Disclaimer: I am not Stephenie Meyer and I do not own any Copyright to her novels or characters.. Yeah, that upsets me a bit..
Do you like the sight of the disclaimer? It felt good to put it there..
I am chronically sorry for leaving all of you faithful readers hanging. I know I said the update would be soon, and I know that no one's interpretation of the word 'soon' translates into seven months down the track. I'm sorry! I wasn't quiet as ready as I thought I was.
BUT! Guess what! I finally got this chapter together and decided that this was as good as its going to get. I'm sorry if it's found wanting a bit (I'm not over the moon about it) but I can't keep it around any longer without destroying my muse completely. The next chapter IS in the works, from BPOV, and I think you're all going to enjoy it, because I'm feeling really good about it.
Thank you to everyone for being so supportive and understanding.
I really hope you do enjoy!
Part XIII – Are you insane? Have you utterly lost your mind?
"You can't protect me forever. You can't. Please. I have to be able to defend myself."
"We should check in with Alice. Perhaps she will be able to see what Victoria is planning."
"Perhaps. Victoria's thoughts were too erratic for me to make sense of them—she was hiding her plans from me. If she's figured out how to keep me blocked, it's possible the same may be true for Alice."
Apparently, the same was true for Alice. I sat on the lounge opposite her as she rocked gently to and fro, watching the montage of useless images flash through her mind as she searched. Few images stood out long enough for either of us to determine their meaning. Only one was clear—Bella and Victoria facing off in a hazy cloud of strange shadows.
It was all too clear what that meant. Victoria had the future changing too abruptly, making decisions then changing them before anything could become tangible, making the paths of the future too unstable for certainty.
Only the outcome was clear.
It was getting more and more frustrating to watch with every passing second.
Tell her to stop, Edward. Jasper moved away from where he had been standing vigilant at the window. It's distressing her.
Call me selfish, but I didn't want to tell her to stop. I needed to know what Victoria was planning. I had to know how I was going to protect Bella from Victoria's next attack, mental or physical. I needed to do something that would prevent Bella from having to face Victoria alone. I needed to change the future. Bella may have been right in telling me that I wouldn't be able to protect her forever—but that was certainly not going to stop me from trying. Victoria would not go on tainting perfectly good air by breathing in and out for much longer. She had decided her own fate when she had sent Laurent back to Forks eighty years ago.
But I could see Jasper's point. Alice's face was screwed up in concentration and her gentle rocking was becoming less and less gentle with the more she tried to see.
"Thankyou, Alice," I said, just loud enough to break through her concentration. "Why don't you take a break?"
She didn't even open her eyes. "No," she whispered. "I have to find her."
Jasper reached over the back of her chair to take her hand even as she reached for him. "Bella will be safe here with us," he said soothingly. "A few hours won't hurt."
She opened her eyes now, looking straight at me with a slightly guilty expression on her face.
As much as she loved her, Bella wasn't the only reason she was so reluctant to stop searching, even if only for a few hours.
In the only solid part of the vision, Bella stood alone against Victoria.
Bella was as much a part of this family as I was. There was no possible way that any member of our family would let her face Victoria alone if we were there to prevent it. Thus, our absence in the vision was an ill omen. Victoria had already threatened to come through the whole family to get to Bella if she had to, and I knew that she had not been bluffing when she had made that threat.
And so, if the vision did not bode well for the family, it did not bode well for Jasper.
And Jasper must come first.
Her eyes were apologetic as she looked at me. I'm sorry, she thought. But I can't. I just can't.
I raised an eyebrow at her and cast my eyes quickly to where Bella was, outside with Emmett. I understood exactly what she was going through. I, myself, couldn't figure out what Victoria had planned, so I went to the next available source—her. I would not begrudge her if she wanted to keep looking, to see if she could find a way to keep Jasper safe. I would not begrudge her putting Jasper before Bella. I knew how much she loved both of them and I knew it was hard enough for her as it was. To be truthful, it irritated me slightly that Bella's life would come second in the circumstance of any of my family loosing their mate, but the rational side of me understood perfectly. Jasper must come first for Alice—just as Bella must come first for me.
She gave me a small smile, understanding, before closing her eyes again. "Just a little bit longer, Jazz," she said.
Jasper sighed, knowing better than to argue. "Just a little bit," he muttered.
I got up and went to stand in front of the window, watching Emmett and Bella out in the yard while keeping tabs on what Alice was seeing. I winced, or maybe convulsed is a more accurate word, as I fought the urge to go out and tackle Emmett when he threw Bella over his shoulder like a rag doll.
