thought of his loss; it would devastate Bella. I pushed the thought away. I had to find Bella; nothing else mattered until I had her in my arms.

The trail led through the forest and into Quileute land. I didn’t even hesitate for a split second at the border. Jumping the river, I broke the treaty my family had held for over seven decades. I knew there would be consequences later, but in that moment I only cared about finding Bella. I heard the sounds of others following me and knew that they too had disregarded the treaty in favor of finding Bella.

The scent led to the ocean cliffs. I felt a thrill of horror as I remembered the vision Alice had of what she thought then was Bella’s suicide. Was that why Victoria had brought her here, did she want the memories to be stronger, or was she hoping that we would be stopped by the wolves?

I ran through the trees breaking out at the very peak Bella had jumped from. There was a trail of blood leading up right to the edge of the cliff. They had gone into the water.

“Edward, look!” Alice shouted.

I followed her pointing finger to the water. There was a splash of color floating on the surface. It was bright blue, the same blue as the heavy jacket Bella had been dressed in.

Bella!

Without thought or hesitation I dived into the water. I swam towards her with all the speed I could muster. My arms sliced through the water like knives.

She would be okay. She had to be okay. As long as her heart was beating she would be fine. I could bite her; the venom would save her. Even if she heart was not beating now I could pump it for her. She had drowned once and lived, she would do it again.

I snatched the arm of the jacket and dragged her towards me. Even as my hands closed on the fabric I realized my mistake; this wasn’t Bella; the jacket was empty. She must have lost it in the fall.

I spun in a circle, searching for a sign of my love, and spotted a hint of brown a hundred feet away. I didn’t make the same mistake this time. I knew it was not her but the hat she had been wearing.

“She’s here somewhere!” I shouted to my family. “Help me look!”

I didn’t stop to see if they obeyed before I dived beneath the surface of the water. My eyes were keen and I saw far around me, but nowhere was there a sign of Bella. I powered to the deepest depths of the water, raking the ocean floor with my eyes, but found nothing. I searched farther out; hugging the shore I swam out to the bay. I dove again and again, my desperation growing with every passing second.

I saw something out of the corner of my eyes and twisted to see Carlisle swimming towards me. My heart leapt. He must have found something.

He pointed toward the surface and I swam up with him. Our heads broke the surface together and I followed him onto the shore. The rest of my family were standing on the stony beach, all of them still dripping wet from the water.

“What did you find?” I asked hurriedly. “Did you see her?”

Carlisle shook his head slowly. “I am sorry, Son, I don’t think we are going to.”

“We have to keep looking!” I said, turning for the water again, ready to recommence my search. “If we can find her we can change her. She’ll be okay.”

Emmett grabbed my arm and held me back. “We can’t change her Edward, it’s too late.”

“What do you mean?” I demanded, shaking off his restraining arm.

“It’s been too long,” Carlisle said.

I now realized what was wrong with the scene. It was no long the foggy half light of Forks’ overcast skies, but full dark. I had lost track of the time while I searched. It had been hours.

She was gone.

xXx

Carlisle POV

“It’s been too long.”

I hated even saying the words, but it was the truth. There was no way Bella could have survived in the water so long. Even if she had been brought to shore, the cold and blood loss would have killed her long ago.

Edward dropped to his knees and let loose a keening scream that tore my heart in two. He was mourning openly and desperately.

I knelt beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. I didn’t know how to comfort him, when his whole world was crashing around him, but nor could I restrain myself from trying. He was my first son, the one that saved me from myself; I could not leave him to grieve alone.

He cringed away from my touch. With a heavy heart I got to my feet again and pulled Esme into my embrace. She was crying soft sobs that sounded like sighs.

“Son, I am so sorry,” I said quietly.

“Gone,” he croaked. “She’s really gone.”

His words and obvious sadness broke the veil of stoic calm I had been hiding behind and I allowed a choking sob to escape me.

“I am so sorry,” Esme said mournfully. “I tried, Edward, I swear I tried to save her.”

He raised his head and looked at her. His eyes were devoid of all emotion; it was as if his ability to feel had been lost with Bella.

“It’s not your fault. I should have been there. I allowed my own safety to come before hers.”

Alice whimpered. It was her vision that had stopped Edward staying with Bella. God forgive me for thinking it, but I was grateful for it. If he had been lost… I could not imagine living in a world where he was not.

I loved Bella, but my love was a selfish love. I loved her from the moment she arrived in my home for the very first time, not for who she was, but for what she had done for my son. It was not until I had my chance to know her as a person that my selfish love became that of a father.

A low growl built in Edward chest, and I realized he had heard the path of my thoughts. My confession was not new information to him, he had known all along, but hearing it here and now stirred something in him. 

“Where were you?” he asked in a low growl. “Why weren’t you here?”

“The wolves, Edward. They were so badly hurt; I had to do what I could. I knew Esme was safe with you, and my abilities were better used to save them. I did. They are severely hurt, and Jacob may still not fully recover, but they all lived.” There was a note of self-justification in my voice which I was not entirely able to conceal.

“They all lived,” he asked with a sardonic laugh. “They all lived. My Bella died!” His words were a bellow as he finished.

“Edward, there was nothing that could have been done,” Alice said. “She was gone before we even reached the cliff. You must know— Edward!”

He cut off her words with a feral snarl and launched himself at me. I was knocked to the ground and pinned beneath his weight. He gripped my head and for a moment I truly thought he was going to kill me. He didn’t, but slammed my head against the pebbled ground instead.

“You. Killed. Her!” he snarled, each word accompanied by a slam of my head.

The impact of my head on the stone crushed them to dust. The blows were no more painful that a feather touch to a human, but his words hurt me as nothing else could have.

He was right; I had failed both him and Bella. I could not have saved her, I believed she was dead long before we reached the water, but I should have been here to search. My self-appointed mission to protect life had made me abandon my son and daughter to save the wolves.

In my defense I had never doubted Edward would find Victoria and Bella in time. Had I not, I could never have left Esme to his protection.

Emmett and Jasper gripped Edward’s arms and dragged him from me. They had delayed, perhaps to allow him to vent some of his rage, or because they too believed I was responsible for his loss. Edward struggled against them futilely. His strength was no match for Emmett’s raw power.

“Let me go,” he said between clenched teeth.

Esme stepped between us. Her presence worked to calm him instantly. She cupped his face in her small hands and stared him in the eye.

“I know what you are thinking, and I understand your need, but I am begging you to stop this. You know none of us will do it, and none of us will allow you to go there again.”

Volterra!

I had been so lost in what had happened, that I hadn’t even considered the fact he may seek death again. He couldn’t. Bella’s loss was great, but to lose him would be a loss too many. It would destroy us all.

“You cannot,” Alice hissed. “You can’t do that to her.”

He growled. “To her? What can I do to her when she is already gone?”

“You can disrespect her memory by making her sacrifice worthless. You’re right, you should have been here, but it would have cost you your life. She knew that, that is why she sent you away. Bella shed her blood to save Esme. If you destroy yourself you are essentially spitting on her grave.”

“Grave…” Emmett said, clapping a hand to his mouth. “We need to find her. She needs to be buried.”

Jasper gave him a sympathetic smile. “We can’t, Em, there will be no body. She is in the ocean, there is nothing we can do.”

A choking sob escaped me. My beautiful daughter was swept out to sea, possibly never to be seen again. The currents here were strong, and the sea didn’t like to give up its dead.

Edward sank into Esme’s arms and began to sob in earnest.

“I want my Bella, Mom. I need her.”

She crooned in his ear. “I know, sweetheart. We all do.”

I reached out to touch him again, but once again he cringed from my touch.

With crippling realization, I understood the second loss we had suffered today. My son had lost his heart, and I had lost my son.

Chapter Text

Aro POV

Two days later her change was almost complete. She had not moved or spoken once since she learned of her love’s supposed death.

Unexpectedly, and a little disappointingly, Alec and Demetri had not awaited my summons before returning. The other Cullens approached and they were outnumbered. They returned only a few hours after Jane and her group.

I was disappointed that they had not been able to watch as the Cullen boy learned of his love’s death; it had been so entertaining to watch her pain. I would have liked the full set. I made a tentative plan to travel to America sometime in the future to observe him.

The guard assembled in the room as the human’s change neared its completion. I didn’t know if she would remain inert following her awakening, but it did not do to be unprotected. I ensured Renata was at my side and Felix and Santiago were prepared to restrain her. It had been a long time since we had a newborn in the city, and I rather looked forward to the entertainment she would provide.

Her back arched as her heart gave its final racing beats and then fell silent. Her eyes snapped open and she stared up at the ceiling. I wondered what she was seeing. Was she enjoying the same moment of revelation we all did upon awakening, every sense honed to devastating detail, or had the insanity persisted.

I glanced at Marcus; he had been destroyed by the death of his mate, would the same fate befall the girl? That would be a shame; she would be far less entertaining like that.

“Master?” Jane said questioningly. She wanted to test her gift of the girl. She had tried as the girl burned, but it either failed, or the pain of the burn overcame its affects. Now there was nothing to distract from the pain.

I nodded to her. “Feel free, dear Jane.”

She smiled cruelly and focused her crimson eyes on the girl.

The girl’s back arched and she shrieked in agony. The scream was not as satisfying as the one she had given when I told her that her mate was dead, but I took my pleasures where I could find them.

Jane laughed with triumph. She was joyous at her victory over the girl at last. She hurt her over and over again; drawing fresh screams from the girl. Each of them warmed my heart.

“That will do, Jane,” I said softly.

The girl’s screams cut off abruptly and she laid back on the ground, her chest heaving with panting breaths.

“That was interesting,” Caius said mildly. “But loud.”

Jane tried for an apologetic expression, but did not succeed. She was elated that she had been able to hurt the girl.

The girl’s panting breaths slowed and she pushed herself clumsily to a sitting position and looked around the room. This was all very odd. There was no sign of newborn mania, or being overcome with the sensory overload, or even thirst. In fact she seemed remarkably tame for a new vampire. If I could see the physical proof of her change in her enhanced appearance and vivid red eyes I would have said she was still human.

“What’s wrong with it?” Caius asked. “It’s behaving strangely.”

It really was. She was standing now, her eyes still scanning to room. She did not pause to rest on any of our faces but continued searching for that unknown something.

“I think she is looking for the Cullen boy,” I said.

Her eyes snapped to me at the mention of his name, but she did not speak.

“Is that right?” I asked in a friendly tone. “Are you looking for Edward?”

Her expression twisted in pain and she wrapped her arms around her middle as if embracing herself.

This was just too perfect. She had forgotten, or perhaps not believed what we told her. Now I could see her break all over again.

“They have gone, Isabella. Jasper and Carlisle, they left after they spoke to you.”

She shook her head frantically,

I continued mercilessly. “They brought you here to our care after you destroyed their family. A lesser man than Carlisle would have killed you in revenge, but he is always far too kind. He asked us to look after you and to pass on a message.”

Her eyes were wide. The fear came from her in almost tangible waves. This was going to be immensely satisfying.

“They asked us to tell you that you are to avoid them at all costs. They have appeased their grief with your pain for now, but should they encounter you again you will suffer for it. I rather think Jasper would kill you. He certainly wanted to.”

She hid her face in her hands. As pleasing as it was to see her pain I wanted more. I wanted to hear her scream as I had when she learned of the boy’s ‘death’.

“I’m sure you understand that desire. You would want revenge if it was you. You killed them all. Esme, Alice and… Edward!”

I had wanted the scream, and was not disappointed. The pitch was above what Jane had drawn from her. She dropped to her knees and slammed her head against the floor over and over. The impact of her head left deep divots in the heavy stone floor.

“Felix, restrain her please,” Caius instructed. “I do not want to see our chamber destroyed just because she is unable to manage her emotions.”

Felix lifted her bodily into the air and clamped his arms around her, holding her against his broad chest. She continued to fight against him, but it was futile; he was just too strong. Denied the chance to hurt herself on the floor she slammed her head back against his chest instead. He grunted with the effort it took to hold her.

“This is already tiresome,” Caius said in a bored tone.

“Alec,” I called, “would you lend us your assistance please.”

Alec bowed courteously and fixed his eyes on the girl. The curious mist his gift created crept along the floor towards her and Felix. The second it reached the toes of her shoes Felix released her and stepped back, and she became perfectly still. Her eyes stared out unseeingly at the room; her face was vacant of all expression.

Now there was no danger of my becoming a victim to my own creation I stepped forward and took her hand in mine again.

‘Edward! Edward! I have to find him. I have to save him. I need to bleed.’

There was little new information in her mind but that phrase. Her mind seemed as frozen as her body. It looped on the words over and over. She was disbelieving of his death, and thought that somehow she could save him by bleeding.

This had thought to keep her here and to see how long starvation took to make its affects known, but that didn’t seem as interesting now. How were we to see the affects if she was already insane. No. It was not enough. I needed more.

I considered her still form and considered. What would hurt the most? Death would surely be a mercy to her now. Her lover would soon, if he didn’t already, believe her dead. There was nothing else to be gained from making it fact.

I took her hand in mine again and searched her memories for inspiration. It dawned on me like the sun escaping a cloud. Carlisle. Her affection for my old friend was deep, as was her respect. She hoped to be like him as a vampire. Compassionate and good. And to my mind foolish. I could make her Carlisle’s worst opinion of our kind.

“Heidi, please fetch us a meal,” I instructed.

She bowed to me and headed for the door.

“Oh, and Heidi,” I smiled cruelly. “Make them young.”

xXx

I heard their chattering voices through Heidi’s tour guide spiel as they came into the castle. I always enjoyed this moment. The clever ones realized soon that something was not right, but for the less intelligent it was not until they entered the feeding room and saw our red eyes that it dawned on them.

It was, of course, too late by then. They were already doomed. In truth it was too late for them the moment they accepted Heidi’s invitation of a free tour.

The girl was still under Alec’s influence, standing useless in the center of the room. I had planned this moment to perfection. She was to remain influenced until the feeding frenzy had begun, then Alec was to drop his hold on her and we could enjoy the first death at her hands.

It would be hard for Alec to remain in control of his gift once the blood started flowing, but I trusted in his fear of us to keep him in check.

The door swung open and Heidi led in a crowd of humans.

“Welcome to Castle Volturi,” I announced, spreading my arms wide in welcome.

Those that had still believed their safety took one look at me and then the scream began. I always enjoyed this moment. Some were frozen in place by their fear, others screamed and run for the doors and some began to beg. A heavyset male gripped one hand over his chest and dropped to the floor.

I sighed. Another heart fail.

It happened occasionally and it always annoyed me when it did. If we were too slow getting to them we would be drinking still blood and that was not so satisfying as feeling it pump into your mouth.

I cleared my throat and though the room was filled with screams and cries my voice carried over them all.

“Dear ones, enjoy.” It was the permission they needed and they each fell upon their chosen victim. The scent of human blood filled the room, creating a frenzy of bloodlust. I could see Alec struggling to hold his influence over the girl and took pity on him.

I dropped the heart fail man at the girl’s feet and slit his throat with a fingernail. There was still enough life in him that his blood flowed rich and tempting freely from the wound.

“You may release her, Alec,” I said.

He nodded gratefully and hurried to his twin’s side. She had held her own meal and one for him, waiting politely so they could feed together as was their custom. He smiled gratefully at her then in unison they sank their teeth into their chosen victims.

The girls roused slowly. Her eyes opened, but they were blank at first. She shook her head experimentally and glanced around the room. I saw the moment sense returned to her as her eyes became comically wide and afraid. She dropped to her knees and curled against the floor in a protective ball.   

This was ridiculous. She was supposed to feed like a newborn, not cower like a human.

Caius dropped his drained meal and wiped at the corners of his mouth delicately. “What is it doing now?” he asked.

“I think it is afraid.”

“Which is obvious, what I want to know is why isn’t it feeding. Did something go wrong with the change?”

I didn’t know what was wrong, but I was going to find out. I moved to her side and pulled her sharply from her position. I pulled the heart fail man closer to her and tilted back his head. The blood flowed from the wound. He was a lot stronger than I expected. His heart was still fluttering in his chest, though weakly.

“Look Bella! There is blood!”

Her head snapped up and she gave a small cry of alarm. I smiled with satisfaction, thinking the feeding frenzy was about to begin. I was wrong.

She slapped her hands over the gaping wound as if hoping to staunch the flow of blood. Her grip was too tight; she snapped the man’s neck silencing the feeble heart at last. She didn’t seem to realize what she had done; she continued to hold her hands over the wound. The crimson blood spilled over her fingers and onto the floor.

She was kneeling in a pool of blood and yet seemed completely unaware of it. Even a century old vampire would have struggled to control themselves in this situation. But it was as if she didn’t even notice the scent.

I touched the bare skin of her arms and rifled through her newest memories. She was thinking again, the bizarre litany she had been repeating earlier was gone, though her mind was still quite broken.

She truly was trying to save the man. In a mockery of what I had hoped to achieve here she was doing it for Carlisle. She was trying to emulate him by saving the person. More shocking than that was the last though I heard from her. 

If only I was a vampire I could have protected him.

She didn’t realize what she was. In her mind she was still human and weak. The delusion was so ingrained that the scent of blood repulsed her it had in her human memories. I had no idea such a thing was possible, but I saw the proof of it. Not once had she thought to hunt the man, her focus was on saving him and not being ill from the smell.

Caius gave me a curious look and I shook my head.

We had succeeded in our plan to break her, but we had broken her so thoroughly my personal plan to mold her into Carlisle’s worst imaginings of our kind was futile. How was I to succeed when the foolish girl kneeling beside me believed she was still human?

Sighing heavily I got to my feet and took the meal Sulpicia had held for me. As the blood flowed into my mouth, reenergizing my body and mind I began to plot.

There had to be some good borne from this.

xXx

I was sitting in my throne considering my next step.

The girl was insane, that much was certain. She was so insane she denied the proof of what she was and clung to the safe human memories.

She was currently cowering on the floor of the feeding room surrounded by the evidence of our meal. Eventually, she realized the heart fail man was deceased and that had brought on a round of tiresome hysterics. We had left her to her misery and, after posting Afton at the door to stand guard, Caius and I retired to the throne room to discuss our next step.

Caius wanted to kill her, but it would be a waste. Her fractured mind was one of my greatest achievements and I did not want to destroy the evidence of my triumph. But nor did I want to have her lingering in the castle forever, mocking me with her believed humanity.

I should have liked to exhibit her somewhere as a demonstration of my power. Wayward vampires could be shown her as a warning against crossing me. In her I had succeeded. I should also like to see her upon occasion to cheer myself with the sight of her.

“She is a risk of exposure,” Caius reasoned when I expressed my desire. “She will not take care to avoid the sun.”

“Perhaps we could instill it in her the way we did when breaking her,” I said.

“You mean to use their voices again?” He smiled evilly.

Caius had very much enjoyed our torment of the girl. I had already perused him memories of the event twice, each time gaining more pleasure for myself. She was my masterpiece.  

“I think if we can distress her enough we could force her into the protective position again,” I said. “I think we could perhaps use their voices while she is looking us directly in the eye and still convince her. She truly is broken.”

“And what should we say?” he asked with relish.

I believed she would do anything Carlisle asked of her. It would not be difficult to persuade her that she must live away from humans; she would see it as her penance. If we added fear to the delusion, that she must stay hidden for protection… Well, that would surely hold her.

“I think we should call back the nomad,” I said. “I have an idea and I think she will be invaluable in achieving it.”

If I was correct in my thinking she would be happy to monitor the situation for us too. It would save me using a guard to oversee.

“Demetri,” I called.

He hurried into the room and bowed before me. “Master.”

“Please fetch the nomad for me. There is something I need from her, a service, if you will.”

He bowed again and hurried from the room.

He had barely been gone more than ten minutes when I heard his footsteps racing along the halls.

“Master, we have visitors!” he said hurriedly.

“More visitors?” Caius said lazily. “We have never been so popular. Who, pray tell, is coming this time?”

“The Cullen boy, Master,” I felt his presence as he passed into the city. “The psychic girl is coming too, but is further behind.”

Edward and Alice were coming here. This was just too perfect.

Surely the boy had learned of his love’s death and was coming for our assistance to end his life. The psychic would once again be following in hopes of saving him.   

“But the girl is here!” Caius said, alarmed.

“Calm, brother,” I said soothingly. “I have a plan.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Aro POV

I sent Demetri out to meet the boy. I didn’t want him to act before I saw him; it would be a waste of a perfectly good opportunity for a little entertainment. The girl had been deposited in a chamber the other side of the castle. I trusted in the heavy scent of human blood left from our feeding to mask her scent.

The nomad had been concealed there too. She asked for the chance to exact a little more revenge on the girl and I allowed it. Alec and Santiago were standing guard over her in case the temptation to destroy the girl was too great. I would not have all my hard work ruined. I had plans for the girl and they did not involve been destroyed. Not yet at least.

I cleared the room of all the guard I could afford to lose, keeping only Renata close for my protection. I did not want the boy to catch a stray thought of his love from someone. I trusted that she, Caius, and Marcus could conceal their thoughts well enough, and if  not… well I would have to kill him.

I heard their approach along the corridors and set my face into a sympathetic smile. Now was my moment.

The door swung open and Demetri strode in ahead of him. “Master, the Cullen boy seeks an audience with you,” he announced

The boy was broken. His eyes were drowsy with sadness and his face was a lesson in pain. Even his clothes seemed to hang heavy on him. His was the physical reflection of the girl’s mind: bereft and broken.

It brought joy to my heart.

“Edward,” I said gently. His name stuck in my throat. I did not like addressing him by name. It was a honor which he did not deserve. I beckoned him forward with a regal wave and held out my hand to him. He took it without question and I began to sift through his thoughts.

They were delightful. He believed the girl had drowned, which in itself was foolish. Why would the nomad have allowed her to drown when there were so many other more painful ways of exacting revenge? I suppose grief and panic did strange things to the mind.

He had fought with Carlisle. That memory was particularly satisfying to see. He had shouted accusations at him and blamed him for his love’s demise. Idiotic boy.

I watched with barely concealable joy as I saw him sobbing in the arms of Carlisle’s mate; the one he thought of as his mother.

He had concealed his plan to return here for death well. Carlisle’s obsession with human life had compelled him to return to the shapeshifters that had been injured to care for them. The boy told his family that he could not bear to be around the one they called Jacob and sought solitude in the family home.

While the rest of his family had gone to care for the beasts and to cover up the girl’s death—they were to make it look like a drowning accident—he had fled to the airport.

If not for the fact he already wanted death I would have been tempted to punish him for the ill care he had taken when mingling with the humans on his flight here. He made no attempt to look human.

I saw the relief he felt as he passed into the city limits and realized he was close to his goal and that he had managed to evade his family’s intervention.

“Ahhh, Edward, I see your pain, and I fear I must add to it,” I said with feigned sadness.

His head raised achingly slowly to look at me. When he spoke his voice was hoarse.

“What do you mean? You cannot refuse me again.” His tone became pleading. “Please don’t refuse me.”

“I shall not refuse you,” I lied. “But first, I must tell you what I know.”

I saw Caius straighten in his seat out of the corner of my eye. He knew nothing of my plans but knew my ability to plot well enough to know there was something interesting coming.

“I have news of your Isabella,” I said.

I still gripped his hand in mine in a gesture of comfort, and I saw the slight hopeful leap of his mind at my words. This really was fun. I feared I my calm mask would fall and I would lose myself to laughter.

“Your Isabella is dead,” I stated. “I saw it in the mind of the nomad when she came to us to report on the shape-shifters existence.”

He hissed. “Victoria!”

When a vampire lost their mate there were usually two paths for them: revenge or depression. Victoria chose revenge, and the boy chose depression so great it would lead—or so he hoped—to his death. He had been certain in his choice, but now the thought of revenge appealed to him too. I could free the nomad and allow the boy to seek her out, but then I would miss the entertainment of his capitulation.   

“Yes, Victoria. I’m afraid I saw the proof of your mate’s death at her hands. It will relieve you to know she has been dealt with, though. I saw the crimes in her mind. She created an army of newborns and failed to control them. We held council and her verdict was death. She was destroyed mere hours ago.”

He snatched his hand back from me, denying me the stream of memories. It was a pity, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I could always use Alec to incapacitate him later to read him. For now it was more enjoyable to build on his pain.

“Would you like to know the details of your Isabella’s death?” I asked. “Or would it ease you to remain oblivious.”

“I have to know,” he croaked. “I have to know what happened.”

I nodded understandingly. “As you wish.” I steepled my hands under my chin and made my voice soft. “It seems the nomad wished to change your Isabella and to then destroy her so as to show her the pain her mate, James, would have felt. Unfortunately for her, and perhaps fortunately for your Isabella, she failed. The nomad took her into the water to evade you, but did not take due care with Isabella’s human needs. She drowned.”

The boy hid his face in his hands. His shoulders shook, and he made strange gasping noises. It took me a moment to recognize them as sobs. I had not heard a vampire make such a noise since Marcus learned of Didyme’s death. I had thought it a pathetic show of weakness then, and now my belief was confirmed. It was not a vampire’s place to give in to these human weaknesses. We were better than this.  

“She drowned,” he gasped. “She really drowned.”

“Indeed. They were far out at sea when Victoria realized her mistake, and she left the body there. I don’t imagine it will be recoverable.” I paused and then quoted the words I had heard in the boy’s mind. “The ocean does not like giving up its dead.”

His knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. His head made an unpleasant sound as it collided with the stone floor. It was the same sound the girl had made when attempting to hurt herself earlier. I masked that thought quickly even though I knew from reading his mind that his gift was not working fully at the moment. It seemed his grief had weakened it.

“You should take comfort in the method of death,” Caius said conversationally. “I understand drowning to be a peaceful end.”

The boy groaned into the floor. He sounded like an animal in pain. The sound was almost as satisfying as the girls screams had been. Of course I should have liked to hear him scream like that too, but I had learned you could not have all in life.

For a long time he didn’t speak, but continued to moan his pain. Eventually he marshaled control of himself and rose to his feet.

“You know what I am here to ask,” he said. “Will you grant my request this time? Will you end my existence.”

I pretended to consider for a long time. I had no more intention of ending his life than I had telling him his love was alive, insane, and in the castle, but these moments were to be savored.

“We must counsel,” I said slowly. “Please leave us to speak alone.”

He gave me a searching look and I suspected he was consciously using his gift again to search my mind for my decision. I concentrated on the same thoughts I’d had the last time he was here.

Such a waste of talent.

The slight hopefulness that had lightened his expression faded back to dark desperation, and he turned to leave.

“Edward.” Caius called to him and he turned back to face us. “Do not think to force our hand just yet. If you flout the rules your life may not be the only on that if forfeit to appease your crimes.”

It was a clever threat. No matter how angry he was at Carlisle and how desperate he was for release, he would not risk the lives of his family.

He nodded slowly, as if his head was weighted, and walked from the room.

Once I was sure he was out of earshot I clapped my hands together with glee. “Well, what are we going to do next?”

“Kill him,” Marcus said quietly. “He has suffered enough.”

“That is true,” I said, “but it would not be half as entertaining as making him live.”

Marcus frowned and then returned his attention to the opposite wall, immersing himself in his usual morose memories.

“We could make him insane too,” Caius suggested hopefully. “If there is a way to blind him we could taunt him with the girl’s voice.”

That idea had merit. I could think of many things she could say that would torture him, but I didn’t think it was feasible. There was no way of fooling him and if we tried he may work out what we had done to his love. It was a shame though. I rather liked the idea of another insane vampire for my collection.

I straightened in my throne. “I think we should wait for the arrival of his family and see how things transpire from there.”

“Do you really think they will come?” Caius asked.

“I am certain of it. The relationships in this family are bizarre, but strong. If we can have a little patience they will be here soon enough

We did not have long to wait for the rescue party to arrive. After only an hour Demetri came to inform me of the approach of Alice Cullen and her siblings.

I summoned the boy back immediately. I didn’t want their little reunion to happen outside of my view. It would be a shame to miss what I was sure would be an entertaining scene.

An idea occurred to me to me, that would add a little more pain to the scene for the boy. There was little so satisfying as damned hope.

I smiled cruelly as he shuffled into the room.

Edward POV

They had to grant my request. There was no way Aro would be cruel enough to force me to live after seeing the evidence of my pain.

I plodded from the throne room and out of the castle. I didn’t go far. I waited in the cobbled street by the tunnel entrance. I wanted to be ready when they called for me. I had no patience for long human walks through the city. I was ready.

I wondered if Alice had seen my intentions yet. She could already be on her way. I did not care. She would not be able to stop me this time. There would be no last minute intervention from Bella. She was gone far beyond my reach.

I allowed my eyes to slip closed and lost myself in memories of Bella while I waited. After a time, I heard footsteps approaching, and a moment later a Demetri’s smooth voice called to me.

“My masters are ready for you now, boy.”

I hurried to his side and followed him through the tunnels into the castle.

The scent of blood was thick in the air as we passed the concealed door I knew led to the feeding room. The last time we had been here a group of humans had been brought for the meal just as we were leaving. Bella had lost herself to hysterics at the sight of them. Up until that moment she had been so brave, but the loss of all those lives was too much for her to bear.  My poor Bella. The one comfort I could take in this horrible situation was that she was now beyond such pain. It was a small comfort, but I would take what I could.

Aro was standing waiting for my arrival. He gave me a small smile as I entered and came forward to clasp my hand again. I wondered what he was hoping to see, perhaps some wavering on my part in my decision. If he was, he was going to be disappointed. The only thing I had ever been more certain of was my love for Bella.

He scanned my memories for a moment and then dropped my hand.

“Have you made your decision?” My voice was a hoarse whisper.

“We have. First, I should like to extend an invitation for you to join us here, though. I know you feel your grief is insurmountable at the moment, but time can be a great healer.”

The direct contradiction to his words was sitting in a throne behind him. Marcus had lost his mate over a millennia ago and still suffered for his loss. He was a better man than I. I could not bear another minute of this pain, let alone a millennia.

I knew I was failing Bella by making this choice, but I hoped she would forgive me my weakness. I was a coward, but that was never a surprise to her. She knew me better than anyone.

“I appreciate the invitation,” I said diplomatically, “but I am certain of my choice. There is nothing left in the world for me without her.”

“Not even your family?” Caius asked. Though his tone was kind, the malice in his eyes contradicted him.

“Not even them,” I said firmly.

I loved them all; even Carlisle, to whom I now held more anger than I knew was possible. He had chosen his self appointed mission of savior over my love, and for that I would never forgive him.

I turned as the door opened and Demetri slipped inside. He hurried to Aro’s side and touched his hand briefly. Aro nodded to him and gestured for him to stand aside.

“Very well, Edward. If you are absolutely certain we shall grant your request.”

My relief was overwhelming. I thought I was going to need to force their hand, but they were merciful.

“I shall have to face my friend Carlisle and tell him what I have done,” he lamented. “But if he saw your pain as I do, he would understand. Is there anything you should like me to tell him when he comes?”

“Tell him I that I hope he is right.”

I truly did. If we did indeed have our souls I knew without a doubt that I was going to hell, but perhaps before then I would be allowed one last moment with my Bella. I would happily suffer an eternity of the flames of hell if it meant one last glance at her beautiful face.

I could have added more; thanks for the lifetime I had with him, for the love he showed me, but I could not bring myself to say the words.

“Felix,” Aro called to the hulking form. “Would you oblige.”

I dropped to my knees and held my head high, ready for Felix to strike. I felt his hands grip my forehead and shoulder and closed my eyes. I fixed the image of Bella in my mind, her beautiful smile and bright eyes. She seemed to smile knowingly at me, and I allowed myself to believe she was accepting of my choice and preparing herself for my arrival.

I’m coming, Bella.

The hands tightened and my head was turned slowly to the side.

I’m coming, love.

“Stop!” a desperate voice shouted.

“Bella?” I gasped.

She had somehow found her way back to me after all. I struggled against the hands holding me. They tightened for a moment and then dropped. I leapt to my feet and spun around searching for a sight of my love. She had to be here. I had heard her voice.

Small hands cupped my face and a voice shouted, but I paid them no mind. The hands were not Bella’s, therefore they were unimportant.

My eyes raked the room, but there was no sign of ivory skin and mahogany hair. She wasn’t here.

The hands on my face disappeared and then there was a stinging pain on my cheek.

I looked down and saw Alice. Jasper was standing directly behind her.

 “No!” I howled. My knees buckled but someone was holding me upright.

“Easy, Edward,” Emmett’s familiar voice said in my ear. “You’re okay.”

“No! No! No!” I moaned. “I wanted Bella.”

“You selfish ass!” Alice shrieked. “How could you do this to us?”

Her words barely registered. None of them did. How could they do this to me? I had been so close to my goal, and they had destroyed it all.

“Wonderful, it’s a family reunion,” Caius said sardonically.

Emmett eased me to an upright position again, and released me. I looked around the room and saw that Rosalie was here too. She was scowling at me fiercely, as was Jasper. Something in his eyes made me hopeful again; he looked ready to kill me himself.

“I am sorry for bursting in like this,” Alice said. She didn’t sound remotely apologetic; she still sounded livid.

“It is understandable,” Aro said. “I expected your intervention sooner.”

If he expected Alice to arrive, why did he grant my request? Was he hoping for Alice to arrive so he could use the opportunity to draw her into his guard?

“I was delayed,” she said simply.

Delayed by the damn wolves, no doubt. I noted that Carlisle and Esme were not here. I was sure Carlisle was still attending to the wolves. What would my death mean to him when there were people to heal? Bella’s safety had not mattered, why should mine?

“Well you got here in time, that is the main thing,” Aro said. “I had hoped to see you again, though I never thought it would be under these circumstances. Please accept my condolences for your loss.”

She nodded graciously. “Thank you, Aro. And thank you for sparing my brother.”

“I very nearly didn’t,” he said honestly. “You must understand the pain your brother is suffering. It would be a mercy to allow him the release of death.”

I raised my head wearily to look at him. Did that mean there was still a chance I would get the release I desired?

“A mercy for him, but damnation for our family,” Jasper said looking me in the eye. “We have lost one of our number today. We cannot lose another.”

“Of course,” Aro said. “If you can promise to keep him from forcing our hand we shall of course be glad to leave him in your care. Destruction of one of our kind is never pleasant. No matter the circumstances.”

His words became white noise to me as the bitter truth sank in. I was not going to be allowed my death.

My knees buckled and I sank to the floor.

Chapter Text

Emmett POV

There was an echoing bang as Edward slumped to the floor. His knees cracked the flagstones as he landed.

Alice gasped and hurried to his side. “Edward!” She tapped him lightly on the cheek. His only response was to draw his knees up to his chest.

“Oh dear,” Aro said sadly. “I rather think we made the wrong choice after all.”

He looked pointedly at the man in the throne to his left. Carlisle had told us about Marcus. When he lost his mate, he became a shell of the man he had been before. I looked from him to Edward, and a shudder of fear crept through me. Was this what would happen to him now? Had I lost my brother as well as my sister?

Rosalie was staring down at Edward with an expression of horror. “Help him,” she whispered.

I didn’t know how.

I hoisted him to his feet. I felt a little better when he held his own weight, though his shoulders hunched and his chin touched his chest. He looked broken.

I felt useless. My only gift to the world was my ability to protect. I had been given abnormal strength to fight with, but I could not fight this darkness that had taken over my brother. Just like I couldn’t fight the creature that had stolen Bella away. If I had been there I could have done something. I would have been able to keep her safe. But I had been too excited about the fight with the newborns to think. I had failed her and my family.

Jasper was looking pained. He would be feeling the despair coming from Edward. He was not alone in his pain. We all, my Rosie included, were feeling Bella’s loss. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it. The thought that I would never see her again didn’t seem possible. I kept expecting her to appear and fix this mess for us. She had fixed it all last time.

It sure as hell needed fixing.

When Alice had the vision of Edward coming to the Volturi we all raced to the airport, but when she was looking for Edward’s future Alice saw us leaving the castle without Edward. Apparently, if Carlisle came with us, Edward would not live. I didn’t understand it, but we had no time to question it. Esme and Carlisle agreed to wait in Washington, while we went to Edward’s rescue. If that was the appropriate word. Looking at him now it seemed more like we had damned him. 

“Victoria has been here,” Jasper said, drawing deep breaths.

I inhaled too and caught her distinctive scent. I knew it so well, as we had been on alert for weeks, waiting for her to make her move. I had almost got her once but the damn wolves had got in our way. If I had gotten to her then…

“Yes, she came to inform us of the shape-shifters existence,” Caius said. “It is through her that we learned of the girl’s demise.”

The girl? I didn’t like that he referred to Bella like that. I had more pressing concerns, though. I had a plan for Victoria, and it involved huge amounts of pain. Me and Rosie were going to track her down and tear her limb from limb. She was going to pay for what she had done to us, to Bella.

“She has been destroyed,” he said, cutting into my thoughts. “We learned of her lax control of her newborns and she was judged to be guilty of exposing our secret. The sentence was carried out yesterday.”

She was dead!

My mind reeled. I had set everything on avenging Bella, but I was too late. I didn’t know what to do now. How were we supposed to go back to our normal lives when Bella was gone and Edward was lost?

We would have to help him. There had to be a way of getting him through this that didn’t involve destroying him. Bella wouldn’t have wanted that. She would be so angry if she could see him back here.

“I would like to repeat my invitation, Edward,” Aro said. “And to extend the same to you all. I understand your loss is great, but perhaps you can find solace here with us. Keeping the peace may help appease your grief.”

Edward didn’t speak, he just shook his head, still staring at the floor.    

Alice took Jasper’s hand in her own presenting a united front. “Thank you for the offer, but we will have to decline,” she said. 

“And you Emmett, Rosalie?”

I was momentarily struck dumb. What possible use could he have for us. I was strong, but I could see two other vampires that looked equally if not more muscular. As for my Rosie, she had no gift that he could want. I didn’t understand why he would want us. It didn’t matter anyway; there was no way we were going to be joining them. We had a family that needed us.

“I don’t think so, but thanks for the invite.” I tried to sound grateful rather than confused.

“Very well. Then I shall bid you farewell. I shall have our jet readied to take you home.”

“That’s a kind offer, but we have made arrangements,” Alice said.

It was the first I’d heard of it. We had come here on a commercial flight, and, as far as I knew, that was how we were getting home. If she was saying otherwise, I wasn’t going to argue the point. I was just glad we were getting out of here safe, and apparently without having our thoughts read.

Rosalie took my hand and we followed Alice and Jasper towards the door. It took me a moment to realize Edward wasn’t with us. I turned back and saw him standing where I had left him when I helped him to his feet.

I went back to him and braced an arm around his shoulder. “Come on, bro,” I said in a forced light tone. “Let’s get you home.”

He did not reply, but he allowed me to lead him out of the room and through the halls.

I wondered how we were going to get back up through the drain if he wasn’t walking on his own, but we were met with another guard in the reception area and he informed us that he would show us out of the city.

We were led into tunnels again, but these were not the same as the sewer entrance we had used before. They were better kept and thick with the scent of our kind. This was apparently the exit they usually used. We came out in the tower of an old church.

“You would do well to keep your coven from the city again,” the guard said as he left us. “My masters were sympathetic to your plight today, but if you test them you will find they are not always this merciful.”

There was something else in his expression that made me suspicious, but when I opened my mouth to question him Rosalie shook her head. I snapped my mouth shut again and kept quiet as Alice thanked him for his help and said goodbye.

The church was empty which was lucky, but it meant there were no cars for us to appropriate either. We had left the stolen sedan in the city.

“We’ll have to go on foot,” Alice said, “This cloudy spell will only last a little while so we better hurry.

Bracing my arm around Edward I followed her out into the Italian countryside.

Edward remained unresponsive though the journey to the airport. I was worried that we were going to run into trouble at the airport if he went around looking drugged, but he roused himself long enough to deal with security. Once we boarded the plane, he slumped into his seat and turned his attention to the window, seeming oblivious to all that was happening around him.

Alice closed her eyes and a familiar bank expression came over her face as she searched out the future.

“They’re going to leave us alone,” she said as she opened her eyes again. “Our futures are still clouded, but I can see the Volturi and they have no intention of coming for us again.”

“Why would they come after us?” I asked. “If they wanted to hurt us, they would have done it while we were there.”

Alice sighed heavily. “We were very lucky to get out of there at all. If he had read my thoughts…” She shook her head.

“Lucky?” Edward croaked, turning from the window to face her. “Bella is dead, my life is over, and yet I am forced to keep living it. What in that constitutes luck?”

“Bella is dead,” Alice said, her voice breaking as she spoke. “And I loved her. I loved her so much it is physically painful for me to think about it. It is all I can do to stop myself from throwing myself into the same pit of despair that has taken you. But I can’t, because one of us needs to keep the rest of our family alive.”

“What do you mean?” Rosalie demanded. “What’s happening to us?”

“They are playing with us,” she said. “They knew before Victoria got there what had happened. Alec was the one that froze Esme and Edward when they were going after Bella. For all I know they watched her… watched it happen.”

“But why would they do that?” I asked. I hadn’t given much thought to how we found Esme and Edward. Everything else that had happened pushed it from my mind. 

“I don’t know,” she said. “But they did it.“

“Maybe because she knew too much,” Jasper suggested. “You said Caius wanted to kill Bella when she was here before; perhaps he ran out of patience. They couldn’t be seen to break their own rules so they left someone else to do the job for them.”

“I killed her,” Edward said mournfully. “I should have changed her straight away.”

He was right; we waited too long to change her. It should have been done the minute we took the vote in March. Hanging around for graduation was a stupid idea. She was going to have to disappear eventually.

“We all have some portion of blame to accept for what has happened,” Rosalie said. “If I hadn’t made the call in March, you would never have come to Volterra. If the Volturi hadn’t known about Bella, they wouldn’t have interfered today. If the wolves hadn’t blocked Alice’s sight, she  would have known what was happening. If Jasper hadn’t tried to drain her, you wouldn’t have left. The blame goes so many ways it cancels itself out. The only thing we can do now is live our lives and try to make them count for something. ”

“I can’t,” Edward said desperately. “I can’t live without her. Please help me. Someone has to kill me.”

I considered the man I called my brother. I could kill him and give him the release he wanted so much, but the thought of losing him as well as Bella was too much to bear. It would tear our family apart. It would hurt my Rosie. I couldn’t do that to her. She may come off as indifferent to him and Bella, but I knew she was hurting now as much as the rest of us.

“No!” Alice said fiercely. “You are not going to do that to us. Bella wouldn’t want you to—“

He cut her off. “Bella would understand! She wouldn’t want me to suffer like this.”

“Bella would want you to live,” I said quietly. “Bella was all about love and life. She loved Esme enough to risk her life to save her. Rosie is right; we have to live our lives and make them count for something. That’s what Bella would want.”

He looked into my eye, pleading with me to understand. I did understand, but I couldn’t do it.

“I’m sorry, Edward, but I won’t do it.”

He seemed to collapse in on himself. The fervent light that had shone in his eyes as he begged for death faded. His shoulders hunched over and his hands fell loose into his lap. He looked every bit the shell Marcus had been. It was painful to see him like that, so,  coward that I was, I averted my eyes.

Esme was waiting for us when we reached SeaTac. As we made our way out of security and into the main terminal Esme rushed forward to hug Edward. He let her hold him, but he made no attempt to return the embrace.

“Oh, thank god you’re okay,” she said fervently. “I was so scared.” She released him and embraced us each in turn. 

“Where is Carlisle?” Jasper asked.

“He had to stay in town, there were… arrangements to be made and Charlie needed him.”

Chief Swan. I hadn’t given him a second thought since before the newborn fight. How were we going to explain Bella’s death?

“We’ll talk about it when we get home,” Esme said, leading us out to the parking lot.

She had brought Carlisle’s Mercedes and my Jeep was still here from our race to save Edward. Edward got into the Mercedes with Esme, and everyone else piled into the Jeep with me. I didn’t know about them, but I needed a short reprieve from Edward and his pain.

We were all grieving for Bella, but our pain felt insignificant when faced with his agony. I felt that I had no right to give into the pain and to grieve openly as I wished to, as I still had my mate with me.

I pulled out of the parking lot ahead of Esme and made quick time onto the highway.

“What’s going to happen to him, Alice?” I asked.

“I don’t know. He isn’t making any conscious decisions at the moment; it is like he is on auto-pilot. I can’t see anything of him.”

I sighed heavily. I had a deep sinking sensation in my chest that was not connected to my grief for Bella. I had a feeling the suffering was only just beginning for our family.

I heard a choking sound from the backseat and turned in time to see Rosalie cover her face with her hands.

“Oh, Rosie,” I said miserably. “Please don’t cry. I can’t bear it when you cry.”

“I have to,” she choked. “Look at what’s happened to us. Bella is dead and I… I was so awful to her. I treated her so foully, and now I’ll never get a chance to say sorry.”

I couldn’t bear to see her cry and not help her. I pulled the jeep into a side road and climbed out. Opening her door I scooped her into my arms and carried her away into the trees lining the road. She tucked her head under my chin and clung to me. I didn’t speak. There was nothing to say that could help her. I just held her and allowed her to express her pain. I could hear soft sobs and soothing words coming from the direction of the jeep and knew Alice and Jasper were in the same position as we were.

Eventually her cries ceased and she was calm again. “I’m sorry,” she said, running her hands over her face. “I didn’t mean to lose control like that.”

“You’re hurting,” I said simply. “Bella is gone and that hurts us all.”

She nodded sadly and allowed me to lead her back to the jeep. Alice was curled up on Jasper’s lap. His face was pained as he reacted to her sadness.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and  pulled out onto the road again. Esme did not share our love for speed, so it didn’t take long for us to catch up with her and Edward. I couldn’t hear her or Edward speaking, but I hoped her natural calming presence was helping him; even if only a little.

We got back to the house before Esme and Edward. Carlisle was waiting for us. He greeted us all with heady relief and filled us in on what we had missed.

The pack had helped Carlisle fabricate a story about a cliff diving trip gone wrong to explain Bella’s death. Charlie Swan was in Forks Community under sedation. When he returned from his weekend fishing with Billy Black and heard the news, he had a complete mental breakdown. Bella’s mother was on her way to Forks now.

He was just finishing his explanation when the Mercedes pulled into the garage. Edward came into the house and walked straight up the stairs. I moved to follow him but Rosalie caught my arms. I could hear the sounds of fabric being handled and then the close of a zip. A moment later Edward came down the stairs again holding Bella’s overnight bag.

“Edward, I know you are suffering, but there are things we need to discuss. Bella—“ Carlisle’s words were cut off as Edward swung back his fist and punched him on the jaw. Carlisle went sprawling to the ground clutching his face.

Edward bent over him, putting his face close to Carlisle’s. “You don’t get to speak her name,” he snarled. “She didn’t matter to you alive, so you don’t get to say her name now she is dead.”

Esme gasped. “How can you say that? Carlisle loved Bella. We all did.”

“No!” Edward straightened and looked her in the eye. The darkness of grief that had swallowed him since Volterra had given way to fury. “He chose to help the wolves instead of my Bella. You don’t do that if you love someone. I want death. Do any of you love me enough to save me from this pain?”

“No,” Carlisle said sadly. “We love you too much to let that happen.”

Edward looked to each of us in turn, and we each shook our heads. Carlisle was right, we loved him too much to let him die.

He nodded. “Very well. You curse me to live, but know this. You may love me, but I hate each and every one of you.” He looked down at Carlisle with a look of loathing. “Especially you.”

With that he swung the bag over his shoulder and ran from the house leaving us staring after him in horror.

Chapter Text

Aro POV

I watched the Cullens leaving, broken and hopeless, and a wave of joy filled my heart.

The boy, Edward, was practically being carried away by his brothers. They braced him on either side like sentries. Perhaps they were worried he was going to force us to act after all. There was no need to worry; I read his thoughts once more as I helped him from the floor and saw that he thought that to live with his pain was a better testament of his love than seeking death.

He was not alone in his grief. The evidence of their pain was etched on all of their faces; even on the girl Rosalie’s face, and I knew that she had disapproved of the girls involvement in her family.

I did not read the other Cullens, though not for a lack of wanting. I knew from Edward’s thoughts that he had not connected the moment of blankness in his pursuit of Bella, with Alec, but I did not know if any of his siblings had made the connection. If I was to read them I would know for sure but it would force me to act. If they suspected something Caius would not allow them to leave the city. He would see the risk as being too great. I did not want to waste talents as great as theirs.

“Well that was not nearly as entertaining as I had hoped,” Caius said when the sounds of their footsteps had died away.

“I agree, brother, But it was not completely without merit. There was the wonderful moment of hope when he thought he was going to be destroyed. That pleased me greatly. Though, for a moment I wasn’t sure Felix would relax his grasp.”

“I almost didn’t, Master. The temptation was great.”

“Then I am glad you resisted,” I said. “You did well.”

He beamed under my praise.

“What are we going to do with the girl, now?” Caius asked.

Felix chuckled darkly. I beckoned him forward and took his hand. He was hoping I would allow him sport of the girl. It was rather crass for my purposes. I knew Felix had a predilection for playing with his food, sating himself physically before he fed from them, which I found distasteful. My own cruelties were mental, not physical. I would not allow him to have his way with Isabella. She was immortal now, not human cattle. Her immortality granted her a certain standard of treatment.

“Felix, please retrieve the nomad and Isabella for me please.”

He made obeisance and then strode from the room.

“You did not read them, Aro,” Caius said softly when we were alone again.

I had hoped he wouldn’t draw attention to this fact.

“I saw no need to,” I lied. “Their grief was plain to see.”

“Their grief,” he mused, mercifully distracted. “Do you not find it strange that they are all so affected by a human’s demise?”

“It is positively obscene,” I said. “But she was more than a pet to them; they genuinely loved her. Personally I don’t understand it. Perhaps their strange diet has addled their minds.”

He laughed. “That must be it. Oh, here they are.”

Felix came back into the room trailed by Isabella and the nomad.

“Isabella,” I greeted effusively. “It’s lovely to see you again.”

Her vibrant red eyes rose to meet mine so slowly it was as they were weighted.

I stepped forward and took her hand in mine. Her thoughts were a little clearer to read now, but they were still confused. I skimmed over the things I had already seen and focused on her most recent thoughts.

Never going to get out of here alive this time. That’s good. They will kill me and I will see Edward. My poor Edward. Can’t see Edward. Can’t face him after what I did. Poor Alice. Poor Esme. Poor Edward.

Then, stuck on a loop, were the faces of Edward, Esme and Alice. The people whose death she believed she had caused. It was dull and I soon tired of it. We needed something to liven her up again.

“Alec.” I called loudly. If he was anywhere within the castle he would hear me.

“What are you doing, Aro?” Caius asked.

“Well, brother, I have had a wonderful idea for a little more sport.”

“What are you doing?” the nomad hissed. “You promised me my revenge.”

“And you had it,” I said firmly. “All that happens now is my pleasure. You may stay and watch if you can hold your tongue, or you can leave now.”

“I will stay,” she said truculently.

She had no choice really. I had reconsidered my plan to allow her to live. She was impertinent and did not show due deference to me and my brothers. I had told the Cullens she was dead after all, now I would make it a reality.

“Kill it, Aro,” Caius said behind me.

I did not know if he meant Isabella or the nomad. I would kill the nomad but not Isabella. She was my greatest achievement. A broken mind. I would not have that wasted.

I turned my back on her and moved to Caius’ side. He held out his hand and I sifted through the memories, searching for what I needed to know. Victoria’s face was superimposed in his mind and the instruction was clear. Kill it Aro.

I rather thought I would enjoy ending this life myself.

The nomad saw my intent as I swept towards her. She turned to run, but Felix caught her around the waist before she reached the doors. She screeched in fury, and I smiled.

“Nomad, you stand accused of the crime of exposing our secret,” I said. “For that crime there can only be one punishment.”

“But you let me!” she howled. “You knew what I was doing.”

I ignored her and waved Alec forwards. He focused and the nomad’s writhing stilled. Her eyes were still open but there was no awareness in the crimson irises. She would be cast into a soundless, senseless void. I had once, out of curiosity, asked Alec to affect me to see how it felt. Though I would never admit it, his influence tormented me more than Jane’s ability to cause excruciating had.

“Make her kneel,” I ordered and Felix manipulated her form so the was knelt at my feet. “Hold her.” Felix gripped her shoulders firmly and I placed my hands on her forehead and jaw.

I hear a whimper behind me. I turned to see Isabella staring at us with wide eyed horror. She had broken from her confused thoughts and was watching us with an expression of horror.

“Pay attention, Isabella,” I instructed. “This is what happens when you break our laws.”

She whimpered again, but did not speak.

I returned my attention to the nomad. I smiled with satisfaction and then twisted her head in a sharp clockwise movement. With a screeching sound her head came away in my hands. Felix released his hold on her shoulders and her body slumped to the ground with a satisfying thud. I tossed her head away to the side.

“Caius, would you mind?” I asked.

He came forward and pulled from his pocket the device he himself had created that would send a spurt of fire from its mouth. He handed it to me and I shot a plume of flame onto the nomad’s body. Alec collected her head and dropped it into the flames.

The fire burned so fast it only took a matter of minutes for her body to be completely consumed. Soon, all that was left was a pile of ashes.

I heard a thud behind me and turned to see Isabella hunched on the ground. Her face was pressed against the stone floor, averted from the sight of the ashes.

Sighing heavily I went to her side and took her hand in mine.

Just like them. That’s was all that was left. Just like them.

She had made the connection between the nomad’s death and the supposed death of her dear ones. In her mind she saw their faces superimposed on the nomad’s.

I was impressed by the enhanced nature of her torment. Her changing mind had been cruel, it was true, but the enhanced nature of a vampire made it all so much more entertaining. The ability to think of multiple things at once meant that her delusion of humanity ran constantly, while her grief assaulted her near constantly too.

 

“Get up, Isabella!” I ordered.

She didn’t move, but remained curled in a ball on the floor. This would not do; I expected instant obedience, even from the insane.

“Jane, please show Isabella my displeasure,” I instructed.

Jane smiled beatifically and fixed her eyes on Isabella’s form. A moment later the air was rent with screams as Isabella twisted and writhed in pain.

“Cease that infernal racket!” Caius shouted.

Jane dropped her influence and Isabella was left panting for unneeded breath.

“Now, Isabella, unless you want me to do that again you will get off of the floor and do as you are told.”

She got to her feet and turned to face me. She seemed wary of meeting my eye, and fixed her attention on a spot above my head.

“I would like you to clean up this mess,” I said, pointing to the remains of the nomad on the floor. “In the next room you will find a drain set in the floor. Please dispose of the ashes down there.”

She nodded jerkily and then crouched at the pile of ashes. With a look of utmost horror she began scooping them into her hands.

“I see you are going to need to make multiple trips,” Caius said, not hiding the amusement in his tone.

She nodded again and rising carefully she slowly exited the room cupping the nomad’s remains in her hand. I knew it should he an uncommonly unpleasant task for her. No vampire liked handling the remains of another; it was a sharp reminder of our one weakness. The fact Isabella still believed herself to be human would make the task much more unpleasant. 

“That should keep her busy for a while,” Caius said, clapping his hands together in glee. “What shall we do with her next?”

“We could keep her as a servant,” Alec volunteered.

I shook my head. “I think we can do better than that, dear Alec. I would like to torture her with the voices a little more first.”

“But how are we to do it?” Caius asked. “We will not be able to confuse her with imitations if she looking at us.”

“Well, brother, I rather think we need to call upon an old friend.”

He smirked. “Zafrina?”

“Yes, Zafrina.”

Five decades ago we received news of a nomad living in the Amazon that was conducting interesting experiment on humans. It seemed he had developed a theory that procreation was possible with a vampire male and human female. It may have been possible if not for the fact he killed the female while fornicating. His activities drew attention and we destroyed him.

Demetri picked up a trail of another coven in the area from the man before his destruction. We traced them to the Pantanal wet-lands. There were three females in the coven, one of which was gifted. She had the ability to create illusions in another’s mind. It was a fairly innocuous talent, and I had no desire to recruit her to my guard. We allowed them freedom on the proviso that they make themselves available should we ever have need of them.

Now we had need.

xXx

One week later Demetri returned with Zafrina. I had spent the intervening days enjoying my progress with Isabella. We had discovered that she had a remarkable threshold for pain. The more she was exposed to Jane’s gift the better she was able to bear it. By the end of the fourth day of experimentation she was able to grit her teeth and suffer through it without the tiresome screaming. It pleased Caius immensely. He enjoyed another’s pain just as much as I did, but he had no patience for the screaming.

