A/N: Let's do this, duckies!
Bella didn't know what to think. Well, that wasn't true. She thought about too many things all at once, all the time. Her new brain was bewildering at times.
More accurately, Bella's new brain had no answers for the multitude of questions flying through her head. That was unusual. She felt both conflicted and scared for the first time in her new life, a fact that also made her both bitter and exasperated. Though her fear now was a lot quieter than it had been in her human life. That was something, at least.
It wasn't that she was scared for her safety. She still felt strong enough she could have killed all the Volturi and their guard herself. But she wasn't a lone vampire. She was a member of a unit, a family. She was Edward's partner and they looked to Carlisle.
After Alice and Jasper's visit, Edward sat quietly with his head in his hands, a pinched expression on his face. He said he had to sort and process the thousands of images and thoughts he'd seen in the other vampires' minds.
Meanwhile, Carlisle looked… wrecked. It was more than a little unnerving given that the Cullen family patriarch was always so calm. "How did this happen?" Carlisle murmured to no one in particular.
"Technically, it hasn't yet." Emmett tried for a joking tone but even he looked concerned.
"It has," Edward said.
The family all turned to look at him, and he raised his head to look back at them. "Aro has the ability to hear every thought you've ever had at a single touch, right?" Edward asked his father.
Carlisle seemed to brighten at that. "Yes. Which means he'll be able to see I have no intention to move against him. I wish him no ill will at all."
"Your intentions aren't the problem." Edward rubbed his temples as though he had a headache, which was absurd. "Bear with me. It's confusing to find concrete truth along the thousands of possible futures Alice sees. And it's incredible—the way she sees people she's never met because they're part of our future."
Edward considered a moment before he continued. "From what I myself have heard of others' thoughts, the Volturi don't rule by loyalty or admiration. At best, they rule by indifference. At worst, by fear. I also know from personal experience that your friends think the world of you.
"A leader must think ahead if he is to maintain his power. Aro will have seen you, and heard the love and loyalty your friends have for you, again and again. If you look at each of your friends as a potential soldier, maybe you can see the picture being painted for the man." Edward looked to his father. "You have a formidable army at your disposal; friends with gifts that could overcome even those of the Guard with the right strategy."
"So, it doesn't matter what your intentions are because intentions can change," Rosalie said, voicing what they were all thinking as they put together the pieces. "He won't let you live long enough to become a threat to him."
"I can kind of see how you look like some bad-ass general when it comes to fighting power," Emmett said, crossing his arms. "The wolves are our natural enemies, and you've managed an alliance between us."
Bella flexed her fists in irritation. "That bastard." Her lip twitched as she worked to tamp down the rage that threatened to overwhelm her. "I have to think that Jasper being willing to promise allegiance to you is...significant."
Edward put an arm around her waist, pulling her tightly against him. "For more reasons than you know. For what it's worth, he genuinely has no desire to kill, and as he said, he has no desire to lead. Yet, he offers a formidable advantage both with his gift and the fact he could sway an army of trained fighters to your side," he said to Carlisle.
"What do you mean?" his father asked. "What army?"
"It seems he spent a significant time in the south during the Civil War." Edward turned to Bella. "The vampires of the south are much more territorial than the nomadic vampires of the north. They fight for their territories. Jasper thought it would be prudent to brush up on his tactical training and so ingratiate himself with a vampire named Maria who is, ah… particularly good at keeping her crown, so to speak. She was the one who gave him his more modern name. If I'm reading Alice's visions of the future correctly, she and her soldiers would fight for us."
Carlisle shook his head, looking as disturbed as ever. "You're already speaking as a tactician; as though a war is inevitable."
"Because it is." Edward tightened his hold around Bella's waist. "Your survival depends on you understanding Aro is a threat to you. And because the Guard is so powerful, we have to think in terms of numbers, of armies, and tactics."
"It doesn't matter what my...our personal feelings are," Bella said through clenched teeth. "It makes tactical sense for us to ally with Jasper. He has Alice."
Edward looked to her, nodding. "It may be years or even centuries before Aro comes for you, for all of us, but it will happen. Alice got it into her head that we were meant to be family, and so she has an unusually strong affection for all of us."
Bella snorted. "Is there anything about that woman that isn't unusual?"
"Well, the point is, she's committed to keeping us all alive." He tilted his head with a thoughtful expression. "She thinks of us and Jasper as hers in a way. Yet on a personal level, she's not emotionally attached to any of us, if that makes sense."
"Her emotional attachment is to the future, or futures, she saw," Carlisle surmised. He arched an eyebrow. "And that includes Jasper?"
"Yes. In fact, regardless of what we could have all been to each other, she's conflicted about her attachment to Jasper." Edward's lip curled, and his hand at Bella's waist flexed as he looked to her. "She feels she owes you, in particular, a debt it may take an eternity to pay for her role in what Jasper did to you."