She had wanted this; I had to remind myself, watching her roll and jump back to her feet. She wanted to be able to protect herself, and I had stepped down from being her teacher after the first ten minutes of being so, letting Emmett step in and take over. I couldn't stand seeing her prone on the ground, much less be the one who was doing it to her. I didn't like to think of why she needed to learn how to do this. I looked back over my shoulder at Alice as another image of Bella and Victoria facing off flickered through the haze.
I didn't like it at all.
There had to be a way I could stop it from getting to that.
"Edward, you're not helping," Alice muttered. "You're just adding to the mess."
"My apologies," I said quietly, turning back to the window, smirking at the loud crack as Bella landed a fist in the centre of Emmett's back. The smirk vanished quickly as Emmett took her feet out from under her, sending her down again.
But if there was no way I could prevent Bella and Victoria's face-off? Would Bella's training with Emmett, who was a decent enough fighter by all accounts but greatly advantaged by his superior strength, be enough to keep her alive? Victoria was cunning and had a good three centuries on Bella. I didn't know the extent of her abilities—I didn't know how well she could fight in physical combat, I didn't know how she would be able to manipulate her gift to suite her, if she could. There was too much unknown about her, and I was not going to leave Bella unprotected. I wanted her to be able to use everything around her to her own, best advantage.
"Jasper," I said. He came over to stand next to me, watching the scene outside. "Would you mind…helping?" I turned to him after watching Bella get knocked down again.
Jasper smiled, still looking out the window. "She's determined, isn't she?" he muttered.
I growled softly, not happy with the concept or the reason behind it. "Emmett's all about brute strength," I replied softly. "You could teach her some more…technical manoeuvres. Victoria won't fight fair, nor will the outcome be based on who is physically stronger. Emmett can teach her the basics, but… You've had more experience."
Jasper looked at me with a raised brow. "You really think it will come to that?" he asked sceptically.
Alice answered for me. "Jazz, you should go out and help."
Even though I was seeing the same images she was, hearing her say it made dread lance through me, momentarily stronger than before. "Please," I added.
He kept his mind blank as he considered our response. "Okay," he said quietly. "Do you want to let her keep going with Emmett for…?"
"No," I interrupted, wincing as I saw her go down once again out the corner of my eye.
There was a faint smile of amusement as he nodded—he found it amusing, my reluctance to leave Bella in Emmett's hands for any longer. "Very well," he said, and turned to head out. He cast a look over his shoulder at Alice. "Only a little longer," he repeated. She nodded without opening her eyes, waving him off.
"You should find something productive to do, too," Alice muttered. I turned to her, and she opened her eyes to look at me. Standing there watching her is making you edgy, and you just keep coming up with different scenarios to try and protect her. And that just keeps interfering. You're just making it harder for me to see. Shoo.
I sighed. I didn't know what to do. I didn't like standing around watching her getting thrown around like a rag doll, but even though I trusted them with my life, I couldn't bring myself to leave her in the care of my brothers. I was still as protective of her as I was when we first met—leaving her to fend for herself against Emmett and Jasper went against the grain.
Of course, if Jasper or Emmett hurt her, I wouldn't hesitate to throw either of them halfway to New York. Of course, Emmett probably wouldn't go that far if I threw him…but that wouldn't stop me from trying.
In the end, I ended up sitting at my piano, toying with the keys absentmindedly as I kept an eye on both Alice's visions and my brothers training Bella. I knew I was frustrating Alice, because toying with the keys was not exactly what she had in mind when she had told me to do something productive—it still left my mind free to wander and examine. She got up and went to the window, watching Bella dodge under Jasper's outstretched arm.
Then she thought of something that I hadn't even considered.
Edward, what if Bella's the reason I can't see anything? What if she's the reason the future is all snarled up?
I frowned. "How do you mean?"
She turned side on to the window, her eyes still trained on Jasper even as she turned her body to me. Bella's gift. She bit her lip, thinking it over. She can virtually make herself completely undetectable. What if it's her gift that is getting in the way?
"Then how would you be able to see her at all?" I asked. "You saw her at the office yesterday. And at the shops the day before."
"But I couldn't see her after…" Laurent bit her.
I pressed my lips together, took a deep breath to ease the resentful fury I felt at the thought. "I think it's obvious that it's a gift that she can use at a whim, like Jasper's. I just don't think she has fully mastered when and where she uses it." I got up from the piano, suddenly feeling restless—like there was an important fact I was missing, but not particularly willing to face. "I think it may be emotionally triggered, for the most part."