I had initially worried that the exposure to pain made Jane’s gift less potent, but I read Isabella during one bout of pain and discovered it was as potent as ever, she had just learned to think around the pain. It was pleasing as it meant she was not only tortured by Jane’s created agony, but by her mental torments too.

It was during one of these moments of experimentation late at night that Demetri and Zafrina arrived. She was as wild looking as she had been the last time I had seen her. Her clothes were fashioned from animal hides, and her braided hair was strewn with dried leaves and twigs. I would have to have Heidi or another of the female guards clean her up before she left. I didn’t want her drawing attention in the city. 

As I held out a hand to greet her, I felt the momentary thrill of excitement that I always did when presented with a new wealth of memories to enjoy. Zafrina’s contained an unexpected surprise. It seemed that Carlisle and his mate had paid her coven a visit a decade earlier. I knew the Cullens were acquainted with Zafrina and her coven, but I did not know a friendship had been forged. It made my use of her gift all the more poetic. She would help me to break the girl a little further.

Zafrina’s searching eyes found Isabella cowering in the corner. “Is this why I have come?” she asked.

“It is indeed,” I said quietly, though Isabella didn’t seem to be paring us any attention. “As I know you recognize, you owe a debt to us. We spared your life when we could have taken it by law, and now we are calling in that debt. You are to blind the girl while we do what must be done.”

“And what is it that must be done?”

“That is not your concern,” Caius said savagely. He had no love for Zafrina or her coven. He had voted to destroy them when we had first encountered them. It was Zafrina’s gift that had stopped me. Innocuous as it may be, I didn’t like to destroy any talent. 

Zafrina nodded sadly and I continued my instructions.

“You will blind her and keep her blind until I say otherwise. No matter what you might see or hear. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” she said quietly. It was obvious she was unhappy at the prospect, but her own life and that of her coven mates’ mattered more to her than her morals.

“You are acquainted with the Cullens, yes?” I asked Zafrina, and she nodded. “Wonderful, we are going to be speaking with Isabella. I would like you to use your gift to create and image of Carlisle and Jasper in Isabella’s mind.”

Caius laughed delightedly. “Oh, brother, this is just too wonderful.” He turned to Zafrina. “Can you do this?”

“I can,” she admitted. “Though I have no desire to hurt Carlisle.”

“That is not a problem,” Caius said lightly. “We have enough desire for us all.”

I laughed in spite of myself. I had not seen Caius this lighthearted in decades.

“Isabella, come here,” I called.

Obedient as ever Isabella scurried to my side. I took her hand, more out of curiosity than actual concern and sifted quickly through her memories. She had noted nothing of our conversation with Zafrina. She was thinking only of her lost love and the pain of Jane’s torment. The vampire ability to think of multiple things was working in my favor yet again.

I gestured to Zafrina to begin, and Isabella’s eyes became glazed and unfocussed.

“What can you see Isabella?” I asked.

She shook her head.

I took her mute signal to mean nothing and gestured Caius forward to begin our torment.

“Bella, can you hear me?” I asked, affecting the tone of my old friend.

She gasped. “Carlisle?” Other than screams we had not elicited any audible words from her since the moment she learned of her love’s ‘death’. This was interesting.

“Yes, it is I.”

“I didn’t think you would come back.” There was a definite hint of longing in her tone.

“I am not back for long,” I said. “I am only here to deliver our last message”

“Message?” The hope in her expression faded and was replaced by pain.

“Yes, message. We have taken a vote as a family and have decided the price of your life is not an equal payment for our loss. You will be allowed to live, but there are stipulations. You loved our family, yes?”

“Always,” she breathed.

“Well we once felt the same for you,” I said. “But things have changed. Your payment for the lives of our loved ones is to live out your life, but you must live it alone. You must stay hidden from all others at all times. If you see someone, you hide. If someone sees you, you run. If you break these rules I will allow Jasper the revenge he thirsts for, do you understand?”

She nodded frantically. “I will live. I will hide. I promise.”

“Very well. Remember, Bella, we have friends and they will be watching you.”

She whimpered but did not speak again.

I stepped forward and took her hand in mine. I wanted to know whether my words had penetrated her confused mind sufficiently, or whether we needed a second attack to make the message sink in.

Have to hide. Have to pay. I see them I hide. They see me I run. Only way to pay. Have to pay the Cullens. Pay for Esme. Pay for Alice. Pay for my poor Edward.

Satisfied that my words had been acknowledged I strode back to my throne and sat contemplating the masterpiece that was Isabella.

I had done my work; her mind was broken. Now it was time to sit back and reap the rewards of my work. Not here though, the castle was not the right place for this child.

“Zafrina,” I said thoughtfully. “You know every inch of your beloved forest, yes?”

“I know it all,” she replied.

Wonderful. I would need somewhere remote and the Amazon rainforest would suit my needs.

“In that case, I have another task for you.” 

Chapter Text

Garrett POV

The greatest joy in my life was adventure. Nothing gave me as much pleasure as discovering something new. Be it a language, or a place or even a person. I thought nothing would ever dampen my thirst for more, but that was before I met the girl and learned what she had to say.

Our first encounter was brief but intriguing. I was passing through South America when I crossed the scent path of an unfamiliar vampire. I followed the scent for miles. Eventually I heard the sounds of someone moving through the trees. They were moving at speeds only attainable by one of my kind. I searched my surroundings for a sign of the vampire, and I caught sight of a pale form racing through the trees ahead of me.

“Hello there.”

The vampire stalled for a moment and then with a squeak of alarm raced away from me. In the pause, I was able to see the vampire briefly. It was female with long brown hair.

“There is no need to be afraid,” I called after her. “I mean you know harm; I just want to talk.”

If possible the vampire ran even faster. Instinctively I did the same, but I was not fast enough; soon I lost sight of her.

I could have traced the scent and caught up with her, but caution held me back. She seemed hell bent on evading me. She could have been scared, and a scared vampire was a dangerous vampire.

I had survived as long as I had by avoiding conflict and being amiable when I came across others of my kind. The only exception was a few decades ago when I met with a coven of three in Canada. They seemed pleasant enough at first, but the coven leader—though he pretended not to be—made me distinctly uncomfortable. His fiery haired mate was not much better. They invited me to travel with them, and when I refused they became hostile. My saving grace was Peter and Charlotte, two nomads I had met years before. By chance they came across us and I was able to ally myself with them. The fight was avoided, but it took me a long time to feel comfortable alone again.

As much as I enjoyed a good mystery I chose to ignore the need to know more at that time.

It was not until one year later that I learned just how much of a mystery the girl possessed.

xXx

Try as I might I couldn’t get the girl out of my head. I tried to distract myself with my usual travels, but she was always there, at the back of my mind. I wondered idly why she continued to tease at my mind after such a brief encounter. It was possible that she was my mate, but I didn’t think it likely. I had met a legion of other vampires over the years and none of them had appealed to me; it was unlikely that this girl would.

After a year had passed, the memory of the girl still haunted me, so I decided to go went back to the Amazon.

I found my way back to the place our paths had last crossed, but there was no sign of her. Disheartened, I travelled further south. In the Pantanal Wetlands I came across the scent of three vampires, but none of them were the girl. I traced the scent anyway I met with three females.

They were leery of me and it took a week of sitting patiently in the place I deduced to be their lair, for them to show themselves to me.

They were the wildest looking vampires I had ever seen, and I had seen many.

“What do you want,” the tallest of the three asked by way of a greeting.

“Merely to make your acquaintance,” I replied amiably. “My name is Garrett.”

“We are Senna, Kachiri and Zafrina,” she said, not giving any sign of which one was which. “And this is our territory.”

“I mean no harm,” I said. “I will not hunt here. I fed in Mato Grosso only days ago.”

The smallest, who I later learned to be Kachiri, nodded acceptance, and that began my stilted friendship with the Amazon coven.

I stayed with them for weeks, learning all I could about them and their way of life. They didn’t ask me much about myself; it seemed they had no interest of things outside of their beloved rainforest.

I asked them if there were any other vampires in the area, but they said they had never met any. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t tell them about the girl. Some sixth sense warned me against it. They were nice enough, but I never truly relaxed with them. After a month with them I thanked them for their hospitality and took my leave.

It was on my journey north that, quite by chance, I found the girl again. I was looking to hunt but I found myself in an area so deep within the forest that humans could not hope to reach it. Disappointed in my poor planning—I really did need to hunt—I allowed instinct to lead me and just ran.

Running through the dense forest I caught the scent of the girl again. This time much more concentrated than before. I traced it to a rocky area with a large cave and what I first thought to be a campsite, despite the remoteness of the area.

There was a small campfire in a rough circle of stones, and clothes draped over rocks as if to dry. There were the remains of a meal of cooked meat on a plate, and a battered canteen of water. A fallen tree worked as a bench around the fire. The most bizarre part of the scene was a roughly butchered tapir at the edge of the cave. Bizarre because, not only had it been butchered to provide—I assumed—the meat on the plate, but it had also been drained by a vampire. There were distinctive marks around the throat that could only have been made by a vampire’s teeth.  

The whole area was steeped in the scent of the unknown girl. She had been living here for some time, and if the gasping breaths coming from inside the cave were anything to go by; she was still here. The darkness inside the cave was absolute. Despite my enhanced eyesight I could only make out a vague form crouched on the ground.

“I mean you no harm,” I said, approaching the cave mouth. “I am Garrett.”

My words were met by a feral snarl. I jumped away from the cave automatically. I went back as far as the tree and sat down. I had no need of the rest, but the position was submissive and I hoped it would ease her fears somewhat. It worked to a fashion. The snarls cut off but now there was whimpering. The sound tugged at my heart; she sounded so sad.

“You can come out,” I said, making my tone soft and soothing. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to talk.”

The whimpering increased in volume.

“Okay, you don’t have to come out,” I said. “We can talk like this. What is your name?”

There was no response, but judging by the sounds coming from the cave she was growing more distressed. There was a curious clicking sound now that I knew to be vampire flesh against stone. I fell silent, trying to work out what she could be doing to make the noise, but it slowly cut off.

I was doing no good here, but still I could not bring myself to leave. My sense of adventure was not the issue here, but concern for her wellbeing.

I sat in silence for hours, hoping she would gain enough confidence to leave her sanctuary, but I was disappointed.

When night fell I rose to my feet and moved a little closer to the cave, hoping to catch sight of her again to see her reaction to my words.

“I’m leaving now,” I said. “But I would like to come back. I think you need help, and I can be the one to help you. You can trust me.”

There was no answer. Sighing heavily I walked away, keeping my pace slow and steady and my senses alert for any sound that may prelude an attack.  

As I walked out of the camp I puzzled over its existence. It looked like somewhere a human would live, but there were no human scents here. It was possible she had come across the cave and killed whoever was living there, but something told me that was not it.

My curiosity piqued, I continued until I was out of hearing range of the cave and scaled a high tree. From this height I had a partial view of the camp, but should not be visible myself given the dense foliage of the trees.

I waited for her to show herself, but it was hours later, as the sun was rising and illuminating the camp with dappled green light, that she showed herself.

Anything up until then that I had thought was bizarre was immediately cast as ordinary as I watched her.

She came slowly out of the cave mouth and stretched. She actually stretched like a human would after a long night of deep sleep. She picked up the canteen of water and took a long drink. When she immediately spat it out again I thought she had realized how foul water tasted to a vampire—we could taste the minerals and traces of dirt—but she did it again. I realized she was rinsing her mouth.

She stoked the dying embers and piled wood on the embers creating a roaring fire; then she held her hands over the flames as if warming them. She went about her camp burying the remains of food on the plate. She used a rough stone to remove more meat from the tapir carcass and then spitted it on a metal spike and held it over the fire.

The realization dawned on me like a bucket of ice water. She thought she was human!

There was no other explanation for her odd behavior. She was behaving like a human on a camping trip.

Had no one ever explained to her what she was? Where was the vampire that had changed her? Did she know nothing?

Questions flocked to my mind but I had no answers for them. I had never heard of a vampire like this. My sire had left me alone after changing me, but I had worked out who and what I was only days after my change. The raging need for human blood was so intense I had hunted the first human I happened across. 

Her delusion was so ingrained that she was actually drinking water despite the foul taste, and if what I could see now was any clue she was preparing to eat human food. The idea turned my stomach.

Now that she was in the open I was able to see her better. She was as attractive as any of our kind. I now saw her hair had highlights of red in it. Her eyes were the same golden as Carlisle Cullen and his coven’s.

I was right, she did cook the meat, and then attempted to eat it. She managed to hold it in her stomach for only a few minutes before the instinct to purge her stomach of the foul substance reared its head. I averted my eyes as she retched and gagged.

Her ‘human’ needs taken care of, she disappeared back into her cave.

I watched her go and pondered all I had seen. I wanted to help her, but I had no idea how. Did she even need help? She was obviously feeding well enough, as illustrated by the drained tapir. She was not distressed, except when I had been close to her. Disturbed as her mind evidently was, she was in no danger. Loathe as I was to admit it, she would be a lot happier if I left and allowed her to live her life in peace.

With deep sadness I dropped from my tree and began the trek north.

xXx

I was in Utah when I met with Peter and Charlotte. I was relieved to see others of my kind, especially others that were not deranged and convinced that they were human.

After exchanging the usual greetings we hunted together and then they led me back to the hotel they were staying in. I was initially surprised that they were staying among the humans, they usually led the nomad life like me, but they explained they had friends with them that preferred to live a little more civilized.  

“My buddy Jasper and his mate are taking a vacation from the coven life,” he explained. “They used to be part of Carlisle Cullen’s coven, but some bad stuff happened and they needed a break. They said it was just a short vacation when they arrived, but they’ve been with us a year now and aren’t showing any signs of leaving soon.”

I had not heard news of my old friend Carlisle for over six decades and didn’t know that he had extended his coven.

“Whatever you do, don’t ask what happened,” Peter cautioned as we made our way up to his room.

“I’m not completely without tact, Peter,” I said rolling my eyes.

“I know that. But believe me you don’t want to know. You ask and Alice dissolves into hysterics and Jasper start projecting so much pain it literally drops you.”

My blank look of confusion registered and he continued his explanation. “Jasper is an empath. If he gets carried away he projects his emotions to the room. It’s a handy skill for calming people down, but it’s not so good right now.”

“Maybe now is not the time for me to be introduced,” I said, though I did want to meet them.

“No, they could do with a distraction,” Charlotte said. “They can’t mourn her forever. Just, whatever you do, don’t ask.”

Peter flung open the door to their hotel room and called out loudly. “Hi honey, I’m home.”

Sitting together on the bland couch were two vampires. The man, Jasper, was so heavily scarred I was momentarily taken aback at the sight. How could someone have been so ravaged and survived? His mate, Alice, was the complete opposite. She was beautiful, even by the standard of my kind. Her hair was inky black and her elfin features were flawless.

She smiled at me as I entered, but it was a forced smile. The ‘bad stuff’ Peter had mentioned were weighing her down like a physical entity.

“Jasper, Alice, this is Garrett,” Peter said.

“Pleased to meet you,” Alice said softly.

“Likewise.”

We exchanged the usual small talk. Alice said she and Jasper were taking time away from their family to visit with Peter and Charlotte. She didn’t allude to what had driven her from her home, though she looked sad when she mentioned it.

“So, Garrett, what have you been doing since we saw off those nomads?” Peter asked.  

“Travelling as always,” I answered. “I have just been to South America.” I considered for a moment. It didn’t feel right to tell the Amazon coven about the girl, but I wanted to tell someone. “Actually, when I was there, I met someone…”

I told them all about the girl, how I had first seen her a year ago but had lost her, and how I found her camp. They reacted with gasps and hisses of surprise when I explained how she seemed to believe herself human.

“So Garrett found himself a crazy vampire.” Peter laughed.

“But that’s so sad,” Alice said in a mournful tone. “How can she not know what she is?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t ask her anything as she seemed terrified whenever I went too close, and she didn’t talk at all.”

“We have to do something,” Alice said desperately. “We can’t just leave this poor soul living like that.”

“Can’t we?” Jasper asked. “It sounds like she is happy enough as she is. Maybe it’s for the best.”

“No, we can’t,” Alice said firmly. “Tell me exactly where you saw her, Garrett.”

I hesitated a moment. It looked like she and Jasper had enough heartache at the moment without adding a crazy vampire to the mix. Besides, I was the one that had found her; it was my responsibility to take care of her, not theirs.

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I’ll go out there and see if I can get through to her. She knows my scent, she may trust me a little now. I’ve been there twice and not hurt her. She may get more scared if she’s faced with new people.”

“You promise you will go?” she asked.

“I promise. If she won’t talk to me I will track you guys down and you can have a go, but let me try first.”

She nodded with satisfaction. “Good.”

I settled back in my chair, preparing for a pleasant night of catching up with Peter and Charlotte, but she stared at me with concentration.

“You want me to go now?” I asked.

She smiled unabashed. “If you don’t mind.”

I laughed. “I don’t mind.”

I got to my feet and made for the door. Peter saw me out.

“I’m sorry about this, Garrett,” he said in a whisper. “She’s been a little intense since all the drama. Don’t feel like you have to go deal with the crazy. Charlotte and I can take a trip south to check in on her if you prefer.”

“Nah, I’ve got it.” I clapped him on the shoulder and promised to be in touch soon.

I was almost at the stairs when I heard Jasper speak and Alice’s soft reply.

“Why does this matter so much to you?”

“Because it’s what she would do.”

Wondering who ‘she’ was and what had happened to her I prepared myself to make the now familiar trip south.

xXx

I came across the girl’s camp late at night. Not much had changed other that the tapir carcass was gone now.

The girl was nowhere in sight, though her scent was fresh in the air. She was probably in her cave again.

I settled myself in a tree and waited. If she followed the same routine every day, and I had no reason to doubt that she did, she would come out of her cave in the morning.

I was right. An hour after the dawn’s light lit her camp she came outside and stretched. Though I was expecting it, it still made me feel distinctly uncomfortable to see her acting so human. It just wasn’t right.

Just as she had before, she rinsed her mouth with water from the canteen, but then she paused. Something was missing from the equation. There was no meat or fresh carcass for her to ‘eat’. It seemed to trouble her that there was something missing. She sank down onto her knees and looked around the camp with a frown marring her porcelain brow.

“You need to hunt,” I said, dropping down from my tree.

She gave a squeak of alarm and ran back for the shelter of her cave.

“No, don’t go! I just want to help,” I called after her.

She didn’t even pause, she disappeared into the dark cave, leaving me kicking myself for my lack of thought. I shouldn’t have sprung myself on her like that. It would have been better if I let her see me before I spoke.

I was at a loss as to what to do next. I needed something to use as an ice-breaker. Then an idea occurred to me. She had been looking for something to cook. Maybe if I brought her something she would trust me. Or of course she could lose it again and hide in her cave for days, but it was worth a try.

I shrugged off my back pack and left it at the edge of her camp. I wanted her to get used to my scent, and to leave something as a sign that I would be coming back.

I made my way through the dense trees and tried to find something that would do as a meal for her. I followed the sound of pounding hearts to a small pool not far from her camp. There were a trio of tapirs lapping at the water. I jumped forward and caught one. Having no desire to drink its blood—there were limits to my philanthropy—I snapped its neck and slung it over my shoulder.

When I got back to the camp I saw my bag had been moved. She had been drawn out by curiosity, though she was gone again now. I hoped my gift would help draw her out again.

“I brought you something to eat,” I said in a soft tone.

I heard shifting inside the cave. Taking it as a good sign I stepped back and perched myself on the log.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” I said. “I just want to help you.”

“Don’t need help.”

Her voice was so quiet I could barely hear her. I took it as a good sign that she was talking at all though.

“Well you needed food,” I said, marveling at the stupidity of the conversation. She needed the food to feed her delusion, not as a source of sustenance.

“It would have come,” she said. “It always comes if I wait.”

Well that made no sense, but I was not about to argue the point.

“My name is Garrett,” I said, keeping my tone soft.  “What’s your name?”

“Don’t remember,” she said.

I heard movements and saw her form at the very edge of the cave. She was still in shadow, but I could see her clearer now.

“What do you remember?” I asked. I wanted to know if she remembered anything of her change. If she knew who had changed her and left her like this. It was a despicable thing to do.

“I remember I have to hide,” she said cryptically. “If I don’t hide he will kill me. He will know you saw me and he will come. He never lies.”

This was more than an abandoned newborn. Someone was playing a game with this girl.

“Who will kill you?”I demanded. My tone was harsher than I intended but the twisted situation was wearing on me. Someone was playing a game with this girl. A game so perverse it had driven her into madness. Had the human act come from these instructions too, or was it a result of the insanity? “Who told you to hide?”

“Carlisle.”

I gasped. “Carlisle Cullen?”

She nodded sadly, averting her eyes.

“It can’t be. I know Carlisle, he would never do this to you. He’s a good man.”

She nodded jerkily. “A good man. So good. A family of good. And I destroyed it.”

“What did you do to him?”

I couldn’t imagine anything she could have possibly done that would have caused Carlisle to unleash this torment on her.

She raised her head and looked me in the eye. “I killed his mate.”

I was wrong.

Chapter Text

Garrett POV

I stared at the creature in the cave, and a wave of hatred swept through me. I had pitied it. I had tried to help. And all the while she was holding this secret to herself. She had killed Esme.

I had met Esme over eight decades ago, shortly after her change. She was an uncommonly kind woman, with a huge heart that drew me in. I was pleased that my old friend Carlisle had found his mate, and even happier that it was with someone so suited to his gentle nature. She was a good woman, and this vampire had killed her.

A low growl built in my chest, and I automatically jerked away from the mouth of the cave. I did not want to be close to this monster of a girl. 

She answered my growl with a whimper. There was a scuffling sound as she disappeared back into the darkness of her cave. I was glad of it. I was fighting the urge to kill her with every breath I took. But it was not my place to avenge her. That joy was for Carlisle alone.

“II will be coming back for you!” I hissed as I pushed myself to my feet and walked away.

I would come back, and I would watch with pleasure as Carlisle destroyed her. He was an exceptionally gentle man, but even he would not be able to resist the urge to avenge his mate. Or would he…?

He had obviously seen her since Esme had been killed, as he told her to stay hidden. Perhaps he believed this stunted belief in her own humanity was torture enough for the girl to appease him.

Now I understood why Alice and Jasper were so depressed. They had lost Esme. I didn’t like that they had left Carlisle’s coven, though. He would need his family around him now more than ever.  

I ran through the forest, making my way back to civilization. I wondered what to do next. My next step was surely to find Carlisle. I needed to tell him what I knew, and to offer my condolences. But I didn’t know where he was living now. He and his family lived among the humans, that I knew, but America was a big country at it would be hard to track him down.

I considered my options and realized there was a surefire way to track him down: Alice and Jasper. They would surely be in contact with him, even if they had left him. I would also like to get the full story of Esme’s destruction. How had the girl killed Esme when she believed herself to be human? There was too much mystery here, and I suspected I was missing something very important.

xXx

It took a week to reach the hotel in Utah that I had last met with Jasper and Alice, and when there, I learned that they had long since moved on.

Not knowing where to start, I set my way north through Idaho. I knew Carlisle favored the northern states, and I hoped Alice and Jasper would do the same. It was a big country, and it could take me months if not years to cross their path again.

I had a stroke of luck in the form of a fellow nomad. I had met with Charles many times during my travels, and he knew Peter and Charlotte. He told me that he had seen them only a week ago in Spring City, Idaho.

I knew the places Peter and Charlotte liked to hunt, and so I began my search in the warehouse district. It didn’t take me long to cross their scent path, and I followed it back to a small hotel. I bypassed the front desk and made my way straight to their room. I rapped on the door and waited patiently for them to answer.

My anger towards Jasper and Alice had built as I searched for them. I was annoyed that they hadn’t told me it was Esme that had been killed and that they had left Carlisle to mourn alone. I knew they were suffering, that was evidenced during my last visit, but he would be suffering even more. They should have stuck together, not abandon him to his misery.

The door swung open, and Peter grinned at me from the threshold.

“Garrett,” he greeted amiably. “Did you find your crazypire?”

“I did,” I said through gritted teeth.

“What happened?” he asked. He picked up on my tension, and his stance changed to one of caution.

“She told me something very interesting.” I pushed past him and into their room. “Where are Jasper and Alice?”

“They’ve gone hunting, they should be back soon though. They’ve been gone a couple of days. Why do you need them?”

“Because the crazy bitch vampire told me who she had killed, and I want to know why they didn’t tell me, and why they have left Carlisle.”

“Whoa, calm down,” Charlotte said, coming to stand beside Peter and entwining her hand with his. “They didn’t tell you because it’s hard for them to talk about it, and they left Carlisle for the same reason. Jasper was really suffering. Which is beside the point, what I want to know is why it matters to you.”

“Because I knew Esme, and she was a good woman.”

“Hold up, what does Esme have to do with this?” Peter asked.

“She’s dead,” I snapped.

Charlotte gasped. “Esme is dead! When? How?”

“Oh, god. This is going to destroy them,” Peter said solemnly.

Charlotte sank into a chair and clasped her hands together. Peter sat next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“You didn’t know?” I asked. “You told me they were suffering because of ‘bad stuff’, what else has happened?”

“They had this friend. She was killed a couple of years ago. Since then, they’ve been really messed up. But what happened to Esme?”

This was so confusing it was making my mind reel. I sank down into a chair opposite them. 

“The vampire I met told me she had killed her. Well, technically she told me she had killed Carlisle’s mate, but that can only mean Esme. I told you the girl was crazy. Well, we got to talking, and she told me Carlisle was the one that told her to hide. How can you not know about this?”

“Something isn’t right here,” Peter said thoughtfully. “This doesn’t add up. Alice spoke to Carlisle a month ago about some vision she had. Esme was just fine then.”

An inkling of hope teased at me. Was it possible that the crazy vampire was just that, crazy? She could have met Carlisle at any time, and her twisted mind could have confused what he told her. Perhaps he explained the importance of staying away from humans, and she took that to mean she had to hide. But that didn’t explain the fact she thought she had killed his mate. How did she even know about mates? It wasn’t a term humans used.

“I think your buddy is just crazy,” Peter said with obvious relief. “When Alice gets back, we’ll have her all seeing eye check in on Esme, and all will be good.”

After a few hours of stilted conversation, we heard footsteps in the hall.

“Go easy on them,” Charlotte whispered. “They are always worse after they’ve been alone a while. I think Alice lets the misery loose when they are alone, and Jasper has to suffer through it.”

The door opened, and Jasper and Alice walked in. Charlotte was right; they looked a lot worse than they had last time I saw them. Despite that, they both fixed welcoming smiles in place when they saw me.

“Hello, Garrett, how was your trip south?”

“We’ll talk about that in a minute,” Peter said. “Alice, we need you to check out Esme and Carlisle’s future.”

“Why? What’s happened?” She gripped Jasper’s hand so tightly he flinched.

“Nothing, or at least we don’t think it’s anything. Just take a look for us, please.”

Alice’s expression went blank and her eyes glazed over as she searched the future. I had never seen her have a vision before, and the sensation was eerie. Luckily, it didn’t last long, and she soon snapped back to the present.

“She’s fine. Carlisle and her are hunting together tonight. As far as I can see, she’s fine, or as fine as she can be, given the circumstances. Now tell me what happened.”

“Garrett’s crazypire said she was dead,” Peter said bluntly.

“But that’s just…” Alice faltered.

“Crazy?” Peter offered with a grin.

“Very funny, Pete,” Jasper rolled his eyes.

“Tell me what happened!” Alice demanded.

I explained how I had seen the girl and that I had been able to draw her out enough to talk to me. I told them that she had explained the need to hide and that Carlisle had been the one to tell her. I shared my theory that Carlisle could have come across her and explained the need to remain unseen by humans.

“But he would have told us about her,” Alice said.

“Would he?” Jasper asked uncertainly. “We’re not the same as we used to be. Maybe he decided not to share this.”

“No,” Alice said firmly. “He would tell us. We’re still family. And he wouldn’t have just left this girl to suffer alone. That’s just not Carlisle.”

“There’s only one way to find out,” I said. “We call Carlisle and ask.”

Alice snatched up a cell phone and dialed rapidly. A moment later, Esme’s voice came from the receiver. Though I had Alice’s assurance that she was alive, I didn’t truly believe it until I heard her voice.

“Alice, how are you?”

“I’m…fine?” It sounded more like a question than a statement.

Perceptible as ever, Esme noticed it too. When she spoke again her voice was cautious. “What’s happened, sweetheart?”

“Is Carlisle there?” Alice asked. “I need to speak to him.”

I heard the sounds of the phone changing hands, and then Carlisle spoke. “Alice, what has happened?”

“Have you been to the Amazon at all recently?” she asked.

“No,” he answered. “You’re worrying me, Alice. What has happened?”

“Garrett is here. He has met a strange vampire, and they had mentioned your name.”

“Well, that’s curious. I haven’t met anyone new for quite some time. What exactly did they say about me?”

“She said you told her to hide. Carlisle, she isn’t right; Garrett said she’s crazy.”

“Well, that is unfortunate, but I can’t think of any vampires I have met recently, strange or otherwise. And I certainly haven’t told anyone to hide.”

The phone changed hands again, and Esme’s voice came over the receiver. “Alice, why don’t you and Jasper come home? We can talk about this is person.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right. We’re in Utah at the moment so we’ll be with you sometime tomorrow.”

There was an audible sigh of relief from Esme, and when she spoke, it was in a heartfelt whisper. “Thank you, Alice.”

“We’ll see you real soon, Mom. We love you.”

“I love you too, dear. So much.”

They ended the call, and Alice looked at Jasper. “We need a car. It will get us there faster.”

Jasper smiled and kissed her cheek. “I’ll get right on it. You coming, Pete?”

“Sure, I never tire of seeing you spending Daddy’s money,” he teased.

Jasper aimed a punch at his arm and missed.

“You want to come, Garrett?” Jasper asked.

I didn’t have much cause to shop usually. My clothes were stolen or taken from my meals, and I had little need for anything else. It might be interesting to see how the humans did it. I nodded to him and we shrugged on our coats and headed out in to the afternoon gloom.

The nearest car dealership was in Ephraim, so we directed out path there. As we walked, we made small talk about places we had travelled and people we had met. We were almost at the dealership when I ventured the question that had been teasing at me since Peter told me about the friend that had lost.

“Jasper, what happened to your family? Peter said you lost a friend.”

His hands fisted in the pockets of his jacket and he gritted his teeth.

“Her name was Bella,” he said. “She was my brother Edward’s mate. She drowned.”

“She drowned!” I said incredulously.

He chuckled darkly. “Yeah. She was human.”

“But you said she was Edward’s mate. How is that even possible?”

“You haven’t heard the best part,” Peter said. “Not only was she human, but she was Edward’s singer. Eddie boy fell in love with his dinner.”

Jasper whipped out a fist and punched Peter on the jaw. “Have a little respect. She was not dinner; she was family.”

Peter rubbed his jaw, looking apologetic, and Jasper continued his explanation. “She was Edward’s singer, but he had amazing control. They fell in love. I swear I have never felt love from anyone like I did when those two were together. It was remarkable. Well, Bella had a propensity for drawing danger to herself. A lot of bad shit happened. This nomad was after her—”

“Victoria,” Peter interjected. “One of those nomads me and Char saved you from. Bella got the blond guy killed, so his mate was after revenge.”

“She got it,” Jasper said darkly. “Victoria built herself a newborn army and came after us. We fought them, with a group of allies, while Bella and Esme hid out in the mountains. Victoria wasn’t fooled, though. She tracked them there, and attacked Esme. Esme would have been dead if it wasn’t for Bella. Victoria was about to finish her off when Bella cut herself to draw blood.”

“She drew blood to save Esme?” I asked incredulously. “A human?”

“Bella wasn’t like any other human I’ve ever met,” Jasper said fondly. “She was brave as all hell and a little reckless to boot. She was all about the self-sacrifice, and she adored Esme. Well, all of us, really. I never really got to be close to her because of the control thing, but she loved me as much as she did us all. I used to bask in her emotions when she was around. She felt everything so completely.”

“She sounds like a rare girl,” I said.

Jasper nodded. “She was. Well, her little distraction worked, and Esme was saved, but Bella was carried off. I guess Victoria forgot Bella’s human needs, and when she took her into the water, Bella drowned.”

“I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. I wanted to say more, but I didn’t know what.

“Thanks,” he said simply. “It’s not so bad for me; like I said, I never really got to know her. But Alice and her were best friends. When she died, it just about tore our family apart. Edward is…broken, I don’t know any other way to say it. He sought death after it happened, but he didn’t get it. I sometimes wonder if we made the wrong choice. He’s not living now, just existing from day to day.”

We fell into a thoughtful silence for the rest of the journey.

When we reached the car dealership, Peter and I stayed back, shielding our red eyes with sunglasses, while Jasper dealt with the salesman. After half an hour’s haggling, we drove out of the lot in a large SUV.

Peter teased Jasper about buying a soccer mom car, but it was only half-hearted. We were all still thinking of the story Jasper had told us of the girl.

I couldn’t help but wonder at the power of a human girl that had destroyed a family of vampires so thoroughly.

 

Chapter Text

Carlisle POV

The definition of a doctor is a healer. I was a doctor, but I was no healer. All I seemed capable of doing was destroying all I held dear.

When Bella came into our life I was so grateful for her presence. Now, I wished we had never met her. It was not her fault. The only crime she had committed was to love us, but because of her, my family was torn apart and scattered across the globe.

Edward was the first to leave. When he and my children returned from Volterra safe and unharmed, I felt relief so great it almost brought me to my knees. That relief soon turned to horror as my son turned to me with open loathing in his eyes.

The last words he had spoken were etched in my perfect memory. “You may love me, but I hate each and every one of you. Especially you.”

Especially me. Those words hurt more than any physical wound ever could.

He had strode from the house, leaving me staring after him in horror. We were all so stunned that none of us moved to follow him. It was not until a few hours later that we learned where he had gone. Sam came to us. He told us that Edward had crossed into the pack’s territory and was now at the cliff Bella had once jumped from. We wasted no time in running to his side.

He was sitting at the foot of an enormous spruce. He had drawn himself into a tight ball. In his hands was a blue shirt I recognized as the one Bella had been wearing the day before the battle. Now I understood why he had taken her overnight bag with him when he left; he wanted her scent.

“Edward,” I said tentatively. “Are you okay?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized the foolishness of them. How could he possibly be okay? The girl his life revolved around was dead. Nothing would even be okay again for him.

Esme crouched at his side and reached a hand out to caress his cheek. He jerked away from her touch, and I saw a flash of pain cross her lovely features before she schooled them into a calm mask.

“Leave me alone,” he said hoarsely.

“What are you doing?” Alice asked, confusion furrowing her flawless brow.

“I’m… I’m waiting for Bella,” he said. “She has to come back eventually and I want to be here when she does.”

I wondered for a moment if he was entirely sane, and then I realized the true meaning of his words. He wasn’t waiting for some miracle to bring Bella back to him, he was waiting for her body to surface.

“You can’t stay here,” I said reasonably. “This is the wolves’ territory.”

He turned his dark eyes to meet mine. “They didn’t care about that when you were here fixing their hurts, did they? I am staying here and nothing you or they can do is going to stop me.”

“What about the treaty?” Jasper asked.

“What about it?” he replied. “If they want to move me they will have to kill me, and believe me I would be grateful for it.”

I hated to hear him talk like this. The thought of him dying was abhorrent to me, painful, like a knife twisting in my chest. Though, as I looked at his cowering on the ground, I wondered if I was being selfish. He was in so much pain; he wore it like a cloak. Perhaps it would be a blessing to end his torment.

He leapt suddenly to his feet and gripped the lapels of my shirt. “Kill me,” he gasped, a maniacal gleam in his eye. “You can do it. Set me free. You gave me this endless life; now save me from it.”    

“I-I-I can’t,” I gasped. “I can’t kill you, Edward. You are my son. I love you.”

“Coward,” he snapped, shoving me away from him.

I was a coward. I couldn’t bear to see his pain, so I turned away from him. I could not bear to end  his life, so I refused him. I could not save him, so I cursed myself.

That was the last time I saw him. When it became clear that our words weren’t reaching him we left him atop the cliff. The wolves had an uneasy agreement with us. They would suffer him on their land but he was to remain hidden at all times and to leave the area to hunt.

After Bella’s memorial service, we packed up our house in Forks and moved to Alaska to be near our extended family, the Denali coven. We stayed in our home near theirs for six months, but the cracks began to show. We were mourning the loss of two of our number. Tanya and her coven were sympathetic to our plight, but the depression we were all feeling did not make for a happy environment to live.

Alice and Jasper were the next to leave us. I had been expecting it for some time, but my heart still broke as they called us all together to tell us they were going. Jasper just couldn’t bear the emotional climate among us anymore. It was physically painful for him. Alice said they were just taking a short vacation to visit their friends Peter and Charlotte, but we all knew it was no vacation.

The further we all drifted apart the tighter Rosalie clung to us all. She was furious with Alice and Jasper when they announced their intent to leave. She raged at them, accusing them of abandoning us just like Edward had done. She didn’t understand that Edward had not abandoned us alone, he abandoned life altogether. Alice, in turn, raged back. Accusing her of hating Bella and being glad that she was gone. She could not be further from the truth. Though Rosalie held no affection for Bella, she regretted her death as completely as any of us. It had torn our family apart and nothing mattered more to Rosalie in this new life than family.

She and Emmett lasted another three months after Alice and Jasper left us before they too announced their impending departure. They were going to travel together. Rosalie said Emmett needed the time away, and I agreed. My son was grieving for Bella, but his staid belief in being strong stopped him showing his pain. He could only allow that weakness in front of his mate. I understood perfectly. I held Esme as she cried for Bella and Edward, and I cried with her, but only when alone in the deepest recesses of the forest did I allow my pain full rein and take to pulverizing trees and rocks to vent my feelings.

With our children gone Esme and I were left alone. We heard from them occasionally. Postcards from Emmett and Rosalie as they travelled across Africa, phone calls from Alice and Jasper whenever there was need, and reports from the wolves telling us of Edward’s continual vigil waiting for Bella to return to him.

Alice continued to use her gift to keep watch over us. Occasional warnings about unexpected clear weather days and passing nomads. And always the Volturi. She watched them carefully for any sign that they may interfere with us again. I did not know why Alec had intervened the day Bella died, but Aro’s pretended ignorance of it did not appease me.

I hoped with Bella’s death their attention would pass from my family, and for the most part I believed it right. Aro actually wrote to me shortly after Bella’s passing. He extended his sympathies to us all for our loss, waxed lyrical about the many positive attributes he had observed in Bella. His parting line had been an invitation to visit him at any time. An invitation that I made each of my family swear to refuse. We all agreed to avoid Europe at all costs. I didn’t want any of my children falling into his hands.

We had heard from Alice and Jasper only a month before the phone call that lightened our hearts. Alice called to ask if I had known a strange vampire. Esme pleaded with her and Jasper to return and to both of our surprise she agreed.

A new lightness filled us both at the news. Esme flitted about the house, cleaning already spotless rooms and laying fresh linens on their bed. I watched her as darted about, and I wondered if Alice and Jasper’s return might portent a return to our old family ways. I knew Edward would not return, and, of course, Bella couldn’t, but Rosalie and Emmett may return when they heard the news. It would be good to have the family together again.

I called Emmett’s cell phone to tell him about Alice and Jasper, but I received no answer. It was not uncommon for them to not answer their phone, and they always called us back eventually, so I left a message.

That done there was nothing left to do but wait. Esme and I had planned a hunting trip together, but we held off on it until Alice and Jasper arrived. It would be nice to hunt as a group again. It had been too long.

Late afternoon, the day after we received Alice’s call, I heard the distant rumble of an engine turning into our drive. Esme clapped her hands together in excitement, and together we raced out of the door.

A black SUV appeared through the wooded path to our house. Alice jumped from the still moving car and into Esme’s arms. Jasper pulled the car to a stop and made his way to us at a more dignified pace.

Alice and Esme were talking so fast their words bled into one another. Alice was apologizing for staying away so long, and Esme was telling her how much we had missed her.

“Hello, Carlisle,” Jasper said, holding out a hand for me to shake.

I shook his hand and then pulled him into a hug. I was never usually so tactile with my affection, but I was so happy to see him and Alice again that custom was forgotten.  

“I cannot express how happy I am to see you both again,” I said.

“I can tell,” he said enigmatically. He could, of course, feel exactly how happy I was.

Alice moved from Esme’s arms, allowing Esme the chance to greet Jasper.

I pulled Alice into my embrace and kissed her hair. She clung to me with all her considerable strength.  

I hadn’t truly realized how much I had missed them both until they were here again. It felt like one of the scattered pieces of my heart had mended. If only my other children could return to and make me whole again.

“Well, that’s what I call a homecoming. Why don’t we ever get greeted like that?” Peter asked loudly, breaking the perfect moment with his characteristic lack of tact. He was a lot like Emmett in that way. It made me miss my boisterous son even more.

I grudgingly released Alice and stepped forward to shake Peter’s hand.

“Hello, Peter, Charlotte. It is a pleasure to see you again.”

“Then why don’t I get a hug?” he countered.

Charlotte cuffed him around the ear. “Ignore him Carlisle, he’s as lacking in usual social graces as usual.”

I liked Peter and Charlotte. Peter’s rowdy nature was balanced by Charlotte gentle one. Their occasional visits, when my family was whole, were always something to look forward to. Now the pleasure was marred by our situation.

“Garrett is here too,” Alice said. “We dropped him off in town so he could hunt, but he should be here soon.”

“Yes, Garrett,” Esme said thoughtfully. “You say he had met someone that mentioned Carlisle?”

“Yes,” Alice said slowly. “This is where things get a little odd. Shall we go inside?”

I gestured our guests in ahead of us and then walked in myself. I fed the roaring fireplace and then settled on a loveseat beside Esme. She sighed contentedly. Having Jasper and Alice home was doing her the world of good.

“So, you mentioned a strange vampire on the phone,” I said. “Would you care to elaborate?”

Alice began the explanation. “A few months ago we saw Garrett, and he told us about a vampire he had met. I guess she is a little unhinged as she seems to think she is still human.”

“That’s so sad,” Esme said, holding a hand to her chest. “The poor thing.”

“That’s what we thought,” Alice said, nodding. “We were going to track her down, but Garrett said she’s really jumpy. He went back to her himself, hoping his familiarity would help. It did. He was able to get her talking, and that’s when she mentioned you, Carlisle.”

“What exactly did she say?” I asked.

“She said… she said she killed your mate.”

Intellectually I knew Esme was fine. I could feel her in my arms, and I could smell her scent in the air. But those words still sent a thrill of horror through me. My grip around her tightened until it was almost painful for us both. She patted my hand understandingly.

“Well, I am obviously fine,” she said. “Something must have happened to this poor girl to confuse her. I think the bigger issue here is how she came to be left alone in such a state, and how we can help her.”

“I’ve got a feeling that there was more Garrett wasn’t telling us,” Jasper said. “I say we wait for him to get here before we make any decisions.”

“I agree,” I said.

Esme nodded absently. She was staring at the mantelpiece where our family photographs were presented. Rosalie and Emmett at their most recent wedding. Esme and I at a hospital benefit. Alice and Jasper on a hunting trip in Denali. And finally, Edward and Bella at their junior prom. It helped us to have these images of our family when they were not, and in one case could not be, here with us in person.  

“Have you heard anything from Em and Rose?” he asked.

“We called them shortly after we spoke to you, but we haven’t heard anything back,” I said.

Alice concentrated for a moment on some future scene, and then snapped back to the present with a smile. “They’re going to be calling soon. They’ve been hunting for the past few days and will check their messages in an a couple of hours. Emmett will get told off for forgetting his phone.”

I smiled ruefully. These little scenes used to be our life; now they were brief glimpses into a happier time.

While we waited for Garrett to arrive we caught up on news we had missed. There wasn’t much to share, as none of us had been doing anything of interest. I was working at Columbia Memorial hospital, but finding little joy in the work. Jasper and Alice had done little other than move from town to town with Peter and Charlotte. Soon silence fell over us and we stared at the clocks waiting for time to pass.

“Alice,” I asked tentatively. “Have you seen anything of… him.”

Edward’s name had become a taboo among us just as Bella’s had. He was in our thoughts as always, but to speak of him was to open ourselves up to the pain of his absence. We were all grieving a man that still lived.

“Nothing positive,” she said sadly. “I only see him when he hunts, as the rest of the time the wolves block me. He looks… Well, he’s hunting at least.”

I knew that she edited her words for Esme’s sake. It didn’t take much to imagine how he would look now. Broken. It was comforting to know he was hunting at least. When he left Bella after her debacle of a birthday party he had lost himself in the misery so much that he abstained from hunting. When we greeted them from the plane after Bella and Alice’s rescue, his eyes had been pitch black and deeply shadowed.

Jasper shot me a glance. He was no doubt feeling the pain accompanying the thoughts of Edward. I immediately directed my thoughts to the happiness I felt having him and Alice home with us. There was no need for him to suffer more than he already was.

After another hour of stilted conversation, the sounds of Garrett approach could be heard. I had not seen him for seventy years. The last time was shortly before Alice and Jasper found us. I was very fond of him, and I once hoped that he could be persuaded to make him home with my family. Unfortunately, our sedate life was not enough to sate his thirst for adventure.  

I stood to open the door for him. He greeted me briefly as his eyes raked the room, finally settling on Esme. I realized he was seeking proof of her survival for himself.

“Hello, Garrett,” Esme said, stepping forward.

“Esme.” He sighed with relief. He embraced her and then settled himself in the chair she directed him to.

“I understand you met someone that mentioned me,” I said, hoping to draw an explanation from him.

“Yes, a young girl in the Amazon. I’m guessing they told you she is a little…” His words trailed off as he noticed something on the mantelpiece. His crimson eyes widened. He snatched up the photograph of Edward and Bella. “Who is this?” he demanded.

“That is my son, Edward,” I said, confusion clouding my mind. He knew Edward; he had met him before..

“No, not him. The girl.” He tapped a finger against Bella’s flushed cheek, captured on the glossy paper.

“That’s Bella,” Jasper said. 

“This is Bella? The human girl you told me about?” he asked.

Jasper nodded, his expression thoughtful. “Why?”

“Because this is the girl I met in the Amazon. Your Bella is the crazy vampire.”

Chapter Text

Esme POV

Her head lowered at an excruciatingly slow pace towards my neck. I struggled for all I was worth, but she had me pinned in place. I couldn’t die here. I had to fight. I needed to keep myself safe for Carlisle. I had to defend Bella. If I wasn’t here, there would only be an injured werewolf between her and my daughter.

Bella called out to my attacker. “Victoria!”

The eyes of everyone snapped to her just in time to see her drag the shard of rock down her arm, spilling her precious blood onto the snow. The scent reached me, but it had no draw to me. I had never been more in control of my bloodlust than in that moment. My daughter, my brave child, was bleeding to save me.

Victoria was torn with indecision. She wanted to finish me, but the call of Bella’s blood was too much for her. She slammed my head against the ground, hard. Spots danced before my eyes, and I was momentarily stunned. It was a moment too long. When I jumped to my feet, I saw Victoria disappearing through the trees with Bella slung over her shoulder.

“Bella!” I screamed her name to the skies as I ran after them. I had never pushed myself so hard in all my life, but I was not fast enough. With cruel abruptness, my every sense was cut off.

I failed her.

The memories of my greatest failure merged into a new scene. Bella cowering against a rock with horror filled eyes. Crimson eyes. Scared eyes. Insane eyes.

No!

Someone was screaming, and I wished they would stop. The couch beneath me felt like it was shaking.

“Shhh, Esme, everything is all right, my love,” Carlisle crooned in my ear.

I realized the screams were my own, and they cut off abruptly. They were replaced by choking sobs. I leaned into Carlisle’s chest and hid my face behind my hair. I didn’t want to be seen falling apart like this, but I couldn’t help it.

The room was in chaos. I could hear someone shouting, demanding information, and someone else sobbing. I tried to force myself to look up, but it was impossible. I wanted to stay here, sheltered in my husband’s arms forever. 

Reality intervened in the form of a thin pair of arms encircling my waist and a head resting against my knees. Alice came to me for comfort. I enveloped her in my arms and ran my hand through her inky hair in soothing strokes.

“I can’t believe it, Mom,” Her voice was clouded with sadness. “It can’t be true.”

“Of course it isn’t.” There was no trace of doubt in my tone.

“I’m telling you it is!” Garrett’s voice forced me to look up. He was still clutching the photo frame in his hands, but now he held it against his chest, hiding the image of my children from my eyes.

Jasper launched himself at him and pinned him to the wall with one hand at his throat. His lips were curled back over his teeth in a harsh snarl. “Tell me exactly what happened!”

Jasper slammed Garrett’s head against the wall when he didn’t immediately answer. The drywall crumbled against the force, and dust settled on Garrett’s shoulders. I should have been unhappy that Jasper was treating our guest like this, but I didn’t care. In fact, I wanted to join the fray myself, to hurt Garrett the way his words were hurting me.

“I told you already,” Garrett said. “She’s crazy!”

“Stop saying that!” Alice shrieked, jumping to her feet and advancing on Garrett.

Peter put a hand on Jasper’s shoulder. “I know this is a shock, but you need to calm down. Garrett will tell you it all; you don’t need to hurt him.”

Peter understood Jasper in a way none of us, not even Alice, could. They had fought together in the Southern Wars, and Peter knew how to manage Jasper when he was angered like this. My quiet son was gone and replaced with a furious vampire. I was seeing the man he had been then, and for the first time since he had arrived on our doorstep, covered in scars, I felt a frisson of fear looking at him. 

Jasper took a calming breath and released Garrett. Stepping back, he extended a hand to shake. “I apologize, Garrett.”

“It is understandable, my friend. I imagine you are feeling quite the emotional turmoil at the moment.”

I immediately felt guilty. Jasper would have been assaulted by all of our emotions as we processed what Garrett had said. I had to be difficult for him. I concentrated on calming myself. It was not easy to do. Despite the fact I knew Garrett was wrong—though apparently Alice and Jasper at least believed him—the mention of Bella caused an emotional reaction.

Garrett looked down at the photograph in his hands. The silver frame was bent and the glass smashed. He handed it to me, looking apologetic. The glass had cut through Bella’s face in a harsh line, splitting her beautiful face in two. I cradled it against my chest as if it were the actual person rather than an image. We could easily print another copy of the picture. The damage was unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and yet it hurt me to see her face torn.

Alice left my arms and flitted to Jasper’s side. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him.

“Please, tell us what happened,” Carlisle implored. “Why do you think the girl you met is Bella?”

Garrett crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t think; I know. I’m telling you this”—he pointed at the photograph in my hands—“is the girl I met. She is a vampire now, but she doesn’t look all that different; same hair, same wide eyes.”

“Which doesn’t prove anything.” I didn’t want to even contemplate the possibility.

“Please,” Carlisle repeated, “just tell us what you know.”

Garrett sighed heavily. “I first saw her over a year ago. I didn’t know she was cr–”

Jasper growled low in his throat.

“Fine.” Garrett let out an exasperated huff. “I didn’t know she was special, then. She ran from me, and I tried to follow; but when I realized I was scaring her, I left her to it. She kept returning to my thoughts, though. I thought of her for a year before I was drawn back to the place. When I found her again, I realized her differences. This human thing isn’t just a quirk, it’s ingrained. She eats, she drinks, she warms herself by the damn fire.”

I shuddered at the thought. How much damage had to be inflicted to warp a vampire’s mind so completely? Who and what we were was undeniable. Our instincts led us to feed from blood. How did this girl resolve that in her mind while still eating human food?

“I stayed awhile, but I could see having me there was just hurting her, so I left. That’s when I met with you guys”—he looked to Jasper and Alice—“and told you what happened. As you remember, you felt bad for the girl so I offered to go back. When I saw her the last time, I was able to get her talking. That was when she mentioned Carlisle and Esme.”

“What exactly did she say?” Carlisle asked.

Garrett looked uncomfortable. “She mentioned your name and said that she had killed your mate.”

Jasper crossed his arms over his chest and fixed Garrett in his steely glare. “And the rest.”

Garrett sighed heavily. “I asked her what she remembered, and she said she remembered to hide. Her exact words were ‘If I don’t hide, he will kill me. He will know you saw me, and he will come. He never lies.’ She meant you, Carlisle. She believes you are going to kill her.”

Carlisle dropped his head into his hands and moaned low in his throat. Before he hid his face, I caught a glimpse of his expression. To anyone else, he would look thoughtful but calm; I knew better. I recognized the expression. It was the same mask he wore when Edward left us, when Alice and Jasper, and then Rosalie and Emmett, came to us and told us they were leaving. It was the face he wore when his heart was breaking but he couldn’t show it. I took his hand and pulled him to his feet, nestling into his embrace once more.

“This proves it, though,” I said. “It can’t be Bella. She would never believe Carlisle capable of hurting her.”

Alice whimpered. “She must have been so scared.”

Jasper pulled her into his arms, and she sobbed quietly into his chest. I wanted to go and comfort her, but Carlisle was hurting, and he needed me more.

“She’s still scared,” Garrett said. “She’s scared of her own shadow. I know you are all dealing with a lot, and I’m sorry for my part in this; but you have to understand me, this girl is your Bella.”

For the first time since this nightmare began, I allowed myself to consider the possibility that Garrett may be right, that somehow Bella had found her way back to us. It was painful to even think of her as Garrett described the girl, but I forced my mind to face the facts. We had never found Bella’s body; we all believed her drowned and swept out to sea—Aro’s story corroborated it—but we knew already knew that the Volturi had interfered with our pursuit of Bella and Victoria. Could it be…? Could she be…?

Without thought, I began to pace. Carlisle allowed me a circuit of the room before he caught me and pulled me into his arms again. It seemed he was as loathe to break contact as I was.

“Carlisle,” I began hesitantly, “who else could it be? Who else have we met that could be so damaged?”

I saw the answer in his eyes before he spoke. “No one.”

My knees buckled and suddenly it was only Carlisle’s arms that were holding me upright. I didn’t understand how or why, but I knew it was right. Our Bella was out there somewhere. Alive.

Suddenly, everything changed. The pain and fear that had enveloped me were gone and replaced with hope and happiness. Bella was alive.

“Alive!”

I didn’t realize I spoke the last word aloud until I saw everyone’s eyes on me.

 “Alive and broken,” Garrett said. “You have to understand just how grave the situation is. She is not the girl that you knew; she is a vampire now, and she is obviously damaged.”

I nodded. Of course, she was damaged. The separation must have been as hard on her as it had been hard on us. With this new information about her state of mind, I knew that she must have gone through hell. What else would cause her psyche to break like that? Once she was with us again, we could help her; we could heal her. It would take time, but my family would be together. Things could be right again.”

 “We have to tell Edward.” The thought of it alone was enough to lift my sadness.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Jasper said.

“Of course it is,” I was already reaching for the phone “We will call Sam Uley and ask him to take a phone out to Edward. Or should we go to him first. Perhaps that will be best. He will have so many questions. Garrett you will need to come too.” I felt a wave of excitement. He was going to be so happy. My son had been left broken by Bella’s loss; with her found he would be healed. 

I imagined his tortured face transforming into bliss as he heard of his love’s return from perceived death. He would be so happy.

“Wait, my love.” Carlisle took the phone from my hand and pocketed it. “We need to proceed with caution. We need to see Bella first. If we are mistaken, and we tell him she is alive...well, I don’t know that I will be able to refuse him again.”

I knew exactly what he meant. If Edward asked again, Carlisle would help him meet his end. He had questioned his choice again and again over the months we had been alone. I was physically able to give Edward what he wanted, but, selfishly, I never even considered the possibility of aiding him myself. I didn’t want to live in a world where he was not.

“We have to be sure,” Jasper agreed. “Before we tell him anything, before we tell anyone anything. Emmett and Rose included. They can’t know the truth. Think what happened last time. Rose won’t be able to stop herself. If there is even a chance of Bella being alive she will tell Edward in hopes of bringing the family together again.”

He was right, of course. I loved Rosalie with all my heart, but she could not be relied upon to keep this to herself. She would tell Edward.