Bella scoffed but she pressed up onto her tiptoes to place a small kiss to his cheek. "That sounds familiar."
"It does make them an interesting match. They both have a perspective that isn't easy for anyone else to grasp. Her because she sees so many possible futures based on every minute decision anyone makes, and him because he's so ancient he's seen whole civilizations rise and fall. Neither of them think like we do."
"What a nice excuse," Bella said, irritated.
Edward turned to her. "I'm sorry, love. I was processing out loud. You know what I feel. You know what I want."
Carlisle stepped forward and put his hand to her shoulder. He looked again like the calm, controlled father figure again, his expression focused and concerned. "I think it's clear we must come to a decision about Jasper and Alice for the safety and survival of this family. However, no matter what someone's future visions say, I am not your king or anything like that. Bella, more than anyone else, it wouldn't be fair of me to make this decision without your input. A monstrous wrong was done to you, and I can't ask you not to take your vengeance."
With her vampire sight, Bella could see clearly her own reflection in Carlisle's golden eyes. Her own eyes were crimson, her features twisted with barely contained rage. She felt again the rush of strength. She was powerful enough to defeat the demon.
Yet, that vengeance wasn't part of her personal nature. It was different when she felt he was a threat, but she believed Edward when he said Jasper wouldn't move against her or her new family. That cast her murderous rage in a new light.
Wouldn't it make her no better than the monster to want to rip him apart? Would it be justice to extinguish his life in repayment for the mental anguish he'd caused?
And then her rational mind chimed in. There still remained the problem of tactics. He was lethal on his own, and now he had a future-teller on his side.
All of this flashed through her mind in a fraction of a second. She took another moment to get firm control of her volatile, reactionary, newborn-vampire fury before she answered Carlisle. "It's like politics. You don't have to like a country to sign a treaty or to work together. I can be good."
Carlisle squeezed her shoulder and stepped back into his wife's embrace. She had a sad look on her face. "It's almost self-fulfilling prophecy," she said.
"How's that?" He took her hand, bringing it over his heart.
"We have to tell our friends." She frowned. "And then they'll have to decide. And it'll be what Aro sees one way or another."
Edward shook his head. "He's already thought of this, I think. If he hadn't, it wouldn't have been a possible future Alice saw."
"This is...frustrating," Carlisle said.
Bella snorted. That was putting it mildly to say the least.
After their discussion, all three couples took off in different directions. Bella ran for the spot where Edward had left the very few things they'd need. She'd found out the first day they were out and wandering—because vampires didn't need amenities—why he'd insisted on bringing a bag with them. Newborns didn't do anything halfway, and Bella had shredded both their clothes the very first time she'd pounced on him. She didn't think their clothes would survive this encounter either.
Several life-affirming hours later, Edward and Bella lay beneath a layer of snow in a little cocoon they'd carved out. She was draped over him. Though they had no need for rest, sometimes Bella enjoyed these quiet moments of affection as much as she enjoyed flinging him to the ground and having her way with him.
She pushed up onto her hands so she could look down on him. The top of her head jostled the roof of their little nest, and a clump of snow hit him right between the eyes. She laughed as he wriggled his nose to get it to slide down.
Slowly, she traced the lines of his face with her fingertips. He caught her hand and kissed her fingers, his eyes soft and adoring as he looked up at her. "So… I'm gifted?"
"You're quite talented in bed." He looked around them. "In snow?"
She rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean."
"Yes." He stroked her back as he spoke. "Funny. When she said that about Eleazar, of course we all made the decision to go see them. And because we did that, I saw what he'd tell us about you. I must admit, I'm surprised I hadn't thought of it sooner." He grinned at her. "You're a shield."
"What does that mean?"
"Well, if a vampire has a gift, it frequently works on the mind."
"Like your gift."
"Exactly. You can block them, apparently. The vision showed me that it works with Eleazar, Kate, and a few others we, apparently, test you against in the future."
Bella grimaced. "But Jasper could affect me. He could alter my mood."
"Emotions are physical. Or rather, the effect they have on your body is a physical, scientifically measurable effect, which makes it your body and not your mind being altered by Jasper's gift." Edward frowned and looked away. "I've had a theory about that for a while now." He pulled her down so he could hold her as he spoke. Though she wouldn't tremble in his arms, she did still like the affection of that gesture, so she lay her head against his chest. "Because of the trauma you suffered in your teens, you have...had several physical triggers. Such as how you might have panicked if someone touched you unexpectedly.
"Maybe it's strictly because of that, or maybe it's because of your natural gift, but you greatly reduced Jasper's ability to control your emotions. He could still do it, but not nearly to the extent he's capable of." Edward scoffed. "Toward the end of our little fight, he made me feel briefly calmer. The only reason I was able to fight it was because I heard his thought before he did it. He's very potent."