Alice finally turned away from the window to look at me. At a whim, she thought. She chooses when she doesn't want to be found—like when she ran away from you on the street. And from us at the café.
Ah, there was my insecurity—acknowledgement of the fact that Bella did have control over when and how she used her gift…that she had known exactly what she was doing when she had disappeared on me.
"What are you implying?" I asked, my voice sharp with the sudden revelation—a revelation I hadn't wanted. "You think Bella's deliberately blocking her future?"
Outside, Bella stumbled slightly as Emmett took hold of her wrist. Jasper was teaching her how to land when she fell in order to get back up as quickly as possible. But when Emmett threw her over his head this time, her eyes flicked to the window, almost too quick for me to see, before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. Then she jumped back onto her feet to face Emmett off again.
"No! No! NO!" I shouted. I stormed outside, stepping between Bella and Emmett, taking hold of her wrist when she tried to step back from me. "Are you insane? Have you utterly lost your mind?"
She recoiled from me slightly before taking a deep breath and lifting her chin. She looked me square in the eyes but didn't speak. I found myself off-balance as I realised that I couldn't read her face. That had never happened before.
"What could you possibly be thinking?" I demanded, modulating my voice slightly, lowering it. I took her face between my hands. "What is going through this head of yours?" It genuinely hurt that I couldn't hear her thoughts, now more than ever, that she could possibly be thinking of keeping me out of something so vitally important. "Why are you doing this?"
Her eyes softened and her expression became sad.
"I can't loose you," she whispered. She shook her head in my hands. "I can't let her hurt you."
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. Why? Why were her priorities always arranged in the most illogical order?
"So what am I supposed to do?" I asked. "Just sit back and let you go off and face an enraged vampire that wants to tear you to pieces?"
Her eyebrow twitched and her shoulders lifted a little in a tiny shrug. "If you wouldn't mind."
I was so frustrated that I had to release her. I clenched my hands and tried to take deep calm breaths to prevent another outburst as Emmett snorted behind me. I wasn't the only one her words angered.
"Fat chance, Bells," he growled. "If anything, you'll be the one sitting back while we go after Victoria. You're the one she wants to kill, not us."
Bella's eyes widened in shock. "But she will kill you if she has to!" She stepped back from me. "I won't let any of you risk yourselves like that for me!"
"You don't have a choice," Alice said. "Look, Bella—you can keep blocking the future from me, but it won't stop us from helping you. It will just mean that we'll be stumbling around blind and will increase the chance of one of us ending up hurt, or worse. Either way, we're going to help you. It would just be a lot more helpful if I could see what we needed to do."
I watched Bella's eyes as Alice's logic sank in. She looked at me, her eyes torn. She really didn't want me to be involved and I was both hurt and secretly pleased—hurt that she didn't want my help and pleased that she truly cared enough to want me to stay safe. I don't think it would ever cease to amaze me that she still loved me after all these years. But that didn't change how extremely frustrated I was, that she had tried to find a way to deal with Victoria herself.
Behind Alice, Jasper was focusing on Bella, using his gift to sooth her panic—panic that I assumed came from the thought of us getting involved in what she saw as her own problem. Her eyes darted to Jasper as she realised what he was doing but she sighed and let Alice's logic win her over.
Alice sighed as well, as images started playing through her mind again, much more specific and detailed.
"Thankyou, Bella." She danced up to her to hug her and kiss her cheek. 'It'll be fine, you'll see." She took Jasper's hand and the two of them disappeared into the trees. Within moments they were out of my range, and I was annoyed that Alice had left. Of course, she had left because she didn't want me seeing and making counter plans that would continue to snare the future up, but it annoyed me all the same.
Bella shook her head and refused to look at me. Instead, she turned to Emmett. "Where were we?"
"No," I said again, more controlled this time. "Enough training for one day. Besides, I think Emmett wants to go spend some time with Rosalie."
Emmett was happy to take the hint at face value. He smiled. "Tomorrow, Bells. You've got your work cut out for you, calming this one down." He disappeared around the side of the house, heading to the garage where Rosalie was happily wedged beneath the engine of his Hummer.
Bella stared at me for a moment. "Are you mad?"
I sighed and shook my head. Again I took her face in my hands. "I just don't understand how you think sometimes," I said gently, before pressing my lips to hers.
"I always think of you first," she whispered, sliding her hands around my neck. "Always." She pulled me back in for another, deeper kiss.