“Very well, we will go to Bella ourselves and make sure it is her,” I said. “Where is she, Garrett?”

“She has her little camp set up near the Serra Do Cachimbo Mountains. I can take you there; it’s a hard place to find.”

“We will, of course, be most grateful for any assistance you can give us,” Carlisle said. 

Alice pulled out a laptop and began searching for flights south. She opened her mouth to ask a question and then shook her head. “Jasper, Garrett is going to need a passport.”

“On it.” Jasper headed for the library where our equipment for creating identities was situated. We were all adept at forgery, but Jasper was the best.

I went to the bedroom to pack up a bag of clothes for us.

I heard footsteps following me. Carlisle. He sat on the edge of the bed while I flitted to the closet to gather the necessaries.

I would need to pack clothes for Bella, too. I didn’t know the exact conditions she was living in, but I doubted she had a surplus of clothes. I examined my clothes carefully. Bella and I were close to the same size, though I was taller; I could easily adapt some of my own for her.

I was just selecting some pants for her when a sound behind me caught my attention. It was a choked gasping sound. I turned in time to see Carlisle fold over with his head on his knees. Sobs were breaking from him.

I gasped and hurried to his side. “Carlisle! What is it?”

I had seen him cry before but never like this. It was as if he was breaking before my eyes. There was no sign of my innately calm husband; he was given over completely to his pain.

I knelt on the floor in front of him and cupped his cheeks in my hands.

“What is it, my love?”

“My fault,” he moaned. “All my fault.”

“How is any of this your fault?”

“I wished it, and now God is punishing me.” He words became indecipherable as another round of sobs broke over him.

I moved him so he was lying on the bed and curled up beside him so our foreheads were touching. I soothed him as best I could and waited for the pain to run its course. He pulled me close to him and hid his face in my hair.

After an indeterminable amount of time, he quieted, and the only sound in the room was our breathing.

“Do you want to talk about it?” My voice was muffled slightly as he had me held close to his neck. “Why would you think this is your fault?”

He straightened to a sitting position and pulled me up so I was curled into his chest. I knew he had positioned us this way intentionally so I could not see his face. He took a deep breath and began to speak.

“I am not a good man.”

I hurried to correct him, but he pressed a finger to my lips to silence me. I kissed his fingers and intertwined our hands.

“I am not a good man as I should be. I prayed for many things these past two years. I prayed for our family to be whole again. I prayed for Edward to forgive me. I prayed for the pain of Bella’s loss to pass from us all. And I prayed for Bella’s soul to pass into heaven. I also wished. I wished that we had never met Bella Swan, as through her our lives have been destroyed.”

I was momentarily stunned. I knew he prayed and assumed it was for our family. I had done the same. Since the day we lost Bella, I had prayed. I bargained, begged, and pleaded with every deity I knew for something to bring Bella back to us and my family home. On the bad days, I prayed through my sobs, and on the good days, I prayed with stoic determination. I never imagined Carlisle was doing the same, but for a very different thing. I almost felt betrayed.

“I can see it in your eyes,” he said. “You understand what I have done. God answered our prayers, but he has punished me too. I wished we had never met Bella, and now she has been returned to us, but she is broken and damaged.”

“Carlisle Cullen, you are thinking too much of yourself.” I removed myself from his arms and stared him in the eye. “Do you really believe God would do that to you? You know better.”

He quirked an eyebrow and smiled wryly. “I think too much of myself?”

“Yes, you do. You are not omnipotent. Whatever has happened to Bella, it is not your doing or God’s. He answers prayers; he does not use one of his own to punish.”

“But I wished it.”

“The wishes of a grieving father. The day we lost Bella, we lost Edward too. You understand the stages of grief. What you did was bargaining in hopes of returning one of our children. It is understandable.”  

He leaned forward and pressed a chaste kiss to my lips. “I adore you, Esme Cullen. You always know what to say.”

“That’s not entirely true,” I said fixing my eyes on our intertwined hands. “I don’t know what I am going to say to Bella.”

Chapter Text

Jasper POV

I watched Alice like a hawk throughout our long journey south. She had barely shown the depth of her feelings regarding all that had happened and I wanted to be ready for the moment she finally broke. I thought her restraint thus far was because of Esme. She had broken down completely at the news and Alice had supported her instead of allowing her own feelings to take over.

As for my own feelings… I didn’t know how to feel.

Bella was alive. Unlike Alice, Esme and Carlisle, I didn’t have any moment of denial. I knew as soon as Garrett told us, that it was true. If anyone could come back from the dead to us it was Bella; the girl was extraordinary. But it was if my reactions were frozen. Alice took priority, closely followed by the rest of my family. Perhaps when I saw Bella again I would feel something.

I had no great bond with the newest member of my family. I had always kept my distance to for her safety. The moment I grew overconfident with my strength—her damn birthday party—was the moment I almost killed her. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it was that I was scared to. I had relied on her change to allow me the chance to get to know her properly, but all that went to shit the day she was stolen away. Now she was a vampire, and I had my chance at last, but it was complicated by what Garrett had told us. She was crazy.

This situation wasn’t new to me. I had once encountered an insane vampire when I was in Maria’s coven. A girl had been bitten by a newborn but the feeding was interrupted by a brawl. The girl suffered a much longer change than usual, and somehow during that her mind had been broken. She too believed she was human, though in her case it was different. She didn’t exhibit the same signs Garrett mentioned of Bella, but she lived in terror of the other vampires around her. She saw herself as a human captured by monsters and begged constantly to be allowed home to her family. Peter made a good case for her recovery—he believed if she could be forced to accept that she was a vampire her mind would be healed—but he never got the chance to try. In Maria’s coven newborns were for fighting, nothing else. The insane girl was destroyed within her first week as a vampire.

While Alice packed up our bags to take south, Peter and I had spoken briefly.

“You know what this reminds me of,” he said.

I frowned but nodded. I didn’t like to think of Bella in comparison to that poor girl that had shrieked and sobbed begging for release. “You think it will work?”

“I’m sure of it, Jasper. We never got a chance before, but if, God forbid, your Bella is like that girl, we can fix it.”

I drew comfort from his confidence. Peter was not gifted, but he seemed to have an innate understanding of people. It was that understanding that led him to befriend me in the first place. He later told me it was because he saw the darkness beginning to settle over me, and knew he could help. He was right, he did help me, and not just by showing me the peaceful life.

The final leg of our journey was made by a small charter plane to the Alta Floresta Airport. From there we had to go on foot to the mountains. Personally, I was looking forward to the chance to stretch my legs. Two days of airports, planes and humans had done their work on me and I needed to hunt to ease the low burn in my throat. Luckily the Amazon was the perfect place for hunting. There was a wealth of suitable wildlife for us.

It was twilight when we landed, which was fortunate, as the airport was small and there was nowhere we could feasibly lurk as we waited for the sun to set. Shouldering our backpacks we headed out into the city. Soon we were within the cover of the forest and we could leave the human pace behind and allow ourselves a little speed.

It was good to run together. Alice and I hadn’t had a chance to really run free since we left the Cullens. Though Peter and Charlotte accommodated us by staying within range of forests for us to hunt, they were not the same as the Alaskan tundra. With our hands intertwined, we ran together.

Garrett led the way. I knew when we were reaching our destination as he slowed his pace. Coming to a stop he crossed his arms over his chest. “We’re almost there. I need one of you to hunt and bring back the carcass.”

“Whatever for?” Carlisle asked.

“Because the last time I saw her I brought her food and that was the only thing that got her out of her cave to talk. Given the way our last meeting ended I am going to need to stack the odds in my favor.”

I didn’t know how they had parted last time, but I imagined it was not a friendly goodbye. Bella had just told him Esme was dead and that she had killed her. Had I been him I would have struggled not to kill her.

We all needed to hunt so we separated and headed in opposing directions. We tended to go alone for the actual hunt, the only exception being mates. Alice and I liked to hunt close to each other, only leaving enough distance to allow the other dominance over their own kill.

I caught the scent trail of a jaguar and my mouth flooded with venom. It would not be nearly as satisfying as human blood, but it would sate the burn better than the deer that was all I had been able to hunt recently.

When I was done with my hunt, and my throat was back to a low burn, I shouldered the carcass of the jaguar and searched for Alice’s scent. I found her sitting on the forest floor curled into a ball with her chin resting on her knees. I dropped the jaguar and sat down beside her wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“What’s wrong?” I cursed the words as soon as they left my lips.

She raised her head slowly and gazed at me. “Everything.”

I kissed her hair and pulled her a little closer to me. “I’m sorry, darlin’.”

“I just keep thinking of all the things we missed and wondering what happened to her.”

None of us had spoken about how Bella came to be the way she was. I had my suspicions, but I was not going to raise them until we were all ready to talk about it. With my gift I had added insight into how we were all coping and no one was ready for that conversation.

I heard the sounds of the others talking and knew they were done with their hunts. As unprepared as I was, I knew it was time to see Bella. 

I picked up my jaguar and Alice’s ocelot and we walked together back to meet with the others.

Garrett was standing with a drained deer and tapir at his feet: Esme and Carlisle’s kills. I dropped ours down in front of them.

He considered and the picked up the deer. “This’ll do for her. You can get rid of these.”

“I always wondered about that.” Peter grinned mischievously. “Do you hold a funeral for them?”

I rolled my eyes. “Very funny, Pete.”

Carlisle demonstrated our means of disposing with our meals by lifting a tree from the ground and kicking the carcasses down into the hollow. With a crashing sound, he planted the tree back into its root-bed.

I waited for Garrett to set out as our guide once again, but he didn’t move. He clasped his hands together and stared at us each in turn.

“Before we go the rest of the way, we need to talk about some things. I know you are all eager to see her again, but you have to let me lead. If you go barreling up to her, like I know you want to, you are going to scare her. If you scare her it will take that much longer for her to come out again.”

“Of course,” Carlisle said. “We will follow your lead.”

We each nodded our agreement, and Garrett set out again. We had gone a few miles when a new scent crossed our path. I inhaled deeply. It was a vampire scent, sweet and inviting, with a definite floral undertone. A lot like I imagined Bella’s scent would be.

I felt a pang of sadness from my side. I looked down to see Alice biting her lip. She caught my eye and forced a smile. I squeezed her hand a little tighter.

Suddenly, Garrett came to an abrupt halt. “We’re here.”

We were standing at the edge of a small break in the trees. The canopy overhead stretched out to block the sky from our view. It could once have been a human’s campsite, or perhaps Bella had created it for herself. There was a circle of logs acting as benches, surrounding a dying campfire. Lying over a boulder were clothes so tattered and darkened by dirt that there was no knowing what color they had originally been. So far everything I saw supported Garrett’s story.

The tension from Esme, Carlisle, Garrett and Alice was immense, and it made me uncomfortable. Peter was radiating his signature calm, and so I latched onto his emotional climate to ease my discomfort.

“We need to move back a bit,” Garrett said when we had all got a good look at the camp. “She doesn’t seem as attuned to her senses as you would expect, but even a human would be able to see us here.” He led us back through the trees to a place we could still see the clearing.  

The canopy of the trees successfully blocked all light from the sun, but looking up I saw the slight lightening at the very tops of the trees. It was morning.

As if the sun’s arrival had beckoned her I heard movement inside the cave, and out stepped a vampire.

A wave of mingled sadness and shock rolled over me.

It was Bella. There was no question.

She looked almost exactly as she had done the last time I had seen her, with only the slightest enhancements from the venom. Her skin was paler than before, but only slightly—she didn’t have much color to begin with. Her features had been smoothed and perfected, giving her the trademark beauty of our kind.

“Oh my.” Carlisle’s voice was barely audible. He stared wide-eyed and slack jawed at Bella. Esme’s face was covered by her hands, but her eyes were shining with joy. 

I heard a stifled sob from Alice, and I hurried to comfort her. She was poised on the tips of her toes with her hands clasped in front of her. She was fighting the urge to run to Bella now.

The shock and sadness faded quickly and was replaced by wonder and happiness. She was really here, we had found her.

All this I cataloged in seconds as Bella stepped out of the cave. I knew what to expect, Garrett had told us it all in detail as we travelled south, but nothing could have prepared me fully for what I was seeing.

She extended her arms over her head and stretched as if easing aching muscles. She rinsed her mouth with water and then stoked her fire into a roaring blaze. Then she looked around the small camp as if searching for something.

“That’s my cue,” Garrett whispered.

He picked up the deer and made his noisy path toward Bella’s camp. At the sound of his footsteps she squeaked in alarm and disappeared into her cave.

“It’s okay, beautiful,” Garrett called. “It’s only me.”

Beautiful? Edward was not going to like that.

He dropped the deer down on the floor beside Bella’s fire and sank down onto a log. “I brought breakfast.”

There was quiet sounds of movement from inside the cave, but Bella did not show herself again.

“I’m sorry for how I acted last time,” Garrett said. “You caught me off guard. I have good news though.”

There was a gasp from inside the cave and all sounds of movement cut off. “W-w-w-what?”

The voice was as smooth and clear as any vampire voice, but it was still Bella’s. I focused my gift on her and felt her stress. She was waiting on tenterhooks for Garrett to speak again.

“If you come out we can talk properly,” he said.

I felt Bella’s indecision, then slowly, ever so slowly, she emerged to the mouth of the cave again.

“There you are,” Garrett said in a jovial tone. “I brought you something to eat.” He nudged the drained deer with his toe.

“Thank you.” The words seemed automatic.

Garrett settled back on the log looking completely at ease. I knew better; he was actually very tense. “Do you want to hear my news?”

Bella’s eyes slowly rose to meet his and she shrugged. I could feel how uncomfortable she was having him so close, but she was fighting it. I wished I knew why. I could feel another’s emotions, but the reasoning behind it was sometimes a mystery.  

“Beautiful, I need you to know you can trust me.” Garrett said ??? of nothing.

“I know,” she said with complete indifference in her tone. “You didn’t kill me.”

“Of course, I didn’t. Why would I kill you?”

“Because I made you angry.” She hugged her arms around her chest. “You wanted to kill me. I could see it in your eyes.”

“Yes, but I didn’t, and now I am back again, and I brought you food.”

Bella nodded and pulled the deer towards her cautiously, as if expecting Garrett to snatch it away from her at any moment. She disappeared into the cave for a moment and then reappeared holding a shard of stone. With practiced movements she skinned a hind leg of the deer and began removing meat from the flank.

“Why are you back?” Though she asked the question there was no real curiosity in her. She could have been delivering lines from a script.

“Because I have good news, and I thought you should hear it. I went to see some old friends.”

“That’s nice,” she said with a vague smile. 

“It was nice. I got a pleasant surprise when I saw Carlisle.”

She gasped. “Carlisle!” She skittered back into the cave again, lurking just out of sight in the darkness. 

“Hey now, there is no need to be scared. I promise I won’t hurt you.”

She laughed without humor. “Is he coming now, or do I go to him?”

I heard a low moan from Carlisle. I had been so absorbed in watching Bella and Garrett that I had almost forgotten that I had company. Alice had a hand held to her mouth as if blocking the words that wanted to fall forth. Esme was curled against Carlisle, taking comfort in his touch.

Garrett considered for a long moment. Weighting the cost telling the truth or lying to her. He decided on redirection.

“You think Esme is dead?”

There was a long silence. I had almost decided she wasn’t going to talk again when she answered him. “They told me so.”

I wondered who they were. Whoever it was had to be the ones that had done this to her.

“They lied,” Garrett said simply.

Bella looked at him with a curious expression. It was almost pitying. “Esme was your friend?”

Garrett nodded. “Esme is a very dear friend.”

Esme smiled. I had yet to meet someone that Esme knew that didn’t think of her as a dear friend; there was something about her that drew you in.

“I didn’t want to believe it either,” she said. “I didn’t want to know I had killed her.”  

“You didn’t kill her. Garrett was growing impatient. “I saw Esme and she is fine. Well, maybe not fine, but she definitely alive.”

“That’s nice.”

Bella didn’t believe him, I could tell, but she seemed to have decided to humor him for now. It was maddening. There was so much we needed to know, but unless we could convince her that Esme was still alive there was no way we would be able to get close enough to question her.

Garrett sighed heavily. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“There is something that I need to show you,” he said.

He got to his feet and came to our hiding place. Shrugging in a defeated manner he raised his hands. “Well, I tried, but as you can see there is no convincing her.”

“Perhaps if she saw me,” Esme suggested.

“We risk losing her altogether,” I warned. “I can feel her emotions and there is nothing stable there. If we scare her we may break her altogether.”

“What do you suggest?” Garrett said.

“I think we should start with someone else,” Peter said. “No offence, Garrett, but she doesn’t know you. If we get someone else, like Alice, to tell her the truth she may believe us.”

“Are you willing to try?” Carlisle asked Alice.

She was more than willing, she was desperate to go to Bella now.

She nodded enthusiastically. “Absolutely.”

I had an uneasy sense of foreboding. Something in this didn’t feel right. I couldn’t help but think we were missing something.

“You will need to go slow with her,” Garrett said. “Just let her see you at first.”

“And be prepared for her to run,” Peter said. 

“And keep your distance,” I advised. “She may not believe it, but she is a vampire now. She could hurt you.”

“Okay, okay, I got it!” Alice said with an impatient huff. “I know what I am doing.”

I was not happy about this, but I knew that there was no talking Alice out of it. She was determined to get to her friend. Even if Peter hadn’t suggested this plan, she would have found another excuse to approach Bella.

I embraced her, taking deep lungfuls of her scent to comfort me. She wriggled out of my grasp and pecked me on the cheek.

“I’ll be fine, Jazz. It’s Bella.”

She turned and started towards the camp where Bella was spearing chunks of deer meat onto a piece of wood. She was almost at the edge of the camp when Bella looked up and smiled.

“Hello, Alice. I’ve missed you.” 

 

Chapter Text

Alice POV

My breath caught in my throat as she smiled at me. She was even more beautiful than the vision I had of her all those years ago. I couldn’t believe she was really alive. I wanted to reach out and touch her to make sure that she was real.

“Hello, Alice. I’ve missed you.” 

I paused mid-step. This was unexpected. I had prepared myself for different reactions; her running from her; her attacking me; even her ignoring me completely, but I couldn’t have expected this. From the way she spoke, I could have been away for a few minutes not the two years it had really been. Two years of pain and sadness, of believing her dead. This friendly greeting felt a little anti-climactic.

“Hey, Bella.” Though I tried to sound normal, the emotion of the moment made my voice a little shaky.

She looked at me with concern. “You okay?”

“I’m fine, Bella. I’m just really happy.” Just being able to say her name again felt better than I could have imagined. We all avoided saying it whenever possible. The pain was always there, so why add to it?

I walked into her camp slowly and perched on a log the opposite side of the fire to her. I wanted to be closer — I wanted to throw my arms around her, but caution whispered to me. Something was definitely amiss here, and I couldn’t be sure how she would react.

“Are you hungry?” She gestured to the speared meat she was holding over the fire.

I shook my head. “I hunted before I arrived.”

“Oh, right, hunting.” Her brow creased for a moment. “I forget sometimes. Things get muddled.”

That was obvious. I hadn’t seen her for two years, and yet she didn’t seem to realize it had been that long. Muddled didn’t seem a strong enough word for what was happening here.

“Bella, what happened to you?” The question was torn from me without forethought. I had to know. “Do you even remember?”

She rolled her eyes. "What do you mean what happened to me?”

“How did you come to be living like this?”

“How else should I live? I am doing what they said; I’m hiding. I haven’t broken the rules… Oh.” She looked stricken. The meat she was holding over the fire dropped into the flames. “Oh, I see. That’s why you are here again. I broke the rules. I let the man see me.”

She edged back towards the mouth of the cave. I was worried she was going to disappear inside again, and I couldn’t bear that. Not after all this time.

“Please don’t go,” I said hurriedly. “I know about Garrett; he’s a friend. You didn’t do anything wrong by letting him see you.”

“Do you promise?” Her tone was childlike.  

I nodded. “No one is going to hurt you.”

She shook her head sadly. “They always hurt me, but it’s worth it if I get to see you.”

“Who hurts you?” I demanded.

Every time she spoke, it seemed to add more mystery to this screwed up situation. I thought I was getting answers when in fact the only thing I was getting was more questions.

She smiled apologetically. “Jasper.”

I heard a quiet hiss from behind me that cut off abruptly. I didn’t turn to see what was happening; if they wanted me back there, then they would have to drag me away kicking and screaming. I was finally getting her to talk. 

“Jasper what?” I asked.

“Jasper hurts me. Sometimes Carlisle too, but usually just Jasper.”

Her tone was completely void of emotion; she could have been describing her favorite flower rather than accusing the love of my life and my father of hurting her. It was ridiculous, beyond ridiculous; it was insane.

About as insane as a vampire living like a human? a small and unwelcomed voice whispered in my mind.

No. That was wrong. I knew neither Jasper nor Carlisle had hurt Bella. But I also knew Bella was confused. Damaged, even. If she truly believed it was them that hurt her, it would make our situation even more precarious than before. 

“What do they do to you?” I asked

She edged ever closer to her cave and shook her head frantically.

I hurried to reassure her. “Okay, okay, you don’t have to tell me about that. Tell me what you can, though. How did you end up living here? I don’t remember.”

“I’m not sure. It gets confusing. There was the woman that took me, and then the people that watched. Then Carlisle and Jasper were there—I remember them—then they went away again. Sometimes there is the dark-hair man, and I have to do as I am told, and the white-hair man that stares—he scares me.” She shuddered slightly, looking about the camp as if expecting the ‘white-haired man’ to spring out from behind a tree. “I remember the woman with the pictures. I like her. After the dark man told me the rules, she brought me here. Carlisle told me the rules first, though.”

“And what are the rules?” I asked, disregarding the mention of Carlisle for now.

“I have to live, I have to run, and I have to hide,” she recited. “It’s my punishment; he said so.”

“Punishment for what?” I asked automatically.

She looked troubled. “For killing you, of course.”

Cold prickles of fear crept through me. Not my own, I realized after a moment. Jasper was projecting. I concentrated on feeling calm and hoped it would help him relax a little. It didn’t work. The fear didn’t lessen; instead, it seemed to be becoming more dominant. I turned back and looked through the trees. The others were so far back that they looked like mere shadows to my eyes. I was not surprised Bella hadn’t noticed us. I could only see them because I knew what I was looking for. I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring way and then returned my attention to Bella.

“Bella, I’m not dead; I’m right here.”

She rolled her eyes. It was such an endearingly familiar gesture that I smiled. “I know that; I can see you. Why can I see you, and he can’t?”  

Hell if I know, I thought. I don’t even know who he is.

“How often do you see me?” I wanted to know more about this delusion she lived in. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time I had visited her here, so I had to wonder how often she conversed with a hallucination.

She seemed to consider the question carefully. “I’m not sure. Days are hard to follow here. Not too often, though. Not as much as I would like, even though it hurts after.”

I felt a pang of sadness. I was hurting her by being here. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She frowned. “Then don’t go. Maybe if he sees you too, he won’t hurt me anymore.”

“Who is he, Bella? Tell me who is hurting you so I can protect you.”

“No.” She shook her head rapidly. “I can’t ask that. He’s your Jasper; you can’t protect me.”

“Jasper! You want Jasper to see me?”

She nodded. “He misses you so much.”

If she wanted Jasper to see me,  it could be easily achieved; he was standing just out of sight. I could bring him here now.

No sooner had I made the decision, a vision flashed through my mind. Bella cowering in terror against the wall of her cave.  

That wouldn’t work. I considered my options. The idea, when it came, seemed so obvious I smacked my forehead. I needed Bella to be calm to see Jasper, therefore I needed Jasper. He could keep her calm while we spoke to her.

“Bella, do you trust me?” I asked.

“Always.” She said it with absolute faith. It touched my heart to know that despite the horror of her situation she was still the same Bella as before underneath it all. Still trusting, if at times a little too trusting.  

“I’ll be right back. There is something I want you to see.”

She nodded and began cutting fresh meat from the carcass of the tapir. I got to my feet and hastened back to where the others were concealed. Carlisle and Esme were so closely embraced it was hard to tell where he ended and she began. Soft sobs shook Esme’s shoulders, and Carlisle was staring into the camp with a look of horror. It must have been awful for him and Jasper to hear what Bella was saying. It wasn’t her fault, she clearly believed what she said was true, but it couldn’t have been easy for them to hear.

Jasper greeted me with open arms, and I nestled gratefully into his embrace. His scent calmed me in the same way his gift could. Just being here with him holding me gave me immeasurable comfort after the stress of navigating my conversation with the new Bella. Her telling me how Jasper missed me — even though I knew it was all part of her delusion — hurt me, and feeling him pressed against me was reassuring. 

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

I pulled back a little so I could look him in the eye. “I need Bella to see you. I’m not sure if someone really has been hurting her or if that is part of the delusion, but I do know that she is confused about who it is. She thinks I am a ghost and that you don’t see me. Perhaps if she sees us together and happy, I can convince her that she’s wrong.”

“I’d be happy to give it a try,” he said affably. “Do you want me to work on keeping her calm, too?”

“I don’t think there is any other option. If I’m right, her instinctual reaction to seeing you will be fear. If you can keep her calm enough to stop her running from us, I can try and get through to her.”

“What about us?” Esme asked. “Shouldn’t we come too? She believes I am dead and that Carlisle hurts her; surely it’s just as important for her to see us, too.”

I understood Esme’s need, but I didn’t think it was merely Bella’s welfare that was on her mind. She wanted to talk to Bella too. I could sympathize.

“I think we should start out slow,” Jasper said. “No offence, but you are putting out an impressive amount of anxiety already. If I am to calm Bella, I am going to need to concentrate; and as it is now, I am going to struggle.”

Carlisle caressed Esme’s face, drawing her eyes up to meet his. “We will get our chance, my love. Let Jasper and Alice try first. It’s only a little longer to wait.”

Esme nodded her agreement, even though she didn’t look happy.

“Can you feel her from here?” I asked Jasper.

He nodded. “I could feel her while you were talking. You wouldn’t believe how happy she was when she saw you, Alice. She radiated joy the whole time. Even when she got a little skittered by what you were saying, she was still happy.”

I hugged him a little tighter, silently for thanking him what he was saying. Entwining our hands, we made our way cautiously back to Bella’s camp.

I could feel Jasper sending out his calming waves as we approached. Though he was focusing his gift on Bella, I felt the effects too. A peaceful lethargy swept over me, wiping away the traces of nerves. I could see that it was affecting Bella as well, as she dropped the meat she had been skewering and sat back on her haunches, looking sedately content.

I stepped out of the trees first, and Jasper followed slowly.  

“You came back.” She beamed, and then her expression became troubled as she saw Jasper. She got to her feet, but it wasn’t a swift panicked movement. His influence was slowing her reactions.

“It’s okay, Bella,” I hurried to reassure her. “Jasper isn’t here to hurt you. He just wants to talk.”

She shook her head rapidly. Jasper’s jaw tightened. I could tell Bella was fighting his influence, and he was struggling harder to counteract it.

“Please don’t hurt me!” She stared imploringly at Jasper. “I didn’t mean to do it. I swear I didn’t mean it.”

“I know,” he said in a soft, soothing tone. “I understand.”

She watched him cautiously as he slowly stepped forward and sat down on one of the logs beside the fire. I sat beside him and leaned my head on his arm. Bella mimicked our position on the opposite side of the fire. She hugged her arms around her middle in a defensive pose.  

“Are you going to hurt me?” she asked in a tremulous tone.

Jasper shook his head. “No, Bella, I swear I won’t hurt you.”

An idea occurred to me, and I hurried to test it. “This Jasper is good,” I said. “He’s not the one that hurts you.”

“There’s two?” She was unsure.

I could tell she wanted to believe me, but logic was working against me. It seemed odd that someone who’d lived in a delusion of humanity still had space in her mind for logical thought.

“That’s right. This is my Jasper, and he would never hurt you.”

“Is there another Carlisle, too?”

“Yes, there is. Would you like to see him?”

The steady sounds of breathing I could hear behind us cut off abruptly as we all awaited her answer.  

Jasper traced the word ‘no’ on my arm. He seemed to sense something other in her emotions that warned against.

“Not today?” Her reply sounded like a question.

“Okay, then. Not today.”

I was sure Carlisle and Esme were disappointed, but they would get their chance eventually. We had to move carefully here.

“Bella, can I ask you some questions?” Jasper asked.

She still seemed a little fearful of him as she nodded.

“When you last saw the other me, what happened?”

“You burned me,” she said, wringing her hands. “I didn’t have the right answers. You wanted to know who had seen me.”

So she believed the other Jasper was the one that hurt her. I wondered if this made Jasper a ghost in her mind as she apparently saw me.

“What about the nice Jasper?” I asked. “When did you see him?”

“Before the fight. I remember Jasper telling me a story.” Her face twisted with pain. “He was there too.”

She had to be talking about Edward. I wondered what place he held in her delusion. Was he one of the ones that hurt her too or was he dead like me and Esme? As soon as I asked the question, I knew. What else could have broken her so thoroughly? She had to believe Edward was dead. As much as I knew she loved Esme and I, our deaths would not have been enough to do this to her; it had to be him.

Jasper looked down at me with concern. He noticed my chaotic swarm of contradicting emotions. The thought of how Bella must have suffered believing Edward was dead was heartbreaking, but the hope that came with this revelation made me feel elated. If we could bring Edward here, they could both be healed. I wasn’t so naïve as to believe she just needed a visual confirmation to break the human delusion—her mind was too damaged for that to work—but it would be a start. Just having him close would help her.

I needed to tell Jasper and the others about my realization, but it would have to wait. Bella was responding to Jasper’s questions, and there was still so much I wanted to know. I wondered why she was able to answer his question when all I got from her was cryptic nonsense.

“Bella, can you tell me about the dark-haired man? What does he do to you?” Jasper asked.

“He takes care of me. He lives in the scary place, but he comes to see me sometimes. He comes after the burning stops.” When she spoke again, it was in a strange tone; she was clearly reciting someone else’s words. “It is a kindness that I take care of you, Isabella. You must be thankful for me. You must do as you are told.”

The tone she used was oddly familiar. I searched my mind for a match, but I couldn’t find it. It was clearly a poor imitation of whoever the man was. 

“Bella, do you remember hiding with Esme?”

“I remember Esme protecting me... my fault... The woman with the fire-hair was hurting her.” She began wringing her hands in earnest. It wasn’t enough for her; she began to rock back and forth mumbling. “My fault, all my fault. Poor Esme.”

Jasper concentrated, and a moment later, the rocking ceased.

“Tell us about the woman with the pictures,” I said. “You like her?”

“She is the kind one. She makes me see nice pictures when I have to go to the scary place. Sometimes they are the…”

The rest of her words trailed off as a vision swept away all other thought.

It was the same setting as I was in now, but Bella’s cave was doused in water as rain streamed from the canopy. Three figures in black cloaks were facing my family and friends; there was terror etched on our features. A hulking figure tearing apart a figure. No, not a figure, my Jasper! At his feet was a pile of pieces I recognized as Carlisle and Esme. The final image was of a huge fire with a pillar of purple smoke destroying my family.

I snapped back to the present with a gasping sob. I was standing, and Jasper had my face cupped in his hands. Bella was nowhere to be seen.

“What did you see?” he demanded.  

“Our death.”

Chapter Text

Jane POV

The drawback of an eternal life was boredom.

When you had forever there was not enough to fill the hours. I should have liked someone to torment, but there were no lawbreakers in the castle, and my masters did not like it when I used my gift on the human servants. They did not handle the pain as well as a vampire could, and all too often, their feeble hearts would fail.

For a while, I amused myself by watching the human receptionist quail every time I passed through her area of the castle, but that soon lost its entertaining value. I needed a new challenge.

An idea occurred to me, and I hurried my pace to the throne room.

“Dear one, what is it that you want?” Aro asked, seeing my excitement.

I held out my hand in offering to him Aro preferred to communicate through thoughts, and I was always happy to oblige.

He took my proffered hand in his and closed his eyes for a moment as my thoughts flowed to him. There was little new in my mind for him to see, having been read by him just the day before. It took only a moment for him to find the right idea.

“Ahhh, Jane, you are feeling out of sorts.” He sighed heavily. “I think you are quite right; a visit to Isabella is just the tonic. Would you like to take Alec with you?”

My brother smiled wickedly. He enjoyed anguish and suffering as much as I did. Also, it was more convenient to have a partner when dealing with Isabella. She did not fight us, but it was better for the delusion to have two voices speaking. Bella didn’t often exchange dialog with us during our sessions and it was dull to have a one sided conversation.

“That would be most kind, Master.”

“Very well, you and Alec may take one other. I suggest Felix; he has earned his reward by dealing with the last rule breaker.”

It was not a suggestion, but an order. I was not so foolish as to forget who my master was. It was a shame, though; I was looking forward to using this as a chance to gain favors from others. A visit to Isabella was a rare treat offered to chosen few. Sometimes, Aro would have her brought to the castle to entertain him and to show those accused of lesser crimes the price of crossing the Volturi. Those occasions always drew a crowd. Caius said it was once a custom for the humans to make visits to asylums to view the insane; with Isabella, we had something similar.

xXx

The flight was as horrid as ever. Despite the opulence of our jet, it was tiresome to be forced to breathe circulated air for hours. It was raining when we landed. Pelting sheets of rain that doused us in the seconds it took to disembark the aircraft and get into the waiting cars. Neither Alec nor I found any pleasure in driving, so Felix took the wheel.

At home, we had people that we paid to drive us, but it would have looked odd for us to ask a human driver to stop at the edge of the rainforest and wait for us. Secrecy was always paramount, and while we could have killed a human to cover our tracks, it was not worth the effort of disposing of its body.

I decided to seek out the vampire, Zafrina, from the Amazon coven to assist us in our game. She could create the image of the empath and the doctor in Isabella’s mind for us to torment her with. Aro said often how glad he was that he had not killed Zafrina when he had the opportunity; she was far more useful to us like this. Alec was able to keep Isabella aware whilst blinding her, but it was not so entertaining as showing her the faces of whom she thought was speaking.

I had to admire my masters for this torment they had concocted. Only someone as great of mind as them could find a way to use the innocuous talent of imitating voices to create such agony.

Once Felix had collected Zafrina, we made our way into the forest in search of Isabella’s hole. The last time I was here — almost a year ago — it was to retrieve her for Aro’s entertainment. There had been another scent in the forest that day, and I had fun using the empath’s voice to question her. She hadn’t spoken a word of sense, so I deduced whoever it was had not made contact with her. There were no fresh scents in the area today; the smell of the earth and animal excrement disturbed by the rain overpowered all else. 

As we ran, I plotted. I liked to use the psychic’s voice first to lull Isabella into a false sense of security before using Carlisle’s and the empath’s voices to punish her for her imagined crimes. I found the anguish to be much sweeter after giving her hope first.

When we were within sight of Isabella’s cave, I called out to her. “Isabella, make yourself presentable; you have company.”

I heard a whimper from her, and the sound pleased me; I adored these moments of anticipation.  She came slowly to the edge of the cave. I could see her outline in the shadows.

I frowned. She was usually more cooperative than this. “Felix, please retrieve the girl.”

His hulking form blocked the cave mouth. There were sounds of a struggle before he appeared, pinning a writhing Isabella against his chest.

“Alec,” I said in a bored tone.

His eyes narrowed as he focused his talent on Isabella. The hazy mist his gift created crept along the ground towards her. Felix held her away from him, still gripping her tightly. The moment the mist reached her feet, she stilled, and Felix released his hold on her.

As punishment for her lack of cooperation, I shot her with a sharp dose of pain. Through centuries of experimentation, I had learned all there was to know about my talent. She remained immobile, but I knew my pain was torturing her nonetheless.

Alec began to withdraw his influence, leaving her free to move again. Her jaw unclenched and a low moan broke from her. It was always this way. When she first arrived in Volterra, I had tortured her long and hard, and she eventually gained the control to suffer in silence. That was then; now it took her a few sessions of my gift to build up the resistance again. 

“Do your work,” I instructed Zafrina.

“Who would you like her to see?”

I considered carefully. I was not sure I was patient enough to use the psychic today. I wanted the pain to come swiftly. “The empath.”

I knew the moment it worked as the girl spoke. “Jasper, you came back.”

She did not sound as scared as usual; in fact, she sounded a little excited. This was most odd. The last time we had used the empath, I had combined it with a full hour of my gift. There was no reason she should have been happy to see him now.

“Where is Alice?”

I smirked. The girl was an imbecile. “She is dead. Has your feeble mind forgotten that already?”

“No, no, no…” She moaned. “Not Alice. She can’t be. Not now.”

She was infuriating in her stupidity. It was always the same inane dribbled from her each time… Well, almost the same; the ‘not now’ was new. I wondered if we had succeeded in breaking her mind even further. That would please Aro greatly. He commented after her last visit to the castle that he was growing tired of the same conversations.

Ever eager for a way to prove my worth to my masters, I considered. I should like to return to them with a fresh triumph over Isabella. My memories of her torment would please Aro, but if there was something more I could offer...

As I thought, I sent random jolts of pain at Isabella. There was no need to keep her waiting. Those that said the anticipation of pain was worse than the pain itself had never met me. She screamed on cue with every jolt. The sound usually pleased me, but today it bothered me. There was something amiss here, and I couldn’t work out what. Perhaps it was just my own dissatisfaction bleeding into my perception of the scene. Certainly I had never been bored at play before.

It had been too long since I had spoken. Carefully planning my script I used the now perfected voice of the empath.

“My Alice is dead because of you.”

“Nooooo, I didn’t mean… I couldn’t stop…” Her words ended with another piercing scream. 

The screams pleased me, but not enough. “Alec.”

He needed no further words to understand me and froze Isabella in place, cutting off her senses.

He looked at me with concern. “What is wrong, sister?”

“I need a new challenge. This is not enough for me anymore. Her suffering has become dull.”

“What do you suggest?” Felix asked, leering at Isabella. He had harbored a desire for her since the first time he saw her, first for her blood and then for her body. Aro refused him his pleasure. He believed there was a standard of treatment for our kind, and what Felix intended to do fell below those standards.

“She has suffered enough,” Zafrina said boldly. “You have taken away her coven and made her live without her mate. That is enough.”

I dropped her to the floor with a sharp jolt of pain. It was merely a reflex reaction to her interference. I wasn’t displeased with her; in fact, she had unknowingly given me the inspiration I needed for Isabella.

“Her mate…” I whispered. “Of course!”

I could not believe I had not thought of it sooner. We had been using the empath and Carlisle for years to torture her with news of her beloved family’s death, but we had been missing the obvious. Her mate. She believed he was dead; we should have used his voice long ago.

I looked down at the Amazon female cowering at my feet. “You have met the Cullen boy, yes?”

She nodded.

“Good. I want you to show him to Isabella.”

“Why do you make me do this?” She looked away and hushed her voice after I glared at her Carlisle will never forgive me this betrayal.”

“If you do as you are told, he will never need to know,” Alec said. “There is no reason he should. He believes the girl is dead, after all.”

“Just do it.” My tone left no room for argument.

Alec withdrew his influence to allow Zafrina to work, and Isabella was at liberty again. Her eyes were open but void of awareness as Zafrina’s power worked. The moment Edward’s image registered in her mind, her entire visage changed. Her eyes widened with shock, and her lips curved into an ecstatic smile.

“Edward,” she breathed.

“Bella,” I said, affecting the smooth tones of the boy. His voice was easier to mimic as I had heard it before. “I have been looking for you for a long time.”

“Oh, Edward, I’m so sorry. I would have found you, but I didn’t know. They told me you died.”

“I did die. I was murdered.”

“Oh. I thought… When I saw… Never mind. You’re here now.”

“I have searched for you for a long time,” I repeated. “Years, in fact.”

“How did you find me?”

“Jasper showed me. He knew I needed to see you for myself.”

She choked a sob. “I missed you so much.”

“I didn’t.” I injected some mirth into my tone. “I was glad to be rid of you.”

The lightness that had filled her since she saw Edward’s image faded. “I…I don’t understand.”

“I have been looking for the person responsible for destroying my family. All this time, I believed it was Victoria I was searching for, but I saw Jasper ,and he explained that it was you. Now I have come to avenge my mother and my sister”—I paused for effect—“and myself.”

“Nooooo!” She began moaning like an animal, and soon I replaced her moans with screams as I unleashed the full potency of my gift upon her. Alec lifted his influence completely, allowing her to writhe and twist as the waves of pain broke over her.

I allowed her screams to echo through the trees for a long time, enjoying every moment of ger pain. When they began to annoy me, I pulled back my influence. She lay on the dirty ground, panting heavily and looking up into the canopy of trees with a dazed expression. Zafrina had evidently removed her influence too. I scowled at her, but her punishment would have to wait. I had one more bombshell to drop upon Isabella before I was done.

“Zafrina!” I snapped. “Do your work.”

Isabella’s eyes became unfocused as her surroundings were once again replaced by the boy’s image.

I knelt as Isabella’s side and lowered my face to speak directly into her ear. “I burn in the flames of hell because of you, Bella. I curse the day I met you, and I curse you for making me believe you cared. If you had truly cared for me, you would have sacrificed yourself rather than letting my family die for you.” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “I burn in the flames of hell, and soon, so will you.”

With that said, I unleashed my gift upon her again, vowing mentally that I would not stop until she bore the pain in silence once again. 

Chapter Text

Jasper POV

“What did you see?” I demanded.

“Our death.”

It felt like all the air had been sucked away. I couldn’t draw a breath.

Her words brought the others to us. I closed my eyes and tried to centre myself. It wasn’t easy; I was in the centre of a maelstrom of emotion that was not only my own. Though I was panicking just as much as everyone else.

Alice’s eyes were unfocused as she sought out a vision. Her hands were fisted at her sides. I took them into my own and uncurled her fingers. “Just calm down and tell us what you saw.”

“It’s the Volturi,” she said. “Jane, Alec and Felix. We were here, at Bella’s cave and they were destroying us.”

I pressed a kiss to her furrowed brow and spoke against her skin. “Look again. See if you can find the time.”

She searched, and then shook her head. “I can’t see it.” She was almost desperate with panic. I eased her down with a steady stream of calming influence. She relaxed slightly, but not completely; understandable given the situation.

“Can we avert it?” I made a fixed decision to take Alice and flee from this place.

“Who changed that?” she asked. “Why aren’t we there?”

I was about to answer, but Peter beat me to it.

“Me. I’m sorry for it, but I will not risk Charlotte. If the Volturi are coming for you, we’re getting out of here.” He was poised on the balls of his feet, ready to snatch Charlotte up and run at the slightest provocation.  

Garrett shrugged. “I’m sorry too, but I am not willing to die at the hands of the Volturi for a crime I did not commit.”

“None of us have committed any crime,” Carlisle said.

He was wrong. We had allowed Bella to know of the existence of vampires while she was a human. She was changed now, but to the Volturi’s mind, a law had still been broken. They would not accept the defense that Bella was now changed, as, if I was correct, they had been the ones that changed her. This was not the time to get into these discussions though; we had to plan. 

“Alice and I are not staying.” My tone brooked no argument, though of course Alice tried. 

“Jasper, I—“

I cut her off with a kiss. “I can’t lose you, Alice.”

Unexpectedly it was Esme that was able to remain calm and ask the questions that needed answering. “Can we all get away?”

Alice shook her head. “Not all of us. If we take Bella, she will be too scared, and it will slow us down.”

“And if Bella stays here?” I asked. It was not that I didn’t care for her, but I cared for Alice a lot more. If saving Alice meant leaving Bella behind, I would do it without hesitation.

She sighed heavily. “Then we can all get to Novo Progresso before they arrive.”

Carlisle nodded. “Then that is what we will do. Bella will be safe if she stays hidden, and we will be far away.”

“But we can’t just leave her!” Esme said plaintively.

“They won’t kill her,” Alice said. “I can see myself talking to her later, so we know she makes it through this alive. As little as I like it, I don’t think we have a choice.”

“Then we have to leave now,” I said. “The further away we are when we they get here, the better.”

Alice gave Bella’s cave a look of longing and then we set out north on our journey.

Looking back later, I would have seen the flaw in our plan. Alice was right, Bella would make it out alive, but we didn’t consider how much she would suffer.

xXx

We reached Novo Progresso late morning. The heavy rainclouds that had plagued us throughout the run were providential when we reached the city as they sufficiently blocked the sun. 

We found a small hotel and booked in. The receptionist looked a little baffled when we booked a double room for seven people, but she didn’t question us. We changed our wet clothes for some Alice had helpfully bagged in plastic in our duffels, and then settled on the beds and couches to wait it out.

I wondered if it was the right time to broach the subject of the Volturi’s visit, but Carlisle saved me the need. He was sitting beside Esme on the edge of the bed, and running his hands through his hair in an agitated way.

“Were they there for us, do you think?”

“No,” I said with certainty. “They were there for Bella.”

All eyes turned to me. I felt uncomfortable as the centre of attention, and I looked to Peter to divert their scrutiny. “What we are about to get into is dangerous knowledge. Maybe you Char and Garrett should take the opportunity to hunt.” I tried to impress upon him the need for privacy with my gaze, and it worked to a fashion.

“Do you need me, Jasper?”

I shook my head. “Not at the moment, if that changes you will be the first to know.”

To him, Charlotte’s safety was as important as Alice’s was for me. I already owed him more than I could ever repay; unless it was necessary I wanted to keep him protected from this as much as possible.

He and Charlotte filed out of the room, closely followed by Garrett. When they were gone, I began the long overdue conversation with my family.

“None of you have been ready to talk about this before now, we’ve all been caught up in the happiness of finding Bella alive, but this new interference has forced my hand. We need to talk about how and why Bella came to be where she is now.”

“Surely that is Victoria’s doing,” Esme said.

I felt a wave of affection for my surrogate mother. She was so innocent to the ways of our world; most of my family was, Edward being the possible exception. What happened to Bella was not the result of a protracted change, as I had believed, but the result of some serious pain. Torture Victoria’s stunted imagination was not capable of. I knew it the moment I realized she had been speaking to us before. To some version of us anyway.

“You think it was the Volturi.” Alice wasn’t asking me, she was confirming it to herself, so I felt no need to answer her; instead, I encased her in my arms and whispered my love.

“How could they have done this though?” Carlisle asked. “Aro told you… Aro!” The exclamation was as close to a curse as I had ever heard Carlisle utter.

“Alec was there that day,” I said. “We know that he influenced Esme and Edward, stopping them following Victoria. I imagine at some point they came across Victoria and Bella and took their lead from there.”

“But that’s so…” Esme faltered.

“Cruel?” I suggested. “Monstrous? I don’t think there is a word great enough to describe what they have done to her. Bella has been made insane by what they did to her, and she was so strong before.”

“Edward,” Alice muttered. “They used Edward.”

“What do you mean?”

“When Bella was talking to us before she mentioned a he. I think that’s what happened to her. She thinks he died.”

“Oh!” Esme gasped and clapped a hand to her chest. “Poor Bella.”

“You think that was what did this to her?” I knew the moment I said the words aloud that they were true. I had thought it was unbearable torment that had damaged Bella so thoroughly, and I was right. If, God forbid, I ever lost Alice… Well, living in a cave didn’t seem all that bad after all.  

“Of course it was,” Alice said a little impatiently. “Think how she fell apart when left her; she was almost deranged with it all. I think this is a direct result of the pain of his believed death.”

“Why would they do this to her?” Carlisle twisted his hands in his lap. “I always knew Aro’s methods were unorthodox, but what could he hope to gain by destroying Bella like this?”

“Edward told me that Aro wanted him and Alice to join his guard. I imagine he hoped to tear our family apart by taking Bella from us. It even worked to a fashion; we have all been apart for the last two years. Two years is like a heartbeat of time to Aro. I imagine he just planned to be patient, until eventually we went to him.”

“But what about the fact she thinks she is human?” Esme asked.

“That, I don’t know.” Alice sounded annoyed at herself for her lack of knowledge.

I didn’t think it was only news of Edward’s perceived death that had damaged Bella so completely. There was more to it than a broken heart. Bella had a broken mind.

“This is good news though.” Esme beamed. “If she is like this because she thinks Edward is dead, we just need to show her that she’s wrong. Edward can heal her.”

Carlisle looked at her apologetically. “Esme, my love, I don’t think it will be so simple.”

“She might not be wrong.” I wished Peter was still here; he could have told them about his plan to save the last insane vampire we met. I had to manage alone. “Peter and I met an insane newborn during the wars. She too believed she was still human, and lived in terror for the week she lived. Peter believed it was possible to heal her if we could provide her with absolute proof of her new nature.”

“And you think if we do that to Bella it will work?” Esme asked with a hopeful smile.  

“I’m not making any guarantees, but I think it is worth a try.” I said. “If we can at least break the human delusion it will be a start.”

xXx

We sat for hours, only speaking to check the time we had been waiting. Peter, Charlotte and Garrett returned and joined our silent vigil.

Suddenly, after a full hour of silence, Alice spoke.

“Zafrina!”

“What about her?”

“She’s with them. Felix just returned to Jane and Alec, and he brought Zafrina with him.”

“Why on earth would the Zafrina be with the Volturi?” Carlisle asked. “I didn’t know they were even aware of the Amazon coven’s existence.”

“Of course!” I slapped my forehead. “The woman with the pictures. Bella mentioned her. It has to be Zafrina; didn’t you say she had a gift to create illusions?”

“Yes, but she would never work with the Volturi.” There was no trace of doubt in Carlisle’s tone. “She is our friend.”

“But maybe she doesn’t know who Bella is,” Alice said reasonably. “We never advertised the fact Edward had a human mate. Why would we? It would have put her at risk.”

“Even so, Zafrina would never associate with the Volturi by choice.” Carlisle stood and began to pace. “There is more to this than we are seeing. We have to go to Zafrina and offer our assistance.”

“Are you serious?” The question flew from me before I could stop it.

“Why wouldn’t we go?” he asked.

“Alice saw us dying, Carlisle. They were going to kill us. For all we know the Amazon coven are in deep with the Volturi.” I was usually more respectful of Carlisle, but what he was saying was madness. We had to sit out this visit and then go get Bella and get as far from this place as possible.

“Be that as it may we do not desert our friends when they may need us.”

“What do you think, Alice,” I asked, looking to her for support. She wasn’t listening though; she was staring into space with unfocused eyes. “Alice?”

Whatever she was seeing, it was hurting her. She was feeling overwhelming shock and pain. I squatted in front of her on the couch and cupped her face in my hands. “What are you seeing, Alice?”

She gasped as she came back to life. “Bella.”

“What about her?” Esme demanded.

Alice fell into my arms, hiding her face against my neck. “Jane was hurting her. She was on the ground, and… Oh god, her face.” Her words cut off as sobs overwhelmed her.

Jane was hurting her?” Carlisle asked. “But last time Jane’s power didn’t work on Bella. None of their powers did.”

“It does now!” Alice moaned. “Her face, Carlisle, you didn’t see her face.”

I wrapped my arms around her and crooned softly in her ear, trying to soothe her. If I was honest, I wasn’t overly surprised that Jane had unleashed her pain on Bella. I suspected that was the reason for her visit to Bella in the first place. I had not voiced my fears, as it would have made Alice even more reluctant to leave her. Foreknowledge did not make it any easier to hear though. I had never experienced Jane’s cruel talent, but Edward had, and he told us about it. He said it was akin to the burn of venom. Excruciating pain that you would do anything to stop. I wondered if there was a reason Jane was torturing Bella, or if it was her version of a fun outing.

Alice’s sobs slowed and stopped, but Esme’s didn’t. She was encased in Carlisle’s arms, and was sobbing as though her heart was breaking. Which, I guess, it really was.

I felt Alice’s desperation, and knew she was searching for more visions of Bella. “Don’t look,” I advised, smoothing back her hair. “If it hurts you, don’t look.”

She looked at me incredulously. “What I am feeling is nothing to what that witch is putting Bella through.”

“True, but you aren’t helping Bella by watching it too. Can you still see yourself with her later?” She nodded. “Then focus on that. Bella will make it through Jane’s pain and you will be back with her soon.”

She settled against me and I could tell she was trying to follow my advice.

xXx

Thirty-six hours. Thirty-six hours of waiting anxiously finally ended when Alice spoke.

“They’re leaving.”

“How is Bella?” Esme asked. Her hours of sobbing ended long ago, to be replaced with an almost disconnected numbness.

“She’s in the cave again,” Alice said. “She lying curled up on the ground, but I think she’s okay.”

“It’s nighttime,” Carlisle said. “I imagine she is trying to sleep.”

Esme wrung her hands, and Carlisle took them into his own. “If Jasper is right, and we can help her, this may be one of the last nights she spends like this. Try to focus on that, my love.”

“What do we do next?” Alice asked. “I can’t see clearly as everything is so uncertain. All I know for sure is that I am going to Bella again.”

“I think the most important thing is getting Bella somewhere safe where the Volturi can’t find her.” My mind was working on a strategy already. Processing locations only to disregard them again. There was nowhere we could hide successfully, not if they had Demetri, so we needed somewhere defensible.

“My island,” Esme said. “It is private there, and Bella would like it.”

I nodded. This was exactly what we needed. “Getting Bella there may be a problem though. We can’t take her on a plane; she is too wild to be around humans.”

“We can drive,” Alice said. “It’s only about a day’s drive from Alto Floresta to Rio, and you can keep her calm through the journey.”

It would be incredibly taxing to use my gift for a solid twenty-four hours, but Bella was worth the effort. Especially after all we had been through. Now it was over and the Volturi were leaving I felt guilty for the way I had fled and left her to the cruelties of Jane. If given the same choice again I knew I wouldn’t change anything, though; Alice was just too important to risk.

“Do you think you will need us for the journey?” Carlisle asked.

“Of course we will,” Alice was surprised that he even felt the need to ask. “Where else would you go?”

“I wish to visit Zafrina and her sisters.”

“Why on earth are you worrying about them with Bella to think of?” Alice asked in an accusatory tone. “Don’t we have enough to worry about?”

“Because I suspect they will be able to tell us what happened to Bella. The more we know the better we will be able to help her. We also need to go to Edward; it is time he knew the truth.”

That was one aspect of Carlisle’s future plans that I did agree with. If my brother was still suffering as much as he had been when last I saw him — and I had no reason to believe his pain had eased with time — he should not be left to suffer any longer. In a way, I wished I could be the one to tell him. It would be good to see the tortured expression and black hole of emotion give way to something brighter.

“Where will we meet?” Alice asked. “And when?”

“Esme and I will go to Zafrina first, and then from there to Edward. It will be better for him if we can tell his exactly what has happened; he is going to have a lot to deal with as it is. When we have him, we will try to persuade him to go to the island to wait for you to arrive. It may be in vain, however, he will want to see Bella as soon as possible.”

“We may get there before you,” Alice said. “Before we left she was building some trust with us. Hopefully we will be able to persuade her to come with us.”

I couldn’t help but wonder if Alice was wrong. So far, things had been a little too easy. My instincts told me there was something we were missing, and it was something big.  

Chapter Text

Alice POV

Peter, Charlotte and Garrett decided to come back to Bella with us. Though they didn’t say it, I believed that they were becoming attached to Bella, just as so many had before. 

It took longer to drive back through the uncertain roads to the mountains than it did to run. We said goodbye to Esme and Carlisle at main road out of Novo Progresso and headed into the forest on foot.

I felt a pang of guilt as I remembered how Bella had been hurt. It was torture for me to sit uselessly and watch her as Jane hurt her again and again. Though if I had been there, I could have done nothing other than hurt alongside her or possibly die.

I didn’t want to believe the Volturi were the orchestrators of all of Bella’s suffering. If Jasper was right and it was them, we were to blame. We were the ones, no, I was the one, who had brought them into her life. I had dragged her to Volterra to save Edward’s life. Though, at the time I didn’t think I had a choice; it was her or nothing. In hindsight, maybe she would have been better off without Edward in her life at all.

When we got back to the jungle it was late afternoon, and by the time we got to Bella’s cave it was early evening. We had never been here at this time of day before, and I wondered what her usual evening routine was. Not that I was likely to see it. After being tortured by Jane for hours on end it was doubtful she would be maintaining her delusion.

Bella was there when we arrived, sitting at the mouth of her cave watching the last few drops of rain falling around her from the rock above her. She heard our approach, but she didn’t look up to see us.