Bella tightened her hand into a fist, remembering Jasper's attack on Edward. Oh, if only she'd been a vampire then…
"It might interest you to know that his ability to read your emotions is greatly diminished now. He could only hear you when you were shouting, so to speak." Edward looked bemused. "Kind of like me with your father's thoughts. I could only hear extremes. He only felt you when you hit emotional peaks. He's curious whether he'd be able to manipulate your emotions at all at this point. But speaking of power, have you figured out what this means for you?"
Bella raised her head. "What?"
He smiled, cupping her cheek. "Almost all of Aro's most gifted sycophants have gifts that affect the mind. So you, my love, are all but untouchable. Well...except by me."
With that, he flipped her swiftly onto her back, and conversation was lost for a time.
It was another week before Jasper and Alice found them again. Enough time that Bella had quite prepared herself. Her emotions were ruled with an iron fist. She'd reminded herself she need only get through this conversation.
When the pair emerged from the tree line, Bella's eyes were on Alice. As she suspected they would be, Alice's eyes were on her. She looked wary. Bella made a decision in her head to ask her the question she wanted answered—just in case. Alice narrowed her eyes, but she raised her chin to acknowledge she understood.
Bella had to hold back her grin.
She stood in place as they got back to the business at hand. Alice looked to Carlisle and nodded. "I know it wasn't an easy decision for you to make." She looked at all of them. "I know it wasn't easy for any of you."
Jasper stepped forward. Bella had to stop herself from snarling. He only smiled, not looking at her—not antagonizing her—but at all of them. "Alice told me that Bella intends to teach you to fight." He nodded. "That's a good idea. I know now isn't the time, but maybe there will be a time in the future when we can all learn together." His lips quirked up at one corner as he concentrated on Carlisle. "As you said, I have centuries of fighting experience. I could help."
Emmett scoffed. Rosalie and Esme glared. Edward's lip curled, and Bella fought to control the roiling rage that threatened, again, to explode. Carlisle tilted his head. "We'll keep it in mind," he said, his tone tight and controlled.
Alice shook her head, massaging her temples. "Fine. This is fine," she said absently. "It'll be many years before we see each other, I suspect. And that's good. There's time for me to get control of this." She gestured at her head. "Time for other things to fall into place." She nodded with finality. "It's not what it was supposed to be, but it's good."
"Well, I'm happy you approve," Carlisle said with only a trace of sarcasm.
Alice took it in stride. "For understandable reasons, we swear to keep our distance until you want to speak to either of us. Unless, of course, I see movement from the Volturi."
"How will you keep in touch?"
"Oh, don't worry about that," Alice said, her voice airy and distracted now. "Just decide you want to track me down, and I'll figure out how to get to you."
As though it was no big deal that these two could-have-been-enemies could track them down whenever they want. Bella scoffed. Fleetingly, she agreed with Alice. It would have been nice if they were friends and could trust each other implicitly.
"Shall we shake on it then?" Alice said brightly. "As a symbol of good faith?"
"If we weren't telling the truth, couldn't you see it?" Emmett challenged.
But Bella stepped forward. She'd seen Alice's chin tilt ever so slightly at her and understood exactly why she was making the suggestion. She extended a hand as she stepped at first slowly—so no one would be startled—and then darted across the clearing to stand in front of Alice. She clenched her jaw, fighting to keep calm so her emotions didn't spike, and didn't dare look at Jasper. Not yet.
A week before, Bella had made several decisions. Alice must have heard them, because Edward wasn't reacting and neither was Jasper. Bella's plan depended on thwarting both of them—a feat she was capable of, but was a lot harder for Alice given their gifts. She must have been pulling it off, though.
Bella wrestled back her feral grin. She forced herself to calmly shake Alice's hand to seal her acceptance of the deal, her cooperation. Then, she turned.
In a fraction of a second, Bella had released the reins of every volatile emotion she'd been holding in. She leaped with such quickness, even someone as schooled as Jasper had no hope of fending her off from that close distance. She was perched on his back, her mouth at his neck before anyone could blink. With animal savagery, she bit and ripped, severing his head from his body and sending it across the clearing, smashing into a rock face. She landed smoothly, her smile all teeth. "Thank you," she said to Alice's pinched face.
"Don't worry," she said to her shocked family. They all stood tensed, waiting for Alice to retaliate. "She knows he had it coming. Besides, she can put Humpty Dumpty back together again." She turned to Edward, extending a hand. As he took it, his eyes wide with awe, she addressed the rest of them. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
Bella held her head high as she took off running, listening to Emmett's chortling laughter, and Rosalie's "nicely done," as they all followed her, that chapter of their lives concluded.
A/N: Well. That was fun!
I do want to do an outtake to catch up with Charlie, but for now, we shall call our tale complete. Many, many, many thanks to Betsy, Eleanor, Packy, MoH, and Mina for everything they do for me.
And thanks to all of you for joining me on this journey.