I growled quietly, so easily distracted by the feeling of her body as she pressed herself close to me. Her quiet, hungry snarl was enough to cut off every thought in my mind, except for those that had me walking her into the privacy of the trees.
There was quite the reversal of roles now as Bella was the one to strip my clothes off at a maddeningly slow pace whilst I tore at hers. The forest floor was soft velvet under our bodies as we sank down and came together. Again I lost myself in her—her sounds, her body, her soul. Nothing made me feel more complete than becoming one with her, our bodies fused together so tightly that there was no telling where my body ended and hers began.
She rolled us over, sitting on top of me and taking me inside her. She hummed as she stretched herself along my chest.
"Do you think we'll ever get sick of this?" she asked, her lips whispering over the skin on my neck. I had to close my eyes to concentrate for a moment, trying to focus on her words rather than the way she was moving her body against mine.
"Uh…" I frowned, trying to focus. She laughed against my skin. "No," I muttered. "No, I don't think so." She rocked against me and my eyes almost rolled up in my head. "I certainly hope not."
"I can't see what Victoria's planning."
Alice's words had me pacing the room, snarling angrily. Even without Bella blocking herself from Alice's sight, the visions were still a messy haze. Bella still stood alone in some of them, in others I was next to her and occasionally the whole family was there.
And it could be any one of a million factors that changed whether or not Bella faced Victoria alone or not—the most obvious being that Victoria somehow manages to get Bella while she is alone, or she really does go through the whole family to get to her. Neither prospect was particularly appealing to me. In fact, none of the million were.
"Nothing at all?" I asked.
Alice just sighed and looked at me. Of course it was a stupid question. But I felt I had to ask it anyway.
"Maybe it wasn't me she's been watching all these years," Bella said, pausing as she flicked through one of her books to look at me.
The whole family looked at her, surprised by the thought. Bella shrugged, looking around. "It would make sense, wouldn't it? I mean…she blames you, Edward, for killing James. Maybe she did watch me for a time, but when she saw that you weren't around, particularly after I was changed, maybe she decided to watch you to find another way to get back at you."
Carlisle looked at me. "Surely we would have known."
I looked back at him dubiously. If Bella was right, there was no way I would have been aware of it. I had been too lost in my own pain to be listening to the thoughts of others. And Alice had been constantly watching my future, making sure I wasn't going to run off to Italy again or do something just as stupid.
"But it could explain how she's managed to hide herself from us," I muttered looking back to Alice. "If she'd watched us long enough to figure out how our gifts work."
Alice bobbed her head in acknowledgement, her gaze unfocused. She was searching through her visions again. "Whatever she's planning is going to take time to set up, that much I can see." She sighed, frustrated by the haze. "Bella, are you sure you're not blocking me, even subconsciously?"
Bella shook her head. "I'm not trying to," she qualified. "But that doesn't mean I'm not." Alice focused on her, her eyes narrowed angrily. Bella held up her hands. "Honestly, Alice, I'm not trying to block you! But, having said that, I don't think I have complete control of it. I know I can use it when I want to, but sometimes it just happens—like the other day, when I left the café. I didn't think about not wanting to be followed because I was too busy thinking about everything else. I just wanted some time alone."
Carlisle sat forward, intensely intrigued. "Do you know what you do, Bella? Do you completely disappear, or do you just block your presence?"
I sat down next to her as she shrugged. "I'm not sure. I just know I can't be found."
"I wonder…" Carlisle mused.
"What?" Bella asked. But Carlisle was busy contemplating his own thoughts.
"He's curious to know if you can block yourself to individual people or if it's a generic thing that keeps you blocked from everyone around you while you use it," I told her, putting my arm around her shoulders.
She frowned. "I'm not sure. I've never tried."
"So try now," I suggested.
"Uh…Ok…Um…" She sat up straighter and closed her eyes. Carlisle and the others turned all their attention to her.
I never took my eyes off her and she never left my sight, but I saw it when she disappeared from Carlisle's, Esme's, Emmett's and Jasper's. It was odd to watch through their eyes. One moment she was sitting right next to me, my fingers toying with her mahogany curls, the next she was gone and my hand looked to be resting on the back of the lounge. Through my own eyes, I could still see her and my fingers were still twisting one of her curls.
"Incredible," I whispered.
"What?" Rosalie asked. She could still see Bella, and assumed the others could too.
Bella looked at her then at me. I looked at Emmett sitting next to Rose. "Emmett?" I asked.