“Hello, Alice,” she said in a dull monotone.

I had half expected her to shout accusations at us for leaving her to suffer. That would have been better than this quiet welcome. It was eerie.

I gestured for the others to keep back and I slowly made my way to sit on the closest log to her. “Hey, Bella.” I forced brightness into my tone.

She raised her head slowly, as if it took great effort for her to meet my eye. “You went away.”

“I know. I’m so sorry, believe me I am, but we had no choice; we had to go.”

She nodded. “I understand. Why would you stay? I’m just Bella. But you could have asked Jasper to stay away too.”

I wondered how Jane had confused Bella enough to make her believe it was Jasper that was hurting her. It didn’t make any sense. Now was not the time to theorize, though; I had to make Bella trust Jasper again so we could put the next part of our plan into action.

“It wasn’t my Jasper that hurt you, Bella.”

“It was the bad Jasper,” she said, still in that same monotone. “The bad Jasper told me you died again. I thought that meant you, but now I’m confused.”

“I’m not dead, Bella. There is only one me, and I am alive. I know the people that came here hurt you and told you things, but they were lying. Look.” I reached out to touch her arm, but she cringed away from me. “I’m not going to hurt you, Bella. I promise. I just want you to see.”

She shook her head. “I can’t trust what I feel anymore. There is too much wrong with me.”

“Maybe Carlisle could help,” I said hopefully. If I could persuade her to see Carlisle I would have a valid reason to persuade her to leave her cave and come with us to the island.

“I’m not supposed to leave. This is my punishment.”

“Bella, people come here and hurt you; do you really think there is anything else they can do to punish you? Let us take you away from here.”

She was silent for a long time. I thought she was going to refuse to answer, but she was considering my words carefully. “Why not? It’s not like I have anything left to lose now. If Carlisle decides to finally kill me and get it over with”—she shrugged—“it would be a relief.”

I hated to hear her speak like this, as if her life was worthless. Though my emotions were too closely linked to my love for her. If I could be objective, I would see the sense of her words. She was suffering so much without Edward and with people coming to hurt her; perhaps death would be better for her. Thankfully, she would not have to suffer much longer. Esme and Carlisle were going in search of Edward now. Soon they would be reunited.  

“Bella, would it be okay if Jasper came to talk to us?” I asked. “It is my Jasper and he won’t hurt you. I swear.”

She shrugged indifferently. “Sure.”

Jasper stepped slowly out of the trees and came to sit beside me. Bella shuddered slightly at his close proximity, but she did not back away, which I took as a good sign. Jasper was using his ability to keep her calm, and—I hoped—to ease her sadness a little.

“Hello, Bella,” he said in a soft tone.

She smiled slightly, but she didn’t speak.

“I hear you are going to be taking a trip with us,” he said.

“I am?”

I took up the explanation. “You are. Carlisle and Esme are nearby. We are going to have to drive to get to them, but that’s… What’s wrong?”

“Esme,” she moaned. “Poor Esme. They hurt her … and him still hurting. For so long … Have to bleed…”

She began slamming her head against the rocky wall of the cave mouth. It did no damage to her, but the intent was there. With an exceptionally hard slam of her head a chunk of rock broke away and landed on her lap. She took up the jagged piece in her hand and began scraping it along the length of her arm.

“Bella, stop!” I reached out to catch her arm, but she screamed and scuttled away from me into the darkness of her cave.

Though she was out of sight, I could still hear the sound of the rock scraping against her impenetrable skin.

“Oh, God!” I clapped a hand to my mouth, horrified at myself for what I had done.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Jasper  ran a hand over my back in soothing circles. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“How can you say that?” I demanded. “I did this to her!”

“No, you didn’t. Bella is damaged. Even more than before after what they put her through. What happened was going to happen no matter what. Her emotions have been edging on a breakdown since we arrived.”

“Can you help her?”

“I can try.”

I felt the calming waves soothing my own panic as Jasper focused his gift. Slowly the sounds inside the cave quieted to be replaced with soft cries of pain. Every one of them tore at my heart.  

Jasper stood, and pulled me to my feet. I allowed him to guide us back to where Garrett, Peter and Charlotte were waiting. I saw Charlotte was hiding her face against Peter’s chest. It seemed what had transpired with Bella had affected her too.

“Even after all I have seen, I never believed in true evil until now.” Peter’s voice was choked with emotion. “I never imagined anyone could be so cruel as to destroy a person so thoroughly.”

Charlotte’s voice was muffled against Peter’s shirt, but her message was clear. “They have to pay for what they have done.”

“And they will,” Garrett said in a low growl.

“How?” Jasper asked. “I want revenge as much as anyone, but they are the Volturi. If we go up against them, we will die.”

“We have to do something,” I said, desperation leaking into my tone.

“And we will. We will take Bella away from this place and make her whole again. We will undo everything they have done to her.  That is the best revenge we can hope for.”

I understood the reasoning behind it, but it was not enough to sate my thirst for vengeance.  I wanted to feel the skin of my enemies as I tore them limb from limb. I wanted to watch them burn with a grim smile. More than anything I wanted them to feel at least a fragment of the pain they had inflicted on Bella.

Night fell and Bella quieted.

I wondered what she was doing inside her cave. Was she curled on the ground pretending to sleep, or was she lying wide eyed thinking over everything they had done to her. I could have gone into her cave and seen for myself, but Jasper would never have allowed me. I wasn’t sure I would have allowed myself. I had no fear of Bella, but to invade the only space in the world that she could call her own felt wrong. She had so little that was her own anymore, even her mind had been violated, to take her privacy from her too felt wrong.

I laid on the forest floor looking up through the dense canopy hoping to catch sight of a star. Childishly, I was hoping for something to wish upon.

 xXx

Carlisle POV

It was with reluctant feet that we made our way through the Pantanal Wetlands in search of Zafrina and her sisters. A small, cowardly part of me hoped they would not be there and that I would be able to go to Edward with knowledge of Bella’s survival now. It was that same knowledge that drew me to Zafrina. I suspected she was the one that could shed light on what my daughter had suffered in the years we had been apart.

My daughter. Thinking the words made me feel happier than I had been in a long time. For so long I tried to blame her for all that had happened to my family, but now I knew the folly of my desires. She was not the one that tore it apart, she was the one that made it whole. It was not her fault that in losing her I lost my family too. Now she was returned to us and she needed us now more than ever. I could be the father I had always wanted to be, and I would have my whole family with me.

Much greater than my own happiness, was Esme’s. She had doubted at first, but now faced with irrevocable proof of Bella’s survival, she was elated. I reveled in her happiness. Absorbing it in a way not dissimilar to Jasper’s ability. My mate and I were attuned to each other. When she had hurt, I had hurt, now her happiness fed my own.

The dampener on our happiness was the approaching meeting with Zafrina and her sisters. I did not doubt that she had been forced to assist the Volturi and that she couldn’t have known who Bella was to us, but I still felt a sting of betrayal. It was compounded by Aro’s treachery. I never imagined he would be so cruel. I had once thought of him as a friend, a close confidant second only to my family. Now all that was ashes.

“Are you okay, my love.” Esme cupped my cheek in her hand.

I relaxed the tight set of my jaw and forced a smile. “Of course.”

“You shouldn’t try to lie; you are terrible at it.”

I laughed a genuine laugh. “Forgive me. I was thinking of Aro.”

Her eyes hardened, and her irises darkened with anger. “What were you thinking about that man?” The last words came out as a hiss.

“I was thinking that any friendship I ever felt for the man is long gone.”

She relaxed and leaned into me for a kiss. I obliged happily, pressing my lips to hers.

“We should go,” she said against my lips. “Edward is waiting.”

Her words worked like a bucket of ice water. My focus snapped back to the task at hand. To find Zafrina and discover what she knew. All in the name of helping my son. 

The Amazon coven had no fixed abode the way my family did. They claimed the entire rainforest as their territory. Which in hindsight should have tipped me off that they knew about Bella. If she had been there the entire two years we had been apart they would have surely come across her naturally.

With no known place to search for them we tried to find a scent path to follow. We were in luck, within an hour of leaving the car we crossed Zafrina’s scent. We followed it for a time in silence, both lost in thought of the conversation that was to come.

Soon Kachiri’s and Senna’s scents joined the trail. We hurried out pace and came to a small clearing beside—ironically—a cave.

There was no one in sight, but I was accustomed to their way of operating. Unfortunately for them we were not gifted with time to waste today.

“I know you are out there. We are short on time. Please come and talk to us.”

Esme looked at me in disbelief. I was never this curt with anyone, especially not with those I considered friends. However, manners were not my main concern in that moment.

Kachiri was the first to show herself. She dropped—quite literally—from a tree and landed on the balls of her feet in front of me.

“Carlisle. Esme.” She nodded to us both in turn.

Senna was next to show herself, she walked sedately out of the trees. Walking beside her, with their hands intertwined, was Zafrina.

She looked at me for a long moment, and then sighed. “You know.”

I nodded. “Yes. We know some of it. We are hoping you can fill in the blanks.”

“Ask your questions.” She forced a smile, but it looked more like a grimace.

“Do you know who she is?” Esme asked before I had a chance to ask a question of my own. 

“She is someone to your Edward.”

I never imagined that she could have known who Bella really was. Why would she hurt her if she knew who she was to us?

“She is his mate.” I spoke through gritted teeth.

She nodded. “I assumed so.”

Esme was standing with a hand pressed against her forehead as if she was preparing to shield her eyes. “If you knew this, why would you help them?”

“Because I had no choice. I was forced to act to protect my coven. I am sorry for what the girl suffered, but I did my best to ease it for her as best I could. When I was forced to accompany her to the castle, I made the journey as pleasant as was possible.”

Esme gasped and I moaned. The castle. Of course Aro would not be satisfied having Bella insane and alone, she must be brought before him to show his mastery and to appease his thirst for curiosity. I wondered if it was mere curiosity that led him to destroy Bella so thoroughly or if perhaps it was punishment for our perceived crimes. 

Esme regained the power of speech before I did. “You took her to the castle?”

Zafrina shook her head. “I accompanied her to the castle, I did not take her by choice. Five times they have come for us, and we have been summoned before Aro.”

“What did he do to her?”

“I had no choice,” she said, without apology. “My sisters and I would have been annihilated had I tried. I did what I did to save our lives.”

“What did you do?” I tried to remain amiable, but inside of me a fury was building. She was protecting her coven, that I applauded, but I could not forgive the fact it was at the cost of my own family.

“I was used to show the girl images of your family. Usually you, Carlisle, and Jasper.”

Understanding dawned, and with it came horrific imaginings. They had used our faces, while doing Lord knew what to hurt Bella. With Jane in their arsenal it would have been easy for them. 

Esme moaned and hid her face behind her hands. “Oh, Bella.”

“They did not just use your image,” Zafrina said. “They also mimicked your voices. They used you and Jasper to torment her. They told her Esme and Alice died, and that you blamed her. While they would speak, Jane would use her gift to hurt the girl. They gave her rules to live by. To run, to hide and to live.”

“We tried to help,” Kachiri said. “Zafrina was ordered to leave the girl in the jungle. We brought her here with us and tried to take care of her, but she was scared. She would run from us and attempt to hide. Eventually we realized couldn’t take care of her by being close, and so we took an old human camp and made her a home there.”  

I wanted to be angry at the, and in a way I was, but not nearly so angry as I was with myself. They had shown how they tried to help her, a girl they did not know, but when given the choice to help her I chose the wolves. I had gone to them and tended their hurts when I should have been searching for her with the rest of my family.

Above all I was angry with Aro. He had devised this sick torment for Bella, the most innocent of all my family, for what reason? What could she have possibly done to deserve this?

“Thank you for trying.” Esme’s words were heartfelt.

“Yes, thank you,” I said. “I’m afraid we must leave too. Edward needs to know what has happened.

There was nothing more to be learned here. We now knew how Aro had destroyed Bella, though we didn’t yet know why. 

“What are you going to do with the girl?” Zafrina asked.

“We are going to take her away to somewhere safe.”

Kachiri frowned. “They will find you. You cannot hide from them.”

“We will do our best,” Esme said stoutly.

“And when they find you?” Zafrina asked.

When they found us, what? We could not fight them, they were too powerful. But I would not allow them to touch my family again. We had allies, friends, if it came to a fight would then come to our aid?

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it.” I smiled serenely.

Esme took my hand and we turned to leave. We were at the edge of the trees when Zafrina called after us. “Carlisle, if they find you they will kill you.”

I turned back to her and bared my teeth. “They will try.”

xXx

We were almost back to where we left the car when the sound of racing footsteps reached us. It sounded like two people. My thoughts immediately flew to the Volturi, and I wondered who they had sent after us.

We ground to a halt, and I dropped into a crouch. Esme mimicked my movement. I reached out to pull her behind me, but she jerked away.

She spoke in a low growl. “You will not fight alone.”

There was no time to argue the point, as the footsteps were growing closer. My lips pulled back over my teeth in a harsh snarl as I prepared to fight to defend my mate. My vision clouded as the red haze of fury took over me.

The footsteps came closer and a split-second later two figures burst out of the trees. I launched myself forward and tackled the largest figure to the ground.

“Hey, I know it’s been a while since we called, but I think this is a little extreme,” a familiar voice said.

I shook my head and blinked rapidly, clearing the red haze from my mind. “Emmett?”

“Hey, Dad.”

I jumped to my feet and offered an unnecessary hand to help him up. He took it with a grin, and I hauled him to his feet.

“How did you…? Why are you…? I don’t understand,” I said, barely understanding myself.

“Why? You called us sounding all worked up, and then when we called you back your cell was out of service. How? We went to the house and saw flights to South America on the browsing history. We figured you were paying a visit to the Amazon coven, so we thought we’d tag along.”

I smiled in spite of myself. It was so good to see my son again.

Rosalie was encased in Esme’s arms. I went to them and kissed my daughter’s forehead.

“I have missed you, dear girl.”

She smiled, a little abashed. “I’m sorry we were gone so long. Is everything okay? You sounded upset on the phone.”

Esme sighed. “Oh, Rosalie, we have so much to tell you…”

 

 

Chapter Text

Edward POV

Seven hundred and twenty one days, three hours and twenty-one minutes. That’s how long it had been since I last saw my love, and yet I have not stopped waiting for her since then. Every day and every night I spent actively searching for her.

When others came to my hiding place, I disappeared into the trees. I was never seen by the humans. Only the loathsome wolves saw me, and when they came I pretended they were not there. I am practiced at it now. One wolf comes more than any other, but I ignore him, too. He babbles apologies and regrets, but they are white noise. What do I care for his sorrow, when my every thought is focused on my own?

Rumor spread and my hide at the cliff top was avoided. People told stories of a phantom that lived there, waiting to lure unsuspecting women to their death. It was not that far from the truth. I was a phantom of the man I was before, and I once lured a woman to her death. But I never intended to; I had been trying to keep her safe.

I should have been there. That was the one thought my mind returned to again and again. I shouldn’t have listened to Alice’s warnings and her pleading. What would it have mattered if I had not made it through the fight alive if it meant she did?

On occasion I would be forced to hunt. It was not for myself that I did it but for the safety of others. I could not lose control and kill one of the foolhardy humans that came to my place. She would be disappointed if I did.

Sometimes I saw a flash of something in the water that I thought could be her, and I would leap from the cliff, eager to return my love to me, but I was always disappointed. As time passed those occurrences become less frequent and I became resigned to the fact she was never coming back to me.

I no longer had the same desperate need for my own end. This living hell was my punishment for allowing her to die. Carlisle was right after all; there is a God, and he is a vengeful one.

Though I ignored the voices, I could not fully block out the thoughts. Therefore I knew when Charlie Swan died. The official report is that he died from a brain aneurism but I know he died of a broken heart. He, like me, never stopped hoping his daughter would return. He spent endless hours on First Beach searching for her.

His funeral came two years to the day after the memorial service they held for my love. It was the only time I willingly left my hide. I went to his grave and stood in silence for an immeasurable amount of time. I couldn’t think of what to say to him. There was so much, and yet nowhere near enough. In the end I laid the freesia I had picked from someone’s garden at his grave and whispered an apology.

I was apologizing for so much, for hurting his daughter, for taking her away from him, but not for loving her. I was given a glimpse of heaven in the year we had together, I would never apologize for that.

I turned my attention to the empty grave beside him and dropped to my knees. Etched on the marble was my love’s name and two dates. The first was the day the world was blessed with her presence, and the second was the day she was stolen away.

As there was no body to bury, Charlie and Renee arranged to bury some of Bella’s most prized possessions and photographs of her. Friends donated items too; I didn’t know who left what. I cared little at the time for such details.

I ran my fingers over the etched letters of her name, and a small smile curved my mouth.

“Hello, love,” I whispered. “I have missed you so much.”

I should have come here sooner. This was the place my Bella lingered, not some cliff. Here, beneath me, among all the marks of love and proof of existence that the world could offer.

“I’m sorry it had taken me so long to come. I was confused. I see better now.”

And I did. No longer would I spend all my days waiting for something that would never happen. I would make my place here with her. I could hide in the trees by day, and commune with my love at night.

I wondered if she saw me now. Was she looking down at me with a smile at our reunion, or was she angry that I had let myself fall so heavily into decline without her. I hoped she would understand. She always understood my weaknesses before.

“Do you see me?” I asked, almost expecting an answer. “I hope you do. I wish I could see you, but perhaps this is just another facet to my punishment. You can watch me while I cannot watch you.

“If you can see me, please know that I am sorry. I never meant for you to suffer anything of what you did. I loved you with all my heart, I still do. All I ever wanted was your happiness. I’m so sorry, love.”

My words broke off as sobs overtook me. I bent double at the waist. My forehead pressed against the damp grass, creating wetness on my cheeks that my body could not provide.

“I…I miss you so much.” I choked out the words. “I’m so sorry.”

A light breeze swept through the otherwise still air and with it came the scent of the freesia I had left at Charlie’s grave. It felt like the memory of a caress. I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes pretending the scent was that of my love coming to forgive me all and to love me again.

xXx

Dawn seemed to come too early that night. I had not nearly long enough with my love before the light began to creep over the horizon and the world began to wake.

I pressed my lips to the marble of Bella’s headstone and swore to be back with her soon. Then, regretfully, I got to my feet and made my steady path back to my cliff in La Push. I had nothing of my own there—I was still wearing the clothes I had worn that fateful day—but I had left the bag containing Bella’s clothes there.

Her scent had long since faded, but I liked to pretend I could still smell her when I pressed the fabric to my face. I liked to have something tangible that was her own to cling to on my long vigil.

As I passed into the cover of the trees I sped my pace to a run. The sooner I collected her bag, the sooner I could be with her again. The wolves would be pleased to see me gone, though I cared nothing for their wants and needs.

As I passed the river that once marked the boundary line, a howl rent the air. Apparently I had been observed in my going, and now in my return. They would not have to suffer my presence long.

At first I did not recognize the new scent or the thoughts that preceded them. I had long ago stopped caring for anything outside of my small sphere of life. I came to a grinding halt as I recognized them as Carlisle and Esme. Both were guarding their thoughts carefully, but I gathered that they were worried about me, and that there was something important they had to tell me.

I doubted it was something that would interest me. Likely Emmett and Rosalie planning another wedding. If they thought the happy event was going to draw me from Bella they were much mistaken. Nothing could tear me away now.

“Edward, are you there?” Esme called out.

I considered going in the opposite direction and hiding from them until they left, but I wanted Bella’s bag.

With trudging footsteps I made my way to them. “I’m here.”

Esme gasped as she caught sight of me and rushed forward to embrace me. “Oh, Edward.”

I allowed her the embrace, but as soon as was polite I extricated myself from her arms and turned my attention to the man I once called my father.

“What is it?”

“We have found Bella.”

After years of waiting the ocean had finally given up its dead.

I dropped to my knees and sobbed against the earthen ground.

My sobs shifted to keening howls, as realization settled over me. It was really over now. No more silent vigil, I had to move on in my life. I had no idea how to do that though.

I felt arms settle around my shoulders and a hand running through my hair in soothing strokes.

Slowly my faculties returned to me, and I asked the question I needed answered more than any other. “Where is she?”

I needed to see her. I needed physical proof to make it real.

Carlisle knelt in front of me, and I raised my head slowly to look at him. All my previous fury at the man seemed unimportant given what he had come to tell me.

“Edward, I need you to listen to me,” he said. “There is a lot to tell you and I need you to hear me out.”

I nodded. I would listen for as long as necessary to get the information I needed.

“Bella is in the Amazon rainforest.”

“What? How can she be there when…”

“She’s not dead, Son. She’s been changed.”

I froze. My mind was unable to process what he was saying. My Bella alive. My Bella a vampire. I listened to his tale with numbness.

“Garrett found her and led us to her. She has been there all this time.”

I jumped to my feet and crouched. “You lie!”

Carlisle mimicked my posture and held his hands up in front of him in a defensive gesture. Perhaps he thought I would attack him. No sooner than the thought rose in my mind did I see the appeal of that thought.

I shoved against his chest, propelling him back a few feet. Just a little further he would have been sent tumbling over the cliff. I stepped forward to make it a reality, but Esme gripped my arm and pulled me back.

“Stop, Edward!” she said firmly. “We are not lying to you. Aro was the one that did that.”

“No, he couldn’t have.”

I couldn’t believe even Aro would be so cruel. He couldn’t have lied to me, I would have heard the truth in his mind. I thought back and tried to remember what I had read in his thoughts that day, but I couldn’t remember any moment that his thoughts had registered through the haze of my grief. Was it possible that he was lying the whole time?

My mind shied away from the possibility. If he had been lying, if he had tricked me, it mean that I had left Bella alone in the world for two years. It would mean that I had failed her again.

Esme gripped my face in her hands and locked eyes with me. “Look!”

She opened her mind and I saw a room I assumed was their new home. Garrett snatched up a picture of Bella and I at the prom. “Who is this?” he demanded. The scene changed to the gloomy light of the jungle. There was a campfire smoldering in a circle of stone in front of a cave. A figure stepped out of the cave and straightened.

Gasping, I pulled myself from Esme’s mind.

“Bella!” The words came through my numb lips as a whisper. I wavered on my feet and Esme embraced me, holding me upright.

Her name echoed in my mind. Bella. Bella. Bella. There was no question it was her. She was different to the woman I last saw—the venom had impossibly enhanced her beauty—but it was her.

“Mom, that was Bella.”

A wide smile curved Esme’s lips. “I know, sweetheart.”

“There is more to tell you,” Carlisle said. “But I think we should go to the house before we discuss things further. I am not sure now is the right time for the wolves to learn the truth.”

Esme traced the shadows under my eyes with a finger. “When did you last hunt?”

I didn’t know for sure. I hadn’t been tracking my hunting habits by days, when the thirst became too much I would hunt. From the burn igniting my throat at the moment I knew it had been some time.

I shrugged. “It can wait a little longer. I want to know everything.

“Very well.” Carlisle set out towards our house. I picked up the bag containing Bella’s clothes and followed after him.

I recognized Emmett and Rosalie’s scents as we approached the house. When I broke through the trees onto the overgrown meadow that was our garden Rosalie flew from the house and into my arms.

“Oh, Edward, I’m so sorry.” She gabbled. “It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t made that phone call you would never have gone to the Volturi. They would never have known about Bella, and none of this would have happened. Bella wouldn’t be…”

She trailed off catching Carlisle’s eyes. He was shaking his head rapidly.

“Bella wouldn’t be what?” I said in a cold, hard voice. “What are you hiding from me?”

Esme sighed heavily. “Come inside, Edward.”

“I’m fine where I am thank you.” I forced politeness into my tone. “Tell me what you are hiding.”

“You didn’t tell him?” Rosalie turned her accusing glare on Carlisle.

“Tell me what?” I shouted.

“Bella has been through a lot,” Carlisle said in a tone heavy with sadness. “And it has taken its toll on her.”

Rosalie huffed. “She’s crazy, Edward.”

I hissed, and Emmett pulled Rosalie behind him.

“She’s not crazy,” Esme said impatiently. “She has just been through a lot and it has done some damage.”

“Damage? Will someone please tell me what the hell you are talking about?”

“Bella seems to be living under the delusion that she is still human,” Carlisle said. “From what we have observed she has been living in an imitation of humanity since shortly after her change. She has made a kind of camp in the forest and lives there.”

“You’re telling me my mate is a vampire living as a human, in a cave! What in God’s name happened to her?” I demanded.

“Aro happened,” Carlisle said simply.

Esme took up the explanation. “We are not sure what happened exactly. We don’t know if it was the Volturi or Victoria that changed her, but we know she was taken to the castle, and while she was there they devised a torment for her.”

“Torment?” I choked on the word. It seemed the bad news was unending. Bella was alive, which made me happier than I had ever been in my life. But it seemed she had suffer unendurable pain since the moment I had left her which had somehow broken her mind.

“We understand that Aro—and possibly Caius and Marcus—imitated my and Jasper’s voices to speak to her. They told her that Alice and Esme were dead, and that we blamed her for it. According to Zafrina, she also believes you are dead.”

My knees weakened and I moaned. I knew how it had felt for me to believe her dead, and I knew she would have suffered that pain believing the same of me.  

“Who is with her now?” I asked in a hollow voice.

“Alice and Jasper are there, with Peter, Charlotte and Garrett.” Carlisle said.

“What are they doing there?” I didn’t like the idea of Bella being observed like a circus freak by Jasper’s friends. They were pleasant enough, but Peter had a wild streak I didn’t much care for.

“They are helping,” Carlisle said. “Peter has an idea for how we can possibly heal Bella’s mind. He believes that if we can show her irrefutable proof that she is a vampire we can break the human delusion.”

“And the fact she believes I’m dead. How are we supposed to heal that damage?”

“So far, only Alice and Jasper have been able to speak to her. She seems to think Alice is a ghost, and, I think, Jasper is a completely different person to the one that hurts her. We haven’t tried myself and Esme yet because we were… interrupted.”

I sighed heavily. “You are hiding something. I am not planning to attack you again, Carlisle, but if you keep withholding information about my mate I will change my mind. I need to know what is happening.”

“The Volturi came,” he said vaguely.

“And what did they do when they came?”

“They…” Esme faltered. “Jane hurt her.”

“But Jane’s gift doesn’t work on Bella.” I said.

“According to what Alice saw, it does now.”

Horror gripped my heart in an icy fist. Bella had lost her protection from Jane’s cruelties. I hid my face in my hands, wishing for the release of tears. My poor Bella; she had lost so much.

xXx

I was a mess, both physically and mentally. Though there was little I could do to heal my mental conflict, I could at least take care of the physical. I hunted quickly—enough to stay me for the flight south—and then returned to the house to shower.

I stared at my reflection in the mirror for a long time before showering. I was disappointed with myself for allowing my decline to reach such levels. I looked like the corpse I had wished to be. My eyes were still black with thirst, with only the thinnest line of topaz circling my iris. The shadows beneath my eyes were etched deep into my skin.

I stepped into the shower and allowed the streaming water to sweep away two years worth of dirt and debris.

When I went back into my bedroom Emmett was sitting on the edge of the bed. He was making an effort to conceal his thoughts, and I did not attempt to pry. He would tell me what he was here for sooner or later; patience was not Emmett’s strong suit.

He sat in silence while I dressed and toweled my hair dry. I had taken no notice of what I was dressing myself in, and was surprised to see that I had chosen almost an exact match of the outfit I wore for Bella’s and my first date.

Emmett stretched his hands out on front of him cracking his knuckles. A habit I hated. “So, Bella’s alive. Pretty wild, right.”

I barked a harsh laugh. “Wild.”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m…” I began to say I was fine, an automatic response, but I couldn’t finish the lie. “To be honest, Em, I don’t know how I feel.”

He nodded sagely. “Makes sense. I’m not sure I’m going to believe it myself until I see her in person. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe Carlisle and Esme are lying, but it’s a lot to take in after so long."

“It’s not that. I know she is alive. I saw the truth in Esme’s mind. More than that I feel it. The ache in my chest I have had since she died.” I shook my head. “No, since I believed she died. Well, it’s changed. It’s now a pull; it’s drawing me to her side.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“I’m scared of what is going to happen next. It’s been so long, and she had been through so much. What if she doesn’t recognize me for who I am anymore.”

Emmett frowned. “I have a theory about that, do you want to hear it?”

This would be interesting. I gestured for him to continue.

“You and Bella are fated to be together. Think of all the times you thought you were going to lose her, the van crash, those animals in Port Angeles, James, Volterra. Yet every time she pulled through. The fall from the cliff should have killed her, but she got through it. Just like she did the blood loss, and the cold water, and the change. I think it’s because of you. You can’t live without her, and so she can’t die. It’s like fate is keeping an eye on her for you.”

It was a pleasant thought that she was being protected for me, but I knew I had done nothing to deserve that gift. I should have been cursed for my crimes, not rewarded.

“If fate was looking out for her, why has it made her suffer so much?”

He sighed heavily. “Because there is always a price.”

Always a price. That made sense in a sick kind of way. I just wished I could be the one to pay it instead of her.

“Anyway.” He pulled me from my thoughts. “What I’m saying it that you don’t need to worry about Bella knowing who and what you are. She’s been waiting a long time for this reunion. She’ll know exactly who you are.”

I stared at him. This was not a conversation I ever envisaged having with Emmett. There was a lot more to my behemoth of brother than I had ever realized.

xXx

When we went back downstairs the room was a hive of activity. Rosalie was working on the laptop and Carlisle and Esme were flitting around the room covering furniture in dust sheets and gathering valuables.

“We are going to Esme’s island,” Carlisle explained seeing my blank look of confusion. “It is the only place we have a chance of defending if and when the Volturi come for us.”

I shuddered inwardly. The Volturi were the cause of all Bella’s suffering. What would happen when they realized we had found her and taken her away?

“What are we going to do about them?” Rosalie asked.

Carlisle sighed and raked his hands over his face. “I don’t honestly know.”

Though it was a foolish expectation, I had hoped he would have some master plan to save my Bella from the Volturi. I was accustomed to Carlisle having all the answers. If not him, then Jasper — he was the greatest strategist of the family.

“We can’t fight them,” Rosalie said with absolute certainty.

“I fear we may be forced to,” Esme said, holding a hand to her throat. “If they come for Bella, we will not give her up.”

Rosalie’s jaw jutted out in a familiar sign of stubbornness. “If we fight them we die.” 

“Possibly,” Carlisle said. “Perhaps we can appeal to Aro’s better nature. He has a reputation as a fair man to uphold. If news of what he has done to Bella reached others of our kind they may decide it is time for a change of leadership.”

“And they may decide we deserve it for breaking the rules,” Rosalie snapped. “Is it worth risking all of our lives on the possibility of saving her?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but Carlisle cut me off.

“Bella is worth the risk,” he said firmly. “I don’t want any of our family to be at risk, and I include Bella in that. Because of our mistakes she has suffered more than I would have believed possible. We will not abandon her again.”

“I agree, Rosie,” Emmett said softly. “You know I love you more than anything in the world, but we owe Bella and Edward this. If you ask me to I will sit out of the fight, but know I will never forgive you for it.”

I was stunned to hear Emmett speak like this, not the fact he would sit out of the fight—than I accepted and understood—but for him to say he would never forgive her was shocking. He had always followed Rosalie in all things. She was his world the same way Bella was mine.

Rosalie glared at him and then marched out of the house and into the garden. She was only gone a moment before I heard her speak.

“What are you doing here dog?”

We raced outside. Jacob Black was standing at the very edge of the trees. He was out of our range of scent, but well within our hearing. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t noticed his approach or the sound of his thumping heart. I could hear it clearly now. It was hammering against his ribs.

He ignored Rosalie’s question completely and looked at me. Only able to gasp one word. “Bella?”

I nodded. “We have found her.”

“And she’s alive?”

“It is a long story, Jacob,” Carlisle’s expression was tense. “One we don’t have time for now.”

“Bullshit,” he snapped. “We fought for you. You owe me an explanation.”

“I saved your life,” Carlisle said harshly. “I owe you nothing.”

Jacob looked at me imploringly. “Please, Edward. You know how I feel. You have to tell me.”

My instinctual reaction was to curse at him and to throw him from our lands. But he was right. I understood how he felt. The same devastation I had seen in the mirror was echoed in Jacob’s face.

“Bella wasn’t killed, she was changed.” I said.

His hands fisted at his sides. “She’s been alive all this time and you hid her from me. Do you really hate me that much.”

“No, idiot.” Rosalie snapped. “We didn’t know either. Do you really think Edward would have sat on that cliff for two years if he had known Bella was out there somewhere? Use what little brains you have and think about it.”

“That is enough, Rose,” Carlisle said in a gentle tone and then addressed Jacob. “We believed Bella was dead, and have only just discovered the truth. We don’t have time to explain it all now. There is much to be done. But you and your pack can do something for us, for Bella.”

“Anything,” he said fervently.

“Prepare your pack to fight,” Carlisle said. “I believe we will soon be going to war.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Alice POV

Carlisle called and told us of what he had learned from Zafrina and her sisters. I was disgusted that someone I called a friend had been involved in what had happened to Bella. Peter and Garrett had a more violent reaction; they wanted to find Zafrina now and punish her for her crimes. Jasper was the one to calm them down—I couldn’t summon the will.

“What would you have done if it was Charlotte they threatened?” he asked Peter.

Peter didn’t answer aloud, but the way he clung to Charlotte’s hand was answer enough. He would have done the same thing; we all would to protect the ones we loved.

The idea that Aro had used Jasper and Carlisle’s voices to torture Bella made a sick kind of sense. It explained the existence of the ‘bad Jasper’ and why she was scared of Carlisle. I hated that they had done this to her. It would have been more merciful to kill her outright.

When morning came and the sky above the canopy lightened casting the forest floor into a gloomy half-light, I heard movement inside the cave.

All night Jasper had tracked Bella’s emotions, trying to decipher what it was that she did at night. He didn’t divine much. He said her emotions were like that of a human deep in meditation, or—impossibly—sleep.  It disconcerted him to feel such emotion from a vampire. I heard his sigh of relief when she became alert and ‘awake’ again.

“How is she?” I asked in a whisper.

He focused for a moment. “Surprisingly calm. I expected more distress after her breakdown.”

The breakdown I had caused with my hasty words. She’d seemed to take everything in her stride after the Volturi visit so I had no qualms about mentioning Esme, but it had sent her spiraling down into madness. The words she had spoken made a horrible kind of sense to me. ‘They hurt her…and him… still hurting. For so long…Have to bleed…’  She had seen Esme attacked by Victoria and her newborn, and she had bled to save her. I didn’t understand the hurt him, though, unless she meant Edward.

“What’s the plan?” Garrett asked.

I shrugged. “No idea.”

We’d hoped that today we could set out on our journey to the island, but I was not sure it was a good idea now. She had been through so much in the past couple of days; taking her out of the one place she felt safe would upset her. We needed to get her out of the jungle, though—it wasn’t safe for her here. The Volturi knew exactly where to find her when they wanted to exercise more of their sick torments upon her.  

“I think we should go ahead and move her,” Jasper said. “She’s reasonably calm today, and we have no way of knowing when the Volturi will come again. “

“I’ve been thinking,” Peter said with uncharacteristic solemnity. “We need to try and bring her face to face with her vampire side before we leave. She will be easier to manage on the journey if she is aware of what she is.”

“It might work.” Jasper looked thoughtful. “But how do we do it?”

None of us answered. I was thinking hard on the way I had felt upon awakening to my vampire life. I had no memories of humanity, so I did not suffer the overload of sensory input that others did. It felt natural to me. It wasn’t until I killed my first human that I understood what I was. Then I had the first vision of Jasper, and in him, I found something to focus on other than the thirst. A vision of Carlisle followed, so I knew there was another way to live. Within hours of my awakening, I knew the path my life would take. I had to find Jasper and together we would find Carlisle and his family.  It had worked for me, but it wouldn’t work for Bella. She had no visions to guide her.

“We haven’t tried simply telling her,” Charlotte said. “Think about it, all you’ve done so far is play along with her delusion. Maybe if she hears the truth from Alice she will believe.”

I looked to Jasper and he shrugged. “I guess it’s worth a try, I doubt it will work though. The vampire Peter and I knew before refused to accept the truth despite us telling her repeatedly.”

“But she trusts Alice,” Garrett said, sounding hopeful.

“I’m willing to give it a go,” I said. “I’ll try anything.”

“It looks like it’s time to give it a go,” Jasper said looking towards Bella’s cave. “She’s coming out.”

He was right. A moment later Bella appeared at the mouth of the cave. She stretched, and then rinsed her mouth with water from the canteen.

“And the charade continues,” Jasper muttered.

Bella began cutting at the deer carcass, and I took it as my cue to intervene. Perhaps if I could interrupt the cycle I could save her from attempting to eat the foul stuff.  I walked towards her camp, making as much noise as I could so I would not catch her off guard.

She looked up at the sound of my approach and smiled. “Morning, Alice.”

I was relieved to see her smiling. I was worried my return would trigger another breakdown. I sat down on the log beside her. She continued to hack away at the meat of the deer. “Bella, can you stop that for a moment, please?” I asked. “There is something I want to talk to you about.”

“Sure.” She sat opposite me on a log and looked to me to continue.

“Bella, there is something we need to talk about.” I felt unexpectedly nervous, as if I was preparing to trick her in some way. I wasn’t. It was the truth I was hoping to impart. “It’s about you, and what you are now.”

“What I am?” She looked baffled. “I’m Bella.”

I smiled. “Yes you are, but you are more than that. Bella, you are a vampire.”

She shook her head, looking sad. “No, Alice, that was before. I lost that life when I lost him.”

 “No, Bella, you are a vampire,” I said emphatically. “Look.” I picked up a rock from the small cascade she had created in her breakdown the day before and crushed it to dust. “Now you try.” I tossed a stone to her and she caught it automatically.

She considered the stone for a moment and then dropped it to the floor. “I don’t feel like playing around today, Alice.”

I looked back at where Jasper and the others were concealed. I could just see the outline of them through the trees. Jasper shrugged. Apparently, he had no better ideas. I didn’t either. Bella looked defeated and the day had barely started. I could sit here all day attempting to convince her of the truth, but at what cost?

I heard muttering and then Jasper’s voice cutting across the muttering firmly. “There is absolutely no way!”

I wondered what they were talking about, but I couldn’t leave Bella to find out now she was talking.

“Bella, do you remember what we spoke about yesterday?” I ventured. “About you seeing Carlisle.” I didn’t want to mention Esme for fear of creating another violent reaction.

She nodded tentatively. “You think he can help me.”

“Do you feel up to a journey? We have to drive to see him.”

“I guess,” she said carefully. “Do we have to go far?”

“It’s about a day’s drive and then we have to go on a boat.” There was no point lying to her, however tempting it may be to play down what was to come. It would only do more damage in the long run.

She was silent for so long I wondered if she had heard me.  She sat with her legs pulled to her chest and her chin resting on her folded arms, staring into space.

“Bella?”

“I can do that.” She said it so quietly I almost didn’t hear her.

I breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s brilliant.” I jumped to my feet.

“We’re going now?” she asked, sounding slightly scared.

“If you’re ready. There is something I need to do, and then we can go.”

“Okay then.”

I reached out to touch her arm, but again she shrank back from my touch. I hated to see her cringe away from me, but it was something I had to accept. I just hoped when she saw Edward again she wouldn’t react the same way; it would kill him.

I stood and brushed off my clothing and then headed back to where the others were concealed. Jasper looked concerned, and he enveloped me in my arms as soon as I reached him. The others looked uncomfortable, like children caught in misdeeds.

“Talk quick,” I said through gritted teeth. “What have you been plotting?”

Jasper ran a soothing hand through my hair. “It’s nothing to worry about. No one is going to do anything. Are we?” He glared at Peter who shrugged.

 “I think it’s the only way.”

“What’s the only way?” I was getting annoyed with the avoidance.

“Peter had an idea to force Bella to face the fact she is a vampire. He wants to bring a human here.”

I didn’t need any further explanation. The rest of his plan was obvious. He wanted her to feed from a human. I was disgusted by the idea. We couldn’t let Bella take a human life; it would destroy her.  

“Absolutely not!” I said firmly.

“That’s what I said,” Jasper said with satisfaction.

“Hey. I’m only trying to help.” Peter raised his hands in front of him in a placatory manner.

Jasper looked a little guilty in the face of Peter’s reaction. “And we appreciate it, Pete, but you don’t know Bella like we do. She would never forgive herself if she killed a human.”

Bella was growing restless in her camp. She kept picking things up only to set them down again. I had been away too long.

“We need to get going,” I said looking to Jasper.

He nodded. “How are we going to handle this?”

“I think Jasper and I should travel with Bella and the rest of you should go ahead on foot. Bella isn’t ready to meet new people right now.”

Garrett opened his mouth to argue but I forestalled him. “I know you have seen her before, but I don’t know how she will react to seeing you again. We need to keep her as calm as possible for this to work.”

He nodded his acquiescence, and I headed back into Bella’s camp.

It took over an hour to prepare Bella to leave. Though she was taking nothing but the clothes—if they could be called that—she was wearing, she still seemed to find endless excuses to delay our departure. We helped as much as we could to speed up the process. Jasper buried the deer and I refilled her canteen and kicked dirt over the campfire.

Finally, around noon, she took one last searching look around her camp and nodded. “I’m ready.”

We made slow progress through the jungle, as Bella didn’t feel comfortable running at her full speed, so we moved at a fast jog. It was late afternoon by the time we reached the car. This was our first test. I had no idea how Bella would react to being out of the safe haven of the jungle. She faltered at the edge of the trees and looked around with wide-eyed wonder.

“It’s okay, Bella,” I said softly, wary of startling her.  “I’m here.”

Like a frightened child, she closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t think I can do this, Alice. What if they find out that I have gone?”

I felt Jasper’s calming influence as he concentrated on Bella. “We will protect you,” he said serenely.

Bella looked into his eyes, and it was as if they were communicating silently. After a long time she spoke. “Like Phoenix?”

Jasper laughed. “As long as you stay with us and don’t go rushing off to meet psychotic vampires, yes, just like Phoenix.”

She smiled and nodded. “I’m worth it?”

When Jasper spoke, his voice was a little husky with emotion. “You are most definitely worth it.”

Satisfied by his words she stepped out of the trees and into the bright sunlight.

In retrospect, I should have expected it. I should have known what would happen, but in all our planning, every one of us had overlooked the effects of the sun.

At first, she didn’t seem to notice anything was different. It was as if she couldn’t see the prisms of light glinting on her skin. She was far more concerned about the car. It was apparent that the idea of getting into it was frightening her. It wasn’t until I reached out and opened the door for her that she reacted, and I realized just how badly we had screwed up in all our planning.

My own skin was reflecting the sun, casting small rainbows in the air. Bella looked at me and smiled ruefully, and then froze. Her eyes snapped to my outstretched arm and then to her own, and then she broke down. There was no other word for it. She crumpled to the ground with a howl unlike anything I had ever heard in my life. It spoke of deep desperate agony beyond imagining.

“Alice!” Jasper grabbed at me and pulled me into his arms. I struggled against his hold. I wanted to comfort Bella, and I couldn’t understand why he was restraining me. It wasn’t until he breathed my name again that I realized he wasn’t restraining me but embracing me.

“Jasper, what’s wrong?” I asked desperately. I was torn between my mate and my best friend. They both apparently needed me.

“Oh, god.” He moaned. “I can’t bear it.”

“What?” I cupped his face in my hands and looked deep into his eyes. “What’s happening?”

He shook his head and looked down at Bella. “It’s her. I can’t…” He took a deep breath. “She’s hurting so much.”

Bella was still knelt on the ground with her forehead pressed against the asphalt. Her arms were wrapped about her chest as if that was all that was keeping her together. The howls had ceased, but she was drawing, shaky uneven breaths.

I knelt down beside her and reached out a tentative hand to her. I was relieved that she didn’t shy away from my touch; she remained still and allowed me to rub, what I hoped were soothing, circles on her back.

“It’s okay, Bella,” I soothed. “Everything is going to be okay.”

She began to sob and inarticulate words broke through. “Can’t live…this…die…day…too much…should have fought…protected him,”

“Jasper, can you help?” I asked.

He still looked like he was in pain but he nodded, and I felt his calming waves reach out to us a moment later.  I allowed them to fill me and I concentrated on feeling my own peace in hopes of helping him. His gift was affecting Bella, too. I felt the tension beneath my hand ease somewhat. He squatted down beside me and took my free hand in his own. I knew physical contact enhanced his gift and understood that he was using my emotions to help him stay calm.

“How is she now?” I addressed my question to Jasper, but it was Bella that answered.

“Broken.” She pushed herself back to her feet and looked longingly to the forest we had just left.

“You can’t go back,” Jasper said, correctly interpreting her longing gaze.

“Why?” There was no heat in her words; she was asking him in her desperation why we were keeping her from the one place she felt safe.

“Because you have already come so far,” he said. “Bella, you can’t go back to hiding. Not now you know the truth.”

“Truth!” She laughed; it was a jarring almost hysterical sound. She began pacing a circle around us, and muttered to herself. “Not the truth… Another trick… Pictures again… Making me see… Punishment… It can still happen…Carlisle and Jasper… I just have to wait.”

Horrible understanding dawned on me. She didn’t believe she was really a vampire. She thought it was another of Zafrina’s tricks. I suspected I knew what she meant by I just have to wait. She thought, or perhaps hoped, that Carlisle or Jasper would kill her. The thought sickened me, and sent a wave of hatred through me towards the Volturi. They were beyond evil and must be stopped. Though how we could do that without dying ourselves I didn’t know. We would have to find a way; Edward would not rest until the people that had done this were punished.

Bella ceased her pacing and looked at me shrewdly. She seemed to be deciding something. She eventually nodded and smiled.

“Okay, let’s go see Carlisle.”

Chapter Text

Edward POV

Edward?

I heard him coming up the stairs, but foolishly I’d hoped he would leave me to my thoughts. I came to my bedroom under the pretence of packing some things for our journey, but in truth I just wanted to have a moment alone. After two years of almost complete solitude it was hard for me to get used to having people around me again. I wanted to be away from this person more than any other.

“Come in, Jacob,” I said tiredly.

Carlisle had told him all we knew of what had happened to Bella and how she was living. And as Carlisle had spoken, I had listened. Not to Carlisle, I knew all he had to say already, I had listened to Jacobs thoughts. I had hoped in the years since Bella’s ‘death’ he would have moved on and found someone else to obsess over. I was disappointed. If anything his feelings for her had grown.

He  hesitated just inside the door. Not sure what to do with himself now. He had expected me to send him away at the least, and attack him at the most. I was tempted by both prospects, but I restrained myself.

“Nice view,” he said, looking out of vast window that made up one wall of my room.

“I don’t think you came here to discuss the enchanting vista.” I smiled wryly. “Say what you need to say Jacob. I can hear it all batting about your mind.”

That wasn’t entirely true. I knew he wanted to speak to me about Bella, as her face kept coming to the forefront of his mind, but other than that I was clueless. His thoughts were so scrambled in the wake of the news he had heard that they made little sense to me.  

He took a deep breath and exhaled in a rush of air. “I haven’t missed that little talent of yours.”

I snorted. “I doubt you have missed anything of me, Jacob. I’m sure you had a victory party the moment I left the cliff.”

“I wasn’t partying.” I noted that he didn’t deny the actual party. “And I did miss things about you.”

I laughed wryly. “And what exactly was it about me that you missed?”

“I missed having someone to talk to that understood the pain,” he looked at the floor avoiding my eye, “and the guilt.”

I saw it then, in his mind. He had come to my cliff many times, but I had ignored him. I cared nothing for his pain. Now I saw in his eyes an echo of the pain I had suffered after Bella’s loss. It was nowhere as great as my own agony. He was human—or at least partly human—he could not feel things as deeply as a vampire could. But it was there.

“If I had been there…” he trailed off looking awkward.

“If you had been there, what?” I asked. “What could you have done that Seth didn’t?”

“I should have come back when she called me. I was just so mad that she chose you, that it was you she wanted to marry, I wanted her to…” I wanted her to hurt like I hurt, he finished in his mind.

I felt an automatic wave of fury at his words. He wanted to hurt my Bella when every iota of my being fought against that on a daily basis.

He held his hands up in front of him. “I was young and stupid. I didn’t understand then what I know now. I thought it was a competition, me versus you, the protector against the enemy.”

I rolled my eyes. “You fool. It was never a competition.”

“Yeah, I know, I never had a chance; I see that now.”

“That’s not what I meant, although you are correct, you never stood a chance, what I was referring to was the fact Bella was never a prize—she was, no is, my reason for existing.”

“I know, I get that now, that’s what I am saying; I’m trying to apologize.”

I quirked an eyebrow, not quite believing what I was hearing. Jacob Black, the bane of my existence, was apologizing to me. It was almost funny.

“I mean it, Edward. I’m sorry for what happened. I was wrong and I hurt her. Believe me I know that. It kills me to think that her last memory of me was me running from her.”

I didn’t like to tell him that Bella probably had no memory of him at all. The change often stole our memories away.

“What is it that you really want, Jacob?” I asked. “I doubt you just came here to apologize to me.”

He seemed to be steeling himself for something. When he spoke his words came out in a rush. “I want to come with you. I asked Carlisle and he said it was your choice. Please let me come, Edward. I need to see her.”

“No.” I didn’t need to consider his request for even a second. There was no way he could come with us. This moment was for Bella and I alone. I would not have him there to spoil it. Besides, it wasn’t safe for him to come.

He looked forlorn at my refusal.

“I am not merely saying this to be cruel.”

“But that’s part of it,” he accused.

I did not deny it; I deflected. “It is not safe for you there. Bella is a vampire now, you are a werewolf. You are natural enemies. She could kill you.”

“I can take care of myself,” he said mulishly. “Anyway, you guys said she thinks she’s human.”

 “She does, but our aim is to break that delusion. And you cannot defend yourself against Bella. If you were to lay one paw on her there would be ten very angry vampires ready to defend her.

“Ten?”

“We have friends, and, as I am sure you can imagine, they have become very attached to Bella. She has that affect on people.”

“I remember,” he said a little bitterly. “Is that it then. You aren’t going to let me come?”

“That is it.” I nodded solemnly. “In any case you have a job to do. Your pack needs to be prepared.”

xXx

The journey south was a blur of airports and overly friendly humans. I wanted to pace the aisles exclaiming to all in earshot that I was returning to my miraculously living love, but I resisted the urge. Mainly because Emmett would have laughed himself silly if I had.

I had never really enjoyed flying. There were too many people thinking too many contradicting and anxious thoughts for me to be able to block them out completely. I tried to focus on Carlisle and Esme’s as much as possible. They were reasonably peaceful compared to others. Best of all they were ruminating on their memories of Bella—for my benefit. It was pleasant to sit back in my seat and watch images of Bella and I together pass through their minds.

I’d wanted to be with Bella as soon as possible, and I thought that would mean going into the rainforest, but Carlisle took a call from Alice before we boarded our plane at SeaTac. Apparently their efforts to convince Bella to leave her hideaway had gone a lot smoother that they had anticipated and they were already on road. It was going to be a race to see whether we reached the island first or if they would.

We touched down at Galeão International Airport in the early hours of the morning. I was on edge as we passed through security; If we were delayed too long we would be trapped by the sun and would be forced to wait until evening to leave. That was the one negative of Esme’s island; on it we had complete solitude, but getting there was a problem. It would have been better if we could have taken her to the Oregon house, but we had no way of knowing how she would manage the journey—she wouldn’t be able to handle flying—and we could run into difficulties passing through the borders. Luckily we made it out of the airport long before dawn and we were able to collect one of the cars we kept in long term storage in the city to get us to the dock.

“Are we swimming?” Emmett asked hopefully as we pulled into the parking lot at the quayside.

Carlisle smiled at his enthusiasm. “You are welcome to swim, Emmett, but I was thinking we should hire a second boat for us. Alice will need our own to get Bella to the island.”

Rosalie looked relived. Vanity was her mainstay, and swimming would spoil her elegantly pinned hair. I didn’t particularly care how we got to the island as long as we got there. 

Carlisle went to find a hire station for us, while I paced anxiously. Esme caught my arm as I passed her and pulled me into a tight embrace. “We’re almost there, Edward. Try to relax.”

Relax? The idea was laughable. How could I possibly relax when somewhere my Bella was making her way to me even now?

“Perhaps that was the wrong choice of words” She smiled wryly. “I know you are anxious, but you need to control yourself. Bella needs you to be calm.”

That was the hardest part. I had no idea what form of Bella was coming to me. From what I had been told and what I had seen in Carlisle and Esme’s thoughts, she was a echo of the woman she had been. My Bella had been so strong, but because of the sick torments of the Volturi she was broken. How would she react to seeing me? Would she be happy, scared, or perhaps even indifferent? My thoughts circled on the possibilities, each made me more and more anxious.

Carlisle came back to us then, holding the keys to another boat. He had run into a little trouble with the owner—he hadn’t appreciated being woken in the middle of the night for service—but Carlisle had eased the tension with heartfelt apologies and a large wad of cash. He led us to the boat he had managed to procure and with him at the wheel we made our way across the water to the island.

xXx

Carlisle POV

“Where’s Edward?”

“Where do you think?” Esme looked out of the window to where my youngest son was sitting on the deck that jutted out into the ocean.

He had sat there since the moment we arrived early morning. While the rest of us prepared the house for habitation, he waited for Bella to arrive. I didn’t begrudge him his vigil; if it were Esme, I would have been the same way. I did wish he would come inside though. I wanted to speak with him, and I didn’t feel comfortable invading his space. There was so much to talk about, apologies to be made and explanations to be given.

“You could go to him,” Esme said softly. “He would probably like some company.”

I looked down at her and smiled. She knew me better than anyone, except perhaps Edward.

It wasn’t just my not wanting to invade his privacy that held me back, it was indifference I feared. At the moment I had hope that our bond could be healed, that he would forgive me for my past mistakes; if I went to him and he refused me, it may well break my heart.

Esme kissed my cheek and whispered into my ear. “He will forgive you. Have faith.”

I pulled her into my arms and pressed a kiss to her silky hair. “Have I told you today how much I love you?”

She pretended to consider carefully. “Once or twice, perhaps. But I can always stand to hear it again.”

“I love you, Esme Cullen. I love you more than I can possibly say.”

She smiled beautifully. “And I you. Now go to our son. He needs you.”

I stepped out onto the warm sand that reached to our door and basked in the heat for a moment. Isle Esme was a serene place, my favorite of all our dwellings. Here we had complete privacy to be ourselves and in the most beautiful surroundings.

Son, can I talk to you?

He didn’t respond verbally; he just shrugged his shoulders. I took it as a positive sign and made my way down the beach towards him.

I took a moment to examine him carefully as I sat down beside him. He looked terrible. Every day of his misery was etched into his skin. He had not taken care to hunt properly since Bella’s disappearance. He had hunted before we left Forks but it would take more than one hunt to take the dark shadows from his eyes and the sallow cast to his skin. Had I not known better I would have believed him a corpse.

“I’ve looked worse,” he said in a hoarse voice.

Unfortunately, that was true. The moment he arrived on his cliff top, before he knew Bella was alive, he had looked much worse. Bella’s return had at least brought some of the light back to his eyes. It would return in full the moment he saw her. I was sure of it.

“That remains to be seen.” Once again he was responding to my thoughts. We had always favored this form of communication, and it gave me a glimmer of hope that he had returned to it.

What is worrying you? I asked.

“I’m…” he took an unsteady breath, “I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of what comes next. Bella is alive, which makes me happier that I have ever been in my life, but she’s so broken. I don’t know how to help her.”

It almost exactly the same concern I had. I was happy she was alive, no not happy, exhilarated, but I shared his concerns. My expertise was human medicine, not psychiatry. I knew Esme harbored a hope that she would be healed as soon as she saw Edward again, but I feared it would not be so simple. I didn’t know how someone could come back from the kind of torture she had suffered at the hands of Aro.

“Aro!” He said the name as an expletive. “I will kill him for what he has done.”

A frisson of fear swept through me as I thought of my son pitted against Aro and his guard. He would be slaughtered before he even reached the castle.

“Don’t underestimate me, Carlisle,” he said coolly. “I will find a way to end him if it is the last thing I do.”

“That’s what scares me,” I said. “I fear that it will be the last thing you do.”

He shrugged. “I am prepared to risk that.”

“How can you say that with Bella returned to you? Would you really risk leaving her alone in the world again?”

He raised one eyebrow. “Concern for Bella, this is unexpected.”

“That’s not fair, Edward. I love Bella as you do. I—”

“No you don’t!” he said jumping to his feet. “You have no idea how I feel about Bella,; if you did you could never have left her to look after the wolves.”

I rose to my feet too, my own anger coming to my aid. “I made a mistake, Edward, and I openly admit that. I should have been with you not tending to the wolves, and I will never forgive myself for it. But do not doubt my love for her. I love Bella as I love all of my family.”

We stood inches apart, both breathing heavily.

“I made a mistake, Edward.” My voice broke on his name. “I swear I thought I was doing the right thing. Never for a moment did I think Victoria would get away from you.”

He stared into my eyes, searching for something. I opened my mind and replayed the worst memories of the last two years. I showed him my horror as I arrived at the cliff to see him and the family searching the water for Bella. I showed him my heartbreak as I realized she was lost. I showed him the hours I spent comforting Esme in her pain and my own sessions of grief letting into the forest when I would fell trees and crush boulders. Finally I showed him the equal parts joy and grief I had felt when I heard how Bella lived now, including my confession to Esme that I believed I had caused it all.

I prepared myself for a variety of reactions, but I was still caught by surprise. He bent double at the waist and positively roared with laughter. I watched him with concern. I had never seen a hysterical vampire before, but there was always a first time. I wondered if I should slap him.

“No… no need,” he said waving a hand at me. “I’m not hysterical.” He choked himself to calm again and looked at me. “Honestly, Carlisle, you thought this was God’s punishment for you? And here I was thinking Rosalie was the arrogant one in this family.”

I laughed a little too. I couldn’t help myself. He had essentially echoed Esme’s words. With both of them disputing me I could not doubt myself again. It was not I that had hurt Bella so grossly, it was Aro.

“And that is why he has to die.” He was not laughing now. He was deadly serious.

“I’ll make you a deal. I will do all I can to aid you in this, if you allow me to help. If Aro is to be killed I want to be a part of it.”

He stared at me dumbstruck. I understood his reaction, I was always the pacifist, but Aro deserved to be killed and if Edward was to do it I wanted to be at his side. This would be my redemption for my past errors.

“We will die, Carlisle,” he said in a tone steeped with gravity. “Would you leave Esme alone.”

“Would you leave Bella?” I countered.

I understood why he was prepared to risk himself to avenge Bella. In his heart of hearts he did not believe she was still his. He was scared that all that had happened had stolen her away from him. I knew my son.

He nodded. “Perhaps a little too well.”

“Perhaps.” I extended my hand to him. “Do we have a deal then?”

“Yes, with one proviso. We will not seek Aro out, but if he comes for us we will take him on together.”

“Agreed.” We shook hands, but when he tried to release my own, I held onto him a little longer. “She will love you, Edward. I am sure of it.”

“I hope you’re right. More than anything I hope that.”

“Of course I am. If anyone deserves happiness it is you, son.”

He shook his head. “No, there is one person that deserves happiness more than I: Bella.”

I couldn’t argue.

We sat again and dipped our feet into the warm water of the ocean. And we waited.

xXx

Sunset came and went and still we waited. Esme, Emmett and Rosalie joined us in our vigil, and together we searched the horizon for a sign of the little boat.

It was almost midnight when my phone rang. I snatched it up immediately.

“Alice?”

“Sorry, Doc, it’s me Peter.”

Fear gripped me. Why would Peter be calling? “Where is Alice?”

“She’s with Jasper and the little lady; they’re on their way to you. She didn’t want to call for fear of spooking Bella.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” I said breathing a sigh of relief.  “How is Bella?”

Edward was at my side listening carefully. I was impressed that he had the restraint to let me handle the call and to not snatch the phone from my hand.

“She’s a little jumpy, which is why I am calling. Alice said to tell you to give her space. She doesn’t want you all leaping at her the moment she arrives. Apparently she had a vision of something going amiss so she asked me to call.”

I looked around at my family. We were indeed poised ready to leap at Bella the moment she arrived. We did it without thinking; we were just so eager to see her again.

“Understood, Peter. Will we be seeing you soon?”

“Nope, me and Charlotte are on an undercover mission at the moment. I’m sure Alice will tell you all about it.”

“Very well. You take care of yourself, Peter.”

“Will do. See ya, Doc.”

I snapped my phone closed and looked to Edward. “You’re in charge here, Son. Would you like to be alone for this.”

Emmett opened his mouth to protest. He was as eager to see Bella as the rest of us. Rosalie cut him off with a dark look.

“No, you can stay, but I think we should wait by the house. I don’t want her to feel crowded.”

We walked with trudging footsteps back to the house and settled ourselves around the seating area Esme had designed.

We had been waiting for their arrival for an hour when Edward suddenly leapt to his feet.

He gasped. “I can hear her!”

“Hear her what?” Emmett asked, then fell silent as the sounds of the boats engine reached us.  “Oh, they’re here.”

“No!” Edward swatted a hand through the air. “I can hear her. Bella. I can hear her thoughts, and… oh God.”

“What is it?” Esme asked, wrapping an arm around his waist. “What is she thinking?”

“She’s confused. Something has happened that has scared her. She doesn’t like being here. And she thinks… oh Lord. She thinks Carlisle will kill her.”

I sucked in a deep breath. I had heard these words before and they stunned me now as they had then. I had hoped Alice and Jasper could have broken this delusion by now.

“She… she’s hopeful,” Edward choked. “She wants to die.”

“Oh, Bella.” Esme clapped a hand to her mouth, looking stricken.

“She’ll be okay,” Emmett said stubbornly. “She just need to see Eddie and she’ll be good. It’s just the confusion of being out of her element. She can’t really mean it.”

Edward shook his head. “She is determined.”

At that moment the boat appeared on the crest of the horizon. I could see Jasper at the wheel, but Alice and Bella were not visible. We stood in silence as the boat chugged to a halt at the jetty and waited as Jasper jumped out and offered his hand to Alice. She took it and climbed into the dock.

I still couldn’t see Bella. Alice was bending down to talk to her which made me think she was on the floor of the boat, possibly cowering there as she had in her cave. “It’s okay, Bella,” she said softly.

The boat rocked slightly and then Bella appeared on the jetty.

“I’ll be damned,” Rosalie said in a whisper. “It’s true.”

Edward was staring at her with a look of wide eyed wonder. I felt sure that his eyes would have been filled with tears had he been capable of it.

“Bella.” He sighed her name like a prayer.

His words seemed to draw her eyes to him. She stared at him mouth agape, and then with unsteady footsteps she began walking along the dock.

I luxuriated in the moment of their reunion. This was what two years of hell had been for. This moment was for them and them alone. The emotion in Bella’s face was unreadable, but Edward’s was clear to see. He was joyous.

Esme choked a small sob and Bella’s eyes snapped to her. Then it all happened so fast I would have missed it if I had blinked. Bella looked from Esme to me, and a fierce growl rumbled up her throat. She ran forward and launched herself at me.

“Bella, no!” Edward shouted a warning, but it was too late.

I had a split second’s moment of confusion before her teeth sank into my throat.

 

Chapter Text

Edward POV

There were no words to describe how I felt the moment she stepped off of the boat. She was impossibly alive and impossibly beautiful. I had seen her face in Carlisle and Esme’s thoughts, but nothing could have prepared me for seeing her in person. She was an angel.

I breathed her name and her golden eyes snapped to mine. Then she was walking towards me, her expression uncertain. Her eyes searched mine for I did not know what. The only thought I could discern from her mind was my name. She was repeating it as a mantra.

Then everything changed. Bella’s eyes snapped from me to Esme when she choked a small sob, and then they passed onto Carlisle. And then, all hell broke loose.

She ran forward her arms outstretched. I thought it was to embrace me, but I was wrong. With speed I was not sure I could match myself she launched herself at Carlisle and tackled him to the ground.

I heard her intent a split second before she acted and I called out to her but I was too late. Her teeth sank into Carlisle’s throat like a knife through butter. Carlisle’s look of astonishment turned to pain as she wrenched her head back and spat a chunk of his flesh onto the ground.

Esme was screaming, and Emmett bellowing, but it was all white noise to me. All I could focus on was Bella’s thoughts and they were terrifying.

I will kill him!

Jasper looped his arms around Bella’s waist and dragged her off of Carlisle. She struggled against him, snarling and snapping her teeth. She almost broke his grip but Emmett came to his aid. I stood frozen in horror, unable to move an inch. This was not how I envisaged our reunion. 

Emmett took one of Bella’s arms, and Jasper the other. She was trapped between them, but she didn’t stop struggling for a second. Her eyes were black with fury. She thrust herself forward again and again attempting to get to Carlisle, who was still lying on the floor. Esme was knelt beside him with her hand pressed over the wound on his neck as if to staunch bleeding.

Alice reached for the chunk of flesh Bella had torn out of Carlisle, but Bella kicked it and it flew away onto the beach. She laughed a cruel laugh as it sailed away, and thrust herself forward once more.

“Edward, help us!” Jasper grunted as Bella fought against his grip. I could see small hairline cracks forming at her shoulders, and it was that not Jasper’s words that snapped me out of my stupor.

“Let her go!” I snarled at them.

“Not a chance,” Emmett said through gritted teeth. “She’ll kill him.”

“You’re hurting her!”

“And she hurt Carlisle,” Rosalie said scathingly.

I would have liked to have struck her, but both of my mothers had raised me better than that. Instead I punched her husband on the jaw. He rocked back and released Bella who screamed triumphantly and surged forward. Jasper’s grip was not enough to hold her, she broke free of him and leapt at Carlisle once again.

I stepped in her path and she hit me with the force of a wrecking ball. Instead of fighting me she yanked my arm and pulled me behind her and then dropped into to a crouch. She was defending me!

“Grab her, Edward!” Jasper ordered coming forward.

Bella snapped her teeth and missed his reaching hand by mere millimeters.

“What is she doing?”

“What has happened to her?”

“Why would she do this?”

“I thought you said she wanted Carlisle to kill her, not the other way round.”

The questions were being thrown at me and I could make sense of nothing. Their thoughts were chaotic in and the one voice I wanted to hear was lost in the confusion.

Bella reached a hand behind her and pulled me flush against her back.

“Shut up!” I bellowed and everyone fell silent, everyone except Bella. She was still growling a low continuous growl deep in her throat. I had never heard something so animalistic or so shocking.

“Edward, what is happening?” Carlisle asked, brushing off Esme’s restraining hands and getting to his feet. “What is she thinking?”

I concentrated on blocking out all minds but hers. He hurt him. I will kill him. My Edward. Evil man. She was cycling between my face and Carlisle’s, and I finally understood.

“She thinks you hurt me, Carlisle.”

He looked horrified and stepped back automatically. Which was good, as Bella had dropped a little lower as if preparing to spring at him at any moment. 

“Everyone, calm down,” Alice said. “Jasper, Emmett, step away from her slowly.”

Jasper and Emmett obeyed unthinkingly. They stepped back to stand against the door to the house beside Alice.

“That’s good,” she said softly. “See, Bella, they aren’t going to hurt you.”

Her words did not reach Bella. She remained taut against me, ready to spring at any moment.

Carlisle and Esme edged away slowly until they were standing at the door too.

Not enough! Bella thought. They can still come.

“It’s not enough,” I said. “She’s still scared. You need to go further away.”

“Sure, we’ll just pop across to Rio shall we?” Rosalie said scathingly.

“Not now, Rose,” I said impatiently. There was a time and a place for her to have her little bitch fits but this was not it. Bella was scared and ready to attack them at any moment, with the least provocation. They needed to get away from here. Rio was in fact the perfect place.

“Bella, tell us what you need,” Alice said softly.

Bella shook her head jerkily. She was still too caught in her rage to answer coherently. All her focus was directed to protecting me. It was the most bizarre reversal of roles. This time she was the protector, although she was protecting me from the wrong people.

“Bella, love, calm down,” I whispered in her ear. “We’re safe now. No one is going to hurt us. They would never hurt us.”

She snarled. Hurt him.

Esme looked at me imploringly. What do we do?

“You need to leave,” I said. “She thinks she is protecting me. I can’t calm her down until we are alone.”

“We can’t leave you with her,” Jasper said reasonably. “She isn’t sane. She could kill you.”

Bella snarled at him and he looked back with stony faced determination. He was a brave man, my brother, but bravery was not needed here. I just needed to be alone with my Bella.

“At least go into the house,” I said. “If you are out of sight she may relax a little.”

Alice nodded her agreement. “He’s right. We need to give them space. Edward will be fine with Bella.”

“Have you seen this?” Carlisle asked. 

“No, it’s just a feeling I have.”

Rosalie sneered. “You are willing to trust your brother’s life to a feeling?”

“No, I am willing to trust my brother’s life to his mate,” Alice said stonily.

“Enough of this!” I snapped. “Get inside the house. Now.”

Alice was the first to go.. She opened the door and slipped inside. After giving Bella and I a disdainful look Rosalie followed, and then Esme, Emmett, and Jasper. Carlisle was the last to leave, and he seemed reluctant to go.

Are you sure about this, Son?  he asked.

I nodded. “It’s my Bella.” That was explanation enough. Bella could never hurt me anymore than I could her. She was protecting me.

Carlisle slipped into the house and the door snapped closed.

Bella remained crouched in front of me for a minute longer and then she straightened and turned to me.

Her small hands cupped my face and her eyes raked my face. She traced the shadows of my eyes and the hollows of my cheeks with one finger, and I understood. I looked—to use Carlisle’s words—terrible. She thought that Carlisle had done this to me.

“I’m thirsty, Bella, that’s all. No one has hurt me.”

Thirsty.

She considered the word for a moment. First she thought of the water of the ocean and then she discounted that idea, and then she thought of the stream she could hear bubbling away close by, then she discounted that idea too. Finally a connection was made in her mind and I saw an image of a jaguar flash through her mind.

She yanked on my hand and we began running. I tried to keep pace with her as we run but she was fast. Soon I was tugging against her hold on me. She ground to a halt and looked at me with confusion.

“You’re too fast, Bella,” I said. “I can’t keep up.”

A vision of me slung over her shoulder flashed through her mind, but thankfully she didn’t act upon it. She looked back towards the house fretfully, and set off at a fast trot, pulling me along with her.

I wondered if she would run until we reached the north shore of the island. It would probably be a good thing if she did. We could swim back to the mainland and lose ourselves in the forest bordering the city. That would put enough distance between us and the family. Though I knew they would worry, they were not my main concern, Bella was.

Bella seemed to be searching for something. I listened to her thoughts but they were still chaotic with her overpowering need to protect me. An image of a cave came to the forefront of her mind; I assumed it was the one she had taken refuge in when she was in the jungle. There were no caves on the island, but there was something similar.

Perhaps the roar of the water drew her there, or some vestige of survival instinct, whatever it was we were soon headed towards the one place she could possibly feel safe: The waterfall at the lake. Behind the falls was a small cavern accessible only through a steep rock face.

Bella slowed our pace as we approached the lake, and stared longingly at the falls, where the cavern was barely visible through the rush of water.

Can he swim?

I would have laughed if the situation was less dire. Of course I could swim, I was a vampire. Steeped with supernatural abilities. It wasn’t as if I could drown.

“We don’t need to swim, Bella.” I tugged on her hand and led her to the rocky face that flanked the cavern. She allowed me to lead her, though she kept a firm grip on my hand.

I jumped onto the first rock and pulled her up beside me. The path was clear to her now, and she began to lead me again. We moved swiftly across the rocks and jumped down into the cavern. The roar of the water pounding the rocks was too loud in my ears, but Bella didn’t seem to notice. She seemed more at ease here than I had seen her thus far.

She led me to the far wall of the cavern and pushed against me. I didn’t understand what she wanted. She swept my feet out from under me sending me sprawling to the floor. I huffed a laugh at the obscurity of the scene. Bella, my fragile Bella, had just knocked me on my ass. It was not a little ironic. I was glad Emmett and Jasper weren’t here to witness it.

Will he stay?

It hurt me that she thought I would leave her. I would not, could not, leave her again.

“I’ll stay, Bella. I promise.” I forced as much emotion into my tone as I could. I needed her to believe me.

She was unexpectedly accepting. She patted my shoulder the way you would an obedient pet, and then she began scaling the rocks out of the cavern again.

“Where are you going?” I asked jumping to my feet. I was afraid she was going to make a second attempt at killing Carlisle now I was somewhere she deemed safe. 

She looked back at me and I saw the gold returning to her onyx eyes. Hunting.

“You can’t hurt him, Bella,” I said fervently, though it was not that long ago that I had been attempting to throw him off a cliff.

Carlisle’s face appeared in her mind and she shook her head. Thirsty.

Of course she would be thirsty. I didn’t know how and when she had last hunted but her eyes were still dark. After that little episode she would have spent whatever reserves she had.

“You’re going to hunt?” I confirmed.

Hunt. Another flash of a jaguar flitted through her mind.

She was going to be disappointed if she thought she was going to find a jaguar on the island. There wasn’t much wildlife here, and little of it was appetizing. The best she could hope for was a tapir or perhaps one of the marsh deer Carlisle once shipped over in hopes of creating a breeding program for the endangered animal.

“I’ll come with you,” I said, getting to my feet.

She shoved against me sending me sprawling to the floor again. This was becoming a little embarrassing.

Has to stay!

“If I stay, do you promise not to hurt anyone?” I asked.

She nodded impatiently; I was frustrating her with my delays.

“Fine, I’ll wait here and you go hunt.” As little as I wanted to be apart from her I had to let her control this situation. She was running on instinct and she could leave me behind as easily as she had the family if the fancy took her. She would never hurt me physically, but emotionally was another matter.

She nodded in approval and scaled the rocks and disappeared out of sight.

I sat back against the wall of the cavern and pulled my knees up to my chest.

The first sound that presaged her return was doleful bleating and the sound of a rapid heartbeat. I leapt to my feet and jumped onto the rocks that led to our cavern. She appeared a moment later with a marsh deer slung over her shoulder.

She frowned when she saw me, and her thoughts lingered over my promise to stay. Apparently she had meant it in the literal sense. Eager to please her, I went back into the cavern and settled myself on the rocky floor again. She moved nimbly over the rocks, despite her burden, and into the cavern.

With a satisfied smile she snapped the neck of the deer and dropped it down beside me. I looked from her to the dead deer with utmost confusion. She huffed impatiently and kicked the deer so its limp head nudged against my leg.

Thirsty.

I was. The scent of the deer, though unappetizing, was making my throat burn. I knew better than to take another vampire’s kill though.

She seemed to growing more and more frustrated with me. She nudged the deer again and looked at me expectantly. I wished I knew what she wanted. I would do anything to please her if only I knew what to do.

Thirsty! The thought was accompanied by an image of me with my teeth embedded in the throat of the deer.

That was what she wanted. She wasn’t hunting for herself; she was hunting for me. No one had ever done this for me before—I would never have let them—but it was Bella and I would do anything to make her happy. She was taking care of me the only way she knew how, and I was overwhelmed with love for her.

“You want me to feed?” I wanted to be sure before I took the kill.

She nodded enthusiastically.

My thirst was growing greater by the second, demanding to be sated. I lowered my head and sank my teeth into the throat of the deer. Fur and flesh parted before my teeth and rich earthly blood filled my mouth. I gulped it down, feeling it soothe the burn.

Bella knelt beside me. I was aware of her close proximity, but rather than making me defensive of my meal as was usual, I was comforted by her presence. She reached out and ran her fingers through my hair. The sensation was exquisite.

When the deer was drained completely I pushed it away from me and raised my head. She was smiling at me and her thoughts were filled with satisfaction. I saw through her eyes that my eyes had returned to deep honeyed gold. I would need to feed more to return them to their lightest, but if I was to feed more at that time I feared I would burst.

“Thank you, Bella.”

I hoped my thanks would draw her to speak, but I was disappointed. She merely nodded and continued her tactile assault on my hair. I relaxed into her touch. My eyes wanted to slip closed but I refused to waste any chance to look upon her. She was a miracle.

I found with my thirst sated I was able to think a little more clearly, and my immediate situation was brought home to me. I was figuratively trapped here. The only way to keep Carlisle safe from Bella was to remain here with her. It was not an unpleasant prospect—as long as I had my Bella with me I could be happy anywhere—but I knew the family would be worried.

They were not my concern in that moment however. The woman running her hands through my hair was.

Chapter Text

Carlisle POV

“Gotta say that wasn’t how I imagined the reunion would go,” Emmett said. “I thought there would be more hugging and less throat tearing.”

I forced a smile. It wasn’t how I imagined out reunion either. I expected some fear from Bella, but never did I imagine she would attack me. 

“Alice, what’s happening?” Jasper asked, pacing the length of the room.

Alice was sitting back on one of the couches. Her eyes were glazed and unfocussed as she sought out a vision of Edward and Bella.

“They’re just running,” she said, then laughed. “Well, Bella is running, Edward is being dragged along behind her. It seems she has speed on her side for once.”

“You mean she’s faster than Eddie?” Emmett was delighted.

Alice grinned. “Much.”

“Do you think it’s safe to go outside yet?” Esme asked fretfully. She was more distressed by my injury than I was.

“Not yet,” Alice said. “They are still too close to the house.”

The house afforded us no physical protection from Bella, but at least we were out of sight.

“I can’t believe she attacked you,” Rosalie said for the umpteenth time.

I was having a little trouble processing it too. I had never even been bitten before today. The wound on my neck was astonishingly painful. I now had a lot more sympathy for Jasper and his legions of scars. 

“It wasn’t her fault,” Alice said defensively. “She thought she was protecting Edward.”

“From Carlisle.” Rosalie rolled her eyes. “She might as well be defending him from a kitten.”

I raised an eyebrow, a little insulted by the comparison. 

“You know what I mean. There is no one Edward needs less protection from.”

“She doesn’t know that,” Jasper said. “She has been tortured by Carlisle’s and my voice countless times. The only reason she didn’t attack me is because she thinks I am the good Jasper.”

“Yeah, I still don’t understand that,” Emmett said. “How come there are two of you and only one Carlisle.”

“Because I wasn’t there with her,” I said. “When we were in the jungle Alice and Jasper were the only ones that she saw. Alice had to create a story for Bella so she wouldn’t be scared of Jasper and so the ‘good Jasper’ was born.”

“So we need to do the same with Carlisle,” Emmett said.

“I don’t know that it would work a second time,” Jasper said. “We were dealing with ‘human’ Bella then. As you saw she seems to have embraced her vampire side.”

“That was the worst part,” Esme said dolefully. “I have never seen someone so out of control. Even Emmett was more manageable as a newborn than that.”

“Cheers, Mom,” Emmett said with feigned hurt. “You saying Bella makes a better vampire that me?”

Esme smiled at him fondly. “No, dear, what I meant is that she was given over to her instincts completely. You were never that…”

“Feral.” Jasper supplied. “Wild? Whatever you want to call it that was a vampire working on her base instincts. I have seen that before. Countless times.”

“But that was with newborns,” I said. “Bella is not a newborn anymore.”

“In a way she is. We don’t know how she was in Volterra, but if the human act was instilled from the beginning she would never have suffered through the newborn madness. Now she’s aware of what she is, there’s no knowing what she will be like. The one thing we have on our side is that she doesn’t have newborn strength anymore.”

“I don’t know about that.” Emmett stretched his arms, showing his bulging muscles. “She certainly gave us a run for our money.”

“Because she thought she was protecting her mate,” Alice said vaguely—she was still searching out Edward and Bella’s path. “Imagine what you would be like if you believed you were protecting Rose.”

Emmett expression darkened and he looked at Rosalie with cautious eyes, as if he was expecting someone to launch themselves at her.

“Precisely. You would probably be even more out of control. Huh. It’s okay to go out now. They are at the waterfall.”

“What are they doing there?” Esme asked.

“Bella has taken him into the cavern behind the falls.”

“What is it with that girl and caves?” Rosalie asked.

I was disappointed in her. When she had heard what happened to Bella she had been so upset. I’d hoped it presaged a change in her feelings towards Bella. It seemed I was wrong.

“It’s where she feels safe,” Jasper said. “If you had spent the last two years like her you would understand.”

Alice laughed suddenly, and we all looked to her for an explanation. “Edward was being a little slow on the uptake so she knocked him on his ass.”

Emmett bellowed laughter. “Man, I wish I’d been there to see that. What she doing now?”

“I’m not sure. They’re talking. Edward seems upset about something. Oh, she’s leaving again.”

“Leaving to come here and finish the job on Carlisle’s throat?” Rosalie asked. I would have been touched by her concern if her tone was a little less scathing.

“Nope, she’s hunting.” Alice said in an amused tone.

I wondered at the tone, but I had a more pressing concern. I walked out to the beach and retrieved my missing flesh from the sand. Pressing it again my neck I hissed as the venom began to fuse it to me once again. It would leave a scar, but that was not the end of the world. In a way it felt deserving.

When I got back into the house Alice was watching Bella’s path carefully in case she ventured too close to the house.

I sat beside Esme on the couch, and she ran a finger over the thin scar on my neck. I patted her hand. “I’m fine, my love.”

“No thanks to Bella,” Rosalie said.

I stiffened and tried to tamp down the anger I was feeling towards my eldest daughter. I managed well, but Jasper didn’t.

“Dammit, Rosalie, haven’t you heard a thing anyone has said?” he shouted. “Bella has been through hell. She lived in a cave in the middle of the damn jungle for two years. She was tortured by the Volturi God knows how many times, and she thought she lost Edward. The fact she was able to function through the depression she was feeling is a miracle! So, for once in your spoilt existence, will you try to think about someone else before yourself.”

Rosalie sat in stunned silence for a moment. As far as I knew, no one in her entire vampire existence had ever spoken to her like this. 

Jasper was still breathing heavily, and I knew it was taking a lot of effort for him to not project the rage he was feeling to us all.

“Just… just try and have a little sympathy, Rose” he said in a heavy tone.

She nodded curtly, but didn’t speak. I was surprised to see this side of my son. I had never seen him so defensive of anyone but Alice. He and Bella had not formed much of a relationship in the time we knew her before. Her bloodlust had always prevented him from getting too close to her. It seemed that the sight of her so traumatized and frail had affected him deeply. I was proud of him for his defense of Bella.

We all fell into an uneasy silence as we waited for Alice to give us more news of Edward and Bella. Almost an hour passed when she suddenly laughed.

“What is it?” Jasper asked.

“She hunted for him!” Alice said incredulously. “She brought him back a deer and is trying to get him to feed.” She huffed. “Come on Edward, get with the program.”

Emmett grinned. “Is Eddie being slow again, or is his male pride hurt?”

“He doesn’t seem to understand… Nope, now he’s got it.”

“He’s feeding?” I questioned.

She nodded, a wide smile curling her lips. “He’s feeding.”

“Does anyone else find it ironic that Bella is feeding Edward?” Emmett asked. “I mean, it’s not normal. None of us have ever felt the urge to hunt for our mates before. I think Rosie would have kicked my ass if I tried it.”

Rosalie nodded, confirming his thoughts.

Jasper shrugged. “It makes sense to me. She’s taking care of him. Remember how attentive Edward was after Bella was hurt by James? This is Bella working with the same instinct.”

“Instinct,” Esme sighed. “It’s all instinct. How long will it be before she stops running on instinct and comes back to us?”

“There is no way of knowing.” Jasper said. “It’s all down to Edward. He needs to break through her wildness and reach the person she is inside. It could be hours or it could be weeks. He needs to find a way to connect to her.”

“And what do we do in the meantime?” Rosalie asked. There was no bitterness in her tone now. Jasper’s outburst seemed to have done the trick; for now at least. “We can’t hide in here indefinitely.”

“I think we should go back to the mainland,” Alice said. “We can find a place to hole up in the city and work on our next step.”

“And what is our next step?” Emmett asked.

Alice looked at him with an uncharacteristic scowl on her face. “We need to make Bella safe. Which means we need to deal with the Volturi.”

xXx

Edward POV

After when felt like hours, but in truth was only minutes, Bella’s hands stilled and she leaned away from me.

“What is wrong?” I asked.

She didn’t reply verbally, but into her mind flashed an image of Carlisle’s face again.

I stiffened and prepared myself for her to run. I didn’t want to be forced to restrain her—the idea was abhorrent to me—but I couldn’t allow her to attack Carlisle again. As much as I loved her, and I loved her more than my own life, I loved Carlisle too.  

Thankfully, she made no move to flee. Instead, she ran her hands over my face searching for something, though I did not know what. Her small hands cupped my cheeks and her thumbs traced the light shadows beneath my eyes. I hoped she wasn’t planning to hunt again, I couldn’t feed anymore for now. However, her hands moved from my face to my neck and across my shoulders to my chest. With a sharp tug she tore away my shirt leaving me bare-chested to her gaze. Her hands run over the planes of my chest and then along my arms.

The sensation of her skin against my own created indescribable feelings in me, and a surge of something I had not felt since before her ‘death’. Lust. My body reacted instinctively to her touch; a low growl built in my chest. She brought my right arm up to her face and run her fingers over my smooth flesh. Finally I understood, she was searching me for injuries.

“Bella, I’m fine,” I said in a soft hopefully soothing tone. “Nobody has hurt me.”

Hurt me. Her mental voice was soft, almost a sigh, and I could hear the regret in her thoughts.

My heart broke for her. She truly believed Carlisle had hurt her. If the vile creature Jane had been there in that moment I could have torn her head from her body with a ecstatic smile. She deserved to pay for what she had done to my Bella.  

“It wasn’t Carlisle, love. He would never hurt you. It was the Volturi. Do you remember what I told you about them?”

She shook her head and a flash of vibrant red hair flew though her mind. I knew that hair, as I knew that face that followed. Victoria.

“Victoria hurt you?” I wondered if that meant Victoria had been the once to change her after all. 

She nodded and shoved up the sleeves of the shirt she was wearing. I hissed at what was revealed. Her arms were littered with crescent shaped scars. Scars that could only come from another vampire’s bite.

She traced the edge of one scar with a fingertip and sighed softly again. Hurt me.

“Bella, I am so sorry,” I said fervently. “I should have been there, I should have protected you. I should never have left you…”

She pressed a finger to my mouth to halt the flow of words, and then she smiled. A strange intensity came into her eyes that I did not understand. Her eyes darkened slightly, and she tilted her head to the side. She seemed to be appraising me for something I didn’t know what. And then she leaned forward and our lips met and all other rational thought was lost.

(insert boffing here)

Hours passed in silence, I was content to lie naked with Bella in my arms letting the world move on without us. However, her thoughts showed me she was not so content. She was cycling between the moment she arrived on the island and attacked Carlisle and Alice’s explanation of the good Jasper.

I left her to her thoughts and considered my own predicament. I had my Bella with me, but we couldn’t stay here forever. If nothing else we would need to leave the island to hunt sooner or later. There were not enough animals here to sustain us for long. The family would be worried too. I was too far from the house to be able to hear their thoughts, but it took little imagination to picture the scene. Carlisle, I and Alice would be worried for my and Bella’s wellbeing. Rosalie would likely be annoyed at the upheaval this turn of events had caused her. Emmett and Jasper would be fighting their own feelings of impotence. They were both men of action, but by being here they would exacerbate the situation. What Bella needed now was me and me alone.

Perhaps it was because I was absorbed in my thoughts, or because she was more alert than me, but I didn’t notice Alice’s approach until Bella stiffened and began to growl deep in her chest.

“It’s okay, Bella,” she said in her melodic tones. “I’m not coming any closer. I come with good news. We’re going to leave you two alone for a while.”

We’re all going to the mainland, she continued in her thoughts. We figure Bella would be more comfortable if it’s just the two of you here. You can get to… healing her alone.

I felt a wave of embarrassment at the thought of Alice witnessing what had passed between Bella and I. I understood she would have been keeping an eye on us for my safety, but that I had hoped she would avert her sight when it was obvious Bella wasn’t going to hurt me.

“Thank you, Alice,” I said loudly, knowing she would hear the annoyance in my tone.

Oh, get over it Edward. You know why I had to watch. A little gratitude would be nice. 

I was grateful, but my embarrassment was greater. I heard her making her noisy exit through the ferns littering the forest floor. I knew she was making more noise than necessary to set Bella’s mind at ease.

She was almost out of earshot when I heard the sweetest voice I had ever heard whisper beside me.

“Thanks, Alice.”

I immediately lurched forward so I was kneeling in front of her. She looked at me with wide, fearful eyes.

“Bella, did you just say something?” I asked, hope kindling inside of me. “Did you talk.”

She nodded jerkily.

“Say something else.”

Her lips parted and she seemed to teeter on the verge of speech forever, though it was only a matter of seconds before she spoke. “Edward.”

“Oh, Bella. Oh, my Bella.” I rained kisses over her cheeks.

I had feared that she had lost herself to her feral side completely, but here she was talking to me again. That had to be a good sign. Her mind was clearer now too. She was focused on her alone, and was wondering what made me so happy.

“I’m happy because you are here.”  I said with feeling.

She smiled a beautiful smile and leaned into my open arms. I’m happy too.  

There was so much more that I wanted to say to her, so much more that I needed to ask, but in that moment I allowed myself to relax and appreciate the fact a little of the wildness had receded.

Chapter Text

Edward POV

Life with Bella passed peacefully over the following days.

She didn’t speak much, and I did not try to push. I knew from her thoughts that she was going through something of an adjustment period as she grappled to find something to root her in reality. It was hard for her as the human act was so ingrained, as was her fear of Carlisle and Jasper.

On the third day after she attacked Carlisle she spoke again.

“Edward, what happened to you?”

I didn’t understand the context of the question. Was she asking how I passed the last two years without her or was she still unsure of my presence in the world as she knew it? In response I asked a question of my own.

“What was the last thing you remember when we were together?”

“We were camping,” she began.

 “And what happened?” I prompted.

“Alice came and said you had to go. It wasn’t safe for you to stay.”

A decision I still cursed to this very day. If I had been there perhaps I could have saved her.

“Esme stayed instead.” Now I could see the memories in her thoughts as her words narrated the scene. “Victoria came. Esme was hurting. I cut my arm.” All this I knew from Esme’s memories. I waited with bated breath for what came next. Finally I would know what happened to her. “Victoria took me. I screamed.” My heart broke a little at the pain in her voice, but I didn’t interrupt; it was important that I knew what had happened to her.

“Victoria took me into the water.” I saw the fear in her thoughts as she remembered the terror of not being able to breathe. “Then… I don’t remember what happened next.”

It was as if a steel shutter closed around her mind hiding the memories from us both. I could see no more than she could.

When she spoke again her voice was choked with emotion. “Edward, what happened to me?”

I opened my arms to her and she curled up against me hiding her face against my chest. “Oh, my Bella. I wish I knew.”

xXx

With the family gone we had free rein on the island. One of the more pressing concerns, in my opinion at least, was the fact our clothes were in tatters.

I wasn’t sure about bringing Bella to the house, though, as she seemed so much more comfortable in the safety of the cavern. I wished I could speak to Jasper. He had extensive psychological knowledge and he could have advised me of how best to manage Bella and the messed up situation we were in.

I broached the subject of returning to the house in the early hours of the morning our fourth day on the island.

“Bella, there are things I need to collect from the house. Do you want to come with me or would you prefer to stay here?”

Her weak smile faded. “You’re going to leave me?”

“No, not leave.” I hurried to reassure her. “I am just going to the house for awhile. You can come with me.”

“But what about the bad ones?” she asked tremulously.

“There is no one but us here now. The others all went back to the mainland.”  

She seemed to battle with herself for a moment. I made no attempt to read her mind. I wanted her to verbalize what she was thinking. For her to be able to speak her needs seemed the logical first step in recovery.

Eventually, she nodded. “I’ll come with you.”

“Are you coming because you want to, or because you think you need to protect me?” I didn’t want her to force herself to come if it would make her uncomfortable just because she felt the need to protect me.

She grinned and I saw a little of the old Bella shining through her eyes. “I want to come because I want to protect you.”

We set out hand in hand through the thick underbrush. Neither of us seemed in a hurry, so we ambled along at a steady pace. We got within sight of the house just as the sun was creeping over the horizon. 

I pulled her to a halt at the edge of the trees. “There’s no one here. See?”

She inhaled deeply and nodded. “Old scents.”

“Yes, old scents. They have all gone.”

She allowed me to lead her onto the beach that surrounded the house and onto the deck. She was clearly uncomfortable, but she carried on walking regardless.

I threw open the glass doors and gestured her in ahead of me. She balked on the threshold. “I’m not sure I can,” she whispered.

“That’s okay, love. You wait here and I will go in and grab what we need.”

She nodded energetically and stood like a sentinel at on the deck. I hurried inside and went straight to the second bedroom where I found two bags. One was the case I had packed for myself in Forks and the other was full of clothes Esme had brought for Bella. I pulled on a pair of slacks and a shirt and selected a pair of shorts and a vest for her to wear. When I took it out to her she was standing in the same place as I had left her.

She took the proffered clothing and pulled it on. “Are we going now?” she asked hopefully.

“There are a couple of things I need to do first,” I said. “I need to make a phone call. Will you be okay a little longer. 

She nodded and turned away so she was facing the ocean again.

I found a cell phone on the coffee table in the sitting room with a note in Carlisle’s flawless handwriting.

Edward. We have gone to the mainland for a time. There are preparations to be made. If you need anything please call us. Take care. Carlisle.  

I mused over the note for a moment. There was something I needed, but I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a good idea. Bella needed help that I could not give her. I’d had four days in her presence now and the only progress I had made was to make her speak in short clipped sentences. I didn’t even know who or what I was in her mind. She believed me dead; did that mean I was now a hallucination in her mind or perhaps even a ghost. Someone needed to be here to ask the tough questions, and I was not the person to do that.

Sighing heavily, I picked up the phone and waited for it to ring.

“Edward, how is she?” Alice wasted no time with pleasantries, she dove right into what mattered.

“She is doing better. How much have you seen?”

“I’ve seen that she’s speaking. Carlisle and Jasper say that’s a good sign. How is she emotionally though?”

“That’s why I was calling. I wonder if you and Jasper would be prepared to make a trip to the island. I need Jasper’s help.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. I could easily imagine Alice’s furrowed brow as she tried to articulate her thoughts. “Are you sure she’s ready for this, Edward?”

I had decided to ask Jasper and Alice here to try to help me open Bella’s memories. Jasper had prodigious skill managing emotions, and his knowledge of psychology would be advantageous. If we could find the right way to unlock Bella’s memories we could help her. I felt sure that if we knew exactly what happened to her in Volterra and what triggered the human delusion, we could heal her. She hadn’t returned to her human self… yet, but I feared it was just lurking beneath the surface ready to take over.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I just know I alone can’t help her. I am loathe to cause her pain, and to make her face the memories of what happened to her is going to be excruciating, but I can think of no other way to truly reach her. She is still not herself.”

“She may never be herself, Edward.” Alice spoke in a gentle tone.

“I am aware of it,” I said curtly. I was painfully aware of it in fact. The Bella I had known may be lost to me forever, but she deserved our best efforts regardless.  

Alice sensed my tension and changed the subject. “What about the rest of the family, should we all come back?”

“I think just you and Jasper for now. I would not risk Bella losing control around Carlisle again, and I will not have Rosalie around Bella until she can learn to hold her tongue.”

Alice sighed. “She doesn’t mean it, you know.”

“Are you going to pretend she was spewing vitriol about my Bella when we left you?”

“No, but it’s just Rose being Rose. She can’t help herself.”

“I find it hard to sympathize with her cosseted existence when faced with Bella’s suffering.”

“I understand. What about Emmett and Esme?”

“I will not separate mates.” I spoke firmly. This was one subject I upon which I would not be moved. No one was going to suffer the same separation Bella and I had.

I heard movement outside. I looked out the window and saw Bella walking out on the beach towards the shore.

“Alice, I have to go. Can I count on you and Jasper?”

“Of course, you can. I will see you very soon. And, Edward, remember that she loves you no matter what.”

That was an ominous statement. I would have liked to question her further but Bella needed me more.

“I will see you soon.” I hung up the phone and hurried outside.

Bella was standing at the edge of the ocean. With each surge of the tide the water foamed up around her ankles. She didn’t seem occupied by the water though. Her attention was focused on the sunlight glistening on her arm. She traced the curve of her wrist with one finger, and held up her hand in front of her face.

“Beautiful,” I murmured.

She turned to face me and scowled. I wasn’t used to seeing my Bella looking at me like that. It hurt my heart to see it now. 

“What’s wrong, my love?” I asked.

“Did you know it is dark in the jungle?” she said, and then forged ahead before I could answer. “Always so dark. The trees block out the sun you see.”

This was the most I had heard her speak since she returned to me. It was also the most rational I had heard her speaking. I hoped this presaged a return to herself.

“I never saw myself in the sun until Alice and Jasper took me away.”

I nodded. “It must have been a shock for you.”

She scoffed. “A shock. Yes, it was. It was also frightening. It scared me to think that I had been changed.”

“You always wanted to be changed,” I said stupidly.

A black look of fury overtook her features. “I wanted to be changed so I could be with you!” Her voice rose to a scream. “I didn’t want forever like this!”

“You have me though. I’m here, Bella.”

She laughed, it was a cold high sound that I never wanted to hear again. This wasn’t my Bella. She had come back to me as something different now.

“You’re not real. You are just another pretend like the jungle. I could pretend to be human there because it was what I wanted. Now I want you, so I see you. When is the pretend going to stop?”

Her thoughts weren’t making sense to me. They were a tangled rush of images. Rain cascading down over the mouth of a cave, a campfire with burning embers, a dead deer on the ground. Above all, there was pain. Her thoughts were filled with it.

I stepped forward to embrace her but she shied away from me. “Don’t touch me. You’re not real. You’re a dead thing.”

Her words felt like darts against my skin. It was what I had always feared, she would see me for what I really was and would hate me.

“I’m so sorry.” My tone was heavy with sadness. “I never meant to hurt you, Bella, I swear.”

She thumped down onto the sand in a sitting position and drew her legs up to her chest. “I don’t understand what’s happening to me.”

“Tell me what you are thinking,” I pleaded. Her readable thoughts were still a tangle of images to me, but because she was now a vampire, I knew she must be thinking rationally on some level at least.

“I don’t know what’s real anymore. I see you and feel you and it makes me happy to see you, but I know you can’t be real. I thought it would all end when I came here, but it’s just getting worse.”

“I am real,” I said with feeling.

“Then why do I remember Carlisle telling me you died? I remember the pain of his words. How they seemed to steal everything good out of the world.”

This was a memory from the time after Victoria had taken her. The memories that had been hidden from us before. This had to be a good sign.

“Because someone lied to you, Bella. Someone played a cruel trick on you.”

She shook her head. I heard the denial in her mind. She wasn’t believing me. The delusion was so ingrained in her that it would take more than me simply telling her the truth to get through to her.

I reached out a tentative hand to her and took comfort in the fact she didn’t shy away from me this time. I ran a hand through her hair. “I’m so sorry for what has happened to you, Bella. I swear I will make the people pay that did this to you.”

I was determined of it. Even if it cost me my own life I would not rest until Aro was dead.

Chapter Text

Edward POV

I knew I wouldn't be able to sit on the sand in silence with Bella forever, but it seemed a blissful notion. Reality intervened, as it always did, in the form of a text message from Alice, telling me they were leaving the mainland.

"Bella, love, Alice and Jasper are going to be coming here soon." I spoke in the gentlest tone I could manage.

She looked uncertain, even a little scared. "The good Jasper?"

This was a tricky area. I didn't want to feed her delusion of the good Jasper and the bad Jasper, but if I told her there was only one, she might become scared or, worse, confrontational.

I tried for the middle ground. "Jasper is coming, and I promise he won't hurt you."

"And he is bringing Alice?"

"He is bringing Alice," I confirmed.

The mention of Alice seemed to appease her somewhat. I wondered what place Alice had in Bella's delusion. She believed her dead, like she did me, but she allowed Alice to talk to her in the jungle, and she trusted her enough to allow her to bring her here. I had so many questions, but no answers.

Bella settled against my chest again and returned her attention to the ocean foaming at our feet. She seemed content, and I allowed myself to relax and enjoy the moment.

xXx

Alice and Jasper's thoughts reached me before the sound of the boat's engine. Alice was excited to be with Bella again, but Jasper took a more somber view of events. He understood why I had called him back, and he had spent the time since my call reviewing his knowledge of trauma patient case studies and therapy tools.

They pulled the boat up at the jetty, and Jasper jumped onto the dock to tie off the boat. Alice stood and waved energetically at us.

Much to my surprise, Bella waved back, though not as energetically. "Alice is here."

I waited with bated breath for her reaction to Jasper, but she didn't seem to note his presence next to Alice.

Alice darted across the sand towards Bella and me, coming to a stop a foot in front of us.

"Did you miss me?" she asked in her usual bright tones.

"I did." Bella's tone made it sound like she was confessing to a crime.

Alice beamed and opened her arms hopefully. I knew from her thoughts that she hadn't been able to touch Bella thus far.

Bella stared at her open arms for a moment then stepped forwards exceptionally slowly and reached a hand out to touch Alice's hand. Making contact, she started, as if expecting to be struck. When nothing else happened, she stepped into Alice's embrace and wrapped her arms around her.

"I missed you, Bella." Alice sighed. I knew she wasn't just talking about the few days she had been apart; she was referring to the last two years.

Jasper made his way towards us at a more sedate pace. He was tracking Bella's emotions carefully and searching for any hint of fear in her. She was fine until she caught his eyes and he smiled at her. Her fear spiked at the smile.

"Hello, Bella," he said in his softest tone. "How have you been?"

"F—fine," she stammered.

"Bella, I asked Jasper and Alice to come back to help us," I said.

She turned from Alice's embrace to look at me. "What did I do? Is it because I was angry?"

I hated that she thought she was in trouble. "No, my love. You haven't done anything wrong. I called them here because they can help us."

"I'm broken." She wasn't asking a question; she was stating a fact.

I hated to hear her speak of herself like this, but I did appreciate the fact she was aware she was not whole and healed. It would help us in working with her.

"Not broken," Jasper argued. "You've just been through a lot."

A flash of images broke through Bella's mind. They came swiftly and disappeared so fast I barely had a chance to see them. One of the images was Aro's face. Another was a jungle scene I imagined to be part of the camp she had lived in. The final image was my face, but not as I was now, it was an image of me well fed and satisfied.

"A lot." She sighed.

Jasper locked eyes with me. I need to talk to you alone. There are things that need to be discussed.

I nodded covertly. "Bella, Jasper and I are going into the house for a moment. Will you be okay here with Alice?"

She looked at me with concern. Hurt him? The thought was not directed to me—as far as I knew, she hadn't realized I could read her thoughts yet—she was wondering to herself whether I would be safe.

"Jasper won't hurt me, love. We are just going to talk and give you some alone time with Alice."

She looked uncertain but nodded. I was pleased that she trusted me with this. She could just as easily have turned on Jasper like she had on Carlisle.

Leaving Alice and Bella together, Jasper and I made our way into the house. Jasper flung himself down on one of the couches and run his hands through his hair.

"Can she hear us?" he asked in a whisper.

I concentrated on Bella's thoughts for a moment, but she gave no sign that she could hear us. She seemed absorbed by Alice's tales of life on the mainland.

I shook my head.

"Okay. I've been thinking, and the thing I keep coming back to is Bella's human delusion. I know it's not happening anymore because her vampire side is dominant, and that's good, but it doesn't mean it is gone forever."

"You think she could return to it?" I asked, a trace of fear in my voice.

"I think so. I have a theory, and if I am right, it would explain the reasons for the delusion in the first place. I was thinking while we were on the mainland. What benefit would it have for the Volturi to convince Bella that she was human?"

I had no answer to give him. I had been wondering the same thing myself.

"It doesn't," he continued. "They would want her to know who and what she was to increase the torment further. I think Bella did this to herself."

"But why? Why would she choose to torment herself like that?"

"It's a defense mechanism. When she was human, she was weak and unable to defend anyone. As a vampire… Well, you saw what she did to Carlisle."

"But she wasn't a vampire at the time of the fight; she was still human and defenseless. Unless…"

"Unless she became confused on the timeline." He nodded. "We've seen already how confused her mind is. If she became confused, she could have easily blamed herself for not being able to protect Esme. This way, the human act makes perfect sense. If she's human, she's not to blame."

"Argh, this is all so wrong!" I got to my feet and began to pace. "How are we supposed to help her when her own mind is doing this to her?"

"Calm down, Edward. You're going to upset Bella." He enforced his words with a steady stream of calm.

Bella was watching me cautiously through the window. I forced myself to stop my pacing and smiled at her. She returned the smile uncertainly.

"That's better," he said approvingly. "Now if my theory is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, we need to get Bella talking. If she realizes there is nothing for her to blame herself for, we might be able to break the delusion. Now, how much has she told you already?"

"Not much. She had something of a breakdown yesterday in which she called me a dead thing, but other than that, she's barely talking."

"Yeah, Alice told me about that. I understand that must have upset you, but you should think of it as a breakthrough not a breakdown. She's trying to articulate what she's feeling. We need to encourage that."

"We need to encourage her anger?" I was bemused. I didn't understand the benefit of her becoming upset. It hurt her and me.

"We need to encourage her to share whatever she is feeling. As this progresses, she is going to have to deal with a variety of emotions. We need to show her that it's a good thing to feel."

I nodded. That made sense. Anything I could do to help her, I would.

"So what's the plan?" I asked cautiously. He was concealing his thoughts so I didn't know what he was plotting.

"I want to try some regression therapy to find out exactly what happened to her. If we know exactly what they did to her, we can work to fix the damage."

"I tried talking to her about it, but it was like there was a steel shutter around her mind hiding the memories of everything after Victoria." I paused. "Yesterday she mentioned Carlisle telling her I died. That would have come after."

"I figured as much. The memories aren't gone; they're just concealed. It's like her mind is protecting her again. Anything that doesn't tally with the human delusion is blocked."

"I wish Carlisle was here," I said plaintively.

"So do I, but he can't be here yet. We need to break through the delusion before it will be safe for him to be around her. Besides, he's busy at the moment."

"What could possibly be more important that helping Bella?"

"Protecting her. The rest of the family are making their way around the world, sharing the story of what happened to Bella. If and when the Volturi come for her again, we are going to need allies."

I was brought up short by his words. I couldn't believe they were doing this for Bella. It was a huge risk to take. "Are they planning to fight?"

"Not directly. We are looking for help should they come for her. Carlisle is hoping a show of witnesses will shame them into leaving us in peace."

"You don't agree with him."

Jasper gave a small nod. "I think it will take more than shame for them to stop. What we are really doing is creating an army."

A shudder swept through me. There was nothing I wouldn't do to help Bella, but the thought of forming an army to go against the Volturi was a daunting prospect. We couldn't all make it out alive. People were going to be lost. My family could be lost.

I looked out of the window to the girl sitting on the shore. She was worth it. For her, I would risk everything.

xXx

We spent the day together peacefully. Bella and Alice fell into comfortable conversation—or rather Alice spoke while Bella listened. All the while, Bella watched Jasper cautiously, alert for any sign of impending attack.

Leaving Alice and Jasper at the house, Bella and I returned to the waterfall in the evening. Bella seemed more comfortable there than at the house, so we arranged to meet back there the next morning for Jasper's first therapy session.

Bella seemed almost lighter as we walked back to the falls. She wasn't speaking, but her thoughts were focused on the time she had spent with Alice. I learned that she had missed her friend almost as much as she had missed me. I had questioned how she saw Alice and me since in her mind she believed us dead. From listening to her musings as we walked towards the waterfall, I learned that she thought we were apparitions created by her own mind, that we had somehow found our way back to her. It made sense in her mind that it was us who were with her and not Esme, as she loved us above all others.

When we got to the waterfall, Bella demonstrated her uncanny ability to catch me off guard by suggesting we swam in the lake. She sensed that I was tense and wanted me to relax. It astounded me how perceptive she was. I was still on edge as I was thinking over what Jasper and I had discussed. We had agreed that we would not attempt regression therapy straight away. We would work with the memories she already retained before delving deeper.

I was fearful of regression therapy. Subjects were known to lose themselves in the memories. Jasper argued that her vampiric mind made this an impossibility, but I was not so sure. Bella had defied fate and come back to me when I believed her dead. The thought of losing her to herself was too much to bear.

Alice had sent us back with piles of clothing, but Bella shunned them in favor of swimming naked. I was not about to argue; instead, I shunned my own clothes and join her in the water. Despite the lateness of the hour, the lake still retained the heat of the day. It felt heavenly against my skin, almost as good as Bella's touch. She was not touching now, though; she was diving in and out of the water with the grace of a dolphin. I was content to tread water and watch her as she enjoyed herself.

Eventually the water lost its allure to her, and she swam under the falls and into our cavern. She guided me to a lying position and curled up on the rocky floor of the cave beside me, leaning her head on my chest.

"I love you, Edward," she said with a soft sigh.

My heart warmed at her words. It was the first time she said this to me since I found her again. Unfortunately, the good feeling couldn't last; her next words broke my heart.

"I'm going to miss you when you go away again."

"I'm not leaving you ever again, Bella. I swear it."

She lifted her head to look at me. "You may not have a choice."

It was an ominous statement that shortly after came to fruition.

Chapter Text

Edward POV

"What's he going to do?"

I had just finished explaining to Bella that Jasper's therapy sessions started today. Her thoughts were a tangle of concern. She was trying desperately to be brave, but her innate fear of the bad Jasper was making it difficult. In her mind, she'd had the perfect day with us all yesterday and now she must face the consequences.

"He's just going to talk to you, Bella. I swear no one is going to hurt you."

"But what are we going to talk about?"

I paused, unsure how to explain the basis of Jasper's plan. "About the things that have happened to you."

"What if I get it wrong?" she asked tremulously.

"There is no right or wrong, love. Just tell us what you believe happened, and we will tell you the truth."

I don't want to, she thought desperately. I was tempted for a moment to forget the whole plan and to stay cosseted away in our cave forever. It was only my overwhelming love for her that forced me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, leading her to the house.

Alice and Jasper were waiting for us on the beach. The sun was bright in the sky already, throwing prisms of light off of their skin. It made Bella's thoughts turn to the moment she had stepped out of the cover of the jungle and saw her skin shine in the light of the sun for the first time. She had fallen apart at the proof of what she had become. I wished I had been there for her.

"Hey, Bella," Alice said in her usual bright tone.

Jasper smiled at Bella, and she returned the gesture with a shaky smile of her own. Her thoughts told me that she wasn't sure which Jasper she was facing here, the good or the bad. The fact he hadn't made her hurt yet gave credence to the idea of the good Jasper, but his obvious tension worried her. Though he was trying to hide it, he was nervous about what was going to happen today and about her reaction. Bella's perceptiveness was as good as ever.

"Do you want to come into the house?" Alice asked.

Bella literally stopped in her tracks. The thought of going into the house scared her, though neither she nor I could determine the actual cause for concern.

"It's okay, Bella., Wwe can stay out here." Alice moved to the sand and sank gracefully to a sitting position. Jasper mimicked her movement, and they intertwined their hands.

Bella looked to me for guidance, and I nodded. She sat down a few feet away from Jasper and twisted her hands in her lap. I sat beside her, and we all turned our attention to Jasper, waiting for him to start.

"Okay, Bella, has Edward told you what we are going to be doing today?" Jasper asked.

She nodded jerkily. "You're going to help me."

He smiled, appreciating her choice of words. It gave him hope that she would cooperate. "That's right. I am going to ask you some questions, and we can see if we can clear up some of your confusion."

Jasper locked eyes with me. Edward, some of this is going to be hard on her, but you have to let me work.

I nodded. I would do all I could to aid him, even if it meant I had to deny Bella my comfort.

"Okay. Let's start with some basics." He was hoping to start with something easy to make her comfortable before moving onto the tough subjects "Can you remember your mother's name?"

She opened her mouth to answer immediately, but faltered. A haunted expression crossed her face. "I… I don't remember."

He'll be angry. She ducked her head, expecting the onslaught of Jasper's rage. When no onslaught came, she looked up at him with a quizzical expression.

"That's okay, Bella. Not all of us remember our human lives. I don't remember the name of my parents. either," he said. "Can you remember your father's name?"