"She's not there," he said. Rose looked at him and then back at Bella.
"Amazing." Carlisle's eyes were searching the spot Bella was sitting in, but not seeing her. "Who are you blocking, Bella?"
"You, Esme, Em and Jasper," she said.
Only Alice, Rosalie and I heard her. I relayed the information to Carlisle and his eyes lit up with wonder.
"Amazing," he repeated. "Can you smell her?" he asked the others. Esme shook her head, looking at me, while Emmett and Jasper said no. "I wonder if we can physically touch her?" he added. He stood up and held his hand out toward Bella, even though he couldn't see her. "Bella?"
She stood up and stepped toward him. When she was a foot away, Carlisle turned away. I laughed in disbelief as she paused, uncertain. When she got close, Carlisle had instinctively turned away. He had not consciously thought the action through, but something emanating from in front of him, right where I could see that Bella was standing, told him to turn.
She looked at me, confused. Carlisle seemed to have trouble turning around to see what I was laughing at.
"Where is she?" he asked.
"Right to your left, about a foot away," Alice said. "She was right in front of you, but you turned away from her."
Carlisle frowned and tried to turn back. "I…"
"Take his hand, Bella," I said. I wanted to see what would happen when she physically touched him. She stepped forward again, closing the distance, and Carlisle sidestepped away, knocking his legs against the lounge. Bella was now also close to Esme, who got up without a thought and headed toward the kitchen. I got up and took her hand, keeping her in the room.
"It's just Bella," I told her when she looked up at me, confused.
"What do you mean?" she asked, looking around the room for her.
Bella reached out and touched Carlisle's palm. He turned his back on her and walked away, stopping only when Alice stepped in front of him.
"She's repelling him." My voice was filled with awe, even as Bella looked at me, horrified. "When she gets close or touches him, it repels him." I laughed again.
Carlisle looked at me. "Has she touched me?" he asked, looking around the room trying to find her.
Bella let go of her gift and came back into everyone's view. "Right before you walked away from me," she said in mock-hurt.
Carlisle stared at her, amazed. "Absolutely incredible, Bella!"
"So you not only disappear without a trace, but you can also repel whoever you're hiding from," Jasper summed up. "Impressive."
"Ironic," I muttered. I shook my head. "As a human, you attracted all things dangerous. Now that you're strong enough to handle it all, you can repel it."
Alice laughed as Bella huffed.
Emmett lounged back in his seat, at ease now that Bella was back in sight, putting an arm around Rosalie. "That little trick is going to make hiding you from Victoria so much easier," he laughed.
Ah, Emmett and his big mouth.
Bella looked at him, her narrowing angrily. "I won't be hiding, Emmett. You may not let me do it by myself, but I will not be sitting on the side-lines watching…"
"Relax, Bells," Emmett said, holding up a placating hand. "I just meant it's going to make it a lot easier to bring Victoria down, that's all. Hey!" He sat up straight as an idea struck him. "What if you could expand your little talent?"
My eyebrows shot up in surprise. It was actually a really good idea. If Bella could expand her gift, send it out and cloak the rest of the family, then whatever Victoria was cooking up wouldn't matter. She wouldn't stand a chance against us if she couldn't see us. Of course, one option was that we could just pack up and leave, but what was the point in that? Victoria would still be out there, harbouring her grudge, and who knew what she would do out of vengeance if she lost track of us? And there was no point in living a life spent in hiding—from our own kind at least. That left us with the other option of using Bella's gift in the fight. It might be a dirty way to fight, but when it came to Bella's life and my family, I didn't care.
"What do you mean?" Bella asked.
"Of course!" Carlisle exclaimed. Carlisle's thoughts, of course, were purely academic. He was too distracted by Bella's unparalleled gift, consumed by the enigma it presented, to be thinking of Victoria's threat. He gave no consideration of how useful her gift may be in the battle that was threatening to ensue. He was merely curious to know what more she could do with it. "Imagine if you could expand your gift out to include those around you!"
"A definite tactical advantage," Jasper agreed, his thoughts following a similar path to mine and Emmett's.
"But it won't be easy to master," Alice said, searching through the future again. "It'll take time—more time than we have."
"Aww, dang," Emmett drawled, slouching back onto the lounge. He liked the idea of being able to run around unseen. Knowing Emmett, I shuddered to think of the mischief he would get up to. Then I shook my head with a resigned smile as he thought of finally being able to sneak up on me. "Well, let the redhead see what's coming for her. No one picks a fight with a Cullen without taking up the consequences."