I stiffened. I hadn't had a chance to tell Jasper about Charlie Swan's passing, and I didn't think anyone else in the family had mentioned it. What was I to say if she asked about her father?

Thankfully for me, regretfully for her, she shook her head. "I don't remember."

Jasper nodded thoughtfully. What would she remember if not them? he pondered.

"Do you remember the first time you saw Edward?" Alice asked.

Unexpectedly, she smiled. "It was in the cafeteria at school. You were all there."

I saw the scene pass through her mind. It was fascinating to see my family though her eyes. She had felt sympathy for us, but she also noticed too much. Watching through her eyes, I had to wonder at the fact we had never been revealed for the truth sooner. We were terrible at acting human. Then the scene changed, and I was looking into my own black eyes in a biology classroom. Bella's mind shied away from the memory at once. I was grateful for it.

"Okay, Bella, I want to try something different now," he said in a serene tone. "I want you to tell me something you remember about what happened to you, and I will tell you if it is real or not."

She nodded, eager to please. "I can do that."

Jasper smiled. "That's good. Let's start with the last thing you remember when you were with Esme at the camp. What happened to you?"

"Victoria hurt Esme." Her voice was a kind of moan.

"That's right," Jasper said. "That happened. That is real. What happened next?"

"I had to save her. I cut my arm." She traced the length of her arm along the line of what would have been a scar had she not been changed.

"Good. That is real, too. You saved Esme's life when you bled."

She shook her head vehemently. "No. I was too late., Esme died."

"No, Bella." Jasper spoke in a firm tone now. "That isn't real. That is a lie."

"No, no, no! It's real. I remember."

"It's not real, Bella," Alice said in a soothing voice. "Remember when we got to the island. Esme was here."

"She wasn't real!" Bella shouted. "It's all a pretend."

Jasper eased her down from her panic with a steady stream of calming influence.

"It's okay, Bella." I spoke softly in her ear. "We don't have to talk about that now. Let's take a break."

Bella looked relieved by my suggestion, but Jasper shook his head curtly. "This isn't helping, Edward. We need her to face these memories if we are going to break the delusion."

"I can do more," Bella said eagerly. "I'm sorry I got angry. I'll do better."

Jasper's face fell. Bella was so accommodating to him because of 'bad Jasper'. He hated that she thought he would hurt her. He was not above using it to help her, though. He was convinced that making her face the truth of her memories was what would ultimately heal her.

"Okay, a little more, and then we can take a break. Tell me about the castle."

A flash of a room with stone walls flashed through her mind. I recognized it from Carlisle's memories; it was the throne room in the Volturi's castle. The image was only there for a second before Bella banished it.

"I don't remember a castle," she lied.

"That's not true, Bella," Jasper said sternly. "I know you can remember."

Bella curled her arms around her middle as if she was holding herself together. She began to rock back and forth almost imperceptively. I hated to see her like this, but when I reached out to comfort her, Jasper shook his head.

You promised you would let me work, he reminded me. It's the only way to help her.

Hating myself for doing it, I clasped my hands in my lap, refusing Bella my comfort.

"Tell me about the castle," Jasper said. "What did they do to you there?"

Bella whimpered. Her fear of Jasper was battling the part of her mind that tried to protect her. She was literally being torn in two. Evidently, her fear of Jasper was greater, seeing as she spoke again, though everyone word seemed to be torn from her against her will.

"I burn there."

"How do you burn, Bella?"

"I don't know. When I was there, I was burning, and then the voices came. They told me horrible things that made me hurt."

"Who were the voices, Bella?" Alice whispered. She knew the question needed to be asked, but she wanted to save Jasper the pain of asking it, as he knew it was his voice that tortured her.

"Jasper and Carlisle."

Jasper took a deep breath and concentrated on keeping his voice level and calm. "That's not true, Bella. The voices are a lie. Carlisle and I never came to you there."

She shook her head. "I heard you."

"I don't doubt that you did, but it wasn't us speaking. Alice, show her what I mean."

Alice looked horrified at the prospect. She marshaled herself and spoke in perfect imitation of Emmett. "Hey, Bells, d'ya miss me?"

Bella stared at her with wide horrorstruck eyes. "Emmett?"

"No, not Emmett, Alice. It was a pretend. Like the voices that spoke to you."

"The voices were a pretend." Her brow creased and a distant look came into her eyes. "The voices were pretend."

"That's good, Bella. That's true." Jasper smiled his first genuine smile since he began. I was smiling, too. Bella was doubting herself. As fast as our happiness came, it was swept away.

"But what about the faces?" she asked. "I have seen the faces, too."

"Dammit!" Jasper hissed a curse, which Bella naturally heard. It made her recoil into herself a little more.

"That wasn't real, Bella," Alice said gently. "Do you remember talking about the lady with the pictures?"

Bella nodded, but she kept her eyes fixed on the ground in front of her. "She takes me to the castle."

"That's Zafrina. She's a vampire, too. She has a gift. She can make you see things that aren't real. Like the pictures she shows you. None of it is real. She just shows you Jasper and Carlisle. They aren't really there. It's all a pretend."

"I…" She faltered on the verge of speech. "I don't understand."

This is good! Jasper's thoughts were jubilant. She is fighting the delusion. Help her, Edward. Talk to her.

"It's true, my love." I kept my voice gentle and soothing. "They lied to you. It wasn't Jasper and Carlisle. They would never hurt you. It was the Volturi."

"No!" Hher voice was a scream and she leapt to her feet. "It's not them. It can't be!"

I jumped up beside her and tried to embrace her. She fought off my arms and ran for the trees.

I moved to follow but Jasper gripped my arm. "Not yet," he cautioned. "She needs some time alone."

"Dammit, Jasper., Llet me go to her!" I tried to pull from his grip.

"No. She needs to be alone for now. And it's not like she is going anywhere. The island is only so big."

"She's going back to your cave," Alice showed me a vision of Bella cowering on the floor of our cave.

I moaned. "I should be there."

"You really shouldn't," he said. "Her emotions are chaotic at the moment, a lot like they were the day she attacked Carlisle. It's not safe for you to be there."

"Bella would never attack me!" I was astounded that he even considered it.

"A week ago we would have said that of Carlisle, too. Trust me, Edward. She just needs a little time to decompress."

I shook off his restraining arm and kicked the sand in my frustration. "You shouldn't have pushed her so hard."

"I had to. No one else was going to do it. You have to stop thinking of her as fragile and delicate."

I rounded on him. "She has been through hell!"

"Exactly, and it's made her strong. She can handle a little pressure."

I groaned and raked my hands through my hair. I wanted to be with Bella, to support her. But I feared what Jasper said was true. I wasn't afraid of her physically hurting me., I could handle that; I was afraid of losing her to her rage.

"What are we going to do next?" Alice asked.

"We give her time to calm herself down, and then we try again," Jasper said in a cold voice. "There are things we need to know."

"Such as?"

"Such as what happened to her in the castle, why she burns there, and above all, what place the Volturi hold in her delusion."

Alice frowned. "What do you mean?"

"She reacted strongly when we mentioned the Volturi being the ones that hurt her. I want to know how they are perceived in her mind because I think that is the root of the problem."

"How so?"

"If they have cast themselves as her protectors in her mind, we have a big problem. If and when this comes to a fight, she will have to pick a side."

With that ominous statement, Jasper swept away into the house and left me to my tangled thoughts and the dawning realization that throughout his questioning of her, Bella's thoughts had remained clouded.


When Jasper and Alice finally deemed it safe for me, I ran back to our cave.

Bella was sitting at the edge of the falls with her feet dangling in the water. She looked up at the sound of my approach and smiled ruefully.

"Are you angry?" she asked as I sat down beside her.

"Never. I am confused though. Can I ask you a question?"

She shrugged. "Sure."

"Why did you get angry when Jasper asked about the Volturi?"

She stiffened. "I remember the Volturi. I went to them to save you."

"That's right; you and Alice came to stop me killing myself."

"They were kind to me."

I considered her words. They hadn't been particularly kind to her the day she came to save me. For all of Aro's charms, he had instructed Jane to hurt her. We had barely made it out with our lives.

"When were they kind to you?"

Aro's face flashed through her mind and half remembered words. "We will take care of you, Isabella."

"I don't remember," she said. "Not really. I have so many memories, but they confuse me. As soon as I reach for one, they disappear again. I don't know if I want to remember."

"Don't you want to know the truth?"

"I do, but what if the truth is worse than what I already remember. What if it makes you all go away?"

"Nothing can make me go away, Bella. I know you're confused, but I didn't die. I am real and here with you. As is Alice. "

She reached out and cupped my cheek. "That's what I want to believe."

"Then believe it!"

"I can't! If I let my mind go there,. I will lose myself again. They are going to be angry when they see what I have done."

"Who will be angry?"

"Jasper and Carlisle of course."

I could read her thoughts again clearly now, though they made no sense to me. She believed Carlisle and Jasper would be angry with her, and she was preparing herself for their imminent arrival and the punishment that would follow.

I hated that she thought she was going to be hurt, but more than that, I hated her easy acceptance of it. She expected it to happen, and felt she deserved it. My poor Bella.

As much as the idea scared me, I knew we were going to have to try regression therapy. We needed to know exactly what had happened to her so we could start to heal her.

Chapter Text

Jasper POV

We didn't see Edward and Bella again for a few days after Bella ran from us. Alice kept an eye on them and saw that they were fine, just enjoying some time together to heal. On the third day, Alice and I took a trip over to the mainland to check in on the family's progress searching for allies. Peter, Charlotte, and Garrett were back from their travels and had good news. They had reached their friends, and they were willing to stand with us. Esme and Carlisle were still in England, searching for an old friend of Carlisle's called Alastair. Rosalie and Emmett were in Europe, seeking some nomads they had met on their travels.

"So how are things going with the little lady?" Peter asked as we strolled through the city.

"Not good. She hasn't returned to the human delusion yet, but I have a feeling it's lurking under the surface."

He stopped walking and leaned against a wall. "So what are you going to do?"

"We're going to try something called regression therapy. At the moment, her memories of everything after she was taken are blocked. We need to open them up to see exactly what happened to her."

His brow creased with confusion. "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why are you going to force her to relive the hardest moment of her life? What do you hope to achieve?"

His question caught me off guard. I would have thought it was obvious. "The more we know the better we can help her."

He raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like an excuse you just pulled out of your ass. Try again."

"We need to know," I said again, more firmly now.

"Course you do. You're positively burning with curiosity, but don't pretend it's for her benefit."

"It is!" I was growing annoyed with him. "We need to know so we can help her so we can fight for her."

"That's more like it. You're thinking like a tactician now. The more you know, the better armed you are. You can lie to your family all you like, but I know you, Jasper."

That was the crux of it. Peter knew me better than anyone, the only exception being Alice. I wanted to help Bella, but more than that, I wanted to be prepared. We were going up against the Volturi, and unless we were prepared, we were going to die. The more Bella could tell us about what happened to her, the better. She had been in the lion's den, so to speak.

"Am I doing the wrong thing?" I asked.

"What does your conscience tell you?"

I laughed. "I gave up on my conscience years ago. As far as I'm concerned, that's just a person's excuse for being a coward."

"Then you have your answer." He pushed away from the wall and ambled along the street again.

"That's not helpful!" I called after him.

He halted and turned to face me. "I'm sorry to say I am not concerned with helping you at the moment, Jasper. You're all missing something about the little lady, and until you realize what that is, you deserve all you get."

"What am I missing?" I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him to a halt. "Peter, I am trying to save my family here. If you know something, you need to tell me."

"Fine." He huffed. "Since you seem to have retired your brain lately, I'll tell you. You are missing the fact Bella lived in the jungle for two years and survived."

"As a vampire," I said. "It's not like some stray jaguar could have taken her out."

He was growing exasperated with me, and I didn't know why. "No, not as a vampire, as a human. What you are failing to see is the fact that she had gold eyes when we saw her. Someone was hunting for her." With that, he shrugged off my restraining arm and walked away, leaving me thoroughly confused.

More frustrating than Peter's cryptic words were the others' reactions. When we regrouped at the dock, Peter wasted no time in telling Garrett and Charlotte what we were planning, and they both responded with the same eye roll and, "I hope you know what you are doing."

I wished Edward was with us to read their minds as I was completely clueless as to what they were thinking.

Surprisingly, they all climbed into the boat with Alice and me when we headed back to the island.

"You're going to need all the help you can get," Peter said cryptically.

xXx

When we got back to the island, Edward and Bella were nowhere in sight. Leaving Peter, Charlotte, and Garrett at the house, Alice and I headed out to see them. I wanted to tell Bella about our guests before she arrived at the house. I didn't want them to scare her.

When we got to their cave, we found them frolicking in the lake at the foot of their waterfall. Turning my back to allow them to find cover—I had already seen more of my brother than I ever wanted to, not to mention Bella—I waited for them to come to us.

Bella was more relaxed than I had seen her so far, and her emotions showed only the slightest trepidation at my arrival. I wished I knew how she differentiated between me and the bad Jasper. We were the same person, but sometimes she reacted with fear.

"We have guests," I said when they were dressed and in front of us again.

Bella's fear spiked, and she gripped Edward's hand tightly. He looked at me quizzically.

Peter, Charlotte, and Garrett insisted on coming back with us. They seem to think we are going to need their help.

"Who's here?" Bella asked in a hard tone. I could feel the tension emanating from her.

"It's some old friends of ours. They won't hurt me or you." Edward was evidently responding to something in her thoughts. "You've met one of them before. Garrett. He was the one that found you in the jungle."

"I remember him. He brought you all back." Her tone was indifferent, which surprised me. I would have expected a stronger reaction to him.

"He is here to see us. Do you want to come meet him?" Edward asked.

She shrugged. "Okay."

Edward, we need to talk.

He nodded to me.

Alice took Bella's free hand, and we set off for the house. Since Bella had allowed Alice to hug her, Alice sought contact every time she could.

After checking that Bella was okay, Edward and I went for a run.

As soon as we were out of hearing range for Bella and Alice, Edward stopped and turned to me. "What's troubling you?"

I ran over my conversation with Peter in my mind, making sure to show him Peter's cryptic statement about Bella's survival and her source of food.

"I don't understand," he said. "Does Peter think someone else was there with her?"

I shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine."

He considered for a long time and then shook his head. "I don't think there is anything to worry about here. I admit I am cautious of regression therapy and would feel better if Carlisle was here, but I think Peter is overreacting. You know better than anyone how loathe I am to cause Bella pain, but it must be done. We need to know what happened so we could help her."

I felt better with his agreement. If there was anyone that had Bella's best interests at heart, it was Edward.

"I do," he said, responding to my thoughts.

He wanted a chance to speak with our guests before Bella and Alice reached us, so we ran to the house. Garrett was sitting on one of the chairs on the deck, reading a book from Carlisle's collection. Peter and Charlotte were standing on the shore. They looked up at the sound of our approach. Charlotte flitted straight to Edward's side and took his hand in her own.

"I am so happy for you, Edward," she said with feeling. "I can't imagine how it must feel for you to have her back."

He smiled at her. "Thank you, Charlotte."

Peter locked eyes with Edward, evidently saying something in his thoughts. Edward nodded in return. They had a difficult relationship. They were never impolite to one another, but neither felt any real affection towards the other. Edward thought Peter was uncouth, and Peter believed that Edward was a prig.

"Bella will be here soon, and we need to talk before she gets here," Edward began. "I have no idea how she will react to you, but if she is able to remain calm and interact with you, you need to follow some ground rules." This was the prig in him coming out. "Don't touch her unless she seeks contact with you. She is still growing accustomed to our touch and doesn't need to be overwhelmed. Let her do things at her own speed; don't push her." Peter scoffed, and Edward frowned. "Do you have something to share?"

"Nope, I'll leave that to Bella."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I'm sure Jasper already filled you in on our little talk." Edward nodded. "Then you know I think it's a bad idea."

"I don't know why, though. You are concealing your thoughts from me." Edward was clearly uncomfortable. He relied on his gift too much.

"I am concealing my thoughts because I think you deserve what you get if it goes wrong."

Edward growled. "If you think Bella will be hurt, I need to know."

"I know that you aren't doing this for the right reasons. Your curiosity is driving you here, not Bella's welfare."

Edward growled.

"That's enough," I said firmly. "Bella and Alice are almost here, and we have one more warning to impart. Whatever you do, show no hostility to Edward when she is here. She will happily take a chunk out of you. Carlisle is evidence of that."

Peter chuckled darkly. "I'll show no hostility to Edward, don't you worry."

I would have liked to question him further, but at that moment, Alice and Bella broke through the trees. Bella faltered at the sight of three new vampires, and her anxiety peaked.

Edward ran to her and took her free hand in his own. "Are you sure you're ready for this?" he asked.

She tamped down her anxiety and nodded. "I can do this."

Slowly, they began to walk towards us. Peter pulled Charlotte to his side and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. It looked like he was merely embracing her, but in fact he was preparing to pull her behind him for protection. It seemed my warning had made an impact after all.

"Bella, these are our friends, Peter, Charlotte, and Garrett." Alice gestured to each in turn.

"We've met already, haven't we, beautiful?" Garrett smiled widely. "And I have to say, you're looking a lot better than last time I saw you."

Bella looked at the floor. "You brought them back to me," she said quietly.

"Ummm, yeah, I guess I did." Garrett wasn't sure if she saw that as a good thing or not, and it made his reaction cautious.

She looked him in the eye and smiled shyly. "Thank you."

"You are most welcome."

Bella saw the book Garrett had been reading, and her eyes perused the cover with interest.

"I don't have much of a library myself," he said. "It's hard to build one living on the road."

She nodded in acknowledgment. "Same for the jungle."

Peter laughed loudly, and Bella's attention was drawn to him. He smiled at her and winked. She ducked her eyes but smiled in return.

See how well she's doing? I thought to Edward.

He nodded and smiled, radiating pleasure. Talking with others was a big deal for Bella, and she was handling it much better than any of us expected. It gave me confidence.

The rest of Bella's visit passed quickly. She was uncomfortable at times, but she masked it well. Alice was even able to lure her into swimming in the ocean with Charlotte. The rest of us sat on the shore, watching while the girls gamboled in the waves. Bella seemed entranced with the fact she was able to hold her breath indefinitely.

When the sun began to sink towards the horizon, Bella and Edward departed for their waterfall. Edward had suggested that they stay the night at the house, but Bella refused point blank to step inside. None of us understood the reason behind her fear of the house, but it was immense.

Once they departed, we lit a fire in one of the pits Esme had Emmett build for her, and we sat around it, chatting amiably. Peter and Charlotte told us of the vampires they had tracked down to act as witnesses for us. They had amassed an impressive ten people. Some of them I had never met before. Interestingly, one of them was gifted. His ability was to create a sensation of repulsion when you looked at him for an extended period of time. More unusual than that was the fact he seemed to have been one of Victoria's newborns, and he wasn't alone; he had a friend called Bree that had somehow escaped us and the wolves.

When morning came again, Alice and I took a walk together.

"You're going to try the regression therapy today," she stated.

"I am. Have you seen anything that will happen?"

"No, nothing past you and Edward talking to her about it. She doesn't know it's coming; therefore, she hasn't decided how to respond."

I sighed. I had hoped for Alice's guidance in this half-formed plan, especially after Peter's clear opposition.

"What are you worried about?" she asked, pulling me down to sit beside her on the sand.

When I was seated, she curled into my lap and took my face in her hands.

"I'm worried about what Peter said," I admitted. "I'm worried I am doing this for the wrong reasons."

She smiled and kissed me chastely, moving back when I tried to deepen the kiss. "The fact that you are so worried means your priorities are right. This isn't about hurting Bella; it's about helping her. You said yourself she can't begin to heal until she has faced her demons."

"That was before, though."

"Before what? Before Peter got into your head? Because he doesn't know what he is talking about. He doesn't know Bella like we do. She's strong. She can handle this."

Mollified by her words, I relaxed into her embrace. I was doing the right thing, I told myself. This wasn't about curiosity; this was about helping Bella return to us.

xXx

Bella and Edward were waiting for us on the shore when Alice and I returned. Unexpectedly, it was Bella that spoke first.

"Edward says you are going to help me today."

"I aim to," I said. "I want to take you back through your memories to find the truth of what happened to you. I believe knowing what happened is the key to untangling the confusion you are feeling."

She nodded agreeably. "What do I have to do?"

I was encouraged by her response. She seemed as eager to get started as we were.

"Let's start with some breathing exercises."

She tilted her head to the side. "I don't need to breathe anymore. Alice said so."

"That's true, but what I am going to do involves relaxing, and breathing exercises can help you to relax and get in the right frame of mind."

She looked appeased. "Okay then."

I sat down on the sand and gestured for her to join me. She sat cross-legged in front of me, and Alice and Edward sat on either side of her.

"Bella, I want you to place one hand on Edward's chest and feel it rise and fall as he breathes."

She did as I asked, and Edward exaggerated his breaths.

"That's right, Bella. Breathe in nice and deep and slowly breathe out."

She calmed much faster than I expected. Her eyes slipped closed, and I felt her emotional signature slip from the tension before into serene relaxation. She felt almost like a human falling asleep.

"Bella, can you hear me?" It felt strange to ask a vampire that question, but her emotions caught me off guard.

She smiled slightly. "Of course."

"Good. I want you to think back to the day Victoria came for you. Can you remember what happened?"

"We are camping. Edward is gone, and Esme and I are alone with the wolf. We're talking about college. Esme is going to come with me. It's not cheating." She spoke in a dull monotone. It was the same tone Edward had used when he was speaking for the wolves. More disturbing was the fact she spoke in the present tense.

A small smile crossed her lips.

"What happens next, Bella?"`

"There is a sound. Esme tells me to stay where I am."

Her expression was tense now, but her emotions remained calm. Edward looked at me with concern.

I think she's okay. I tried to reassure him, but the fact he could read the concern in my thoughts didn't do much to reassure him.

Bella continued without my prompting her. "There is a scream. I can't stay hidden. I have to see. Esme and Victoria are fighting, and Seth is fighting Riley. I get sick. I can't bear to watch."

She was rocking back and forth, but her emotions remained serene. I looked to Edward to see if he could see what she was staying in her thoughts, but his expression caught me off guard. He looked positively desperate and was gazing at Bella with a look of horror. He was clearly seeing it all.

"What happened next, Bella?" Alice asked.

"Victoria has Esme on the ground. She's going to kill her." Her voice was no longer serene; it was a groan of pain. "I have to help her. I have to bleed. I take the rock and cut my arm. I break my promise."

"Oh, Bella, I'm so sorry," Edward moaned.

She continued as if she hadn't heard him. "The blood runs down my arm. Victoria comes for me…"

"And then?" I was almost scared of the answer.

For a long moment, Bella remained silent. I feared she was caught in the memory after all, but she wasn't. She looked up at me with onyx black eyes.

"And then we died," she said in a menacing growl.

Chapter Text

Edward POV

Her thoughts disappeared a moment before she acted. It was as if the steel shutter that hid her memories was now protecting her mind completely. Without her thoughts to guide me, I didn't react in time.

She lurched forward at Jasper and knocked him backwards onto the sand. It was Carlisle all over again. She aimed for his neck, and this time I was sure she wouldn't be sated with just a bite. She was going for the kill.

Peter reacted before I could recover my thoughts and act myself. He caught her around the waist and dragged her back. Garrett leapt forward and took Bella's arm, helping Peter restrain her.

"It's okay, Little One," he said in a soothing voice. "Calm yourself down."

His words had absolutely no effect on her whatsoever. I knew they wouldn't. It was me she needed. I stepped forward into her line of sight, but she did not calm. Instead, she shoved me away with a menacing growl.

A hand clamped around my arm and dragged me out of Bella's line of fire. I was unable to move myself. I was so stunned that she had growled at me. My Bella, my mate, had shoved me away. It made no sense.

Garrett and Peter had Bella pinned between them. She wasn't struggling now, but she was panting heavily for unnecessary breath.

"Can you hear her?" Jasper asked rather rudely in my opinion; she was right there after all.

I shook my head.

"I can't feel her, either. It's like there is something blocking me."

"How about we not talk about her like she isn't here?" Garrett interjected. "You can hear them just fine. Can't you, beautiful?"

Bella nodded and hissed. "This is what they do. They talk about you and plot behind your back. They make you think they care."

"What are you talking about?" Jasper asked.

"What you did to us!" Bella's voice rose to a scream, and she tugged against the arms restraining her.

To us? Alice's thoughts were steeped in confusion. I felt the same way. Bella was talking about herself and another person, though whom she meant, I could not divine.

"What happened next, Bella?" Jasper asked.

I growled at him. After all that had happened, he was still stuck on his damned therapy idea. Like it hadn't already done enough damage.

She laughed; it was a cold, cruel sound. "You want to know what happened after Victoria took me?"

Jasper nodded. "If you can tell us."

"Fine, I'll tell you, but first you have to tell these thugs to let me go."

"Not a chance," I stated. I knew she didn't really want to hurt us; she loved us. If we allowed her to hurt someone, she'd never forgive herself.

Jasper studied her for a long moment. "If we let you go, do you promise not to attack?"

She locked eyes with him and spoke slowly as if talking to someone hard of hearing and mentally subordinate. "I promise not to attack."

He nodded to Peter and Garrett. They exchanged a look and then loosened their grip. She sprang backwards, knocking them down in the process, and massaged her arms as if they pained her.

"Don't run, Bella," Alice said softly.

"Why would I run when you want to hear a story?" she asked. "It would be rude to refuse you after you asked so nicely." She was speaking in a voice unlike her own. It was precise and polite, but devoid of all warmth.

"Tell us what happened," Jasper said.

"What do you want to know? How cold the water was? How we thought we would drown? How when the burning started we wished we had drowned?"

"Tell us what Victoria did to you."

"She took us into the trees. We screamed for Esme, but she didn't come." She spoke the last few words slowly, hammering them home to us. Esme hadn't come, and neither had I.

"What happened then?" Jasper asked. He was doing a remarkable job of concealing it, but Bella's words were hurting him as much as any of us.

"Victoria jumped off the cliff and took us into the water. She didn't care that we needed to breathe. We lost consciousness for a while. It was a nice rest. The last sleep we would ever have. Then the burning started. She had a plan, you see. We heard her tell the voices. We were going to die as a human, and then she would kill us as a vampire. We cried. We cried for our Edward to save us."

My heart felt like it was being torn from my chest. I gasped and held a hand over my unbeating heart as if that could soothe the pain.

Bella locked eyes with me and nodded with satisfaction. "Hurts, doesn't it? We know. We remember."

"Why do you say we?" Alice asked. "Who else was there?"

"Just us," Bella said cryptically. "It was only ever the two of us, and two is all we ever need."

"Tell us about the voices, Bella. Who were they?"

"It was the Volturi. They made a deal with Victoria, but she broke it. We were supposed to be dead, but we were changing. They decided to take us to their master. One of then stole our feelings. When we awoke, we were in that damned castle again. They were talking about us. Aro said he was going to 'test the limits of a changing mind'." She smiled grimly. "He succeeded."

"We've heard enough, Jasper," I said as he opened his mouth to ask a new question. "She doesn't need to think about it anymore."

"Stupid boy," Bella hissed. "We can't stop thinking about it. It is all we know. You don't want to hear more because it hurts you, but we don't care. We have a story to tell, and you will listen."

"Okay, Bella. You want to tell us more, that's good. We want to listen," Jasper said.

"I'm glad," she said in a sickly sweet tone. "Aro brought the voices then. Carlisle and you, Jasper, you came and whispered to us." When she spoke again, it was a perfect imitation of Carlisle's voice. "Because you killed them, Bella. You killed my family, and I cannot bear to look at you now. It is only my duty that I see you through your change that keeps me at your side." She grinned at me. "Yeah, I know about the voices, too. It's a handy talent."

"If you know about the voices, you know it wasn't us that were there," Jasper said.

She laughed that same cold laugh. "I know that; I'm not the stupid one. It's her that believes the lies. She'd rather believe that than the truth you see."

"And what is the truth?" Peter asked, breaking his silence.

"That the family she loved abandoned her to their cruelties. That it was all a pretend and that you never really loved her at all."

I could not muffle the sob that broke through my chest as she spoke. It was just too much to bear. I couldn't listen to my Bella speaking like this.

"We did love Bella," Alice said heatedly. "We do love you, Bella."

"I'm not Bella!" she shrieked.

"Then who are you?" I asked desperately. What phantom had taken over my love's body and made her say these wicked things.

"I don't have a name. She doesn't even know I exist. Ungrateful, if you ask me. I'm the one who takes care of us, after all."

"What happened after the voices were gone?" Jasper asked in that same serene tone.

"Her mind broke." There was a trace of sadness in her tone now. "She became lost to the pain. There was nothing I could do."

"And then?"

"And then the burning stopped. We awoke and saw the new world. They weren't satisfied and the cruel one made us burn again. She made us burn a lot."

"That was Jane, Bella," I said. "The one that burned you was called Jane."

"Thank you, Edward," she said in a sickly sweet tone. "We always wanted to know her name. It will help us when I kill her."

The image of my sweet Bella fighting the Volturi was more than I could bear. I reached out to touch her, but she leapt back, hissing at me.

"You don't touch!"

"I'm sorry." I was apologizing for so much.

She nodded primly. "Good. Now where was I? Oh, yes, the burning. When the burning stopped, we looked for our family. We couldn't believe Carlisle would have left us all alone. But he had. The dark-haired man told us we had to suffer to appease them. And suffer we did. They stole our feelings again, and when they gave them back, the room was filled with blood and screaming. There was a man bleeding at our feet…"

I gasped in horror. My Bella had taken a human life. She wouldn't have had a choice. The thirst of a newborn was so intense; she would have killed her own father if he had been there.

"She tried to save him," Bella said in a mournful tone.

"She tried to save him?" Jasper said in a questioning tone. "Not we?"

"No, we had broken completely by then. Bella and I were different. I wanted to feed, but Bella stopped me. She tried to save the man, but it was too late. He died. Another death at her hands. Or so she believed." She laughed. "She wished she was a vampire so she could have saved him."

"But you are a vampire," Alice said.

"We know that now. And I knew that then. But Bella couldn't believe it. Her mind was too broken to accept the truth. She wanted to be human, so she told herself she was."

"Why did you… she, why did she want to be human?" Alice asked.

"Because then it wasn't her fault. If she was human, she was the victim. If she was a vampire, she could have saved them. Poor Bella's mind was so broken. It wasn't her fault."

It was exactly what Jasper had thought. She was lying to herself to protect herself. The fact that she didn't feed made no sense, though. She was still a newborn, no matter what her mind believed. How had she resisted the blood?

"What happened next, Bella?"

"There was something happening in the castle. There were visitors. They took her away to another room, and Victoria was allowed her sport." She shoved up her sleeves and exposed the crescent shaped scars littering her arms. "She had a lot of fun. All because of the visitors. You know who they were, don't you, Edward?"

It was us. We were the visitors. I had been in the castle at the same time as her, and I never realized. I cursed myself. If I had just paid more attention to my surroundings, I would have known she was there.

"They killed Victoria, you know," she said in a conversational tone. "They wanted her to see what happened to rule breakers. When she was dead, they made her carry the ashes."

To touch the ashes of another vampire was repugnant to our kind. It was a sign of our fleeting immortality. We were invincible to everything but the licks of a flame. Even through the human delusion, Bella must have suffered terribly carrying Victoria's ashes.

"Then came the burning again. She was forced to burn until she could suffer it in silence."

Alice lost the fight against the sobs that had been building throughout Bella's recital. She curled into Jasper's chest and gave voice to her pain. I was tempted to do the same, but part of me knew I had to be strong for Bella. She had suffered so much, and I had to bear her story stoically.

"I don't know how much time passed. It was hard to tell through the burning and feeling-stealing that they did. But I remember when the voices came back. Now they had pictures, too. They showed her Carlisle's face and spoke for him." She spoke again in a perfect imitation of Carlisle's voice. "'Your payment for the lives of our loved ones is to live out your life, but you must live it alone. You must stay hidden from all others at all times. If you see someone, you hide. If someone sees you, you run.' She had her rules and was grateful for them. She wanted to suffer, you see."

"How did you come to be in the jungle?" Jasper asked. We knew the story from Zafrina, but he wanted to hear it from Bella.

I shook my head. She had told us enough, suffered enough, but he did not retract the question, and Bella seemed too happy to answer.

"The woman with the pictures took her to her sisters. They tried to take care of Bella, but she couldn't feed like they fed. She was breaking the rules by being with them. She had to hide. She tried to run away, but they found her every time. Eventually, they understood. They took her to the mountains and made a home for her there. They even gave her things for her human pretend."

Jasper sighed heavily. I think we have learned all we are going to. What are we going to do with her now?

I growled low in my throat. I didn't like the way he was thinking of her, like she was a problem that had to be disposed of. This was my Bella, my love; she would come back to me eventually—I was sure of it.

"No more questions, empath?" Bella asked in a mocking tone. "Don't you want to hear what came next? It's a good story. Bella suffered, and that always makes a good story for you. You were the first one to make her suffer, after all. How much do you regret the fact they pulled you away before you could sink your teeth into her? She sometimes wondered about that. She thought it would have been better to die then, before she killed her Edward."

"You didn't kill me, Bella," I said. "I know you don't believe it, but I am alive."

"I know that. It's Bella that is confused. I know what really happened."

"What happened?" Jasper asked. The question seemed drawn from him against his will.

"See, I knew there was still some curiosity in there somewhere. You vampires are all about the curiosity." She imitated my voice. "Let's see how long I can be around the human without killing her. It will be a good test of my strength. Let's make her fall in love with me. That will be fun."

"No, Bella." I gasped. "It was never like that. I love you."

She laughed a cold laugh. "Of course you love me. Pets are always loved by their owners. Why else would they keep them?"

"You're wrong." Jasper spoke coldly. "Edward loves you. He always has. And deep down inside, you know that. Bella knows that."

"Bella is a fool. She believed the lies that you were dead. She couldn't bear the truth that you had just grown tired of her."

I shook my head despairingly. There didn't seem to be anything we could say to appease her.

"Was it fun for you?" she asked. "Did you plan with Aro in advance, or was it a spur of the moment decision?"

"We had nothing to do with what Aro did to you," Alice said in a kind of moan. "If we'd known, we would have come for you sooner."

"But you didn't come. You aren't trying to tell me you didn't see, Alice. You of all people had to know. Bella was making decisions all the time. She decided to make herself eat human food. She decided to drink water and try to sleep. So many decisions every day. You can't tell me you didn't see me once."

"But I didn't," Alice spoke through her sobs. "I saw nothing of you from the moment I left you and Esme with Seth. I never thought to look."

"Of course you didn't. Why would you look for Bella? She was a toy you had tossed away."

"No, Bella, I didn't look because I thought you were dead."

She fell silent as she considered Alice's words. I had hope that we were breaking through to her, but my hope was dashed with her next words.

"We're glad you didn't see. We didn't want you."

"That's a lie," Jasper said immediately. "You may not have wanted us, but Bella did. I felt how happy she was to see Alice and Edward. She loves them now as much as she ever did. And while we're talking about abandonment, why didn't you help Bella? You obviously knew she was a vampire all along; why did you let her live as a human?"

When she spoke, it wasn't in the cruel tone she had used thus far. It was in a meeker voice as if she was admitting something that shamed her.

"I am not the strong one, Bella is. She keeps me locked away inside most of the time. The only time I am allowed out is when her thirst is too much to bear. She can't hunt for herself, so I have to do it. I had to watch for weeks as she fought the thirst in the jungle. She suffered for so long that it killed me."

It was killing me to hear her talk like this. I wanted to take her in my arms and soothe all this pain away. I was forbidden from touching her, though.

"Why did you come out now?" Jasper asked. "Does Bella need to hunt?"

"She does, but that's not why I am here. When you started probing her feelings, making her remember things better left forgotten, she needed me. She couldn't talk about these things, so I did it for her." She smiled cruelly. "Now I am out, and I have no intentions of going away again. I hope you enjoyed your time with Bella because you aren't getting any more."

With that, she darted away and threw herself into the rolling waves.

Chapter Text

Edward POV

I watched her go as I stood frozen in place. It was my own shock that held me, not another's arms, though it amounted to the same thing. I could not move.

"What… what was that?" Alice's sobs had quieted for now, but I knew they were lurking under the surface. I could hear the grief in her thoughts.

"That was exactly what I was afraid of," Peter said.

I rounded on him, and my hands found their way to his throat. To his credit, he did not attempt to fight me off. He stayed still and allowed me to vent my rage. "Why didn't you warn us?" I snarled.

"I did," he said through gritted teeth. "You were all too arrogant to listen."

"But what was it?" Alice asked again.

"That was Bella's inner vampire coming out."

Alice frowned. "I don't understand."

"You wouldn't; you're on the deer sucker diet. But to us who hunt the natural way, that is what lurks within us all. That's what comes to the fore when you are draining a human of their sweet blood. It's what makes it possible to fight to defend yourself." He looked to Jasper. "You used to know this."

Jasper scowled at him. "You should have warned me."

"You should have known," Peter said, unabashed. "You used to be one of us."

I released Peter from my clutches and thumped down onto the sand. Hiding my face in my hands I began to sob.

I had thought I lost Bella forever the day Victoria stole her away, but a miracle had been granted, and she returned to me. Now I had lost her all over again, though this time I had lost her to herself.

What are we going to do? She can't stay like that forever. Alice's thoughts echoed my own feelings.

"Okay, take a moment and get your guilt out of the way, and then we can talk strategy," Peter said in a cold, hard tone.

His words seemed to be the permission we all needed. My sobs became keening howls and Jasper hid his face in Alice's hair. We remained like that for what felt like hours as we damned ourselves for what we had done.

"Feeling better?" Garrett asked eventually.

"No," I said in a choked voice. "I will never feel better."

Peter scoffed. "That was nice and dramatic. You need to get that shit out of your system now, because Bella will have no patience with it."

"You heard what she said; Bella is gone forever."

"Which was impressive and all, but also bullshit. I also heard her, whatever you want to call her, say she wasn't the strong one."

"Isabella," Jasper said. "For the sake of clarity, I think we should call her Isabella."

Peter shrugged. "Fine, whatever you want. The point is that Isabella is not the strong one—Bella is. Sooner or later, she will be out again, and then you can start fixing this mess you have created."

"We never meant to hurt her," Jasper said irritably. "We thought we were helping."

"Obviously, but you weren't. Did you learn anything that will help you fight the Volturi?"

I shook my head. All we had learned was the depths of the cruelty she had endured. The fact that she had made it through with some semblance of her mind intact was a miracle. Isabella said Bella was broken, and that was the truth, but not as broken as she imagined. The Bella I had come to know in these past two weeks knew me and protected me. She was still my Bella, at least some of the time.

"We learned nothing to help us fight," Jasper said, "but that's not to say we learned nothing. We now know what happened to Bella, and how she survived in the jungle."

"Was it worth it?" Garrett asked. "Because we could have told you that."

Alice shook her head. "It wasn't worth it. We were wrong."

"How long will it take for Bella to come back?" I asked Peter.

He shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. Isabella is firmly in control for now, but that won't last long. She can only last as long as the need is there. As soon as Bella calms down, she will be shoved back into that little box in Bella's mind."

"And then what?" I asked.

"Then, if I'm right, she will search for you. I doubt she'll remember what happened with Isabella, but she will want to make sure you are safe. Word of warning, Jasper, when she does come looking, you're going to want to be well out of the way."

"Why?"

"Because the first person Isabella attacked was the one of us that looked the most like a danger. Jasper is a veritable beacon of menace with all his scars. Isabella saw that as a challenge. Bella will see that as a threat. After what she did to Carlisle, I think it's safe to say she will want to defend Edward again."

"Okay, so let's say you are right, and Bella will come back, what do we do next?" Alice asked. "How do we help her banish Isabella?"

"You don't," Garrett said simply. "Isabella and Bella are one and the same. You are going to have to accept that. If you can find something to ground Bella in the present, you might be able to suppress Isabella, but she will never go away completely."

I raked a hand through my hair. This was all so wrong. I couldn't consolidate the human Bella I had first met with the vampire that protected me, never mind the vampire that spewed vitriol at us all, blaming us, rightly so, for damaging her so badly. I could still hear her words echoing in my ears. The way she had spoken of us, it was chilling.

"Edward, could you hear her thoughts when Isabella was talking?" Jasper asked. "Could you see what she was talking about?"

I shook my head. "As soon as Isabella came to the fore, her thoughts vanished. It was as if a steel shutter came down and blocked me."

"That makes sense. I couldn't feel her emotions either, though it doesn't take a lot of imagination to know what she was feeling at the time. I have never known anything like it. Not even from a newborn."

Peter looked at him as if assessing his mental competence. "Of course you haven't. Newborns are driven by their urges. Isabella is completely in control of herself. I'm betting you've felt something like it before thought. Think back to the wars. Did you never feel anything similar?"

Jasper's mouth fell open. "Maria?"

"What does that lunatic have to do with anything?" Alice said in a hard tone. She detested Jasper's creator for the life she had forced her mate into.

"Isabella is a lot like her," Peter explained. "She was a raving lunatic, but completely in control at all times. It was as though she deplored the behavior of the newborns she created and strove to differentiate herself from them."

"Isabella is not a lunatic!" I said in a low growl.

Peter shrugged. "If you say so."

"I hate to say it, but he has a point," Jasper said. "Isabella, Bella, whoever she really is, is a lot like Maria. Fortunately, without the penchant for causing pain, but she definitely shares the same outlook on life. Isabella wants to be in control, so did Maria. This actually helps us. If we can deal with Isabella the same way we would an unwanted visit with Maria, we might have a fighting chance of beating her."

"Aren't you listening?" Peter sounded exasperated. "She's not something you can beat. She's a part of Isabella. They are one and the same."

I ignored his words. They were not what I wanted to hear. There had to be a way of beating Isabella, or else what was our life to be.


Isabella POV

I dove into the waves, away from them and their prying eyes. It felt good to be in the water again. It was a love Bella and I shared. In the jungle, there was a rock-lined pool near our cave that I liked to lie in after hunting.

Now I had the whole ocean open to me, and I took advantage of it. Diving in and out of the water was so freeing.

I considered my options. I could go to the mainland and back to my beloved jungle, but something whispered against it. The Volturi knew where I was there, and if I lost the battle with Bella for control, she would be powerless against them. Here at least I had forewarning of their coming and people to protect me. I hated to rely on the cowardly Cullens for anything, but needs must when the devil drives.

I wondered what the boy was doing now. Was he still standing uselessly on the shore as I ran from him taking his Bella away, or was he attempting to follow me? I was prepared for him, should he came. I couldn't harm him physically, Bella would never allow it, but I could have more fun with him yet. There were more stories of the Volturi visits and trips to the castle that I hadn't yet shared. How would he feel if he knew how they had taunted her with his voice? Especially after his last visit. I well remember the words they had said using his piteous voice. "I burn in the flames of hell, and soon, so will you."

How those words had hurt her. She had almost lost control then and freed me. I wished she had. I could have killed at least one of them before I was destroyed. The woman Zafrina would have helped me. I saw how much she hated them, too. But she hadn't freed me. I had been forced to remain hidden inside while they hurt her.

I swam to shore and wrung out my sopping hair. It would dry fairly quickly in the heat, as would my clothes. Taking stock of my surroundings, I realized I had come to the north shore of the island. The jungle encroached on the beach, leaving only a small strip of land for me to cross before I became lost in the trees. I ran across the sand and into the jungle. It was not as good as home, but it was close enough to appease me.

I needed to hunt, my throat was raw. I must have been suffering for days already, and the boy hadn't noticed. It was all very well for Bella to hunt for him, but he didn't think to return the favor.

I took down a deer and gulped down the blood. The hunt was too fast. It did not pacify my need for violence. I was burning with rage for them and their games. I wanted to go back to them and hurt them as they had hurt me, but I knew Bella would never allow it. I had to keep her mollified if I was to stop her from taking over again. It would be a delicate balancing act.

I took down a second deer and yanked back its head with pleasure. Muscle and sinew broke apart at my touch, almost tearing the head from the deer. The blood pulsed quickly away as the heart thudded its last beat. I looked at the carnage surround me and smiled. This was more like it.

My meal done with, I set off for our, no, my cave. It was mine alone now. The boy would not dare to come back to me now. A small twinge of sadness crept through me at the thought of not seeing him again. I disregarded it; it was Bella's need for him, not my own. I had need of no one but myself.

When I reached our cave, I stripped out of my bloodied clothing and stood under the falls. The pounding water swept away the dirt and blood from my skin. It turned the water a pleasant pink that I knew would fade before long. It was a pity, really.

I dressed myself from the pile of clothing we, no, I had stored here and settled back on the rocky floor to think about what came next. I couldn't allow myself to relax too much, or Bella would come out again. I mulled over my narration of our past. It helped to keep me tense. A part of me regretted that I had permitted myself to talk so much. They knew nearly everything now, all the secrets we had tried to keep from them. No, not we, she.

My thoughts were becoming tangled, and I knew it was Bella's doing. She was fighting to come forth. I batted her away like an irksome fly. This was my time, not hers. She'd had her time. If I allowed her to come out now, she would be back in that traitor's arms by the end of the day. I could not allow it. I had to protect her.

No! I thought to myself. This is my turn. You don't get to take it away from me.

A small voice whispered in return. I want my Edward.

Damn her. After all he had done to us, she still wanted him. It made no sense. I was the one she should want. I had protected us. Iwas the strong one. Just because she had control, it didn't cancel out the fact she was weak in body if not mind.

Where is my Edward?

"He's gone," I said aloud. I didn't know if she would hear me or not, but I would take my chances. "He didn't want us anymore."

No. The voice was a moan. He wouldn't leave me again. He loves me.

Foolish girl, she had no idea what love was. I was the one that loved us. I took care of us when nobody else would.

"He is gone, and this time he is not coming back."

You lie! She was hissing now. I could feel her rage building and knew she was close to taking control. There was one thing left to try.

"Will he still want you after all you've done? He knows now, he knows that you grubbed around like an animal in the dirt instead of searching for him."

He died. I couldn't save him.

"He didn't die, you fool. He is a vampire; they live forever. He left you all alone while he lived with his perfect family. You were nothing to him, nothing more than a distraction."

It was that word that cursed me. I had intended for her to be weakened by that reminder of his past treachery, but instead it gave her strength.

You lie!

A battle began that I had no strength left to fight. I felt myself being stuffed away into her mind. I was doomed. I tried to force more words from her lips, but they weren't mine anymore. I heard a voice. They were her words, not mine, and they came to me as an echo as I was forced once again into the dark recesses of her mind, forced to act as passenger to my own life.

"Edward loves me."

Chapter Text

Bella POV

It was the strangest sensation. I could feel the rocky floor beneath me and the drops of water ricocheting off the rocks and onto my face, but I couldn't move. It felt like I was trapped in my body. I fought against my invisible restraints and a voice whispered in return.

"No! This is my turn. You don't get to take it away from me."

Whose turn? This made no sense. I had to free myself. I needed Edward. I tried to force the words from my lips, but they could not move. Instead, I heard my plea echo like a whisper in my mind. I want my Edward. Where is my Edward?

"He's gone," the voice replied. "He didn't want us anymore."

No. He wouldn't leave me again. He loves me.

"He is gone, and this time he is not coming back."

No! It couldn't be true. Edward had come back from death to be with me again. He wouldn't leave me now. Not after all we had been through. Overwhelming rage swept through me. This voice, this presence was keeping me from Edward.

You lie! I hissed.

"Will he still want you after all you've done? He knows now. He knows that you grubbed around like an animal in the dirt instead of searching for him."

That wasn't true. I couldn't have searched for him. He died. I couldn't save him.

"He didn't die, you fool. He is a vampire; they live forever. He left you all alone while he lived with his perfect family. You were nothing to him, nothing more than a distraction."

A distraction. The word echoed in my mind, bringing with it a memory of Edward's hardened face the first time he left me. He left to protect me then; he promised he would never leave me again. This voice was lying to me.

You lie!

I fought with all I had to break the bindings around me. Gradually, they weakened and then suddenly they broke. I was free to move and feel and be.

"Edward loves me." This time the words rang clear through the air as my mouth and body became my own again.

Of course he loved me. I knew that. He loved me so much he had come back from death to be with me again.

As I looked around my surroundings, I realized that something was very wrong. I was in our cave, though only minutes ago I had been on the beach with Edward. Jasper had been speaking to me about helping me. There was special breathing to do and then…nothing. I had no memory of how or why I came to be here alone.

More disconcerting than my displacement in location was the fact time had clearly passed while I was gone. It had been early morning when I sat down on the sand, but now the light was that of afternoon. Something had gone very wrong. The voice that had whispered to me had done something more to me. It had stolen my body.

I laughed. Great roaring laughs that stole my breath and doubled me over. It was ridiculous. I had woken from one nightmare and stepped right into another. It was my worst fear. I was insane after all. Normal vampires didn't have voices whispering into their minds, other than Edward, of course. Perhaps that was it; I was gifted after all, and this was my gift. I could read minds like him. No, that didn't make sense. It didn't explain the way the voice stole my body, too.

A random thought came to me. Our body.

The thought sent a chill of fear through me, and I pushed it away. I was alone. There was no one else here. I shared my body with no one.

I got to my feet and looked around. On the floor was a pile of bloodstained clothing. Had I somehow hurt myself? No, that couldn't be right. I was getting lost again. I wasn't human. I was a vampire. I had been changed by Victoria, before… The memories stopped there. I felt they were on the surface of my mind, waiting for me to pick at them, but I wasn't ready. I searched for memories closer to now, for the reason I had come to be alone, with bloodied clothing, affirming Edward's love for me. They weren't there. I knew it was impossible for a vampire mind to forget anything, but I apparently had. Just another sign of how defective I was.

Deer blood, idiot. And not your clothes, mine.

I banished the thought. There was no one here but me.

I considered my situation. I had gone from sitting on the beach with my Edward to being here alone. My first task had to be finding Edward. Anything could have happened to him. Jasper and Carlisle could have taken him away, or he could have disappeared on his own. His presence here was already fleeting because he was dead. Maybe his time had come. I would not live without him. I would find the bad Jasper and make him kill me. He would be glad of an excuse.

I walked out of our cave and into the jungle. The path between our cave and the house was flat, as we had made the journey so many times. Even without the clear trail to follow, I could have followed our scent path. It seemed so natural to me to use my vampire abilities, so natural, in fact, that I had to wonder how I had managed to delude myself into thinking I was human for so long.

It was hard for me to think of that time. I still had moments when I would become confused and would think to seek unnecessary food or water. Edward grounded me in those moments, but he wasn't here now.

The scent of blood drew me from the path and into the trees. I found the carcasses of two crudely butchered deer. They were lying in a congealing puddle of blood. Edward would never have left them like this. I had seen how careful he was to dispose of the deer I had brought for him to feed on.

The bloodied clothes returned to my mind, and I considered. I didn't remember hunting, but then I didn't ever remember hunting, and I knew I must have fed to have lived so long alone in the jungle. The meat I would eat always appeared without apparent cause. Was I hunting and not realizing it?

Yes. The thought was a voice now, and it was talking in a delighted hiss.

A vision of the butchered carcasses on the ground came to me. I remembered tearing the neck of the deer and gulping at the blood. I remembered the malicious pleasure I took in the action.

My legs weakened beneath my, and I sank to the ground. "What's happening to me?" I asked aloud.

You are finally seeing the truth.

"What is the truth?"

That you are the weak one and I am strong. That we survived because of me. I was the one who hunted while you cowered in a cave.

"But who are you?"

I, Isabella, am you. I heard a cruel laugh follow the words before the voice fell silent.

I felt my eyes prick, and my breathing became gasps. I realized after a moment that I was crying. Or the vampire equivalent. I could shed no tears; these fruitless gasping sobs were all I could manage.

There was temptation to stay there forever. Sitting at the scene of my massacre, but there was something more important to consider. Edward. I had to find him. I pushed myself to my feet and set out for the path again. As I moved through the trees, my sense of urgency increased, and my pace morphed from a walk to a jog to a run. Soon I was flying through the trees. I needed Edward.

You won't find him, the voice hissed. He's gone.

I hissed in return. "He's not gone. You are lying to me."

You should give up now. Take us back to the jungle where I can protect you. You don't need them anymore. Not now that you have me.

"There is no we. Only me!" I was lying to myself, and I knew it. There was a we, but I didn't understand how.

As I broke through the tree line, I saw something to stop me in my tracks. Jasper was standing alone on the shore. Edward and Alice were nowhere in sight. Something in his expression tore at me. He looked at me as if afraid, and I knew I was too late. Edward was gone.

I sank to my knees and pressed my face into the dirt as the howls of pain overtook me.

I heard racing footsteps and felt hands gripping my wrist, trying to pull my hands from my face. I fought them. I didn't want to see if I was not seeing Edward.

I heard someone shouting, "Edward, she's come back. Get out here."

They are going to hurt you, the voice in my mind said with relish. You are going to be all alone. You should run now. Attack the one that holds you and run. The neck is the weak spot.

"No," I moaned.

"Bella, it's okay. You're safe. Edward is coming," a familiar voice said. It wasn't Edward's voice, so I did not listen.

Bite the neck and tear off the head. Then run. Run for the cave, run for the water; it doesn't matter where you go, just run!

"Bella, I'm here. Look at me, I'm here." Now it was the voice I needed. He had come.

My eyes snapped open, and I stared into Edward's perfect face for a moment. He smiled cautiously at me, and I threw myself into his arms. He rocked me back and forth gently, whispering soothing words.

"Shh, my love, I'm here. You're safe."

Never safe.

"Shut up!" I growled, and Edward stiffened.

"Maybe you should back up and give her a little room," a voice said, it was one of the others Jasper had brought back with him. Peter.

I snarled and gripped Edward tighter to me.

They're going to hurt you again.

"They won't!"

"What's happening to her?" I recognized that voice as Alice's. She sounded scared.

Scared of you. You should let him go and run.

I teetered on the verge of movement for a moment. Should I run?

Yes.

"I can hear her thoughts again, but there is something different. A new voice."

"Isabella's?"

Who was Isabella?

I am. They think they can name me. Fools. They don't know who we are. They don't understand.

"I think so. It's hard to tell."

Listen to how they talk of you. Like you aren't here. We shouldn't be here.

I struggled out of Edward's embrace and stood with my hands over my ears. "Stop it, please stop it," I implored the cruel voice in my mind.

"Step away from her, Edward. Alice, come here."

I looked up and saw Edward's desperate face. He was standing with his arms extended as if he was about to embrace me again.

That or to grab you so they can hurt you.

"He won't hurt me!"

"That's right, Bella. No one is going to hurt you." Edward spoke in a soothing tone, as if dealing with a scared animal threatening to bolt.

Bolt! the voice commanded. Get away from them.

"Bella, listen to me," Edward said in a commanding tone. I tried to obey, but the voice was growing more strident by the second.

Get away from here. Take us back to the jungle.

"No, Bella. Don't listen. It's lying to you. None of us will hurt you. We love you. Listen to my voice, not hers. She lies. I don't lie to you."

You're not good for me.

"That wasn't a lie. I am not good for him. See what I do!"

Yes! The voice was a jubilant hiss. You are no good for him. You have to get away to protect him.

"Please don't go, Bella. Don't leave me again."

We never left him. He left us. Remember Victoria. Remember what she did because he left us.

"I'm so sorry. I never meant to leave you. I thought you were safe."

See how well that worked out. Now we are trapped here by them. We can't get away.

"Jasper, get away from her. You're scaring her."

Through my confusion, I saw that they had encircled me. There were many faces staring in at me, seeing me fall apart.

"Damnit, everyone get back now!" Edward commanded.

The faces moved away, but they did not go. I was still trapped.

They are going to hurt you. Remember what they did.

Now a rush of memories swept through me. The voices that had spoken to me, taunting me with their words. Carlisle's voice as he told me of Edward death echoed in my ears. I couldn't bear to hear it all again. Then there were new memories. Lying on the ground as I burned and voices spoke around me.

No. Don't listen. It's not real.

But I had to listen. It was as if the memories that lay on the surface were jumping out at me, forcing me to see them for what they were.

"They are lies," I said with dawning realization.

"That's right, Bella," Edward said, affirming my belief. "The voice isn't real. I am real. We are all real."

"What's she doing?"

"She's doubting the voices. I think we can break the delusion. Jasper, what do you feel from her?"

"It's too chaotic to make sense of. She is scared, but she's fighting it."

I squeezed my eyes shut to concentrate only on the memories. Jasper's voice spoke to me through the haze. "What happened next, Bella?"

"She's remembering." Edward's voice broke through the haze scattering my train of thought.

They don't want you to know the truth.

"They don't?"

No, they want you to be weak. I make us strong. Move aside and let me take over. It's just like going to sleep.

"No, Bella, please don't leave me. I don't want you weak. I swear."

But if he didn't want me weak, what did he want? Should I move aside and let the voice take over. She was strong. She was what Edward needed.

"No!" Edward howled. "Fight it, Bella, fight the voice."

But he wanted the strong me.

"I want you. All I have ever wanted was you."

Let me through, and I will make him happy. It's me he needs.

I felt myself giving in to the voice.

"Damnit, Edward, what's happening to her?"

"I think we're losing her."

Things were becoming muffled now.

"I am so sorry about this Bella," Jasper said.

There was a growl. "No!"

"Then you do it."

"I…I can't."

Warm hands gripped my face, and I forced my eyes open. Edward looked at me with desperation in his eyes. "Please, Bella. Don't make me do this."

"I can't stop her!" I moaned. "She's too strong."

He's going to hurt you.

The voice was right. Edward ducked his face to my neck as if to kiss me. Then there was a searing pain and a burning as he sank his teeth into my neck.

The pain was intense, and it brought everything into sharp focus. The voice was silent and my mind raced.

"Edward, what happened to me?"

Chapter Text

Edward POV

I had no choice. I had to do it. I could hear her losing herself to the voice, and it was the only thing we could think of to do to snap her into reality. It is almost impossible to cause a vampire pain; the only thing that could damage us is teeth. To be bitten was a primal thing, usually only used in battle. I used it to ground her. It went against every instinct to hurt her like that, but when Jasper prepared to do it himself, all I could think about was his mark on her. Claiming her.

I leaned down as if to kiss her and sank my teeth into her neck. As soon as I could hear her snap back to herself, I released her, sealing the wound.

"Edward, what happened to me?"

Her question tore at my heart.

"What do you remember?" Jasper asked in a cool clinical tone.

"Not now, Jasper," Alice said softly. "We should give them some time alone."

"This is important." Jasper looked frustrated.

Alice grimaced. "So is Bella."

With soft words and pats on my shoulder, they all left us in peace. Bella watched them go with a look of utmost confusion.

When I heard the door to the house click shut behind them, I pulled Bella into my arms and rearranged us on the sandy ground so she was seated in my lap.

She rubbed at the mark on her neck. Another wave of shame swept through me at the sight.

"I'm so sorry, my love." I brushed my fingers along the curve of her cheek. "I never wanted to hurt you. It was the only thing I could think of doing. I could feel you slipping away from me."

She nodded slowly. "I know. I'm confused, though. Could you all hear the voice, too?"

I shifted uncomfortably. "Not exactly. I haven't told you because it never felt like the right time, but I have a confession to make." She looked at me curiously. "I can read your thoughts now."

Her expression shifted to one of blank shock. "You can hear my thoughts? How? When?"

"How, I don't know. When, ever since you came to the island. It's as if whatever was protecting you before is gone, unless…" I didn't know whether to mention the fact we had all seen Isabella in person, so to speak.

"What are you hiding from me?" She was a perceptive as ever. She was also different. Either because of the bite, or because of the voice, she was changed. She was more like the human Bella I had known now. She was alert and aware in a way she had not been up to this point. I allowed myself the hope that she was healing in her mind.

I heard Jasper's thoughts from inside the house. He and the others were listening carefully to our conversation, and he wanted us to join them so we could finally speak openly. I wasn't ready to share my Bella yet, nor to let her be faced with Jasper's questions. I wanted to keep her cosseted and protected.

"The voice that spoke to you," I said. "We have heard it too."

"You heard her voice?"

"To a fashion."

Jasper barked at me to tell her the truth. It's the only way she will ever trust us.

"When we were talking to you earlier, when Jasper was asking you questions, she came to talk to us."

Well, that was suitably cryptic. Peter scoffed. You aren't making a lick of sense, buddy.

Bella sighed heavily. "She took my body."

"How long has she been doing this?" Jasper asked aloud.

Bella started and looked up at the house. "Are they all listening?"

"They are. I'm sorry, love, but you understand how our hearing works. We can't always help but hear."

"Why don't they come here then?"

Good question, Jasper thought.

"Do you want them here?" I asked.

She shrugged. "I don't mind. I guess it's only fair that they are here too. They all saw what happened."

Jasper led the others out of the house at a steady pace so as not to startle Bella. They came within a few feet of us and then sat down too.

Alice looked as though she wanted to embrace Bella, but she satisfied herself with squeezing her hand. Jasper was restraining himself from asking questions with much difficulty. Bella saw his close scrutiny, and she tilted her head to the side. "What do you want to know?"

"Things are different now," he stated. "I can feel it."

His thoughts were focused on Bella's emotional tenor. There was a serenity underlying the tension she had felt so far. It gave him pause.

Bella nodded. "I feel it, too."

"Do you remember when we were talking before? Do you remember what you said?"

"What she said," Bella corrected. "She said it, not me. And I remember parts. I'm sorry she was so cruel."

"We understand," Alice said. "It's not your fault."

She looked confused. "It is really. We are the same person."

"Just because you share the body, it doesn't mean that is you," Peter said. "We all have that inside of us. Yours is just a little more vocal that ours."

"You have voices, too?"

"No, that would be Edward." Peter grinned for a moment before turning serious. "What I mean is that we all have something inside of us that takes control sometimes. It's the nature of the vampire"

She looked at him curiously. "How do you stop them from taking over?"

"Mine has only ever taken over when I let it," he said apologetically.

"Is that what I did? Let it?"

"I don't think so." Jasper spoke in his trademark calm tone. "I think that because of the…damage done to you, it takes over when you are weakened. It's what she said, anyway."

Bella seemed to shrink into herself. "I don't know how to stop that. I'm always weak."

"You aren't." I gripped her shoulders and turned her to face me. "You aren't weak. Even she knows that. Isabella is the weak one. She is at your mercy at all times. She can only come out when you let her."

"How can I be letting her out? I didn't even know she existed until today."

"It's when you are feeling threatened," Jasper said. "When we were talking to you earlier, making you remember things, it upset you. Isabella came out to control the situation and to protect you."

Bella shuddered and rubbed the mark at her neck again. "Is there a way to get rid of her?"

Peter looked sad. "I don't think so, little one. She is a part of you."

"I'm stuck with her? Well, that sucks."

Alice giggled, and Bella looked at her curiously.

"I'm sorry," Alice said. "It's just that you sound like the real you again. It makes me happy."

They are laughing at you, I heard the voice whisper in Bella's mind. Bella shook her head rapidly as if that could quell the voice. She looked to me. "Did you hear that?"

I nodded regretfully. "She's lying."

"I know that." Her tone implied that I was being a little slow.

"Things really are different." Jasper was marveling at the change in her. "You are more in control now."

Bella shrugged. "I think I understand things better now. I can remember things I didn't remember before. And I feel more…present. Until now, everything has been like a dream. Now it feels real." She turned to look me in the eye, and I saw desperation in her eyes.

"What's wrong, love?" I cupped her chin in my hand. "What can I do?"

"She told me something…something about you. I want to know if it's true."

"What did she tell you?" Alice asked hopefully.

Bella did not take her eyes from me. "She said you didn't die. She said you are alive."

Hope burgeoned inside me. "She told you the truth."

Bella looked hesitant. "You're really here?"

I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead to hers. "I'm really here. I didn't die."

She seemed to collapse in on herself and began to make a kind of keening sound. It was equal parts joy and pain.

"Bella, my love, what's wrong?" I asked desperately.

"You're here," she choked. "You didn't die."

I looked to Jasper for guidance. I didn't understand her reaction. Surely she was happy I was here.

He clasped a hand to his chest. She's in some serious pain. I haven't felt anything like it before. But there is joy too. I don't understand it.

"Bella, please talk to me," I implored. "I don't know what to do."

He's here. He's really here. It was not Isabella's clipped tones I could hear now, but Bella's own mental tone.

She pulled from my arms and got to her feet. She began to pace back and forth.

Alice stood and reached out to catch her as she passed, but Peter shook his head abruptly. I could hear the concern in his thoughts. He was worried that Isabella would make another appearance if we pushed her.

"Bella, can you tell me what you are feeling?" Jasper asked softly.

She laughed tersely. "Don't you already know?"

"I can only feel the emotions, not the reasoning behind them. I know you are hurting and confused, but I don't know why."

"I'm hurting because she was right!" she said bitterly."I'm confused because none of it makes sense."

Of course, I am right. I always am, the wicked voice whispered.

"What is it that is confusing you, beautiful?" Garrett asked.

She pointed an accusatory finger at me. "He said he loved me."

"I do love you," I said fervently.

"You can't have loved me. If you did, you wouldn't have left me."

Oh! I understood now, and it hurt my heart. She believed what Isabella had been saying to us before. She thought we had left her by choice.

"You need to tell her," Jasper said. "Tell her what happened that day."

Stories. The voice was whispering to her again. Lies.

"Bella, I need you to listen to me and not her." I forced calm that I did not feel into my tone. "You need to hear the truth."

She thumped down onto the sand beside Garrett and pulled her knees up to her chest. Her stance hurt me almost as much as the fact she had chosen Garrett to protect her from my words.

"You remember the day we lost you, when we were fighting the newborns?" I began, and she nodded. "Do you remember why I wasn't there?"

"Alice saw something. It wasn't safe for you."

"That's right. Well, I was fighting with our family, and I saw what was happening to you through the wolves' pack mind." I didn't want to mention Jacob by name. If she really had forgotten him, it was better to keep it that way. "I saw what was happening, and I ran to the cliff to save you."

"You came for me?" she asked hopefully.

"I swear I came for you. I was too late, though. Victoria took you before I got there."

She looked at me with fathomless pain. "What happened to you then?"

I heard the thoughts she didn't vocalize. I was so fast. Why hadn't I come after her?

"I tried to follow you…" I faltered, and she took something from my silence. Her eyes were glued to the ground, and her shoulders hunched over. "I tried to come, but something happened to me. Do you remember me telling you about Alec? Jane's brother."

"He's the one that steals my feelings." She didn't look up at me. "I have heard Aro talking to him."

"Well, he stole my feelings that day. I found Esme, she was trying to follow you, but she was already frozen. I stepped into his line of sight, and I was frozen too." I didn't know what to say then. I expected a reaction from her, for her to throw accusations at me, but she remained silent.

Alice took up the explanation for me. "When we reached them only a few minutes had passed, and Alec was scared away. As soon as his influence lifted, Edward started looking for you. We all followed him."

"I followed the trail to the cliff. Your blood led us right to the edge and…"

"And into the water." She finished the sentence I could not. She shrugged and looked away into the ocean.

"We searched the water for hours," Jasper said. "Edward was like a man possessed. He didn't want to stop looking for you."

"But you did." She still wasn't looking at me but staring out into the ocean.

Jasper looked at her apologetically. "After hours of searching, we had to stop. We knew you couldn't have survived that long in the water with the blood loss. Carlisle said it was impossible."

She turned her head and looked at him with clear frustration. "I wasn't in the water, though."

"We didn't know that, Bella," he said defensively. "We thought you had drowned."

"Why didn't you know? Victoria was vicious. Why would she have left me in the water when she could have killed me so many other ways?"

There was echoing silence as she finished. None of us had considered the possibility that she was somewhere with Victoria. Not even me, the one who was the most desperate to find her alive. How could we have been so blind?

"I'm so sorry, Bella. I…I didn't even think." I choked on my words.

"Did you think?" Bella locked her cool stare on Alice. "Did you look for me?"

Alice looked at her desperately. "I didn't. I am so sorry, Bella. I know how you must be feeling, but I swear we—"

"You have no idea," she said in a whisper. "You have no idea how I feel!" Her voice rose to a shout. "I was left all alone because none of you thought!"

I had no words to comfort her. She was right. It was all our fault. All my fault.

I expected her rage to manifest itself in some other way, but all she did was hide her face in her hands and sigh heavily.

"It wasn't that we didn't want to believe." Alice looked positively desperate. "We would have given anything to have you with us again."

Bella laughed a short laugh devoid of all humor.

Jasper frowned. "Don't misunderstand us, Bella; we know you have been through hell, but so have we."

"You all had each other," she said bitterly. "I was all alone."

Jasper scowled at me. You have to tell her what happened to you.

I shook my head. She didn't need that. She had suffered far more than I had. To compare was unfair.

If you don't tell her, I will, he threatened.

"What are you saying?" Bella was looking up at me now.

"Nothing, love, nothing important."

"It is important," Jasper said in frustration.

"Then by all means you tell me," Bella said. Her tone was not her usual soft voice; it had a hint of Isabella's politeness and cruelty. I wondered for a moment whether she had switched and we hadn't realized it.

She looked stunned at herself. I don't know why I said that.

"It wasn't you, love, it was Isabella."

She snorted. "Is that what you call me, Isabella?" No sooner than the words left her lips did she cry out as if in pain. "I'm sorry! I can't help it!"

"It's okay, beautiful. Just take a deep breath and calm down." Garrett reached out and stroked her back. I would have been angry at the liberties he was taking had it not been for her reaction. She leaned into his touch and did as he asked. She drew a deep breath and released it.

"That's better, that helps," she said.

Peter nodded approvingly. "Good. Now, I know you are stressed, but you need to stay calm or you are going to lose yourself to Isabella again."

"She's fighting me," Bella said.

"I know, but you are the strong one here. Isabella is weak. As long as you stay calm and controlled, she can't come out."

Bella nodded. "Calm and controlled. I can do that." She didn't sound very confident, though. She looked to Jasper. "What's important?"

Jasper looked at her uncertainly. He wanted her to hear the story of what had happened to me, but he didn't want Isabella to emerge.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm in control. You said I needed to know, so tell me."

"Edward wanted to die. He begged us to kill him, but none of us could bear it. So he went to the Volturi."

She hid her face in her hands again, and her words came out muffled. "You were there, too. When I was burning you were there."

"I don't think so. By the time we reached Volterra, days had passed. You would have awoken by then."

She laughed shortly. "What difference does it make? You were there when they were hurting me."

"We didn't know, Bella," Alice said desperately. "Aro told us you drowned."

She hissed at the sound of his name. I thought I saw a shadow of Isabella lurking in the depths of her eyes. I was sure she coveted Aro's demise as much, if not more than, any of us. "He lied."

"Well…we know that now," Jasper said stupidly. "And I know you have suffered, but so have we."

She locked eyes with him. "How?"

He took a deep breath and released it in a rush. "You tore our family apart," he said bluntly. "Ever since the day we lost you, we have been broken. Alice and I have left the family so I could get a break from their pain. Rosalie and Emmett have done the same. Carlisle and Esme were left alone, and Edward…Edward suffered more than anyone."

"What happened to you?" She looked me in the eye, searching for something. "Where did you go?"

"I never left the cliff," I admitted. "Well, almost never. I had to hunt to protect the humans that came too close, and the day I found out you were alive, I was visiting your grave, but other than that, I have spent every moment waiting for you to return to me."

"You knew I was alive?" Her words were colored with shock.

"No, never. I was waiting for your…your body to surface."

"For how long? How long have I been gone?"

There was an echoing silence following her words. None of us wanted to be the one to tell her just how long she had suffered for.

"Tell me!" she demanded.

I had to be the one to tell her. It was my responsibility. "It's been more than two years."

She gasped. "Two years! I was in the jungle living like an animal for more than two years!"

"I'm so sorry, Bella." There was pain echoing in my words. "I know you must hate me, but please understand, we had no idea."

She was silent for a long time. Garrett rubbed her back comfortingly, and she leaned into his touch.

When she spoke, I thought the words I'd heard were wishful thinking on my part.

"I forgive you."

"Oh, Bella, thank you," I said in a heartfelt tone, reaching out to touch her.

She held up a hand to stop me. "I forgive you, but I need you to do something for me."

"Anything," I vowed.

"I need you to take me back to the jungle."

Chapter Text

Bella POV

Edward looked at me with blank confusion in his eyes. "You want to go back to the jungle?"

"I need to go back."

Jasper eyed me with a shrewd expression. "Why? I understand that you have had a shock, hearing what you have today, but we can take care of you here. We don't want you to leave us."

"Please, Bella," Edward said with feeling, "you don't have to live like that again."

What a bunch of idiots! For once the cruel voice of Isabella and I were in agreement. They were being remarkably obtuse.

"I'm not planning to live there," I said patiently. "I just need to see the place once more."

That was something I was certain of. I felt like I had come out of a deep haze that had been with me since the moment I learned of Edward's perceived death. Now I was myself again in a way I had not been for two years, and I needed to say a lasting goodbye to the person I had been before. Without that goodbye there was no way for me to move on with Edward and to forgive. As I had lied to him and them all. I said I forgave them, but I wasn't there yet. I couldn't help but resent their failings. If they had stopped to consider their opponent for a moment they would have seen the error. There was no way Victoria would have allowed me the peaceful death of drowning when she had other grand plans for my demise.

I heard Edward's audible sigh of relief. "If you need to go back, I will take you."

I reached out and squeezed his hand. He softened visibly at the contact; I had hurt him when I moved from his embrace.

"When do we leave?" Alice asked.

"Soon. And not we, just Edward and I."

Alice opened her mouth, probably to argue, but I cut her off with a raised hand.

"I would go alone, but I know Edward would never allow it. I don't want anyone else to go back to that place with me."

"We've been there before," Jasper pointed out.

"And I am grateful for it, but this needs to be a journey Edward and I make alone."

I knew this journey was going to open up some old wounds, and I didn't want others to witness that. They had already seen enough of my pain laid bare.

Edward watched me carefully for a moment, perhaps listening to my thoughts as I reasoned my need. I found that I didn't like having him read my every thought. If he heard my mind, he would soon hear that I was not so forthcoming in my forgiveness as I pretended. As the thought formed in my mind I felt something in me shift. I panicked for a moment, thinking Isabella was taking over me again.

Edward inhaled sharply. "Bella, are you okay?"

I nodded mutely, even as I prepared myself to battle the being that lurked in my body. But she did not come. She did not even whisper to me; I was alone in my own mind.

"What's wrong, Edward?" Jasper was alert for any sign of danger. He gave me a speculative look, as if assessing me as a threat. I supposed that was what Isabella was to him: a threat.

"I can't hear her." For the very first time, Edward was looking at me with open fear in his eyes.

"Isabella?" Jasper questioned, looking at me shrewdly.

I shook my head mutely.

"Bella?"

"I'm still me." My voice was barely audible. I was confused and a little scared. I didn't understand what was happening to me.

"What's happening," Garrett asked.

"I can't hear her thoughts," Edward said. "Other than during Isabella's appearance, Bella's thoughts have been clear for me to hear. Now it is like pressing against a brick wall. I can feel the thoughts there, but I cannot hear them.

"Are you doing something to him?" There was no accusation in Charlotte's tone, but I bristled regardless.

"No! Except…"

Alice frowned. "Except what?"

"I was thinking about Edward being able to hear my thoughts and something changed. I thought it was Isabella, but she isn't here."

Wrong. I am always here. I stiffened at the sound of her voice.

Jasper eyed me curiously. "Is she talking to you?"

I nodded. "But she's just in my mind. I'm still me."

But was I? I didn't feel completely myself. I felt more in control than before, but also scared. It was as if I had tapped a new depth in myself. I was more aware than now. More aware of every part of myself. And there was the reason. I felt something in my mind. Not the whisperings of Isabella, or the haze that had haunted me, but something new.

"Tell me what you are thinking," Edward implored.

"I think I did it." As I admitted it to him, I knew it was true. Whatever was shielding my mind from Edward was under my control. I could feel it even now; a veil around my mind. As I concentrated I felt it flex and recoil like a muscle. I focused on it and tried to force it away to open my mind to Edward once again. It was hard. As if I was fighting against myself.

I knew when it had worked as Edward gasped. "I can hear!" he exclaimed. "What did you do?"

I didn't know how to articulate what had happened. It was like trying to explain breathing. It was natural, a part of me. "I think I can control it."

"This is excellent." Jasper spoke with feeling. "You have a gift!"

"I do?"

"Of course, Carlisle always suspected it with the way you blocked Edward when you were human." His words ran into one another with his excitement. "We need to learn more. We have to see Eleazar. He can help you. If this thing can be harnessed it could be a valuable tool."

He exchanged a look with Edward, and I saw something pass between them, some nugget of understanding. I didn't like the look. It made me uncomfortable.

I had never considered my gift or lack thereof. I never wanted immortality for the advantages of body and mind, I wanted it so I could have my forever with Edward. This new facet of myself felt natural though, as if I had always known it was there but had not accepted it before.

They fell into excited discussion of me and my clouded mind. I allowed their words to rush over me. I wasn't concerned with being honed into a tool. I just wanted to go back to the jungle already. I needed the peace.

xXx

Edward POV

The discovery of Bella's gift lightened the tension we were all feeling, leaving us all buoyant. For my part, I was elated that Bella would now be shielded from Jane's cruelties. Jasper and Peter took a more militaristic view. If Bella could be taught to control and develop her ability she would be able to protect us when we came to the fight with the Volturi. As there would be a fight, it was inevitable. As soon as they discovered she had left her jungle home they would search for her. I would protect her when they came if it was the last thing I did.

As little as she wanted to, Bella allowed them to work with her for the next few days. The only gift she was capable of shielding herself from was mine. So we spent hours on the beach with her sitting opposite me and shielding her mind while I attempted to break through the barrier. I could, on occasion, break through. Bella said that she could feel me pressing against her mind. It felt like pressure on her temple. Isabella seemed to approve of this training as she left Bella alone while she worked.

Bella grew impatient with the delays, I knew, but it was not until a full week later that she finally put her foot down and demanded that we leave the next day.

"I've trained as much as I can," she said patiently in response to Jasper's protests. "I can almost always block him now."

"We need a different test," Alice said. "Edward's gift is not invasive enough."

"You think?" Bella snapped. "I'd call having my mind fucked with invasive enough, tha— Damnit!"

Isabella was making her presence known. Again. These small slips were to be expected, but they still bothered me. I hated that Bella was so tormented by her own mind.

Bella looked to Alice with desperation in her eyes. "I'm so sorry."

Alice hugged her. I know, Bella. I hate her too. "That's okay," she said lightly, a contradiction to the grim tone of her thoughts. "At least she keeps things interesting."

Bella scrubbed her hands over her face and took a deep breath. "What were you saying about a new test?"

Alice looked uncertain, but under Bella's close scrutiny, she spoke. "It's just that Edward's gift is not invasive in the way that Jane's is. We have a friend, Kate, that has a power similar to Jane's. I think we should have you train with her."

Jasper nodded approvingly. "That's a good idea. As it stands, she can block Edward, which means she may be able to block Aro. If she can learn to block Kate, she may be able to block Jane, too."

Bella scowled. "You think she can still hurt me?"

Alice shrugged. "There is no way of knowing. It's better to play it safe."

For a long time, Bella was silent. When she eventually spoke it was in a defeated tone. "Okay. I'll work with this Kate, but not before I have been to the jungle."

Jasper opened his mouth, possibly to protest, but Bella cut him off. "I know you are all eager to work with this, but I need to deal with my demons first. Once that is behind me, I can concentrate on what's coming."

None of us had mentioned the preparations for the coming fight with the Volturi. At first she was too weak to handle the knowledge, later she was too strong. I was sure that if she knew our friends and family were preparing to fight to protect her, she would want to be a part of it. I wanted to shelter her from that for as long as possible. Now didn't seem the right time to tell her either. She deserved a little respite from the drama, especially while she was already battling for herself.

Taking their cue from me, no one else mentioned what was happening in Forks. Instead, Alice brought up a subject almost as tense. The rest of the family.

"While you are on the mainland, do you think you would be up to a visit with the family?" she asked.

Bella looked at her blankly.

"Only if you feel up to it."

"Would they want to see me?" she asked in a querulous voice.

"Why wouldn't they?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because the last time I saw them I took a chunk out of your daddy's neck!" Isabella was coming to the fore again.

"Is she gone?" Alice sounded uncomfortable.

Bella nodded. "I'm sorry about that. I can't always control her."

Jasper squeezed her shoulder. "We understand."

"No, you really don't," she said mournfully. "You don't have some monster living inside of you that takes over your body without your consent."

"True, but we understand it isn't your fault. You shouldn't be embarrassed by what she says. We are used to lack of tact at times. We live with Emmett after all."

"Back to the subject at hand," Alice said impatiently. "Are we having a family reunion, or not?"

"Joking aside, do you really think they will want to come here after what I did?"

"Absolutely," Alice said without hesitation. "We have been talking to them on the phone every day, and they really want to see you again."

"Not Rosalie, though."

"Rosalie will have to deal with it," Alice said in an offhand tone. "She understands it's not your fault."

"It kinda was," she said awkwardly. "I was the one that attacked Carlisle, not Isabella."

There was an echoing silence following her words. I remembered the moment my love had attacked my father. I thought it was Isabella's first appearance. Apparently I was wrong.

"It was you?" I framed my words as a question.

She ducked her head "I'm sorry. I thought I was protecting you. It looked like you had been hurt, and Carlisle was standing there. You said things to me in the jungle that confused me."

"What did he say?" Jasper asked.

"It doesn't matter now."

Jasper looked disappointed. "It all matters, Bella."

"No, it really doesn't," I said, "There is nothing left to tell us that can help us now." I cupped her chin and lifted my face to his. "Thank you for protecting me."

She smiled tentatively. "It's my job."

xXx

It was eventually decided that Bella and I would meet with the family on the mainland after we had taken our trip to the jungle. Depending on how Bella managed in the jungle, we would tell her about the forces we were gathering for her protection.

That was how Bella and I came to be standing in the darkest depths of the jungle facing a fairly innocuous cave. I had seen the place in the memories of my family, but it was surreal to be seeing the place with my own eyes. Bella had created a home for herself here; I could see the props of her human delusion spread about the place. I couldn't believe she had survived here for so long alone.

"It looks exactly the same." Her voice was a mere whisper. "I thought there would be some tangible change in the place."

"It's only been a couple of months, love."

"I know that. It's just that I expected it to look different seeing it with new eyes.

I wrapped an arm around her shoulder, hoping to give comfort. She stared around the small clearing that had made up her home for the last two years. "I remember everything about the place. It's like slipping into an old life. I remember so much more now."

"What do you remember?"

"Hunting," she said simply. "The memories are Isabella's, but they are mine now, too. When the thirst would become too much I would set her free to hunt for me. I never knew where the food came from, it would just be there in the morning when I 'woke'. I would lay there all night, losing myself to memories. It's how I imagine dreaming to be for a human."

"Did anyone ever find you here, other than Garrett and the Volturi?"

"The lady with the pictures came sometimes with her friends. I think they were checking I was okay, but I always hid from them. I had the rules to abide by."

"But you let Alice see you?"

She looked uncomfortable. "I would see Alice sometimes. Without the pain. She was just a figment of my imaginations. I think the memories bled into my real life. Sometimes she would come and talk to me. When she arrived that day I thought it was just another hallucination. It wasn't until Jasper came without pain than I realized something was wrong."

"Or right," I said. "I think that was the first time things started going right for you."

She gnawed on her bottom lip. "I guess so. It didn't feel like it at the time though. When the Volturi came and hurt me, I thought it was my punishment."

"I swear, Bella, I will never let them hurt you again."

She turned into my embrace and rested her head against my chest. "I know that. I won't let them hurt you either."

We stayed like that for a long time, just taking comfort in one another. When she pulled away from me, I felt bereft.

"Do you want to go closer?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I think I have seen enough now."

She was blocking her thoughts from me, so I didn't know what she was thinking, but her face seemed calm enough. Entwining our hands we turned our back on the cave and began the journey back to civilization.

We had barely gone a mile when I heard new thoughts joining my own. At first I thought Bella had lifted her shield, but after a moment I realized the new voice was full of such hatred it could never be my Bella.

Aro said to bring her to the castle. He didn't say I couldn't have fun on the way.

I hissed. Jane was close, and from the sound of it, she wasn't alone. I could hear three other minds with hers.

There is someone new here. The girl is no longer alone. This voice was equally as familiar and detested. Demetri.

I lowered my head to Bella's ear and whispered, "The Volturi are close. When I tell you, I want you to run as fast as you possibly can. Get out of the jungle. Alice will find you."

She stiffened and her soft breaths faltered. "What are you going to do?"

"What I can to protect you." There was little I could do to physically protect her—there were too many of them to fight. but the possibility of my destruction would slow them. Jane and Demetri had hated me since the first time they laid eyes on me. They would not dismiss an opportunity to destroy me.

Bella gasped. "Edward, no!"

There was no time to argue. They were close; I could hear the sounds of their passage through the jungle. I pushed Bella away from me. "Run!"

Her gaze hardened and for the first time in days I could hear her thoughts crystal clear. No. You run!

She shoved me away from her and set off running. My momentary relief that she was running lasted less than a second before I realized she was running toward the Volturi rather than away.

"No!" I called after her, but her footsteps did not slow; instead, they sped up.

"Jane!" she screeched. "I'm here."

I heard a cruel laugh. "This is new, Isabella. You are usually cowering in your cave when we arrive. Are you really so anxious to see your masters?"

"She's not alone," Demetri said. "The Cullen boy is here too. I can sense him."

They came into my line of vision at that moment. Jane, Alec, Demetri and a hulking vampire I did not recognize, but who wore the dark cloak of the guard.

Jane smiled beatifically "Well, well, well, this is an unexpected surprise.

Bella threw herself at Jane, but before her clawed hands could make contact with Jane's face, she was on the floor writhing in agony. Alice was right—Bella had no protection from Jane's cruelties. I lunged forward to attack Jane, but the hulking vampire caught me and pinned me against his chest. I struggled for all I was worth, but it was no good. The vampire was as strong as Emmett.

Jane lifted her gaze from Bella and looked at me. "I would be happy to hurt you in her place."

"Do it!" I said through gritted teeth. "Hurt me and let her go."

Alec laughed. "Let her go? Really, boy, you have no idea how we operate, do you? We cannot let her go. Our masters have use of her."

The effects of Jane's power had lifted from Bella. She got to her feet again and stepped foolishly into Demetri's grasp. He pinned her arms behind her back. I waited for the pain to come to me, but it didn't. Jane was gazing at me with an expression of shrewd understanding. She pursed her lips. "I think I have a better idea of how to cause you pain. Alec, hold the girl."

A shimmer, like dust motes in the sun, crept along the ground toward Bella. She struggled against Demetri's arms, but he was too strong. As the mist reached her toes she stilled and her expression changed from twisted ferocity to blank indifference.

"Isabella!" I bellowed. "We need you!" I had to hope that some vestige of Isabella's protective instincts would come to our aid. Nothing changed though; Bella remained still and vacant. I cursed under my breath.

"What are we going to do with him?" The vampire holding me asked.

"Kill him," Alec suggested.

"Hmmm, it is an intriguing idea," Jane said thoughtfully.

I saw a vision of a burning pile of limbs in Jane's mind and knew she was tempted. I did not fear death for myself—the only thing that could hurt me was Bella. My death would hurt her, though. I had to fight with whatever weapons were available to me to survive. Pinned as I was in the vampire's arms, I could not fight physically. The only weapon available to me was words.

"You could do that, but what would your master think?" I asked. "We all know he wants me for his guard. Take me to the castle and I will serve him willingly."

Alec laughed. "You think he will want you after all this time. You were a passing fancy. He has far grander plans now."

"I think we will dispose of the boy," Jane said in her cruelest tones. "He is of no use to us now."

I struggled but my captor did not give an inch. Demetri stepped forwards and locked eyes with me. I thought I saw a hint of apology in his eyes as he lowered his head to my neck.

I was going to die. I knew it. I forced my eyes to stay open as I felt Demetri's breath on my neck, and I looked at the most beautiful vision in the world, my Bella. I wanted her face to be the last thing I saw.

"I'm sorry, Bella," I said as I felt the pain of teeth tearing through my skin. "I'm so sorry."

There was pain, excruciating pain.

And then nothing.

Chapter Text

Edward POV

Awareness came to me in increments. At first, there was only darkness. Then came sounds, though they were only murmuring voices that I could make no sense of. I had only a moment to ponder this before the pain came. It seared around my throat to the nape of my neck. I wanted to cry out, to beg for help, but my lips would not move. The only sound I could make was a low gurgle in my throat.

I tried to bring my hands up to my throat to extinguish the fire raging there, but they did not move. They did not even seem to be there. I could feel nothing but the pain at my neck. Almost as soon as the thought came to me, I felt the change. My arms were there again, I could feel them, though I wished I couldn't. At my wrists, elbows, and shoulders, there was more burning. Then, just like the lick of a flame, it spread. My hips, knees and feet joined in the chorus of agony, and for a while, it was impossible to think of anything else; though I was sure there was something very important I was missing. There was a pain in my chest outside of the burning in my limbs. Something important had happened, something more important than the flames that were licking at my flesh.

I tried to cry out again, and this time I was able to produce a low moan.

"Easy, Edward," a familiar voice murmured. "You're okay. Just try to keep still." I tried to put a face to the voice but failed. My thinking capabilities, usually lightning fast, felt sluggish. I tried to speak, to ask what was happening, but the pain rendered me incomprehensible.

For a while, the pain took me. It could have been seconds, it could have been days, I was unable to tell. I merely floated on the edge of sanity as the pain raged.

Then it changed again. The pain at my throat eased, and then disappeared. I found I had control of that small part of myself again. I opened my eyes and saw dappled sunlight peeking through the leaves at what seemed an impossible distance. I turned my head to the side and saw a figure beside me. I blinked once and the image cleared. It was Alice. As if she had been the key my mind needed, thought returned to me, and with it horror.

I gasped. "Bella!" I tried to sit up but strong hands pinned me in place. I struggled against the hands holding me, making the pain in my arms and legs sear more than ever.

"You're still healing. You need to lie still," Alice cautioned, but I paid her no mind. I had more pressing concerns than my health. I needed Bella.

"Where is she?" I demanded.

Tension was etched into every detail of Alice's face. "What do you remember?"

The pain was still waging in my limbs, making it hard to think. I pushed away every thought but that of my Bella and concentrated.

"We were in the jungle, at her cave. The Volturi came. They… oh God, they took her."

I looked from Alice to Jasper, hoping one of them would calm my fears, but they merely looked at me with sympathetic gazes.

"She's gone." It was not a question; it was an admission of defeat. I had failed her again. She had been taken from me. I turned my head away from them and stared through the trees. My Bella was gone. I had lost her.

"Stop that!" Jasper barked. He punctuated his words with a blow to the jaw.

"Jasper!" Alice said in a shocked tone. "We've only just put him together again. You want to knock his head off?"

"He needed it," Jasper spat. "He's losing himself again, and that's the last thing Bella needs."

I rubbed a hand across the line of my jaw where Jasper had laid his blow. It hurt, but it was nothing compared to the pain I was already suffering without my Bella.

"Damnit, Edward. If you don't stop that, I swear I will hit you again. Bella needs you, so get up off your ass and do something."

I was about to open my mouth to explain that I couldn't, that my limbs were not my own anymore, but I realized it was a lie. I could feel every inch of myself again, and, blessedly, the burning was gone. I got steadily to my feet and examined myself. My clothes were tattered and torn, and I was covered in small scars. Unlike Jasper's bite marks, there were thin lines. I examined one encircling my wrist and understood. I had been dismembered.

Alice's hand reached out and caught mine as it travelled upward towards my chest. The ache that Bella had left there was pulsing.

"She's alive," she said simply.

"What's happening to her?" I asked.

"I don't know at the moment, I see her in the throne room later though, and she looks… okay."

There was something she wasn't telling me. Her silence brought to mind horrors. "Please tell me, Alice."

"Jane was there."

I groaned. "She can hurt Bella, now."

Alice nodded. "I saw. I'm sorry we didn't get here in time. We were our way to the hotel to meet with the family when I had the vision. We came as fast as we could, but we were too late."

I brushed off my clothes and looked around for my backpack. It had my passport and wallet in it. I would need them if I was to join my family in their flight to rescue my love. It was gone though. Jane or her cronies must have taken it to slow me down. For the same reason they had dismembered me, but not burned me. They didn't want me dead; they wanted the satisfaction of my capitulation.

"They took my stuff." My tone was defeated.

"We have spare papers for you," Alice said, holding out a brown envelope. It's in your Masen name. Jasper has had spares for us all since this started." She gave him a small smile. "Always battle ready."

I nodded my gratitude and took the envelope from her. "Right, that's great. Thank you, Jasper."

Turning from them, I began running in the direction of Novo Progresso. There were other airports closer, but I had more chance of getting a more direct flight to Italy from the town.

"You can't go there," Alice called after me in a panicked tone.

I ground to a halt and spun around to face her. "What do you mean I can't go there? Bella is there."

"Think about it, Jasper said. "What will you do when you get there? Ask Aro nicely if you can have Bella back." He scoffed. "All that will do is give them another bargaining chip against us."

I hated him in that moment. It was easy for him; his mate was at his side, safe and sound. My Bella was in the arms of the enemy, having who knew what tortures heaped upon her. I wanted to rage at him, but his next words brought me up short.

"I love her too, Edward. We all do. None of us want her to be there a second longer that is necessary, but we have to be smart about this. We have been preparing for this moment for weeks. It would be madness to throw it all away now."

"What do you suggest?" I asked through gritted teeth.

He crossed his arms over his chest, surely feeling my hostility and reacting to it unconsciously. "We go to Forks and get the others. Then, and only then, do we begin our attack."

The thought of running to Forks to ask for others' aid in this went against my every instinct, Bella was mine to protect, but I knew that wasn't logical. In a very real way, she belonged to us all. To Garrett who had found her again. To Peter and Charlotte who had taken her into their hearts. To the Denali coven who fought at our side now to repay us for their previous failure. To the wolves and my family who had long loved her. She was ours, not just mine.

"Fine." I sighed in resignation. "We go to Forks."

Even as we set out again towards the airport, I made a vow to myself. Every injury the Volturi animals did to my Bella, I would return to them twice over. They would be screaming for mercy before I was done with them.

xXx

Aro POV

I sat in the throne room awaiting the return of my most prized creation.

I had lived a long time, millennia in fact, and I had done many great things, but none of them could compare to Isabella. She was a masterpiece that I had labored over and was now ready to reap my rewards. Life in the castle sometime grew slow and I liked to have her brought to me on occasion for my enjoyment. This was not such an occasion, however. This was a time to bring my long worked over plan into action. A few select guards knew parts of it, my dear Jane being one of them, but none knew its entirety. That was a secret I alone kept.

My plan was a simple, though ingenious, one. I was to use Isabella, my most prized creation, to lure to me my most coveted gift: Alice Cullen. I learned every thought the youngling had ever had the first time she visited the castle. I knew her greatest fears and deepest desires, and it was those fears that I was going to exploit for my own gain.

Her strange and lonesome entry to this life made her value her loved ones more than anything. Her greatest fear was the destruction of her coven, or to use her own word, family. When she came to rescue the boy Cullen, I had seen her despair at the perceived loss of Isabella. I knew, even without reading her mind, that there was little she would not have done had she been able to save her. That was the crux of my plan. I knew Carlisle's coven were oblivious to the continued existence of Isabella; had they known they would have come to find her long ago. It was time they knew.

I would utilize her constant protective instincts to bring her to me. If I was to arrange a visit to her coven's home, she would see us coming. If I was to make that decision whilst Isabella was with me, she would see that too. They would surely come to me to rescue the boy's mate and Alice would be within my grasp.

It was a plan that would have been much easier to execute had I been in my right mind the time of their most recent visit. I had been too exhilarated at the success of the breaking of Isabella to think in the long term. I would not make the same mistake again. Alice would come to me and I would take her mate and the boy Cullen for good measure. It was just a matter of careful lies and Chelsea's influence.

I sat back in my throne and steepled my fingers at my chin. My smile was wide. It was almost time.

"They should be here soon," I said in a conversational tone.

"Are you really so eager for its return, Aro?" Caius quirked a brow at me. "Personally, I do not find it as appealing as you. It is like a skittish animal, too easily frightened. And the screaming becomes tiresome."

He knew nothing of my plan. I had tried to bring him into my plotting, but he was uninterested. Of late, he had partaken in Corin's influence too often. It made him disinterested to the greater world.

"But it does not last long," I countered. "Jane said when she saw her last that it was the shortest period of pain before she learned to suffer in silence so far."

He shrugged and eased himself to his feet. "Be that as it may, I believe I will leave you and Marcus to enjoy it alone. I will come when the screams stop."

He made for the door, and I was left alone with Marcus. I glanced at my brother. He was staring at the wall with a blank expression. It rarely changed. I knew his every thought, and they were thoroughly uninteresting. If Isabella was my greatest triumph, then Marcus was my greatest failure. I had sacrificed my sister to keep him with me, but it was all for naught. He was almost useless to me now, lost as he was in memories of his mate. I could have bellowed my plan in his ear and he would have remained oblivious.

I had to wait several long hours for the arrival of Jane and her hunting party. The sun had disappeared from the high windows of the throne room and stars had replaced it when I finally heard sounds of their approach.

Jane was predictably the first to enter. Behind her Santiago and Demetri dragged Isabella's unresponsive shell, and Alec brought up the rear keeping his eyes locked on Isabella.

I stood and held open my arms in greeting. "Welcome home, my dear ones. I see you had a successful trip."

For the first time I saw the unease underlying their smiles. Something had happened, and they were wary of my reaction. It made me curious, a situation that was not new to me. I lived in a constant state of curiosity, though it was not often that my desires were sated.

I beckoned Jane forward and she came towards me without her usual haste. Something serious had happened. Deciding it was easier to tempt her with my approval—something she desperately sought—I eyed her with feigned affection. "What is it that you have to show me, dear one?"

"I fear I made a grave error, Master," she said in a tone tight with tension.

I forced down my aggravation and smiled indulgently at her. "I do not believe that is possible, but show me your thoughts and I will ease your mind."

She hesitated. "The girl was not alone, Master. The Cullen boy was there."

The boy was already there! And yet there was no sign of him returning with them. Why had they not brought him to me? I felt the warmth of anger rising in me and I made no attempt to mask it.

"Show me." My voice was cold.

She drew a deep breath and held out her hand to me. I snatched at it as if it was going to be withdrawn from me if I took too long. It was a pointless fear. Jane would never defy me like that.

Bowing my head over our entwined hands, I searched through her memories. What I saw there stole my caution for a moment, and I growled deep in my throat.

They had happened across Isabella and the Cullen boy at Isabella's cave. Rather than using her initiative and bringing him to me, she had allowed her personal feelings to cloud her judgment. Jane had long detested the boy, as she knew how I coveted his gift. Rather than bringing him to me, she had torn him apart and left him scattered. I comforted myself with the fact she had not burned him.

Pulling myself from her memories, I raised my head and spoke in a measured tone. "You failed me."

She ducked her head, apparently unable to meet my eye. "I'm sorry, Master."

I looked at the Demetri. He was braver than Jane by far. He looked me directly in the eye. I was sure that, had I taken the time to read his mind, I would see that he had acquiesced to Jane to avoid her wrath. She was not above using her gift on others among my guard when the urge took her. I usually overlooked these instances of temper, as she was very young at her time of changing, but that would not be the case any longer. It was time she learned her place. She had shown in this failure that she could not be trusted to make independent decisions.

"You left him, when I could have him within my reach even now." Though I was looking at Demetri, I was addressing the group as a whole. They each shifted uncomfortably.

I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "This failure reflects badly upon you all."

Jane looked up at me with wide eyes. I had never spoken to her like this. I was not remotely afraid of her using her gift upon me in a fit of pique, she was my inferior and she knew it, but I had always treated her with deference as she was among the jewels in my collection. Or rather she had been.

"We can go back," Santiago offered. "The boy will not have been able to repair himself alone, we left him scattered."

I didn't deign to answer him. He was below my notice in that moment. He had given me an idea. The boy was out there somewhere, scattered and spread like pieces of a jigsaw. That sort of event must have been enough to trigger the protective instincts of Alice. She must even now be looking for him, if she had not already found him. As soon as he was pieced back together, his first focus would be to retrieve his Isabella. If I was patient, and I could be patient, he would come to me after all. And with him would come Alice.

I returned to my throne and sat back in a relaxed manner. "You may release Isabella now, Alec."

He dropped his focus from the girl and looked to his sister, possibly wanting to give comfort to her.

I watched as animation returned to Isabella's face. She opened her eyes and blinked rapidly as if trying to focus. As soon as she realized where she was, her expression became haunted and she glanced around looking for something, or someone.

"Welcome home, Isabella," I crooned.

She looked to me with fear-filled eyes and gasped one word. "Edward!"

I smiled to myself. This was going to be ever so entertaining.

Chapter Text

Jasper POV

Edward was inconsolable. Throughout the flight north, he sat staring out of the window of the plane as if searching for Bella. I could feel his despair, and I tried to soothe him, but after only a few minutes of my influence, he asked me to stop.

"My emotions are my own to feel, Jasper," he said in a dead tone.

I knew that, but I hated to sit idle while he was suffering. It did not help that I could feel the depth of his pain, too. Coupled with my own feeling of impotence to do anything of use, I was in hell.

Alice took my hand in her own and squeezed it. I could feel that she was battling her own desperation to attempt to create an emotion I could immerse myself in. Her eyes were closed and she was curled against me as if sleeping, the outward image of serenity. I knew better. She was feigning sleep to allow her to search for Bella's future without interference from the humans. Edward watched along with her. I knew that what they were seeing was not giving them comfort, and I fully appreciated the fact I was not gifted with their abilities. I could not bear to watch Bella being tormented by the Volturi. My imagination was already presenting me with horrors. The only comfort I could take was the fact I knew she was strong and this time she had some hope to cling to. She knew we would come for her.

When we touched down in Houston, we found the rest of the family waiting for us at the arrivals gate. I was hit once again with a cocktail of fear and sadness as I approached them. I guided Alice with a hand on the small of her back as she continued to search through unknown futures.

Esme hurried forward and threw herself into Edward's arms. He accepted her embrace mechanically, but he did not break down as I expected.

"I'm so sorry, Edward." Esme's voice was choked with emotion. Edward patted her back, but did not speak. She opened her mouth to speak again, but emotion overwhelmed her and she began to sob.

Rosalie stepped forward and pulled Esme away from Edward and into her arms. I would have expected Carlisle to be the one to act, but he was staring at Edward with a wary expression. Things had been tense between them since Bella had first been lost, and it seemed Carlisle was wary of approaching him now.

Edward looked up into his father's eyes and his expression crumpled. Carlisle came forward and encased Edward in his own embrace. Edward folded into his arms and began to sob. "They took her, Dad. They took her from me again."

I had thought I was feeling Edward's pain along with him, but as he gave voice to his pain, I felt the full extent to it for the first time. It knocked the breath from me, and I would have swayed on my feet had it not been for Emmett's hand on my shoulder. Contrary to his usual behavior, he was remaining silent and offering his support through his actions. I was grateful for it, though I knew he was hurting himself.

Carlisle held Edward, supporting him both emotionally and physically as he sobbed onto Carlisle's shoulder. "We'll get her back, Son, I promise."

Edward sobbed harder than ever, and I felt myself envying him his freedom to express his pain. I would have liked to break down to mourn the loss of my sister, too, but I had to remain strong for the others.

It took a long time for Edward to choke himself to something resembling calm again, and when he did, it was not true calm; it was more that he forced down all emotion and became a machine going through the motions.

"Are you fully healed?" Carlisle asked Edward.

He barked a harsh laugh, and I understood his dark humor. He was not healed, of course he wasn't; only Bella's return could heal him fully. I took up the explanation for him. "I think so. We were able to recover all the pieces."

Carlisle turned to me and nodded soberly. "Very well. Let's move on. The next flight to Seattle is leaving in an hour.

It was the longest hour I had ever lived. We sat in relative silence in the departure lounge, only speaking to check the time. Alice sought out further visions of Bella, but there was nothing new to report. Jane was still making her suffer. I felt a wave of fury as Alice shared this. I hated the idea of gentle Bella suffering, and I wondered why Isabella wasn't there to protect her. I was sure that she would be able to block Jane's gift.

When it was finally time for us to board our plane, we hurried to the front of the queue as if that could bring us to Bella faster.

On the plane, Edward was sandwiched between Esme and Carlisle. He seemed to shrink into his seat, as if he didn't want to be noticed.

Emmett sat across the aisle from me. He and Rosalie were seated so close together they may as well have been sharing a seat. I knew they, like me, were taking comfort in the fact that our mates were still safe and sound with us. They spoke in whispers, as if afraid to disturb the air around us.

Just as we were approaching SeaTac, Alice sighed with relief and Edward's head snapped up.

"What is it?" I asked.

Though I had asked the question, Alice addressed Edward. "They will stop hurting her soon. Only a few more minutes."

He nodded and sank back in his chair. It was good news that they had stopped hurting her, but I couldn't help but wonder why. Jane had proved herself capable of using her gift for hours on end without difficulty, and Aro's cruelty knew no limits. There must be a reason for them to stop.

xXx

As we drove up the approach to the house in Forks, the seriousness of the situation seemed to settle over us all. Whispered conversations trailed off, and we all sat straighter in our seats. Even Edward roused himself from his stupor to look around. We pulled out of the trees and into the clearing in front of the house, and there was a collective indrawn breath.

All around us were vampires and werewolves. I did a quick head count and then repeated it. There were seventeen werewolves. Their number the day of the newborn battle had totaled ten, and two of them were young boys. Among the wolves there were fourteen vampires. Including our family, we had amassed an army of thirty-eight. It was more than I could have hoped for.

As we climbed from the cars Peter, Charlotte and Garrett hurried towards us.

"What are you doing here?" Charlotte scanned our dour faces. "Where is Bella?"

"Gone," Edward croaked.

"What do you mean gone?" Peter demanded.

"The Volturi." I went on to explain what had happened. As I spoke, the others amassed around us. They listened in silence as I told them how the Volturi had come across Bella and Edward in the jungle.

"You let them take her?" the wolf called Jacob said, glaring at Edward.

Edward seemed to shrink even further into himself. I would have liked to slap some sense into him again, but this was not the time or place. Instead, I countered Jacob's accusation. "He didn't let them do anything. They damn near killed him to get to her."

"He looks fine to me," one of the wolves said.

I pulled Edward's collar away and showed them the fine scar circling Edward's throat. He tried to wriggle out of my grip, but I held fast.

"They tore him apart," Carlisle said in a mild tone. "We are lucky they didn't destroy him completely.

Garrett waved an airy hand. "Never mind that. How are we going to get Bella back?"

That was the million-dollar question. With a group of this size we could storm the castle, but we would be overcome by the Volturi's gifts in an enclosed space. We needed to draw them out into the open.

"A trap." Edward spoke in a whisper, but it silenced the crowd completely.

"How are we supposed to trap them?" Tanya asked. "They never leave their castle except to deal with threats of exposure."

Her words triggered something in my mind. A memory of a conversation I had over a century ago. 'They moved through the city destroying every vampire that crossed their path. None were spared.' It was something one of the coven leaders of the Southern Wars told me. He had been there when the Volturi came to destroy the newborn armies that were wreaking havoc. The conversation told me what we needed to do, loathe as I was to admit it.

I looked to Alice, the one who would hate this option more than any other. Smiling apologetically at her, I spoke.

"We need a distraction. We need Maria."

xXx

Aro POV

Jane tortured Isabella for hours. I watched with satisfaction as she writhed on the stone floor. In the midst of her pain, she screamed for her Edward to save her. I was curious as to how the boy had found her, and I would have liked to read her mind to find out how it had happened, but to read her while Jane tormented her would have been tedious. She would have been consumed by the pain and I would have been forced to siphon away the dull thoughts of pain to find the deeper memories. Eventually, as expected, the screams faded to whimpers, and then there was silence, though she still twisted and writhed.

When the noise had died down, Caius returned to the throne room. He had been partaking in Corin's influence and was sporting a rather foolish smile as he seated himself beside me. It was unbecoming of a man of his standing to be caught behaving like this. I would have to speak to him about it when we had privacy. For a moment, I mused on the outcome of that conversation and changed my mind. It would be better to speak to Corin about limiting the level of influence she used when dealing with Caius. I could have him believe that exposure was dulling her ability.

I waited for the effects of Corin to fade, before speaking to him. "Forgive me, brother, but I have been hiding something from you." I didn't expound on the fact that it was because he had become what a human would call a junkie. "I feel it is time to share with you the entirety of the plan."

He raised his head and looked me in the eye. "Are you planning to create another insane vampire, brother? I admit it was amusing once, but I can't see the appeal of doing it again."

That was something I had not considered. It was true that Isabella was my greatest achievement, and I wondered whether I could create the same damage twice, but now was not the time to peruse such thoughts. I would reconsider when I had the psychic among us. It would perhaps be interesting to make a lunatic of her mate.

"I think not," I said. "I am speaking of my wider plan to bring Alice Cullen into our family."

He straightened in his seat. "You think we need her?" Though he sounded disinterested, I heard the desire in his tone.

He made no secret of his distaste for the Cullen coven. To his mind, they were too large a coven and too gifted to be allowed. He saw them as a danger to us. If Alice was brought to us, it would weaken Carlisle. His coven had strange but strong bonds of love among them. Perhaps I would be able to lure the whole coven to me. I could do without the behemoth, Emmett, and his shrew of a mate, but they would at least serve to complete the set.

"I think it would be advantageous to have her among us. Think of the possibilities. We would know of any threat before it made its way onto the human media. We need never fear exposure again."

He scoffed. "I do not fear it now."

That was a lie, but I did not challenge it. "I admit I do, brother. We live in precarious times. The human technology grows ever stronger and with it the threat to us."

"Very well, brother. I will serve to ease your fears. How are we to lure the psychic to us?"

"That is where Isabella shows her true worth. The boy Cullen had found her when Jane brought her to us. Unfortunately, she did not have the foresight to bring him to us as well, but that is not a tragedy. Now he will come to us and will bring his family too."

Caius smiled. "And we will use Chelsea to bind them to us?" I could see that the idea appealed to him. To have Carlisle Cullen as subservient as any other guard member was a tempting prospect.

"Indeed." I turned my attention to Jane. "Please cease your assault, dear one."

Jane looked away from Isabella and stared at me with open adoration. I knew she had been listening to my and Caius' conversation and she took my words as forgiveness.

Isabella began to stir on the ground and I walked to her side and took her hand in my own. At my touch, she roused herself and tried to pull away. I gripped her tighter and prepared myself to immerse in her memories.

At first, I thought she was too lost in the remaining pain to be thinking of anything else. It took a moment for me to recognize the blank emptiness as her ability to block me. I felt a wave of frustration. For her to be able to block me but to be open to Jane and Alec's influence was unbearable. I could not show my defeat in front of my guards.

I sighed and straightened. "Ahhh, Isabella, such a wealth of memories you have for me."

She lurched to her feet and backed away until she was pressed against the wall. Her eyes were wide with terror, and I suspected that she was aware that she had some ability to block me, but that she thought it had failed.

I turned my attention to the remaining guards in the room, and I waved an airy hand. "You may leave. Isabella is no danger to us."

They trailed out of the room; the last to leave was Jane. She seemed to want to remain, perhaps to protect me, but Alec took her hand and led her from the room. It was good that he did. I was not as forgiving of Jane's failure as I would have her believe.

Once I was alone with Isabella, Caius and Marcus, I approached the girl cowering against the wall. Impossibly, she seemed to shrink further away from me. I snapped out my arm and slapped her cheek. It would not hurt her, but it would serve to humiliate her if such a thing was possible anymore.

"Aro." The voice was so softly spoken it was almost inaudible. I turned in shock, and I saw Marcus looking at me. "You have shamed her enough."

"Are you deigning to take notice of the world again?" Caius asked. He was staring at Marcus with the same shocked expression that I was.

In response, Marcus sighed heavily and turned his attention back to the wall. It was a disappointment to see him fade back into docility, he had been a great strategist in his time, and it would have been invaluable to have him working with me again.

Isabella whimpered, drawing my attention from my mute brother to her again,

"What is the problem, Aro?" Caius asked. "What has it done?"

I hated to admit defeat to anyone, but if there was one person I knew would keep my failure from others, it was Caius.

"She has blocked me," I said in a sigh.

"I thought that she had lost that ability."

"As did I, but it seems to have reasserted itself. Her memories and thoughts are her own." I looked to Isabella. "How have you done this?"

She shook her head rapidly. "I-I don't know."

There were vampires that were able to tell falsehoods from the truth, by means of a psychic talent; I was not one of them. I was, however, able to hear the lie in Isabella's voice as she was so ill adapted for lying. I raised my hand to strike her again, and she cringed away from me.

"You will tell me what I want to know, or I will bring Jane back here, Isabella," I said in a warning tone.

She shook her head again, whether in refusal of my command or fear, I did not know. I found myself growing tired of these delays. Whatever it was that she was doing, it had to stop.

"Jane!" I called loud enough that she would hear me wherever she was in the castle. A moment later, she entered the throne room. She must have been lurking nearby.

She made obeisance and then met my eyes. "Yes, Master."

"I have a service I require of you," I began. "I would like you to show Isabella what happens to people that displease me."

With a cruel smile, Jane turned her eyes on Isabella, and a second later, the room was rent with screams. I settled back in my chair to wait for Jane's influence to do its work, but something unexpected happened. After only a minute of screaming, the din stopped and Isabella leapt to her feet.

She brushed herself off and looked me in the eye.

"That hurt."

Chapter Text

Jasper POV

"We need a distraction. We need Maria."

Alice growled low in her throat. "Absolutely not!"

I sighed. It was exactly the reaction I had expected. I took a deep breath and prepared to make my case. "We need the Volturi separated. If we storm the castle, we will die. If we can deal with some of the gifted guards first, our chances will be greatly increased. Maria is the perfect ally for drawing the guard out. She has long hated the Volturi, and she has nothing to lose."

Carlisle gave me an assessing look. I knew what he was thinking as surely as if I had Edward's gift. He was weighing the cost of risking exposure with the idea of getting Bella back. I knew what he was thinking, but I did not know which way he would decide to go. He loved Bella, I knew that, and he loved Edward and would hate to see him suffering, but to go against the Volturi was in contradiction to everything he had dedicated his life to: preservation of life and order.

Edward raised his head slowly and looked at him. "I need her back, Carlisle." I noted the return to Carlisle's given name. "I can't be without her again."

"Would someone explain who this Maria is and why everyone is against getting her involved?" Jacob said.

"She is another vampire," I began.

He rolled his eyes. "I figured that much out for myself, Tex."

I pushed down my irritation and continued in my explanation. "She is among the worst of our kind. You remember the newborns we fought? Well, Maria lives among a constant guard of them. She feeds often and without conscience. She is the cause of thousands of dead and changed humans."

I gave them a brief overview of my early years as a vampire and the role I had played in Maria's army.

"It sounds to me, like you are also the worst of your kind," Sam said.

I shrugged. "Perhaps, but I am not that man anymore. Some remnants remain though, and that is why I am able to see the benefits of having Maria on side."

"I think it's a great idea," Emmett said with a hint of his usual excitement.

"I don't like this," Alice said in a small voice.

"Neither do I particularly," I admitted. "But it's the only way. If we were to cause exposure ourselves, Aro would know it's a trap."

"I think it's an excellent idea." The statement caught me off guard, as it was Esme that spoke. All eyes snapped to her. She straightened her spine and looked back with a mulish expression. "My daughter has been stolen from us again. There is little I would not do to save her."

"There is nothing I wouldn't do," Edward said in a hoarse voice. His misery was clear for all to hear. "It's my Bella."

His words seemed to affect us all, but Carlisle especially. He looked up to the skies for a moment then let out a heavy sigh. "Very well. We will go to Maria."

"Not we," I corrected. "Me. If Aro is thinking clearly, and I have no reason to doubt that he is, he will have Demetri monitoring us all at the moment. If we are all found near the site of the risk, he will suspect a trap. I think he will be concentrating on Edward and you, Carlisle. As long as I am not there at the time of the fight we should be safe."

"Then how are we going to take out the guard?" Rosalie asked.

"Sounds like a job for us," Jacob said, following my train of thought.

"Exactly. They are unfamiliar with the wolves. They can catch them off guard and take them out."

"It will be a piece of cake," one of the wolves whose name I didn't know said.

The alpha shifted uncomfortably. "Where will you all be while we risk our lives for you?"

"We will be in the lion's mouth, so to speak. We will be going to Volterra."

xXx

The journey south was arduous and long. The constant exposure to human blood was bad enough, but knowing that I had left Alice unhappy was worse. I had tried to reassure her, but it was futile. She would not be happy until I was back at her side.

I had refused all offers of company for my journey, even from Peter and Charlotte. This was something I felt I had to do alone, and Peter and Charlotte were needed back in Forks. The group we had amassed had been training in battle techniques for weeks, but my family had not. Peter especially could work to hone them into warriors.

I thought I had put war behind me the day I met Alice. I had never imagined that the peaceful family I had joined would ever need to know the brutalities of our kind. All this change because of one girl. Still, as I had once told her in a hotel room in Phoenix, she was worth it.

The wolves were travelling to Mexico on a later flight. It would give them time to settle things on the reservation, and it would give me time to track down Maria.

At the airport, I used the internet to search for missing persons and murders, hopeful that Maria and her newborns had left a trail for me to follow. The Southern Wars were long since disbanded, but Maria liked to keep a few newborns with her as a guard. There weren't a lot of missing persons reported, but those that I did find seemed to be centered around Ciudad Juárez. And so I came to find myself on the outskirts of the city, looking for signs of my kind.

I searched for a week before I found the first traces of vampire. It was in a small suburb on the periphery of the city, I caught the scent in an alley I was lurking in waiting for the sun to pass so I could move easily through the streets. I was trapped by the sun, and I had to wait for almost an hour for the sun to set enough for me to move. I used the time to call home and check in. I was expecting to reach Alice, but it was Carlisle that answered.

"Jasper, how are you, Son?" It was not often that Carlisle called me son. We did not have the same relationship as he did with my siblings. My entry into this world made it harder for me to accept him as a father figure. I cared for him, as I did all my family, but I did not fit the role of son. I knew it was his worry for me and the situation I was heading into that made him for demonstrative than was usual.

"I'm well. I have found a signs of vampire and I am waiting for dark before following."

"Be careful."

"I always am. How is Alice?"

"She has taken Edward hunting." He hesitated. "He is… Well, he is not himself."

"Understandably. He is going through hell at the moment."

I heard Carlisle sigh. I could imagine, even without seeing, the heavy set of his features as he tried to articulate his fears. "I don't know how to help him," he admitted. "He does not rouse himself to train with the rest of us; he just sits and stares into space."

I tried to imagine how I would feel if Alice was taken from me. My mind shied away from the possibility, not wanting to venture there. "He is managing as best as he can."

"I wish I could ease his mind though."

"The only person that can help him now is Bella."

I thought of my sister, and a weight settled over my heart. She was all alone in Volterra, having who knew what done to her. I hoped that she was strong enough to withstand it.

"Carlisle, I am going to have to go," I said. "The sun is setting and I don't want to lose the trail. Tell Alice that I called and I am fine."

"Very well. I know you are more than equipped to handle this situation, but please take care. I don't want to lose another of my children."

It sounded like he had already given up on Bella. The idea annoyed me. "She's not gone, Carlisle. She's just away awhile. We'll get her back."

"You are right, of course," he replied hurriedly.

We exchanged farewells and then I ended the call. Stepping out of the alley, I drew a deep breath. The scent was fading, but I would be able to follow it. Unlike Edward, tracking was one of my talents.

As I wandered the streets, my tension increased. I was heading back to Maria after decades of trying to avoid her. It was only love for my family that kept me putting one foot in front of the other.

The scent led me out of the town and to a small house surrounded by sparse scrubland. It was not somewhere I expected Maria to be, and I wondered if I had been following the wrong trail after all. It was only as I drew close that I recognized the scent of my maker.

I hesitated, not knowing what to do next. It was hardly sensible to walk up and knock on the door, but at the same time, I had to do something. My dilemma was solved for me as the door opened and a tall man stepped out. My breath rushed from me in a whoosh. I recognized the man. He was one of the newborns I had trained myself all those years ago.

"Jasper?" His eyes were wide with incomprehension. "I never thought to see you again."

It took me a moment to gather myself enough to respond. It was not that I didn't expect Maria to keep a newborn in the coven to replace me, but the fact that she had chosen this newborn as a companion surprised me. He was built like Emmett, but unlike my brother, he didn't have two brain cells to rub together.

"I never thought to see you again, either, Ramone." I held out a hand to him. He stepped forward and encased my hand in one of his own and shook it.

"Well, after you abandoned our mistress, someone had to take on the role of teacher."

"Your mistress, not mine, Ramone," I corrected.

"That cuts me deep," a soft feminine voice spoke from inside the house. A moment later a slight female figure stepped out onto the porch. Time had changed none of Maria's features, though I did not expect them to. There was one marked difference though; she was smiling a soft welcoming smile. I had expected that I would need to pander to her before I would be given audience, but she looked pleased to see me.

"Maria." I made a small bow. "You are as lovely as ever." I decided a little pandering to couldn't hurt.

"You always were a gentleman, Jasper," she cooed. "I am pleased to see that living among the foolish has not driven those manners from you. I see that you still hold to that ridiculous diet, though. Would you like me to send Ramone to find you a real meal?"

Ramone didn't look happy at the prospect of becoming my waiter. Even if the idea was not abhorrent to me, I would not have taken her up on the offer. I needed them both to be in the right frame of mind if they were to be of use to me.

"I am well fed, but thank you," I said.

She eyed me shrewdly. "You have come for more than a reunion, haven't you?"

Maria was not technically gifted with any talent, but she always had an ability to know when I was trying to conceal something. It was why she was preparing to kill me before I ran from her. She could sense my disquiet.

"I admit I am here with a purpose," I said. "Can we go inside and speak freely?"

"We can speak freely here," she said. "I still have some secrets from you, Jasper. And until I am satisfied that your allegiance is the same as ever, I will not share them with you. Now, tell me what is it that brings you here?

I steeled myself for the revelation. "My family is in trouble; we need your help."

She raised an eyebrow in question. "What possible trouble can your coven had found themselves in that would require my assistance."

"The Volturi have taken one of my family. We need your help to get her back."

"Not your charming mate, I trust."

"No, my brother's mate. My sister. She was stolen from us a week ago and we need your help to get her back."

I gave her a brief overview of Edward and Bella's romance and how she had come to fall in the hands of the Volturi.

She considered my words for a full minute, then she smiled. "I think it is time you came inside."

Ramone gestured me ahead of him and I followed Maria into the house. It was sparsely furnished, though scrupulously clean.

"This is unlike you, Maria," I observed. "You always liked to be in the city."

"One of my companions has yet to conquer her need for blood. She needs her freedom, and so we are here."

I nodded as if I understood what she was saying. I didn't. I also didn't understand why there was only Maria, Ramone and, if my hearing was correct, one other here. A coven of three was not Maria's usual choice of living situation.

"I see much has changed, Maria," I said.

"You are very correct. I will tell you more, but first I wish to know what it is that you want from me. As you can see, I do not have the numbers to support you anymore."

"Numbers I can provide. It's a distraction I need," I said. "I want to draw the guard here to you and our allies while the rest of my family take the castle."

She laughed delightedly. "You are going to take the castle? Oh, Jasper, you do amuse me."

"I am not kidding," I said in a stony voice. "They have taken my sister. We will get her back. We have the numbers." I told her about the vampires we had amassed and the werewolves.

"You have actual Children of the Moon among you?" Ramone asked.

"No, they are shapeshifters, but all the more dangerous that the Children of the Moon because of it. These are rational in their wolf forms and are ferocious fighters."

"And you have allied yourself with them?" Maria asked. "How is such a thing possible?"

"They fight for Bella, as do the rest of us."

Maria laughed a girlish laugh. It was incongruous coupled with her shrewd expression. A snake pretending to be a mouse.

"I need your help, Maria," I implored. "We cannot hope to succeed without you."

She considered my words carefully. "What do you need me to do?"

I explained about the plan for her to provide a risk of exposure to draw the Volturi from their castle. "You will not have to fight," I said. "The wolves will do it all; we just need you to provide the distraction."

"That doesn't sound very fun for us," Ramone said.

"By all means fight among them. My point is that there is no risk to you."

"Unless your dogs fail us," Maria said.

"They won't," I vowed. "There are nineteen of them, and I have seen them fight before. They are more than capable of dealing with the guard."

Maria pursed her thin lips in silent contemplation of my words. "I will help you, on one condition," she said.

"Anything," I vowed.

"After the fight is over, and the Volturi are overthrown, I want a part of the new leadership."

It was a ridiculous idea. Maria would expose us within days if she was left in charge. I had no choice but to agree though. I was evidently silent too long as Maria started to turn away from me.

"No wait!" I called.

She turned back to face me and I noticed the maniacal gleam in her eyes. "Those are my conditions, Jasper. Take them or leave them."

"I agree," I said, hoping that there was no sign of my trepidation in my tone.

"Then we shake." She held out a hand to me.

I reached out and took it. Locking eyes with her, I shook her hand, feeling like I was striking a deal with the devil.

"Excellent," she said clapping her hands together. "Now we are allies, I can share something with you." She gestured to the door in the corner. "Come meet my greatest treasure."

I stepped through the door, feeling a growing sense of trepidation. My phone rang in my pocket, but I did not reach for it. I didn't want to offend Maria.

In the corner of the room, there was a small figure. As I entered the room, it turned to face me. I hissed and lurched back until my shoulders met the wall.

"Maria, what have you done?" I demanded.

She laughed a girlish laugh. "Now, Jasper, let's not be rude. You will offend her."

Offend it? I hardly believed such a thing was possible. This thing was an abomination. A crime against nature and our kind. A gross infraction of our greatest law.

Maria had created an immortal child.

Chapter Text

Isabella POV

"That hurt."

Stepping away from the wall, I brushed my clothes, removing the dust that had accumulated as we had writhed on the ground.

"I owe you my thanks. You have no idea how frustrating it is to be trapped in her like that. Especially while your little witch was hurting us like that."

The witch in question hissed and focused her glare on me again. I could feel her influence prickling against my shield. It almost tickled. She shrieked and leapt forward with her hands extended. She looked like she would have liked to claw at my face.

I braced myself for impact and thought over everything I knew of vampire destruction. Tear them to pieces and burn them. A simple enough goal, though I didn't have matches. Perhaps someone here would help me out. There had to be at least one of them that she had annoyed enough to want rid of her.

She came within two feet of me and then stopped abruptly as if she had hit an invisible wall. I felt the impact in my mind, and I knew, without knowing how, that it had been me that had blocked her.

"How…? What…?" Aro gaped at me like a fish out of water.

I laughed, enjoying the fact that I had rendered him incapable of coherent speech. It was very satisfying.

"What has it done," Caius asked.

That was a question I was asking myself. I had known since they began training Bella that I was different. I could control what they called the shield much better than she could. I felt it surrounding me, a fine gossamer layer. I never knew I could block a physical attack though. Bella had never done this. I felt it now, flexing and undulating. If I concentrated, I could see it too. It looked like a heat haze surrounding me. As I focused on it, it rippled.

"She is a physical shield," Aro said in an awestruck tone. The way he was gazing at me made me pretty sure that I had just been moved to the number one item on his wish list.

"A physical shield," Caius said. "How is that even possible?"

"Don't ask me," I cut in before Aro could answer. "I'm just happy it works."

"You dare speak to me!" Caius was apoplectic with rage.

I grinned at him, showing my teeth. "Of course I dare. What are you going to do, scold me?"

Their dumbstruck expressions made me laugh. I was sure they had never encountered anyone like me before.

Aro stepped forward with a hand extended to touch my shield. I flexed it outwards and held him away from me by ten feet. It didn't seem to lose any of its strength at a distance. If anything, it felt stronger. As if by using it, I was strengthening it.

When he realized he could come no closer, he scowled at me. "I demand a certain level of respect from my inferiors, Isabella."

"Then it's a good think I'm not your inferior, isn't it?" I stepped away from the wall and advanced on him. "In fact, seeing as I am the one with the power here, I would say I am far superior to you and your minions."

He looked furious, but only for a second. Aro was practiced at shielding his true feelings. He fixed his expression in a warm smile and nodded. "I think it's time we introduced ourselves properly. I am Aro, and you are?"

I smiled wickedly. "I am Isabella."

"And yet I believe Isabella has left us for the time being. Who are you really?"

"I am Bella's protector." I leaned back against the wall and crossed my ankles in a posture that showed I was completely unconcerned by his presence. "You see, you made quite an impact when you destroyed Bella's mind. She was literally torn in two. I am the one that protects her while she cowers in the dirt."

"If you are her protector, why haven't we seen you before?" he asked. "We have certainly given you cause to protect her."

I stiffened. I didn't want to admit that I was the one at Bella's mercy. Why she had released me now I didn't know. She suffered Jane's power for hours before.

In response to my thought, Bella whispered to me. I was losing control of the block. Soon he would have been able to read my thoughts.

I didn't see what the harm in that was, other than the fact he would have seen I was the weaker side of Bella's mind.

He would have seen Edward. I didn't want him to have those memories.

I rolled my eyes. She would suffer hours of pain alone, but she would call me to protect her from Aro seeing a flash of her and Edward getting wild in the cave. Her priorities were seriously screwed.

Why did you suffer when I could have protected you? I asked.

It was my punishment for taking Edward to the cave. He didn't want to go, but I made him. It's my fault.

The girl was a classic martyr. She would allow herself to suffer for nothing. If we ever got out of here, she was going to need some serious therapy, Jasper style.

Aro cleared his throat unnecessarily, drawing my attention back to him. "Well, Isabella. Why have we not seen you before?"

"I didn't feel like coming out," I lied. "It can become tiresome."

I knew from his shrewd expression that he didn't believe me. Just as Bella couldn't lie convincingly, neither could I. It was a weakness we shared.

"I rather think you are lying to me, Isabella," he said with relish. "I think you are no more than a pet shackled and useless unless Bella allows you freedom."

Laughter erupted from those present in the room. I bit back the desire to launch myself at Aro. Physical shield or no, I was sure he would find a way to destroy me if he so desired. I doubted the shield could hold back a spurt of fire if he aimed it at me. I remembered the destruction of Victoria. I had no desire to end up as a pile of ashes. That would be an epic failure in my mission to protect Bella.

"Be that as it may, I am the one in control now," I said. "And I do not plan to relinquish that control anytime soon."

In my mind, Bella whimpered.

Hush, I scolded. If you want to survive this place, you will be quiet and let me handle this.

I want my Edward.

I hated to admit it, but I wanted him too. Though he was next to useless, he would at least be a comfort in this place. No matter how I strived to appear unaffected, just being here was torture to me. This was the place where they had broken Bella's mind. I worried that if she came to the fore again, they would find a way to do it again.

"Well, Isabella, now that you are here, what are we going to do with you?" Aro tapped his chin with an expression of concentration.

"Kill it," Caius commanded.

"Hmm, that is a possibility." I knew better than to believe Aro was really considering it. He was entranced with the idea of Bella and me. He would not destroy us if he could avoid it. I was much more fascinating to him alive. "If you can control yourself, we will allow you to live," he said.

I nodded. "I can do that. On one condition."

"And what would that be, dear Isabella?"

"I'm going to need a room."

He smiled wickedly at me. "I think that I have an even greater idea as to what to do with you."

Something about his cruel smile made me uneasy. What conclusion had he come to?

xXx

Edward POV

I felt like I was floating in a sea of despair. At times people would speak to me, but I would block out their voices. It was impossible to concentrate on anything else when every fiber of my being was concentrated on my Bella in Volterra. I thought of her constantly, wishing she was here safe in my arms and wondering if she was thinking of me. The only time I roused myself was to hunt with Alice. I had no lust for the kill, but, as Alice reminded me, I needed to be at my strongest for the fight.

A strong hand clapped me on the shoulder and I raised my head sluggishly to look at Emmett. "What is it?"

"Just checking you're still in there. You've been staring at that same rock for the last hour."

I wanted to scowl at his tactlessness, but it was too much effort. Instead, I bowed my head again and returned my attention to thoughts of Bella.

"Hey, man, I was kidding. I'm sorry." He thumped down on the ground beside me. "I'm just worried about you, you know."

"I'm not the one you should be worried about," I said in a hoarse voice. "It's Bella that is in danger."

She sighed heavily and scrubbed his face with one of his shovel-like hands. "That's true. But unlike you, she's strong." He saw my wounded expression and backtracked at once. "Don't get me wrong, you're no weakling, but Bella has survived worse. She can handle whatever they throw at her."

I considered his words. It was true that Bella had survived horrors beyond imagining, but she had also lost her mind. What if, after all she had gone through, she broke again? What if I truly lost her this time?

"I'm scared, Em," I whispered.

"We all are. But losing ourselves to the fear isn't going to help anyone, least of all Bella. You lost her once, and she came back to you. This time we will go and get her."

Something in his words triggered something in me. It was as if a flame had been lit where previously there had only been darkness. I looked around me, noticing for the first time the sheer number of vampires around me. My family, the Denalis, Peter, Charlotte, Garrett. People I knew well and some that I knew by name alone. Liam, Maggie, Siobhan, Alastair, Mary, Randall, all people that were prepared to risk their lives for my Bella. They were fighting and training while I sat and stared at rocks. What was I thinking?

I leapt to my feet, startling Emmett. "What's wrong?" he asked. "What can you hear?"

I shook my head. "Nothing, I just realized what I am doing. I need to fight."

"Yes," he said slowly. "That's the point; we are all going to fight."

"No, what I mean is that I need to fight now. I am out of practice, I need to know more."

He grinned. "That's what I'm talking about. A sparring match. C'mon Eddie, give me your—"

I didn't give him a chance to finish his sentence. I launched myself at him, tackling him to the ground. With growls slipping between my clenched teeth, I threw myself into the fight. Feeling for the first time since Bella had been lost, some of the fury returning to me.

After that first fight with Emmett, I trained ceaselessly. Faceless opponents came and went; the only constant was my rage. It took great restraint to not to harm them irreversibly. In my mind, they were all the Volturi. The ones that were keeping my Bella from me.

When there were no more opponents for me, I hunted. With every animal I took down, I reminded myself that it was for Bella. When I felt that I could hold no more, I hunted again. Any and everything that could tip the odds in my favor was leapt upon and utilized.

After one such hunting trip, I returned to the house to find everyone in a state of agitation. I understood from the thoughts I could hear, that Alice had seen something that distressed her.

I pushed my way through the crowd surrounding her and kneeled at her side. Pushing a strand away from her face, I asked her, "What did you see?"

She looked up at me and I saw horror in her eyes. My silent heart clenched in my chest.

"Please, no, not Bella," I choked.

She shook her head. "No, Maria. She has done something terrible."

"What?"

Rather than answering me in words, she opened her mind, and I watched with horror the images she showed me.

Jasper standing outside a ramshackle house surrounded by empty scrubland. A woman I recognized as Maria standing in a doorway. Jasper's troubled face. And finally, a small figure standing in a darkened room.

I hissed and fell back on my haunches. An immortal child. A living, breathing vampire child.

"What is it?" Carlisle asked, laying a hand on my shoulder.

"A child," I half moaned. "Maria had created an immortal child."

The reaction to my words was immediate and intense. There were hisses and growls and, from someone, a shriek.

"Jasper is there," Alice moaned. "He's there with it."

I understood her horror. Though Jasper was a ferocious fighter, and I had no doubt he would be able to handle the child should it come to a fight, to be around such a creation was a danger. Immortal children were forbidden, but enchanting. They lured those around them into protecting them. Even at the cost of their own life. Jasper was in terrible danger.

I heard the sounds of keys being pressed and then a dial tone. Someone was trying to call Jasper.

"Is there time, Alice?" I asked. "Can we avert it?"

She shook her head. "It's too late. I saw it the moment Maria decided to show him. He is there already."

I took her hand in mine and tried to comfort her. "It's okay. Jasper is strong. He will resist."

"What if he doesn't?" she asked in a kind of moan. "I could lose him."

"To who?" Rosalie asked. "The Volturi? Unless you have forgotten, Alice, we are about to go to war with them. A fight that we are going to come out of alive. They can't do anything to him."

I huffed a laugh. Rosalie was right. We had all our lost reason at the possibility of the Volturi finding out about Jasper being near the immortal child. None of us had remembered that we were planning to kill them all anyway. There was still a risk that Jasper could become attached to the child, it would have to be destroyed, but like I said, Jasper was strong.

The crowd around us began to disperse, still talking amongst themselves about the taboo child. I sat beside Alice and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into my touch, and for that moment, we were united in fear for our mates.

After an hour of sitting in silence, the house telephone rang. No one knew we were back in Forks and all our friends were among us, so it had to be Jasper calling. Esme snatched up the phone and handed it to Alice.

"Jasper?" she said into the receiver.

His answer was slightly muffled through the speaker, but I could make it out. "Alice, did you see?"

"We did. What is she thinking, Jasper?"

I heard his heavy sigh. "I don't honestly know. This is completely out of character for her. She has never taken this kind of risk before. From what Ramone told me, she is the child of one of Maria's meals. I don't think it was compassion that made her change the child though. Maria does not operate on kindness."

"What are we going to do?" Alice asked.

"You are going to do nothing. I don't want you anywhere near this thing. Maria has agreed to help us. We are going to carry on with the plan. Are the wolves on their way?"

"They will be with you soon. I have called and told them where to find you."

"That's good. As soon as they arrive, I will come home. When the Volturi arrive here, we will go to the castle."

"How are we going to lure them out? Are you planning to show the child in public? It's such a risk, Jasper. Even if we defeat the Volturi our world will be exposed."

"No, we have a better plan. Maria is going to flaunt the child to one of the surviving coven leaders. They will want revenge for the wars, and I am sure they will go straight to the Volturi."

We were relying too much on chance and luck. What if Maria's enemy chose to attack rather than report? But then this plan had always relied on luck. We were going against the Volturi, something no one had dared since the time of the Romanians. Other than the reliance on luck and chance, our plan was a good one. Jane and Alec were always used for missions such as these. The wolves would take care of them and any other guards that were sent, and the way would be clear for us to attack.

"I hope you are right," Alice said, a sentiment echoed by us all.

"Trust me, Alice. I know what I am doing."

Alice got to her feet and darted out of the lounge to her bedroom. She would still be in hearing range, but it would give her some semblance of privacy as she finished her call with Jasper.

I settled back on the couch and closed my eyes. For a selfish moment, I allowed myself to immerse myself in memories of Bella. I would have to rouse myself soon enough, but for that time I was free to love her from afar.

I thought of how I would hold her when she was returned to me. We would go back to the island, if she wanted to. There she could have peace and freedom to heal, as I was sure she would need to. I would have to tell her about Charlie at last. I hoped that, with her diminished memories of him, she would be able to recover from the loss. Once she was healed, we could travel together. There was so much of the world that she hadn't seen yet. I wanted to show her it all. I was comforted by these thoughts, and drifted into a state akin to sleeping.

The first thing to hit me was the mental scream of anguish. It was followed by a vocal scream. Someone was in unendurable agony. I was propelled to my feet and before I knew it, I was racing up the stairs to Alice and Jasper's bedroom.

Alice was bowed on the floor gripping her head in her hands. There were no audible thoughts from her, just that continued scream. It had to be Jasper. Cold horror surged through me. What had she seen?

"Alice! What is it?" Esme asked, kneeling beside her.

"Oh God, I can't… She can't."

When I heard the scream I had thought it must be Jasper she had seen, but I knew better. Only one other person could cause Alice to react like this. There was only one other person missing from our number that Alice loved.

My knees weakened and I fell to the floor. My head met the carpet and I made no effort to raise it. I didn't want to see Alice's face as she answered my next question. "Is it Jane?"

Hands touched me, but I barely felt them. I was numb with shock.

"No." Alice's voice was querulous. "She's not hurting, Edward. No one can ever hurt her again. She's gone."

Someone somewhere was screaming, and other voices bellowed denial and demands for more, but I was rendered mute. I was lost inside myself as the awful truth settled over me.

My Bella was gone.

xXx

There were two outcomes for a vampire that had lost its mate. Death or revenge. I once chose death. This time I chose revenge.

Chapter Text

Jacob POV

I'd never travelled further than Canada before, and that was in my wolf form. After Bella was lost, I ran from my family and lived as a wolf for a while. I didn't last long alone. I had physical privacy, but not mental. It drove me crazy to hear my brothers talking in my head all the time, and don't even get me started on Leah.

Now, I was on a plane heading to some place called Ciudad Juárez. The scarred bloodsucker was meeting us there and taking him to meet some psycho called Maria. Apparently, she was the one that had turned him and turned him into some kind of lieutenant in a war. It was kinda cool to think that he had some dark past. Other than the time he was showing us how to fight the newborns, he seemed pretty dull.

I sat back in my seat and tried to ignore Quil and Embry as they jockeyed for the attention of the hot stewardess. I let my thoughts drift to Bella. It wasn't anything new for me; she was always on my mind. Before it was because of my crippling guilt, now it was with a kind of longing. The love that I had buried for two years had come back with vengeance.

Jared elbowed me in the ribs. "You thinking about Bella again?"

I grimaced. I had tried to hide it from the rest of the pack, but the whole thought reading thing made that impossible. The truth was that now I knew Bella was alive in some form I found myself wanting her more than ever. One of Emily's favorite sayings was that absence made the heart grow fonder. She was dead right. I was in love with Bella, and there was nothing I could do about it.

It would never work, on some level I knew that, but I couldn't stop myself thinking of her all the time. I wished I'd had a chance to see her. Maybe, once all this fighting was done, her leech would let me see her again. It couldn't hurt her, and the only danger to me was having my heart broken again. She had never made her choice after all. She could still pick me.

Jared elbowed me again, and I snapped out a hand and punched him in the gut. Lucky thing the stewardess wasn't anywhere close, as she would have freaked.

"I'm not thinking about anything other than the fact I will soon be getting off this plane and away from you," I lied.

He chortled. "Sure you are. You planning your leechtastic wedding? Do you think the Doc will give her away, or maybe Edward will be the bigger man."

I scowled at him. "Not funny, bro."

It wasn't the jibe about me that bothered me; it was the thought that Charlie was no longer around to carry out that duty. I loved the man like a father and he was gone. Billy was really broken up about it. He had lost his two best friends now. Thoughts of Charlie and Harry made me think of Billy and his health. He had years left in him; I would make sure of it. He just had to take care of himself. Less beer and pizza, that was the first step.

The plane began to dip through the clouds towards the runway.

"Heads up, boys," Sam said. "We are almost there."

The upcoming fight scared Sam more than any of us. He had responsibilities back home now. Emily was pregnant and due in a few months. He had been preparing to stand down and hand over the pack to me before this new drama had started. I made a mental vow to take care of him in the fight.

We got a lot of attention as we passed through the airport. We were quite a sight when together. Nineteen abnormally large men drew eyes. Some of the gazes that followed us were girls. The other guys made a point of flexing their muscles as we passed. You would think we were heading to a party weekend not a battle the way they were acting. Though, to some of them, the fight was even better that a party. Brady, Collin and the younger wolves had never been in a combat situation before, and the rest of had only faced newborns and that Laurent leech. I didn't like to admit it but we had needed the training we got from the leeches.

The phone the doctor had given us rang as we exited the airport. Sam answered and we heard the scarred vamp talking. The sun was too high for him to come out and meet us yet, so we had to hang at the airport until he could come. I was happy to wait, I was hungry and the doc had given us a wad of cash to use for expenses. And there wasn't much more expensive than airport food when you were feeding a pack of werewolves.

Sam had bristled when the doc had handed over the cash; just like he did when they told us they were covering our airfare. I didn't see the problem. The leeches had enough cash to last them a few centuries, and I didn't want to blow the cash I had been saving for a new truck. Eventually pressure from the rest of us had overcome Sam's pride and he took the cash.

We all piled into one of the fast food restaurants and ordered up a feast. Sam barely ate, and I was reminded again of how tense he had been before we left. When I had gone to him after being told to prepare the pack for war, he had been reluctant to take on the fight. I was without conscience though as I reminded him of what we owed the Cullens, especially the doctor. Some of us, me included, would have died if he hadn't helped us after the newborn fight. Ultimately, it was Emily that persuaded him. She loved Bella, they were good friends before everything had gone wrong, and she told Sam it was his duty to help her. It was pretty selfless for someone six months pregnant. It reminded me of another girl I used to know.

Eventually the blazing sun set, and the scarred leech could come out into the open without sparkling like a disco ball. He met us outside the airport. The short break from the stench of vampire we had during the flight had been great, but now we were back to burning noses and churning stomachs. To be fair, it didn't look like he enjoyed our scent anymore than we did his.

"Are you up to a walk?" he asked. "Maria's place is outside of the city and it would be incongruous to get taxis to the middle of nowhere."

Paul sneered at him. "We are perfectly capable of making our own way to the leeches' crypt."

The bloodsucker smiled serenely. "That's good. We have quite a way to go."

Just like in the airport, we drew eyes as we made our way through the city streets. We played it up, acting a little drunk, hoping to be taken as a stag party on its way to the next bar. We could have used Edward to help us out with his mindreading ability, but it was better that he wasn't there. The guy was especially depressing since he let get Bella get taken.

We finally got out of the city in the early hours of the morning. We walked awhile through some deserted stretch of desert before we came to a derelict house in the middle of nowhere.

In one of those freaky fast movements, the leech went inside the house and then appeared at the door again. "They aren't here," he said. "They must be out laying the trap."

"Trap?" Sam asked.

He looked awkward and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Yes, there is something I haven't told you." He gestured Sam and me forward. "Can we speak in private?"

Sam considered for a moment, and then looked around. We were far out of sight of any humans here. "Jacob, you stay with me, the rest of you phase and run a perimeter."

There were cheers at his words. Everyone was itching to stretch their legs. It felt better to be in our wolf forms anyway while we were preparing to fight; it made it easier to manage the tension. When they were gone, the leech began to speak in a whisper.

"Maria has done something terrible. She has created an immortal child."

Sam and me exchanged a confused look.

"What's an immortal child?" I asked.

"It's a child that has been turned into a vampire."

"You mean that leech you're working with has bitten a child?" Sam asked in a disgusted tone. "That's… unbelievable."

"Whether you want to believe it or not, it's happened," the leech said. "It's a taboo among our kind."

"I can see why," I said. "That's just fucked up. The poor kid."

The leech growled. "You need to stop thinking like that now. It is not a poor anything. Maybe it was once, but now it is a cursed thing."

"You all are," I said, unconcerned.

"I couldn't care less what you think of me," he said looking intense. "You need to know what you are heading into. This child will be the most entrancing thing you have ever seen. You will want to protect it above all else. You will be prepared to die to save it."

I scoffed. "I don't think so. Leech kids don't tug on our heartstrings the way they do you."

"You're a fool," he spat. "You have no idea what you are talking about. Unless you are careful this child will be the death of you."

"If it's so dangerous, why aren't you looking after it right now?" Sam asked.

"Believe me it is taking everything I have not to fall under its spell. It is only because I have something infinitely more precious to protect that keeps me in my own right mind."

"And what would that be?" I asked.

"My Alice," he said simply. "She already holds my heart. I cannot give it to another."

Sam fell silent and considered his words. "I too have someone that holds my heart; I do not think I am at risk."

"And you, Jacob? Who holds your heart?" he asked.

I could hardly admit to him that I loved his coven mate's girlfriend, so I stayed quiet.

"You will be the one to watch then," he said misinterpreting my silence. "Sam, you must keep this from Maria. She will kill to save the child. When the fight is over, and the Volturi have been dealt with, you have to kill them both. There is a male with them that can be killed if you so wish, but Maria and the child have to die."

"A double cross?" Sam said. "How are we to know we are not the ones being double crossed? How do we know you haven't given instructions to this Maria to kill us too?"

"It would be a pretty feeble threat if I had, wouldn't it? Three of them versus nineteen of you. I think it's safe to say you would be the victors there."

It would be a safe bet if it was three of them versus three of us; we were had never been more prepared for battle than we were now. It would have been bragging to say it aloud though.

"Very well," Sam said. "We shall kill the woman and the child. Is there anything else we need to know?"

"I don't think so. The others explained about the gifted vampires?"

The other leeches had more than explained, they had drawn pictures. We knew every vampire to expect and every gift they possessed. Between us, we had divvied up who was targeting who in the leeches' guard. I had dibs on the little one with the ability to hurt you with her eyes. It didn't seem like much of a challenge, but they said she was one of the most offensive weapons they had.

The leech's phone rang then and he hurried away from us to answer it. We could not hear his conversation, but we could see him clearly enough. His smile faded and his expression changed as if he had been kicked in the gut. For a moment, I thought I heard a sob as his expression crumpled. We didn't see any more as he turned away from us to look out over the horizon.

"What do you think's happened?" I asked Sam.

"I don't know. Maybe there is trouble at home. Whatever it is, it is not our business. We have our mission. We are to kill the leech army and then Maria and the child."

"Do you really think it will be as hard as he says?" I asked.

"I don't know. I don't think he was lying exactly, but I think he is overestimating the risk to us. We are not going to be entranced by a leech child."

I laughed. "Yeah, that would be a bit of a stretch."

"We should phase and share this news with the others."

I shrugged off my shirt and shorts and felt the stretch and pull of muscles as I phased into my wolf form. I was immediately assaulted by the thoughts of eighteen others.

Yo, Jake. What's with the secret squirrel act?

Did you see the leech crying? Wonder what's happened.

Probably realized he's going to miss out on the fun. I don't think storming some crusty old geezers will be as fun as taking out their uber-gifted guard.

Quiet! Sam snapped. There is much to tell you, and not enough time…

xXx

The leech stayed with us for another day. He wasn't the same though. He was depressed as hell, so depressed that if you got too close to him you got a dose of it yourself. It was a sucky gift to have if you asked me, feeling and sharing your emotions with everyone.

The psycho Maria came back the day we arrived. She was hot for a leech, but there were definite signs of the crazy in her. She spoke to us as if we were performing animals that the Cullens had sent along for her entertainment. Other than a passing glance as she blurred into the house, we didn't see the immortal child. I was disappointed. I wanted to test myself against her so-called lure.

Finally, the psychic called and said the guard were on their way. The scarred leech hightailed it out of there to meet with the rest of his family in Italy, and we were left to prepare. We were all hyped and ready for the fight. There were good-natured arguments about who was fighting who, as there wouldn't be enough for us to have one each.

They came in the evening. At first, all we could see was blurry shapes coming out of the dusty horizon, and then they became clearer. There was an even dozen of them. Some we recognized from the sketches: the twins, some hulking dude called Felix, the one with the gift for tracking, and the woman that could change your loyalties. There was a male at her side, but I didn't remember him from the sketches, so he couldn't have been important.

We were in our human forms as we waited for them. We had wanted to be wolves, but the scarred leech thought we might scare them off. Eager for the fight, none of us had argued.

As they drew closer, we could make out their expressions. They looked amused to see us all standing there waiting for them. They couldn't see us as a threat as they could hear our thudding hearts. They were in for a shock.

They came to a halt twenty feet from us in a line with the twins at the centre. There was a moment's silence as we appraised each other and then the female twin spoke.

"Maria, you stand accused of creating an immortal child in direct violation of our greatest law," she said. "Do you deny your crime?"

Maria stepped forward. "I do not. I am proud of my creation."

"I see you have also shared our secret with this motley crew of humans," the hulking guard said. "Have you taken leave of your senses?"

"I was not the one to tell these of our existence," she said. "That crime befalls the Cullens."

I understood why she was so cocky, she had us to protect her, but I didn't like the fact she was dropping the Cullens' name in here. It didn't feel right.

The female smiled wickedly. "Then we will mete out punishment to them next."

I tensed. I wanted to be in my wolf form already, but I was awaiting the order from Sam.

"Bring the abomination out," the small male commanded.

Maria turned, as if she was about to enter the house. She locked eyes with Sam and nodded. That was the cue for us to phase.

"Now!" Sam called to us.

With relief, I allowed the tremors to take over me. I felt a wave of relief as I became the wolf. In this form, there was nothing I couldn't do.

The look on the guards' faces as we phased was hilarious. The little female looked horrified.

"Children of the Moon," one breathed.

I didn't know what a Child of the Moon was, but the way they reacted it had to be something impressive.

Head in the game, guys, Sam said in the alpha tone. We all focused immediately.

I leapt forward intent on my target—the witch—but something happened to me. It was as if someone had doused me in gasoline and set me on fire. It felt like my bones were melting. I howled in agony, and I heard it returned through the pack mind. We were all hurting.

As fast as the pain started, it ended. I pushed myself slowly to my feet and looked at the small vampire. She was looking really happy with herself.

"Well, this is interesting," she said. "I have never known a vampire to ally themselves with Children of the Moon before. You are quite extraordinary, Maria."

Maria was back, and trailing behind her was a small figure. She had flowing brown hair, and crimson eyes. The eyes barely registered with me, it was her angelic face I was looking at. She had a look of innocent curiosity as she looked at me. I looked back with a sense of awe. She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen. Only a child, an innocent child. I couldn't believe I had agreed to kill her; there was nothing dangerous about her.

Jacob! No! Someone bellowed in my mind. Stop now! The voice was heavy with the weight of the alpha command, but it had no affect on me. I was drawn by something greater than the demands of my pack. The girl needed me.

I forgot about the fight, about the guard behind me and my pack surrounding me. All that mattered was that this girl was an innocent that I must protect.

As I stepped towards her she smiled and enchanting smile, and reached up her hands to embrace me. I bowed down to my knees so she could reach, and waited for her to hug me. There was no hug though, there was a snapping sound followed by pain. I crumpled to the ground. There did not seem to be enough of me. I could feel pain across my back, and at my throat, but nothing of my hind legs; they didn't seem to be there.

Jacob, talk to me bro.

What's happening to him?

Not now! I recognized Sam's voice. Kill the vampires.

I heard the sound of screeching metal and knew my brothers were attacking. There were screams and howls of pain, but it was fading. My own heartbeat drowned those sounds out. It seemed too fast, much too fast. There was burning pain spreading from the wound on my neck through me.

Venom, I thought distractedly. Someone had bitten me. Was it the lovely child, or someone else? It didn't matter in the end. The result was the same. I was dying.

Jacob, no, don't think like that, a female voice spoke in my mind. I was surprised as I had never heard Leah speak to anyone so softly before. You're going to be fine.

I wasn't though. We both knew that. I was fading fast.

Why isn't he healing? Leah demanded of an invisible someone.

It must be the venom. Sam sounded disgusted. Jacob, hold on, okay. He was using the power of the alpha tone again, but it was too late. My body couldn't obey him anymore.

If this was dying, it wasn't so bad. Things were fading now. I couldn't even hear the voices of my pack in my mind. Finally, I had peace.

My last thought as the darkness swept in was of Bella. I would never get my chance to be with her now.

 

Chapter Text

Aro POV

The one that called herself Isabella was fascinating, infuriating, but fascinating. She blocked all of our gifts, and I had tried them all. Jane found it especially frustrating. I could have killed her, of course, but I hated to waste such a gift. If she could be brought around to our way of thinking, she could be a valuable asset to us.

I wished that Alec's ability to render her mute would work; it would have been pleasant to have a break from the inane chatter. She seemed to resent being shackled inside Bella for so long, and she used her freedom to talk to its fullest extent. The only way I got some peace was to allow her a chamber in one of the towers.

In was in one of these moments of relative solitude that I was made aware of a vampire seeking an audience with my brothers and myself.

As was our custom, I called the guard to the throne room to greet our guest, with the exception of Felix whom I sent to Isabella's room to keep her distracted. He was the only one among our number who could be said to have any affection for the girl. They shared the same perverse sense of humor.

Demetri came into the room, leading an unfamiliar vampire; he was a tall man, with an olive cast to his pale skin. He seemed awed at the sight of my guard surrounding me. We were an impressive sight when assembled. I liked to make an impact when meeting someone for the first time.

He came to stand before me and made a low bow. "My Lord, I come with grave news."

I found I liked being addressed thus. I would have to consider having my guard call me the same. It had an air of grandeur that Master lacked.

I reined in my wayward thoughts and concentrated on our guest. "If you would just give me your hand I can see what you have come to share."

He looked confused and I elucidated, "With a touch I can read your thoughts. Every thought you have ever had, in fact."

He took an involuntary step back from me. I smiled indulgently at him. "You can attempt to flee if you like, but I know you have noticed the amount of vampires at my command. To be sporting, I will allow you to get to the door before I send them after you."

The vampire steeled himself and held out a hand to me. Exceedingly slowly, I reached for him, allowing the moment to stretch on to increase his tension. As my fingers closed around his, his eyes fell shut and his expression tautened.

There was a wealth of memory there for me to enjoy. He was over two centuries old, and even more temptingly, he was a veteran of the Southern Wars. He had led a coven in fact. I skimmed through his few human memories and focused on how it had felt to lead a coven in the wars. It was fascinating. Once I had glutted myself on his memories, I moved to his more recent thoughts, searching for what had led him to come to me.

When I found what I was seeking, I released his hand and leapt back with a hiss.

"What is it, Aro?" Caius asked.

It took me a moment to marshal myself. What I had seen in the vampire's thoughts was horrifying. Drawing in a deep breath, I spoke. "An immortal child."

The affect of my words was instant and overwhelming. The room around me exploded with hisses and growls. Even Marcus roused himself at the news. He looked directly in my eyes, and I knew, even without reading his thoughts, that he was thinking the same as me. This could not be allowed.

"But… how?" someone asked. I didn't take care to see whom.

"Someone called Maria created it. It cannot have reached ten years of mortality before its change."

"It must be destroyed." Caius' tone was menacing.

"And it will, brother," I said.

I paced the room, taking long strides. What to do now? I would have liked to go along to mete out justice against the creator and the child, but I had other things to consider. The Cullens would surely be coming soon. I needed to be here to oversee their capture. Too much to do, and not enough time to do it.

"Jane," I called, and she hurried to my side. "Take a guard of your choosing and destroy this threat."

"Yes, Master." She made a low bow and darted to her brother's side.

"Demetri, can you find the trail of the creature from our guest's mind?"

He fixed his eyes on the vampire for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, Master."

"Very well. Lead them to the abomination and oversee our guard. Do your duty to protect us."

In a rush of billowing robes, Jane, Alec, Afton, Demetri and Chelsea left the room. I watched them go with a sense of satisfaction. They would destroy the threat and our world would be at peace again.

As that reassuring thought came to me, the door swung open and Isabella appeared.

"What did I miss?"

xXx

I was loathe to admit it, even to myself, but I hated to be without my guard. I felt weakened without them. I kept Renata at my side at all times. She gave me the illusion of protection. The only that could breach her defenses was Isabella, a fact which she found highly entertaining. I was reconsidering my plan to kill her after all.

I was in my private chamber with Sulpicia when the ruckus started. I heard shouting voices and screams. Sulpicia exchanged a horrified look with me. Nothing like this had ever happened in the castle before.

"Stay hidden," I commanded as I ran for the door.

"Aro!" a familiar voice bellowed. "Where are you, you coward?"

No one, in my two millennia of life, had ever spoken to me like that. Let alone that whelp of a boy, Edward.

I raced through the halls to the throne room where I found what remained of my guard cowering against the walls. At the sight of me, they straightened and attempted to look brave. Caius hurried through the door at that moment.

"What is happening?"

"I rather think we are under attack."

The second the words slipped from my mouth the door were torn from their hinges and a mass of people made their way inside. At the head of the crowd was the boy Cullen. His face was contorted with rage. His eyes scanned the room wildly, searching for something. As they settled upon me, his lips curved into a menacing smile.

"Aro."

My guard immediately moved to form a protective cage around myself and Caius. Renata gripped the hem of my sleeve.

"Welcome, Edward," I opened my arms in greeting. "I had been hoping to see you again." Though I never imagined he would bring such a force down upon us. I would never admit it to a soul, but I felt the first prickles of fear as he looked at me. Fear that I had never felt in my vampire lifespan.

I looked at the vampires around him and knew that I had met my match at last. There were too many of them, too many by far. But one among their number caught my eye, and I knew was not yet lost. Carlisle. It was true that he was looking at me with open loathing in his eyes, but I knew him better than anyone. He would never kill me. He valued all life, even those of whom he hated.

Edward snarled. "Why did you do it? What did she ever do to you?"

He was asking me why. Surely he knew already. She was my crowning achievement.

"I did it because I could," I said with relish. "She was weak, your love made her weak. I merely finished the job you started the day you left her."

His expression crumpled and I expected him to falter, but he didn't. He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them, they were burning with fury once more. "You will die."

I shook my head. "You will not kill me, will he Carlisle. Don't you try to emulate your father at all times, he would never kill me."

"That's where you are wrong, Aro." I had never heard Carlisle speak in such a hate-filled tone. "You destroyed my daughter. Tore my family apart. I will never forgive you for this. I will help my son to kill you."

The guard around us tightened their ranks and dropped into crouches, preparing to attack. As if that was the cue they needed, the crowd of vampire's before us surged forward and launched themselves at us.

It happened too fast I barely had time to react. For a split second there was silence and then the room was rent with screams, snarls, and the metallic tearing of vampire flesh.

I pulled Renata with me to the corner of the room and clung to her hand. "Under no circumstance will you leave me, do you understand?"

"Yes, Master," she said in a trembling voice.

I would have liked to cover my eyes and look away, but they refused to accept my command. I was forced to watch as my dear ones were torn apart.

I looked around at the chaos of the room and knew it was all over.

xXx

Edward POV

I heard it in his thoughts the moment he accepted that it was all over. I was working in tandem with Carlisle, tearing Heidi to pieces at the time, but his thought drew my eyes to him. He slumped against the wall, gripping Renata's hand in his, looking defeated.

It couldn't really be called a battle; there were far too many of us for it to be called that. It was merely an assassination mission.

With every piece I tore from another of the guard, I thought of my Bella and how I was doing this for her. These people had watched her suffer and had done nothing to ease her pain. I now caused them pain in retribution.

Caius was brought down by Alice and Jasper. Santiago by Emmett and Rose. Peter and Charlotte took down Corin. Many other nameless members of the secondary guard were destroyed as we moved among them. There were injuries to our side, but no destructions. We were too strong for them.

Is it time for me now? I turned to the source of the thought, and found Marcus staring back at me.

"Do it, boy," he commanded. "End my suffering."

I looked at the man that was the living embodiment of my future path. Without Bella to guide me, his life was my own.

"Did you ever try to help her?" I asked in a mournful tone.

He shook his head. "Only once. I am sorry. I never meant for it to end this way."

I felt a surge of hatred for the man. To kill him would be to end his pain, he wished for the release of death, but he deserved to live.

"No," I said coldly. "You will live with the same pain I live with. That is your punishment."

My words drew the attention of everyone around me. The fight was over, we were victorious, there were just three left: Marcus, Aro and Renata. Marcus sought death and I would refuse him. Aro sought life and I would refuse him too. This was my right as Bella's mate. Her price would be theirs.

Marcus looked at me desperately. "Please."

I shook my head. I was not going to grant him his release. He slumped back in his chair and raised a shaking hand to his face.

"And, me? What fate awaits me?" Aro asked.

"Your guard is dead," I said. "Those that went south too."

The battle there had also been victorious, though at a cost. Jacob Black was dead. He had been killed by Felix and the immortal child. I felt no real pain for his loss. The weight of my loss was too great to add another's passing. I felt regret thought. He had fought for Bella and it had cost him his life.

Aro's face fell as he truly accepted that it was over. All the power he had lived and killed for was lost. He had nothing left now. Nothing except Renata.

"Enough of this crap," Emmett snarled and launched himself at Aro. He stopped and turned away as Renata's influence reached him. He cursed under his breath as he walked, against his will, to stand at Rosalie's side once again.

Aro laughed. "You cannot kill me. I still have one defense."

It was true. There was nothing we could do but stand and watch him. None of us were able to pass Renata's shield.

"Renata," Carlisle said in a soft tone. "You know he does not deserve your protection. He has enslaved you for long enough."

Renata's eyes were wide as she considered Carlisle. I could hear her thoughts; she was considering all that her master had done.

"Renata, my dearest one of all," Aro whispered in a silky tone. "Don't listen to their lies. You know I have only ever done what was needed to protect our kind."

The little headway we had been making with Renata was lost at his words. She was too devoted to Aro for us to reach her.

She shook her head. "Yes, Master. I know."

We were at a stalemate. There was nothing we could do other than hold Aro here indefinitely. Marcus could be freed to roam the world, but Aro was too dangerous. Jasper was fingering a silver lighter in his hand.

What do you think, Edward? He asked. Would it work?

Renata's shield certainly couldn't block the flames, but whole and uninjured Aro would be able to extinguish the flames. I shook my head. It was no good.

At that moment, the door flew open again and a slight figure darted into the room. She stopped short and stared at us, as we stared at her. My mouth dropped open. I had to be imagining it. She couldn't be here. It was impossible.

"Hey, Edward, what took you so long?" she asked brightly.

I blinked and shook my head experimentally. I had lost my mind after all. Bella was dead; she couldn't be talking to me. Even if she was alive, she would never have spoken to me like that.

"How…?" Carlisle asked in a wondering tone. "How is it possible?"

I heard a muffled sob and saw Esme covering her face in her hands.

"Bella!" Emmett bellowed.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one hallucinating.

Alice stepped forward with a hand raised, but the Bella apparition held up a hand. "No thanks, shorty. I'm good."

"Bella, is it really you?" I asked, hoping against all impossible hope. "Are you here?"

She tilted her head to the side and gave me an assessing look. "Nope."

My heart sank to my stomach. Of course she wasn't here. She was dead.

"Isabella?" Jasper asked in a hopeful tone.

"Got it in one, Tex. Now I ask again, what took you so long?"

"We thought you were dead," I said in a wondering tone.

"Of course you did. Any particular reason, or were you all just feeling a little dense today?"

"I saw you," Alice said. "I mean I didn't see you. You disappeared."

She bent double at the waist and laughed."Man, you guys are something else. Can you see me now?"

Alice searched her visions for a sight of Bella's path, but there was nothing there. She didn't exist for Alice.

"The shield," I said. "Of course. Why didn't we think?" There was no answer to my question. We didn't think because we were fools.

"So, what are we doing with him?" she asked as she stared at Aro.

"Nothing," Aro said with a cruel laugh. "They can do nothing with me."

Isabella grinned a wicked grin. "Is that right." With deliberate slowness, she stepped towards him. I waited for the moment she would be repelled by Renata's shield, but it never came. Instead, she stepped close enough to Aro to be able to touch him.

"You hurt us, Aro," she said, looking deep into his eyes. "You tortured us."

Aro nodded, without remorse.

"We're going to kill you now."

Aro began to laugh. "You won't kill me Isabella. You are too we—"

She cut off his words with a hand at his throat. She bowed her head forward as if she was going to kiss him. There was a foul screeching sound and a thud as Aro's head fell to the floor. His body crumpled down beside it. I noted that he hadn't fought her. He had known the end was coming, and he went into it with the little dignity he had left.

Isabella stepped back and surveyed the damage she had wrought. "Does anyone have a match?"

She took the proffered lighter from Jasper and dropped it down on what remained of Aro. I pulled her out of the way just in time as the flames whooshed up toward the ceiling. Seeing her alive was amazing, but feeling her in my arms was indescribable. I clung to her with all I had and sobbed into her neck.

"Oh, Bella, I thought I had lost you," I choked.

She struggled against me but I held her tighter. "Let me go," she hissed.

I looked back and saw that she was looking at me with fury. I was wrong, this wasn't my Bella come back to me; it was Isabella. I didn't understand why my Bella had not come back to the fore. The danger was over now.

"Bella Swan. You will come back to me now!" I commanded.

I watched with elation as the harsh set of her eyes lighten and the hard lines of her jaw softened. "Edward?" she asked in a tremulous tone.

"Oh, Bella," I sobbed, burying my face in her neck. "Oh, my Bella."

"It's okay," she soothed. "I'm here now."

And if I had my way, I would never let her go anywhere again.